David Klinghoffer writes erudite but peculiar books. In one, he recalled his teenage self-circumcision as part of a “conversion” experience (to “real” Judaism). In his more recent effort, The Discovery of God, he writes of “the Master of the Universe holding in His hand the desiccated member of [Abraham].”

In other words, Klinghoffer, a frequent contributor to The National Review and other conservative mags, sees the world through an odd lens. Which is what makes his writing intriguing, if frustrating. Case in point: his cover story on kabbalah for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. At a local Kabbalah Centre, Klinghoffer finds much worth mocking:

I buy some kabbalah water. It tastes of warm plastic. Between swigs, I run into Nika Erastov, 28, who sat next to me during Weston’s half-hour intro. About the center’s approach, she is of two minds: “It kind of sucks you in, in a nice sort of way. Maybe it’s all the empty promises.” 

What Klinghoffer really wants to know about the kabbalah craze is whether it’s “authentic.” That’s a strange word to apply to any religious practice, even one such as the Kabbalah Centre, which seems to be modeled on Scientology crossed with Amway.

Klinghoffer’s investigation is skewed by this fetish for legitimacy, but it’s fascinating nonetheless, and it serves as good reading on one of the central questions for all religion writers: What the hell is “authenticity” anyway?