Gershom Scholem

Gershom Scholem

Gerschom Scholem (December 5, 1897 – February 21, 1982), also known as Gerhard Scholem, was a Jewish philosopher and historian raised in Germany. He is widely regarded as the founder of the modern, academic study of Kabbalah, becoming the first Professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Scholem is best known for his collection of lectures, "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism" (1941) and for his biography "Sabbatai Zevi, the Mystical Messiah" (1973). His collected speeches and essays, published as "On Kabbalah and its Symbolism" (1965), helped to spread knowledge of Jewish mysticism among non-Jews.

He was awarded the Israel Prize in 1958 and was elected president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1968.


Scholem was born in Berlin to Arthur Scholem and Betty Hirsch Scholem. His interest in Judaica was strongly opposed by his father, a printer, but thanks to his mother's intervention, he was allowed to study Hebrew and the Talmud with an Orthodox rabbi.

He studied mathematics, philosophy, and Hebrew at the University of Berlin, where he came into contact with Martin Buber and Walter Benjamin, as well as Gottlob Frege, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Hayim Nahman Bialik, Ahad Ha'am, and Zalman Shazar. He was in Bern in 1918 with Benjamin when he met Elsa Burckhardt, who became his first wife. He returned to Germany in 1919, where he received a degree in semitic languages at the University of Munich. Less notable in his academic career was his establishment of the fictive University of Muri along with Walter Benjamin.He wrote his doctoral thesis on the oldest known kabbalistic text, "Sefer ha-Bahir". Drawn to Zionism, and influenced by Buber, he emigrated in 1923 to the British Mandate of Palestine, later Israel, where he devoted his time to studying Jewish mysticism and became a librarian, and eventually head of the Department of Hebrew and Judaica at the National Library. He later became a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He taught the Kabbalah and mysticism from a scientific point of view, and became the first professor of Jewish mysticism at the university in 1933, working in this post until his retirement in 1965, when he became an emeritus professor. In 1936, he married his second wife, Fania Freud.

Scholem's brother Werner was a member of the ultra-left "Fischer-Maslow Group" and the youngest ever member of the Reichstag, representing the Communist Party (KPD) in the German parliament. He was banned from the party and later murdered during the Third Reich.

Scholem died in Jerusalem. He is buried next to his wife in Sanhedria in Jerusalem. Jürgen Habermas delivered a eulogy for Scholem.

Theories and scholarship

Scholem directly contrasted his historiographical approach on the study of Jewish mysticism with the approach of the 19th-century school of the "Wissenschaft des Judentums" ("Science of Judaism"), which sought to submit the study of Judaism to the discipline of subjects such as history, philology, and philosophy.

Jewish mysticism was seen as Judaism's weakest scholarly link. Scholem told the story of his early research when he was directed to a prominent rabbi who was an expert on Kabbalah. Seeing the rabbi's many books on the subject, Scholem asked about them, only to be told: "This trash? Why would I waste my time reading nonsense like this?" (Robinson 2000, p. 396)

The analysis of Judaism carried out by the "Wissenschaft" school was flawed in two ways, according to Scholem:

* It studied Judaism as a dead object rather than as a living organism.
* It did not consider the proper "foundations" of Judaism, the irrational force that, in Scholem's view, made the religion a living thing.

In Scholem's opinion, the mythical and mystical components were as important as the rational ones. In particular he disagreed with what he considered to be Martin Buber's personalization of Kabbalistic concepts as well as what he argued was an inadequate approach to Jewish history, Hebrew language, and the land of Israel.

In the "Weltanschauung" of Scholem, the research of Jewish mysticism could not be separated from its historical context. Starting from something similar to the "Gegengeschichte" of Friedrich Nietzsche he ended up including less normative aspects of the Judaism in the public history.

Specifically Scholem thought that Jewish history could be divided into three periods:

#During the Biblical period, monotheism battles myth, without completely defeating it.
#During the Talmudic period, some of the institutions — for example, the notion of the magical power of the accomplishment of the Sacraments — are removed in favour of the purer concept of the divine transcendence.
#During the medieval period, the impossibility of reconciling the abstract concept of god of Greek philosophy with the personal God of the Bible led Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, to try to eliminate the remaining myths and to modify the figure of the living God. After this time, mysticism, as an effort to find again the essence of the God of their fathers, became more widespread.

The notion of the three periods, with its interactions between rational and irrational elements in Judaism, led Scholem to put forward some controversial arguments. He thought that the 17th century messianic movement, known as Sabattianism, was developed from the medieval Lurianic Kabbalah. In order to neutralize sabattianism, Hasidism had emerged as a Hegelian synthesis. Many of those who joined the Hasidic movement, because they had seen in it an Orthodox congregation, considered it scandalous that their community should be associated with a heretical movement.

In the same way, Scholem produced the hypothesis that the source of the 13th century Kabbalah was a Jewish gnosticism that preceded Christian gnosticism.

The historiographical approach of Scholem also involved a linguistic theory. In contrast to Buber, Scholem believed in the power of the language to invoke supernatural phenomena. In contrast to Walter Benjamin, he put the Hebrew language in a privileged position with respect to other languages, as the only language capable of revealing the divine truth. Scholem considered the Kabbalists as interpreters of a pre-existent linguistic revelation.


Scholem was opposed to the death sentence against Adolf Eichmann. In the aftermath of the trial in Jerusalem, Scholem sharply criticised Hannah Arendt's book, "" and decried her lack of "ahavath Yisrael" (solidarity with the Jewish people).

Influence in literature

Various stories and essays of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges were inspired or influenced by Gershom Scholem's books Fact|date=May 2007. Gershom Scholem has also influenced ideas of Umberto Eco, Jacques Derrida, Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben and George Steiner ( .

elected works in English

* "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism" 1941
* "Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and the Talmudic Tradition" 1960
* Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem "Eichmann in Jerusalem: Exchange of Letters between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt", in "Encounter" 22/1 (1964)
* "The Messianic Idea in Judaism and other Essays on Jewish Spirituality" translated 1971
* "Sabbatai Zevi, the Mystical Messiah" 1973
* "From Berlin to Jerusalem: Memories of My Youth". Trans. Harry Zohn, 1980.
* "Kabbalah", Meridian 1974, Plume Books 1987 reissue: ISBN 0-452-01007-1
* "Walter Benjamin: the Story of a Friendship". Translated from German by Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1981.
* "Origins of the Kabbalah", JPS, 1987 reissue: ISBN 0-691-02047-7
* "On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead : Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah" 1997
* "The Fullness of Time: Poems" (translated by Richard Sieburth)
* "On Jews and Judaism in Crisis: Selected Essays"
* "On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism"
* "Tselem: The Representation of the Astral Body" translated by Scott J. Thompson (1987)
* "Zohar - The Book of Splendor: Basic Readings from the Kabbalah" (Ed.)


* [ Biography at the Jewish Virtual Library]
* [ Biography]
* [ An analysis of Scholem's lifework from "Commentary"]
* [ Biographical page]
*Robinson, G. "Essential Judaism", Pocket Books, 2000.

External links

* [ The Greatness of Gershom Scholem]

Further reading

*Biale, David. "Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter-History", second ed., 1982.
*Bloom, Harold, ed. "Gershom Scholem", 1987.
*Campanini, Saverio, "A Case for Sainte-Beuve. Some Remarks on Gershom Scholem's Autobiography", in P. Schäfer - R. Elior (edd.), "Creation and Re-Creation in Jewish Thought". Festschrift in Honor of Joseph Dan on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, Tübingen 2005, pp. 363-400.
*Campanini, Saverio, "Some Notes on Gershom Scholem and Christian Kabbalah", in J. Dan (ed.), "Gershom Scholem in Memoriam", Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, 21 (2007), pp. 13-33.
*Jacobson, Eric, "Metaphysics of the Profane - The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem", (Columbia University Press, NY, 2003).

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  • Gershom Scholem — (* 5. Dezember 1897 in Berlin als Gerhard Scholem; † 21. Februar 1982 in Jerusalem) war ein jüdischer Religionshistoriker, der in Ivrith, Deutsch und Englisch über 500 Werke publizierte. Er hatte ab 1933 einen Lehrstuhl zur Erforschung der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Gershom Scholem — est un historien et philosophe juif, spécialiste de la kabbale et de la mystique juive, né à Berlin en 1897 et décédé à Jérusalem en février 1982. Sommaire 1 Biographie 1.1 En Allemagne 1.2 En Israël …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gershom Scholem — Gershom Gerhard Scholem (5 de diciembre de 1897 en Berlín, Alemania – 21 de febrero de 1982 en Jerusalén, Israel), filólogo, historiador y teólogo israelí, figura destacada dentro y fuera del judaísmo, unánimemente considerado como el más… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Gershom Sholem — Gershom Scholem Gershom Scholem est un historien et philosophe juif, spécialiste de la kabbale et de la mystique juive, né à Berlin en 1897 et décédé à Jérusalem en février 1982. Sommaire 1 Biographie 1.1 En Allemagne 1.2 En Israël …   Wikipédia en Français

  • SCHOLEM (Shalom), GERSHOM GERHARD — (1898–1982), the most important scholar of Jewish mysticism and a towering figure in Jewish intellectual life. Born to an assimilated family in Berlin, he was attracted in his youth to Judaism and Zionism and studied major Hebrew Jewish texts and …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Scholem — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Emmy Scholem (1896–1970), KPD Politikerin in der Weimarer Republik, Ehefrau von Werner Scholem Gershom Scholem (1897–1982), deutscher Schriftsteller und Religionshistoriker Werner Scholem (1895–1940),… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • SCHOLEM (G.) — SCHOLEM GERSHOM (1897 1982) Philologue, historien et théologien israélien, né à Berlin, Gershom Scholem étudia à Berlin, à Iéna, à Berne et à Munich. Il enseigne à l’université de Jérusalem et, depuis 1968, est président de l’Académie israélienne …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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  • Scholem — Scholem,   Gerhard (Gerschom), jüdischer Religionshistoriker, * Berlin 5. 12. 1897, ✝ Jerusalem 20. 2. 1982. Scholem fühlte sich bereits früh dem Kulturzionismus verbunden; widmete sich nach dem Studium (Mathematik, Philosophie) in München und… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Scholem, Gershom Gerhard — (1897–1982)    Historian and student of Jewish mysticism. Scholem, born in Germany, was professor of Jewish mysticism and the Cabbala at the Hebrew University from 1933–65 and was widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on the subject.… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

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