Cover image for Major trends in Jewish mysticism
Title:
Major trends in Jewish mysticism
Author:
Scholem, Gershom, 1897-1982.
Publication Information:
New York : Schocken Books, [1995]

©1995
Physical Description:
xxxi, 460 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Schocken Books, 1961. With new foreword.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780805210422
Format :
Book

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BM723 .S35 1995 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

A collection of lectures on the features of the movement of mysticism that began in antiquity and continues in Hasidism today.


Author Notes

Gershom Scholem's contribution to the understanding of Jewish mysticism is so dramatic that it warrants a separate introduction. As a young student of mathematics, he became a Zionist and his interest shifted to Jewish history. Scholem moved from Germany to become the librarian of the new University and National Library in Jerusalem in 1923 and served as a professor at Hebrew University from 1935 to 1965. Before him, Jewish historians during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries scorned the ignored mystical dimension of Judaism as a relic of premodern superstition and ignorance. Scholem's erudition and deep insight gave Cabala a scholarly audience. His writings are often difficult to read, but they are indispensable for any thorough knowledge of the subject of Jewish mysticism. (Bowker Author Biography)


Excerpts

Excerpts

First Lecture GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF JEWISH MYSTICISM I It is the purpose of these lectures to describe and to analyse some of the major trends in Jewish mysticism. I cannot of course hope to deal comprehensively in a few hours with a subject so vast and at the same time so intricate as the whole sweep and whirl of the mystical stream, as it runs its course through the movements which are known to the history of Jewish religion under the names of Kabbalah and Hasidism. Probably all of you have heard something about these aspects of Hewish religion. Their significance has been a matter of much dispute among Jewish scholars. Opinion has changed several times; it has fluctuated between the extremes of hostile criticism and condemnation on the one hand, and enthusiastic praise and defense on the other. It has not, however, greatly advanced our knowledge of what may be called the real nature of mystical lore, nor has it enabled us to form an unbiased judgment as to the part this lore has played and continues to play in Jewish history, or as to its importance for a true understanding of Judaism.   It is only fair to add that the exposition of Jewish mysticism, or that part of it which has so far been publicly discussed, abounds in misunderstandings and consequent misrepresentations of the subject matter under discussion. The great Jewish scholars of the past century whose conception of Jewish history is still dominant in our days, men like Graetz, Zunz, Geiger, Luzzatto and Steinschneider, had little sympathy--to put it mildly--for the Kabbalah. At once strange and repellent, it epitomized everything that was opposed to their own ideas and to the outlook what they hoped to make predominant in modern Judiasm. Darkly it stood in their path, the ally of forces and tendencies in whose rejection pride was taken by a Jewry which, in Steinschneider's words, regarded it as its chief task to make a decent exit from the world. This fact may account for the negative opinions of these scholars regarding the function of mysticism in Jewish history. We are well aware that their attitude, so far from being that of the pure scholar, was rather that of the combatant actively grappling with a dangerous for who is still full of strength and vitality; the foe in question being the Hasidic movement. Enmity can do a great deal. We should be thankful to those zealous early critics who, though their own judgment and sense of values many have been affected and warped by their prejudices, nevertheless had their eyes open to see certain important factors with great distinctness. Often enough they were in the right, though not for the reasons they themselves gave. Truth to tell, the most astonishing thing in reading the works of these critics is their lack of adequate knowledge of the sources or the subjects on which in many cases they ventured to pass judgment.   It is not to the credit of Jewish scholarship that the works of the few writers who were really informed on the subject were never printed, and in some cases were not even recorded, since there was nobody to take an interest. Nor have we reason to be proud of the fact that the greater part of the ideas and views which show a real insight into the world of Kabbalism, closed as it was to the rationalism prevailing in the Judaism of the nineteenth century, were expressed by Christian scholars of a mystical bent, such as the Englishman Arthur Edward Waite of our days and the German Franz Josef Molitor a century ago. It is a pity that the fine philosophical intuition and natural grasp of such students lost their edge because they lacked all critical sense as to historical and philological data in this field, and therefore failed completely when they had to handle problems bearing on the facts.   The natural and obvious result of the antagonism of the great Jewish scholars was that, since the authorized guardians neglected this field, all manner of charlatans and dreamers came and treated it as their own property. From the brilliant misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Alphonse Louis Constant, who has won fame under the pseudonym of Eliphas Levi, to the highly coloured humbug of Aleister Crowley and his followers, the most eccentric and fantastic statements have been produced purporting to be legitimate interpretations of Kabbalism. The time has come to reclaim this derelict area and to apply to it the strict standards of historical research. It is this talk which I have set myself, and in the following lectures I should like to give some idea of the conclusions to which I have come in trying to light up this dark ground.   I do not have to point out that what I am going to say can in the nature of things be no more than a brief outline of the main structure of mystical thought, as it reveals itself in some of the classics of Jewish mysticism--more often than not in an obscure guise which makes it none too easy for modern minds to penetrate into its meaning. Obviously it is impossible to give a summary of the subject without at the same time attempting in a few chapters a religious movement covering many centuries. In trying to explain so intricate a matter as Kabbalism the historian, too, must heed Byron's query: "Who will then explain the explanation?" For the rest, selection and abbreviation themselves constitute a kind of commentary, and to a certain extent even an appreciation of the subject.  In other words, what I am going to present is a critical appreciation involving a certain philosophical outlook, as applied to the life texture of Jewish history, which in its fundamentals I believe to be active and alive to this day. Excerpted from Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism by Gershom Scholem, Gershom Scholem All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.