Gershom Scholem


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World-renowned German Jewish scholar of Jewish mysticism (1897–1982). Scholem was born in Berlin, in an assimilated Jewish family, but became attracted to Jewish studies, eventually specializing in the study of Jewish mysticism. From 1925 until his retirement in 1965 Scholem taught as lecturer and later as Professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. There he founded a school and succeeded in creating an entirely new scholarly discipline. It is not true to say that no scholarly work had been done in the field of Jewish mysticism prior to Scholem and his school, but the subject had been relegated to a remote corner of scholarly interest. Scholem examined the mystical texts by the best methods of modern critical and historical scholarship, demonstrating in the process that Judaism had not infrequently expressed itself in terms of the non-rational and the mythical.

Scholem's pioneering work, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, examines Jewish mystical tendencies from the Merkavah (Chariot) mystics down to the latest manifestation in Hasidism. His study of the false Messiah Shabbetai Zevi uncovered the irrational forces, latent in the Jewish soul, which erupted when the time was ripe. This is not to say that Scholem approved of the bizarre events connected with Shabbetai Zevi. Scholem has described the reticence of the Jewish mystics in describing their own experiences, which is why, according to Scholem, there are so few personal Jewish mystical testimonies available. The same reticence can be observed in Scholem himself. He worked as an objective scholar and was usually very reserved about his own personal attitude to mysticism. He was certainly no mystic himself but seems to have been a religious, though not an Orthodox, Jew. There was an element of antinomianism in Scholem, an element he detected in some Jewish mystical texts, although in his scholarly work he showed that the Kabbalah, which invested every detail of the precepts with cosmic significance, saved Judaism as a religion of law.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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