Published September 16, 2007
JERUSALEM – Madonna toasted the Jewish new year with Israeli President Shimon Peres and declared herself an "ambassador for Judaism," local newspapers reported Sunday.
The singer, who is not Jewish, arrived in Israel Wednesday on the eve of Jewish new year to attend a conference on Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism.
Madonna met Peres at his official Jerusalem residence on Saturday evening and the two exchanged gifts, with Madonna receiving a lavishly bound copy of the Jewish Bible.
She gave Peres a volume of "The Book of Splendor," the guiding text of Kabbalah, inscribed "To Shimon Peres, the man I admire and love, Madonna," the Yediot Ahronot daily reported.
A Peres aide confirmed the meeting but had no details.
"You don't know how popular the Book of Splendor is among Hollywood actors," Yediot quoted Madonna as telling Peres. "Everyone I meet talks to me only about that. I am an ambassador for Judaism."
Madonna, who was raised a Roman Catholic, has taken the Hebrew name Esther, and has been seen wearing a red thread on her wrist in a Jewish tradition to ward off the evil eye.
But her interest in Kabbalah in recent years has been criticized by Orthodox Jews, who say it is an abomination.
Other celebrities who flew in for the Kabbalah conference included movie star Demi Moore and her husband, actor Ashton Kutcher, Rosie O'Donnell and fashion designer Donna Karan. Madonna came with her film director husband Guy Ritchie.
The Haaretz daily quoted Kutcher as telling a group of Israeli businessmen and entertainers on Saturday that Kabbalah had answered fundamental questions in his life and made him a better actor.
Rabbis who specialize in Kabbalah have criticized the interest by non-Jewish celebrities in the subject.
Jewish tradition holds that Kabbalah is so powerful and complicated that only bona fide students may begin to approach it and then only after age 40. Among the elements of Kabbalah are mystical revelations drawn from holy books by recombination of letters and other signs.
Rabbis were particularly incensed by Madonna's song, "Isaac," about the revered 16th-century Kabbalist rabbi Yitzhak Luria, which featured on her 2005 album, "Confessions on a Dance Floor."
During her visit, Madonna plans to visit sites sacred to Kabbalists. It was not known how long she intends to stay.
Madonna paid her first visit to Israel three years ago on another Kabbalah-centered trip.
"I can't believe that I'm celebrating the new year with you in Israel," Maariv newspaper quoted her as telling Peres on Saturday. "It's a dream come true."