A jury yesterday ordered the Kabbalah Centre and its former co-director, Rabbi Yehuda Berg, to pay a total of $177,500 to Jena Scagnetti, who alleged the good rabbi had invited her over to his mother's house for dinner, plied her with Vicodin and alcohol, and attempted to force himself upon her.
After deliberating for a day and a half, the jury decided that Berg — once dubbed the “Rabbi to the Stars” — was not liable for sexual battery but was liable for the intentional infliction of emotional stress, according to City News Service. Berg was ordered to pay $135,000, and the Kabbalah Centre was ordered to pay a total of $42,500 for not properly supervising Berg.
“My client Ms. Scaccetti is very happy that the jury found in her favor and awarded her damages, and is especially happy that by bringing this lawsuit she may have saved others from being victimized by Yehuda Berg,” Scaccetti's lawyer, Alain Bonavida, told reporters. The original complaint had asked for tens of millions of dollars in damages.*
The L.A.-based Kabbalah Centre was founded by Yehuda's father, Phillip Berg in 1965, as a sort of New Age spin on Judaism. Followers weren't encouraged to learn Hebrew or even convert. The Kabbalah has been called “Jewish mysticism” for its emphasis on astrology and numerology, beliefs generally seen as foreign to mainstream Judaism.
After Phillip Berg died in 2013, control of the center passed to his wife, Karen, and two sons, Yehuda and Michael.
Yehuda Berg made a name for himself as a best-selling author and spiritual teacher. He was photographed in public with such stars as Madonna and Ashton Kutcher. In 2007, Newsweek named him No. 4 on the list of America's Top 50 Rabbis.
But Yehuda is no longer listed as a co-director, or as anything at all, on the Kabbalah Centre's website. It's unclear when or why he stepped down, although Scaccetti's lawsuit may offer us a window into what must be a truly bizarre family dynamic.
The complaint, filed in 2014, claims that shortly before assaulting Scaccetti, Berg ran his mouth quite a bit, complaining that he was “only being paid $10,000 a month by the Kabbalah Centre”; calling his sister-in-law, Monica Berg, a “cunt” and a “star-fucker”; and claiming she was controlling his brother, Michael.
The suit alleges that, after giving Scacetti alcohol and Vicodin:
Yehuda sat close to Jena and started hugging her and touching her legs. As Yehuda engaged in this wholly inappropriate and criminal behavior, he proceeded to place his hands on Jena’s legs and stated to her that they could engage in sexual activity with the promise that she would not get pregnant. Jena was deeply offended and tried to get up, Yehuda persisted in touching Jena without her consent, including hugging her while telling her that she “was very weak and not strong.”
Yehuda grabbed Jena’s mobile phone and, without permission, started going through her pictures and came across a photo of Jena and zoomed in on her crotch area and showed her this magnified image while asking her if her genital region “… was Brazilian or shaved.” Yehuda’s outrageous behavior visibly shocked Jena and made her very uncomfortable and fearful of Yehuda, who is significantly larger than her — by at least 100 pounds. Yehuda, seeing Jena’s reaction to his disgusting and outrageous behavior, threated Jena by telling her that, should she tell anyone about what occurred between them this evening or what he told her, that he would “fucking beat the whole right side of you until you are blue” and “fucking kill you.”
This is not the first time Scacetti's lawyer, Alain Bonavida, has sued the Kabbalah Centre. In 2011, he filed a suit on behalf of Courtenay Geddes, who claimed that she was defrauded of more than $1 million in donations.
That suit alleged that the Kabbalah Centre and its related charities “exist primarily to enrich the Berg family and select close family and friends,” and that the Centre had “a historical pattern and practice of defrauding people by soliciting monies for various projects that never come to fruition.”
That suit was later settled.
*A previous version of this post said Bonavida asked the jury for tens of millions of dollars. That was incorrect.