The Mystics of the Historical Truth: A Metaphysical Commentary on Gerschom Scholem’s Idea of Jewish History

in Review of Rabbinic Judaism
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Gerschom Scholem’s perception of metaphysical truth as a law of historical reality stood behind his study of the Kabbalah. The uncovering of this truth and deciphering of the mark it leaves upon historical reality, he believed, served as the main tools in the anchoring of the Kabbalah as part of the continuity of Jewish history. The effort involved in revealing the truth seems to be an outcome of its containing hidden dimensions. Despite its metaphysical nature, historical truth does not denote an abstract element detached from human beings’ real experiences. Just as Scholem assumed that the mystical phenomenon was anchored to the historical reality of his time, he characterized the connection of mysticism to historical reality as “amazing” and “paradoxical.” These expressions reflect his fundamental understanding of history as an arena that is not only a space of discovery but also of concealment and mystery. This means that to the extent that the appearances of historical reality conceal the metaphysical truth that serves as a sort of legislative idea for it, so too in the depths of this reality the discovery of metaphysical truth takes place, finding paths—sometimes different, paradoxical, or even incomprehensible—through which it is revealed also in the historical world of phenomena.

The Mystics of the Historical Truth: A Metaphysical Commentary on Gerschom Scholem’s Idea of Jewish History

in Review of Rabbinic Judaism

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References

Ben ShlomoYosef Mendes-FlohrPaul “Gershom Scholem on Pantheism in the Kabbala,” Gershom Scholem the Man and His Work 1994 Albany State University of New York Press 56 72 [Ben Shlomo “Pantheism”]

Ben ShlomoYosef “The Philosophical Elements in the Kabbalah according to Gershom Scholem,” Proceedings of the Israeli Academy of Sciences 1997 6 8 109 129

BloomHarold YerushalmiYosef “Foreword to the 2nd edition,” Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory 1989 New York Schocken Books xiii xxv

BloomHarold BloomHarold “Scholem: Unhistorical or Jewish Gnosticism,” Gershom Sholem 1987 New York Chelsea House 207 220

DanJosef “From the Symbol to the Symbolized: Towards Understanding Gershom Scholem’s ‘Ten Unhistorical Aphorisms on Kabbala’,” Jerusalem Studies on Jewish Thought 1986 5 363 [Dan “From the Symbol to the Symbolized”].

FreudSigmund BrillA.A. The Interpretation of Dreams 1913 Third Edition New York Macmillan

HandelmanSusan A. Fragments of Redemption: Jewish Thought and Literary Theory in Benjamin Sholem and Levinas 1991 Bloomington Indiana University Press

IdelMoshe Kabbalah: New Perspectives 1990 New Haven Yale University Press

IdelMoshe OhanaDavidWeistreichRobert C. “As Far as East from West: Rabbis and Cabbalists in the Gershom Scholem’s Phenomenological Perception of Judaism,” Myth and Memory: The Incarnations of Israeli Consciousness 1997 Jerusalem Van Leer Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad 73 87

IdelMoshe “The Place of the Symbol in Gershom Scholem’s Thought,” Jewish Studies 1998 38 43 73 [Idel “The Place of the Symbol”].

IdelMoshe WeinribShai Elazar “The Rise and Fall of the Historical Jew,” The Past and Beyond: Studies in History and Philosophy 2006 Raanana Open University 171 207

MyersDavid N. Re-Inventing the Jewish Past European Jewish Intellectuals and the Zionist Return to History 1995 New York and Oxford Oxford University Press

O’BrienGeorge Dennis Hegel on Reason and History: A Contemporary Interpretation 1975 Chicago and London University of Chicago Press

RotenstreichNathan Studies in Contemporary Jewish Thought 1978 Tel Aviv Am Oved [Rotenstreich Studies in Contemporary Jewish Thought].

ShadelzkiIta “In Search of the Lost Judaism,” Zemanim 1997/8 61 78 85

ScholemGershom Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism 1941 Jerusalem Schocken [Scholem Major Trends].

ScholemGershom Origins of the Kabbalah (1150–1250) 1948 Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Schocken [Scholem Origins of the Kabbalah].

ScholemGershom Sabbatai Sevi and the Sabbatianist Movement in His Lifetime 1975 2 vols. Tel Aviv Am Oved [Scholem Sabbatai Sevi].

ScholemGershom Explications and Implications: Writings on Jewish Heritage and Renaissance 1976 2 vols. Tel Aviv Am Oved [Scholem Explications and Implications].

ScholemGershom ZohnHarry From Berlin to Jerusalem: Memories of My Youth 1980 Schocken Books [Scholem From Berlin to Jerusalem].

ScholemGershom ShapiraAvraham Another Thing: Chapters in History and Revival ii. 1990 Tel Aviv Am Oved [Scholem Another Thing].

ScholemGershom Continuity and Revolt: Gershom Scholem in Dialogue 1995 Tel Aviv Am Oved

ShapiraAvraham PoratDinaRosenMinaShapiraAnita “Between Philology and Historiography: Jewish Studies in Gershom Scholem’s Approach,” Jahrbuch for Daniel Carafi 1995 Tel Aviv Tel Aviv University 155 182 [Shapira “Between Philology and Historiography”].

TishbiYeshayahu Paths of Faith and Heresy: Essays and Studies in the Literature of Kabbalah and Sabbatianism 1994 Jerusalem Magnes

YerushalmiYosef Hayim Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory 1989 New York Schocken Books

2

ScholemAnother Thing pp. 106–107. In this context see also Scholem’s essay about Ben-Zion Dinur in which he criticizes him for the lack of objectivity in his oeuvre: “Dinur [...] is merely a universal historian of that universe known as the Israeli nation the historian who followed the light of ideology” (Gershom Scholem Explications and Implications: Writings on Jewish Heritage and Renaissance (Tel Aviv: Am Oved 1976 p. 510). Some saw this approach of Scholem’s as “the pot calling the kettle black.” See for example Avraham Shapira “Between Philology and Historiography: Jewish Studies in Gershom Scholem’s Approach” in Dina Porat Mina Rosen and Anita Shapira eds. Jahrbuch for Daniel Carafi (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University 1995) p. 171. David Myers also stressed the criticism Scholem shared to some extent with the Jerusalem School regarding the rigidity typical of classical Jewish historicism. See David N. Myers Re-Inventing the Jewish Past European Jewish Intellectuals and the Zionist Return to History (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press 1995) pp. 152 167.

3

Gershom ScholemMajor Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem: Schocken1941) p. 21.

5

ScholemMajor Trends p. 17.

6

ScholemAnother Thing p. 30.

7

Ibid. p. 30. In his suspicious approach to historical texts although they are the only raw materials available to the historian there is great similarity to Freud’s dream theory. Freud understood the dream as a text that expresses innocently and sometimes distortedly an unconscious wish and tasked the psychoanalyst with reconstructing the true text. Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams Third Edition trans. A.A. Brill (New York: Macmillan 1913) chapters 2–3. See also Ben Shlomo’s transparently Hegelian interpretation of this passage whereby unlike the rationalist philosophers who “saw their main role as determining antitheses to myth and pantheism and ‘disproving them’ perhaps the Kabbalists started to do what Scholem says is worth doing: ‘raising them to a higher level and cancelling them there’;” Yosef Ben Shlomo “The Philosophical Elements in the Kabbalah according to Gershom Scholem” in Proceedings of the Israeli Academy of Sciences 6/8 (1997) p. 124. Scholem’s words in this citation were taken from Scholem Another Thing p. 30.

9

ScholemAnother Thing p. 31.

10

Ibid. p. 264.

12

Gershom ScholemSabbatai Sevi and the Sabbatianist Movement in His Lifetime (Tel Aviv: Am Oved1975) p. 15. The introduction that Scholem wrote at first for this book was lost for many years and only discovered after the book had been published. This essay has received particular attention from the main researchers in the study of Scholem. See Scholem Sabbatai Sevi pp. 60–65; David Biale Gershom Sholem: Kabbalah and Counter-History (Cambridge ma and London: Harvard University Press 1979) pp. 83–84 93–114; David Biale “Gershom Scholem’s Ten Unhistorical Aphorisms on Kabbala. Text and Commentary” in Modern Judaism 5/1 (1985) pp. 67–93; Nathan Rotenstreich. Studies in Contemporary Jewish Thought (Tel Aviv: Am Oved 1978) pp. 144–155; Yosef Ben Shlomo “Gershom Scholem on Pantheism in the Kabbala” in Paul Mendes-Flohr ed. Gershom Scholem the Man and His Work (Albany: State University of New York Press 1994) pp. 465–469; Josef Dan “From the Symbol to the Symbolized: Towards Understanding Gershom Scholem’s ‘Ten Unhistorical Aphorisms on Kabbala’” in Jerusalem Studies on Jewish Thought 5 (1986) pp. 363–385.

13

ScholemSabbatai Sevi p. 16.

14

Ibid. pp. 15–16.

16

ScholemAnother Thing p. 32.

17

Ibid. p. 32. The expression “hidden life” frequently appearing in Scholem’s writings and usually denotes his personal intuition regarding the dimension of vitality in Jewish history or regarding its hidden and concealed dimension whose traces are buried within its sources; see Scholem Explications and Implications pp. 227 399; Scholem Another Thing p. 29; Scholem Major Trends p. 17; Gershom Scholem Origins of the Kabbalah (1150–1250) (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Schocken 1948) pp. 27 31; Scholem Explications and Implications pp. 227 399; Scholem From Berlin to Jerusalem p. 52. For more in this context see Shapira “Between Philology and Historiography” p. 174; Moshe Idel “The Rise and Fall of the Historical Jew” in Weinrib Shai Elazar et al. eds. The Past and Beyond: Studies in History and Philosophy (Raanana: Open University 2006) p. 184.

19

ScholemAnother Thing p. 32.

24

ScholemAnother Thing p. 32.

27

Dan“From the Symbol to the Symbolized” p. 356.

28

ScholemAnother Thing p. 32.

29

ScholemExplications and Implications p. 82.

30

ScholemAnother Thing pp. 32–33.

31

Ibid. p. 32.

32

See Gershom ScholemContinuity and Revolt: Gershom Scholem in Dialogue (Tel Aviv: Am Oved1995) p. 40. Josef Dan identified anarchy in this context with reversal and paradox. See Dan “From the Symbol to the Symbolized” p. 368.

33

ScholemAnother Thing p. 32.

34

Ibid. p. 33. Josef Dan clarified the separation between the “what” and the “who” as expressing a paradox dividing the Kabbalist from the objects of his observation meaning that the Kabbalist seeks to deal with the God hidden in the infinity of the Torah but his consciousness ends up dealing with the Torah and its contents. See Dan “From the Symbol to the Symbolized” p. 371.

35

ScholemAnother Thing p. 33.

36

Ibid. pp. 33–34.

38

ScholemAnother Thing p. 34.

40

ScholemAnother Thing p. 356.

41

Ibid. p. 34.

42

Ibid. p. 33.

43

Ibid. p. 35.

44

Ibid. p. 35.

45

Ibid. p. 36.

47

ScholemAnother Thing p. 36.

49

ScholemAnother Thing p. 36.

50

Ibid. p. 37.

51

Ibid. p. 37.

52

Ibid. p. 33.

53

Ibid. p. 37.

54

Ibid. p. 32.

55

Ibid. p. 21. See Gadamer’s definition of Scholem’s approach as “astonished identification” (erschrockene Identifikation). This is taken from the text of Gadamer’s lecture found in Scholem’s estate and cited by Ita Shadelzki “In Search of the Lost Judaism” in Zemanim 61 (1997/8) p. 84.

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