Madonna is celebrating the Jewish New Year with a pilgrimage to Israel.
The Kabbalah-practicing singer will stay in the Holy Land for five days, visiting graves of rabbinical sages, along with 2,000 other students from 22 countries on a Kabbalah Center-sponsored trip, according to The Associated Press. Other celebrities expected to make the spiritual quest include designer Donna Karan and Donald Trump's ex-wife Marla Maples.
While in the Holy Land, Madonna, who was born Catholic, plans to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Kabbalah Center in the northern city of Safed and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem.
Reactions to the singer — who has adopted the Hebrew name Esther and has been photographed wearing T-shirts that read "Kabbalists Do It Better" and "Cult Member" — traveling to Israel for the New Year, which begins at sundown on Wednesday (September 15), have been mixed.
One newspaper, the Yediot Ahronot, reportedly made Madonna's visit front-page news and filled half a page with details on her Tel Aviv hotel suite and the special meal prepared for her holiday dinner, under the headline "Esther Is Coming for the Holiday."
While some officials are excited about the potential benefits Madonna's visit may have for the tourism industry, others, including Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri, a leading Kabbalist and rabbinical sage, disagreed with Madonna's choice of religious studies. "It is forbidden to teach a non-Jew Kabbalah," he told the paper.
Talk-radio host Uri Orbach was more scathing in his opinion. "This is entertainment, not Judaism," he said.
The pop icon, who is never without a red string around her wrist to ward off the evil eye, and who refuses to perform on the Jewish Sabbath, will be given an ancient oil lamp and coin from the Byzantine period by Tourism Minister Gideon Ezra on Sunday.
The ministry is reportedly hoping that Madonna will shoot a video in Israel to help the ailing tourism industry.