Gershom Scholem and the Mystical Dimension of Jewish History

Gershom Scholem and the Mystical Dimension of Jewish History

Joseph Dan
Copyright Date: 1987
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 340
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg6m5
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  • Book Info
    Gershom Scholem and the Mystical Dimension of Jewish History
    Book Description:

    "An excellent overview of the history of Jewish mysticism from its early beginnings to contemporary Hasidism...scholarly and complex." - Library Journal "An excellent work, clear and solidly documented by Joseph Dan on Gershom Scholem and on his work." - Notes Bibliographiques "An excellent guide to Scholem's work." - Christian Century

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4414-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. CHAPTER 1 THE MAN AND THE SCHOLAR
    (pp. 1-37)

    THREE BOOKS should be written about Gershom Scholem. This is intended to be one of them. One book should describe Scholem and the twentieth century: his background, his approach to Zionism, and his immigration to Jerusalem (subjects dealt with in his autobiography,From Berlin to Jerusalem),¹ his activity in Jerusalem and at the Hebrew University, his friendships with Agnon² and other great Jerusalem figures, his relationship with Walter Benjamin,³ his social and political views, his impact upon Israeli culture and outlook concerning its past, and all other aspects of a long, fruitful, and extremely active and influential life.

    Another book...

  4. CHAPTER 2 THE EARLY BEGINNINGS OF JEWISH MYSTICISM
    (pp. 38-76)

    A JUDGMENT CONCERNING the beginning of a religious phenomenon depends on its definition. If mysticism is defined only as the individual’s religious quest for union with the Godhead, the investigation of the beginning of a mystical trend becomes, in fact, a problem in literary analysis, i.e., can certain verses or chapters in the Bible, for instance, be interpreted as expressing mysticism? It is possible that several chapters in the Psalms, and some prophetic visions, can be perceived as an expression of a mystical trend. If one follows this method, it is possible to trace mystical inclinations throughout Jewish religious literature,...

  5. CHAPTER 3 FROM THE ANCIENT EAST TO THE EUROPEAN MIDDLE AGES
    (pp. 77-91)

    EVERY READER ofMajor Trends in Jewish Mysticismis puzzled that the first chapter of the book is dedicated toHekhalotmysticism of the Talmudic period, up to approximately the sixth century. The following chapter is dedicated to the Ashkenazi Hasidic movement in medieval Germany, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Was there nothing in between? Did Jewish mysticism freeze in its development after the experiences of the “descenders to the chariot” to be resumed only half a millennium or more later in the Christian countries of medieval Europe?

    Scholem did not explore the period betweenHekhalotmysticism and the...

  6. CHAPTER 4 THE ASHKENAZI HASIDIC MOVEMENT
    (pp. 92-126)

    ONE OF THE most important contributions of Gershom Scholem to the study of Jewish culture in the Middle Ages in central Europe was his integral inclusion of the Ashkenazi Hasidic movement in the history of Jewish mysticism and pietism. Scholem was the first to study this movement as a whole, including in one and the same analysis a discussion of the movement’s ethics as well as its mysticism, two elements which all previous scholars had treated separately. Scholem revealed the mystical element in the pietistic and ethical works of this movement and demonstrated the integral unity between these two factors....

  7. CHAPTER 5 THE ENIGMATIC BOOK BAHIR
    (pp. 127-146)

    AMONG THE RIDDLES that Jewish mysticism presented him with, none bothered Gershom Scholem more than the enigma of the bookBahir, the first book of the kabbalah, which became known in southern France at the end of the twelfth century. Scholem wrote his Ph.D. thesis at the University at Munich on this book, preparing a German translation of the work and a commentary which included an anlysis of the sources and kabbalistic works that used sections from it.¹ Scholem, however, was very far from satisfied with the work he had done in his early twenties on this subject. He later...

  8. CHAPTER 6 THE EARLY KABBALAH
    (pp. 147-187)

    THE HISTORIANS OF Jewish thought who preceded Gershom Scholem were perplexed by finding a way to reconcile the appearance of the first schools of the kabbalah in the late twelfth century with the fact that the period was the one in which Jewish philosophy, and especially Jewish rationalistic philosophy, reached its peak? How can a historian accept the historical fact that the first Jewish scholars who dealt in kabbalistic, mythological symbolism, were contemporaries of Maimonides, the greatest Jewish philosopher of all time, and wrote the first kabbalistic treatises at the same time that Moses ben Maimon was writing hisGuide...

  9. CHAPTER 7 FROM GERONA TO THE ZOHAR
    (pp. 188-202)

    THE FIRST PERIOD in the history of the kabbalah begins with the composition of Rabbi Isaac the Blind’s commentary onSefer Yezirah, in the beginning of the thirteenth century. It ends when the most important kabbalistic work, theZohar, began to be known about 1291. The first half of this century-long period was dominated by the kabbalistic circles in Provence and Gerona; the second half, from the middle of the thirteenth century, was dominated by three major developments: the school of kabbalists in Castile, that of Rabbi Jacob ha-Cohen, his sons and their disciples; the activities of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia;...

  10. CHAPTER 8 THE ZOHAR
    (pp. 203-229)

    WHEN SCHOLEM began his studies of theZohar, he was overwhelmed by its depth, its vast imagery, its profound symbolism, and the literary and ideological power contained in it. This reaction is natural when facing this enormous work. Scholem was familiar with the views of Graetz and other nineteenth-century scholars concerning theZohar. He knew the prevailing view that theZoharhad been written by Rabbi Moses de Leon in northern Spain near the end of the thirteenth century. The young Scholem could not accept this view, which was usually presented coupled with vitriolic attacks against the kabbalah in general....

  11. CHAPTER 9 FROM THE ZOHAR TO SAFED
    (pp. 230-243)

    THE TWO CENTURIES which separate the appearance of theZoharin Spain and the establishment of the new center of the kabbalah in sixteenth-century Safed witnessed a period of intensive kabbalistic creativity, the spread of the kabbalah to Italy and Germany, the resolution of the conflict between the followers of the kabbalah and those of Jewish philosophy in favor of the mystics, and the strengthening of the kabbalah in Jewish culture. During these two centuries dozens of kabbalistic works were written, old ideas were developed and expounded, and new ones emerged, all to shape the future of Jewish mystical literature....

  12. CHAPTER 10 THE SAFED SCHOOL OF THE KABBALAH
    (pp. 244-285)

    THE EXPULSION OF the Jews from Spain in 1492 changed the geography as well as the ideological attitudes of world Jewish communities. Two separate centers were formed, one in eastern Europe and one in the Ottoman Empire, of which the main communities were in North Africa, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Eretz Israel. The hardships that the Jews exiled from Spain underwent brought home to all Jewish centers an intense sense of exile, as the largest and oldest Jewish community in Europe was destroyed overnight by one royal decree. A feeling of uncertainty engulfed even those communities which were not directly...

  13. CHAPTER 11 THE SABBATIAN UPHEAVAL
    (pp. 286-312)

    NO PART OF Scholem’s voluminous scholarly works had a greater impact on modern Jewish historiography than his studies of the Sabbatian movement of the seventeenth century. Perhaps it was the unique, dramatic, and profound nature of the movement itself that interested so many.

    A number of scholars followed Scholem in the study of the Sabbatian movement. While only a few of his students continued his work in the history ofHekhalotmysticism, early kabbalah, theZoharand other subjects, his work on the Sabbatian movement is continued today by many historians in Israel and abroad. The advances in the study...

  14. CHAPTER 12 HASIDISM AND THE MODERN PERIOD
    (pp. 313-328)

    GERSHOM SCHOLEM studied the modern Hasidic movement in several articles. Founded by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Besht (ba’al shem tov), the acronym for the traditional Hebrew term for a magician and popular healer,¹ as the latest phase in the development of Jewish mysticism, which began with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. It continued with the intensification of Jewish messianism and the emergence and spread of the Lurianic kabbalah; it became a major historical crisis for Jewish culture with the Sabbatian movement. Hasidism was one of the answers that the Jewish religious community, suffering from the...

  15. INDEX
    (pp. 329-337)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 338-339)