JERUSALEM – Pop diva Madonna (search) made a midnight pilgrimage to a Jerusalem cemetery early Sunday, holding a mystical candlelit ceremony at the grave of a Jewish sage. The singer is in Israel on a five-day spiritual quest along with 2,000 other students of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism.
Following her graveside visit, Madonna went to the Western Wall (search), a part of Judaism's holiest site where the biblical temples once stood.
The arrival of Israel's biggest celebrity visitor in years has created a frenzy among her fans and the media. Others have been critical of the star's interest in the esoteric Jewish mysticism.
Madonna was raised a Roman Catholic, but she has become an avid devotee of Jewish mysticism in recent years. She has adopted the Hebrew name Esther, wears a red thread on her wrist to ward off the evil eye and reportedly refuses to perform on the Jewish Sabbath.
No screaming fans were waiting for Madonna Sunday as she arrived with her husband, Guy Ritchie (search), at the Kiryat Shaul cemetery, flanked by black clad police escorts, assault rifles slung over their shoulders.
The blue and red revolving lights of the patrol cars cast an eerie glow over the terraced, hillside graveyard as the couple walked past the tombstones to the grave of the Kabbalist sage Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag.
Polish-born Ashlag is the renowned author of the Sulam, the ladder, a commentary on the core Kabbalistic text, the Zohar (search). He died in 1954.
Madonna, wearing jeans, a black-and-gray checkered sweater with a matching cap and a large diamond encrusted letter E on a chain to symbolize her new name, spent more than an hour inside the stone mausoleum, placing candles on the tomb, praying and chanting.
Led by a rabbi, Madonna and her small entourage recited blessings over food and wine, drank from small plastic cups and circled the raised stone grave. Toward the end of the ceremony, a visibly moved Madonna wiped tears from her eyes.
Adherents of Jewish mysticism believe that praying at the graves of sages can help achieve one's wishes. Millions make pilgrimages every year to the more than 100 of these burial sites across the Holy Land, praying for health, children or to find a mate.
Madonna was to have traveled to northern Israel, where most of these holy sites are situated, but sources in the police, who were to have provided security, said she had canceled that part of her trip.
The singer has been surrounded by heavy security during her trip and two of her guards were arrested Friday after they brawled with photographers trailing the star.
As Madonna prayed inside, her guards held up black cloths and flashed lights outside in an attempt to block photographers and cameramen from the proceedings.
After leaving the cemetery, Madonna traveled to the Western Wall but remained inside her vehicle and did not go down to the sacred site.
At the site she received a mixed welcome from young worshippers, with some chanting, "She has no right to be here."
Some have opposed Madonna's visit and involvement in Kabbalah, charging that the raunchy, materialistic values the singer has promoted in the past were contrary to religious values.
But others welcomed the diva and said she deprived herself of a spiritual experience by remaining in her vehicle.
"Why did she not come out of the car, we were waiting for her," said Hadass Chen, who came to see the singer. "You don't feel the vibe if you don't touch the wall."