- LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0008
- LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0008
Gershom Scholem (b. 1897–d. 1982) is generally considered the most important Jewish historian of the 20th century, as well as one of the most important contributors to modern Jewish thought. Born in Berlin, he rebelled against his assimilated, bourgeois upbringing and became a Zionist while still a teenager, teaching himself Hebrew. An adamant opponent of World War I on Zionist grounds, he was ejected from the family home by his father. Although he started studying mathematics at university, he soon switched to the study of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), completing a PhD on the Sefer ha-Bahir, one of the earliest texts of medieval Kabbalah. Following completion of his PhD in 1923, Scholem moved to Palestine, where he became the Judaica librarian of the new Hebrew University and subsequently professor in the Institute for Jewish Studies. It was in that latter capacity that he trained a school of students. Although a handful of 19th-century scholars investigated the Kabbalah as a worthy historical subject, Scholem almost single-handedly turned the study of Kabbalah into a key discipline in the field of Jewish studies. He uncovered myriad new sources and suggested many innovative interpretations. Among his most striking findings were (1) proof that the greatest work of medieval Kabbalah, the Sefer ha-Zohar, was composed by a 13th-century Spanish Jew, Moses de Leon, rather than the 2nd-century rabbi Shimon bar Yohai (as held by Orthodox opinion); (2) an argument that the 16th-century Lurianic Kabbalah’s cosmic myth of exile in the wake of the expulsion from Spain in 1492 was a mystical response to that historical event; (3) a demonstration that the 17th-century Sabbatian messianic movement swept up virtually the entire Jewish world and thus constituted the most important worldwide phenomenon in premodern Jewish history; and (4) an argument that Sabbatianism represented the great watershed between the Middle Ages and modernity by undermining rabbinic authority from within. In addition to his major historiographical contributions, it has come to be recognized that Scholem was one of the towering Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, taking his place with such German Jewish philosophers as Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber. Scholem held that there is no “essence” of Judaism but rather a plurality of conflicting forces, from the rational to the irrational. He restored myth and mysticism to a central place in Judaism and thus overturned the predominantly rationalist philosophy of the study of Judaism from the 19th century. Scholem also constructed a powerful argument for Zionism as the return of the Jews to history, although he rejected the more nationalistic forms of Zionism such as Vladimir Jabotinsky’s revisionism.
Produced during a career that spanned six decades, Scholem’s oeuvre comprised 579 published items as of 1977, including Catane 1977. Scholem 1954, a series of lectures later turned into a book, is his most important overview of the history of the Kabbalah. His other masterpiece was Scholem 1973, his biography of Sabbatai Sevi. His many essays have been collected in English in Scholem 1965, Scholem 1971, and Scholem 1997; in Hebrew in Scholem 1976a; and in German in Scholem 1963–1984. Scholem 1976b collects essays by Scholem related especially to other German Jewish thinkers.
Catane, Mochè, comp. Bibliography of the Writings of Gershom G. Scholem. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1977.
Published five years before Scholem’s death and therefore missing items from both those years and from his Nachlass. Particularly valuable for obscure writings from his early years.
Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. 3d ed. New York: Schocken, 1954.
Scholem’s lectures delivered at the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1938 cover a general definition of Jewish mysticism, hekhalot mysticism in the rabbinic period, Abraham Abulafia, two chapters on the authorship and content of the Sefer ha-Zohar, Lurianic Kabbalah, Sabbatianism, and Hasidism. Still the most important general work on Kabbalah.
Scholem, Gershom. Judaica. 4 vols. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1963–1984.
Many of Scholem’s most important philosophical and historiographical essays written originally in German.
Scholem, Gershom. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Schocken, 1965.
A companion volume to Scholem 1976b, with essays on religious authority and mysticism, the meaning of Torah in Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah and myth, and Kabbalistic ritual and the Golem.
Scholem, Gershom. The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality. New York: Schocken, 1971.
In addition to the canonical title essay, contains Scholem’s pathbreaking study of Sabbatianism, “Redemption through Sin,” as well as other essays on Sabbatianism. Includes the philosophically important “Revelation and Tradition as Religious Ideas in Judaism” and two essays on Hasidism.
Scholem, Gershom. Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah. Translated by R. J. Zvi Werblowsky. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
Scholem’s monumental biography of the 17th-century messiah and the movement that he led. The fruits of a whole career of scholarship.
Scholem, Gershom. Devarim be-go: Pirke morashah u-tehiya. 2 vols. Edited by Avraham Shapira. Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1976a.
A collection of Scholem’s essays, many written originally in Hebrew and some translated from German.
Scholem, Gershom. On Jews and Judaism in Crisis. Edited by Werner Dannhauser. New York: Schocken, 1976b.
Essays on German-Jewish relations, Martin Buber, S. Y. Agnon, Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt.
Scholem, Gershom. On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time, and Other Essays. Edited by Avraham Shapira. Translated by Jonathan Chipman. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1997.
Mostly ephemeral writings, but includes the first translation of Scholem’s frontal attack in 1944 on the 19th-century school of Jewish historians. Also includes reflections on how he came to study Kabbalah, as well as the title essay.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Agudat Yisrael
- Ahad Ha' am
- American Hebrew Literature
- American Jewish Artists
- American Jewish Literature
- American Jewish Sociology
- Ancient Anti-Semitism
- An-sky (Shloyme Zanvil Rapoport)
- Anthropology of the Jews
- Anti-Semitism, Modern
- Apocalypticism and Messianism
- Archaeology, Second Temple
- Archaeology: The Rabbinic Period
- Art, Synagogue
- Austria, The Holocaust In
- Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1867-1918
- Biblical Archaeology
- Biblical Literature
- Bratslav/Breslev Hasidism
- Buber, Martin
- Bukharan Jews
- Central Asia, Jews in
- Chagall, Marc
- Classical Islam, Jews Under
- Cohen, Hermann
- Culture, Israeli
- David Bergelson
- Dead Sea Scrolls
- Death, Burial, and the Afterlife
- Dietary Laws
- Dubnov, Simon
- Early Modern Period, Christian Yiddishism in the
- Eastern European Haskalah
- Environment, Judaism and the
- Ethics, Jewish
- Ethiopian Jews
- Folktales, Jewish
- Frank, Jacob
- Germany, Early Modern
- Graetz, Heinrich
- Hasidism, Lubavitch
- Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) Literature
- Hebrew Bible, Blood in the
- Hebrew Bible, Memory and History in the
- History, Early Modern Jewish
- History of the Holocaust
- Holland: 17th-18th Centuries
- Holocaust in France, The
- Holocaust in Germany, The
- Holocaust in Poland, The
- Holocaust in the Netherlands, The
- Holocaust in the Soviet Union, The
- (Holocaust) Memorial Books
- Holocaust, Philosophical and Theological Responses to the
- Holocaust Survivors, Children of
- Humor, Jewish
- Ibn Ezra, Abraham
- Indian Jews
- Isaac Bashevis Singer
- Israel Ba'al Shem Tov
- Israel, Religion and State in
- Israeli Economy
- Israeli Film
- Israeli Literature
- Israel's Society
- Jewish Bible Translations
- Jewish Culture, Children and Childhood in
- Jewish Economic History
- Jewish Folklore, Chełm in
- Jewish Genetics
- Jewish Names
- Jewish Studies, Dance in
- Jewish Territorialism (in Relation to Jewish Studies)
- Jewish-Christian Polemics Until the 15th Century
- Josephus, Flavius
- Kibbutz, The
- Languages, Jewish
- Late Antique (Roman and Byzantine) History
- Latin American Jewish Studies Latin American Jewish Studie...
- Law, Biblical
- Law in the Rabbinic Period
- Life Cycle Rituals
- Literature Before 1800, Yiddish
- Literature, Hellenistic Jewish
- Literature, Holocaust
- Literature, Latin American Jewish
- Literature, Medieval
- Literature, Modern Hebrew
- Literature, Rabbinic
- Magic, Ancient Jewish
- Maimonides, Moses
- Maurice Schwartz
- Medieval and Renaissance Political Thought
- Medieval Anti-Judaism
- Medieval Islam, Jews under
- Meir, Golda
- Menachem Begin
- Mendelssohn, Moses
- Messianic Thought and Movements
- Middle Ages, the Hebrew Story in the
- Minority Literatures in Israel
- Modern Germany
- Modern Jewish History
- Modern Kabbalah
- Moses Maimonides: Mishneh Torah
- Music, East European Jewish Folk
- Music, Jews and
- New York City
- North Africa
- Orthodoxy, Post-World War II
- Palestine/Israel, Yiddish in
- Palestinian Talmud/Yerushalmi
- Philo of Alexandria
- Poetry in Spain, Hebrew
- Poland, 1800-1939
- Poland, Hasidism in
- Poland Until The Late 18th Century
- Politics and Political Leaders, Israeli
- Politics, Modern Jewish
- Prayer and Liturgy
- Purity and Impurity in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism
- Rashi's Commentary on the Bible
- Reform Judaism
- Ritual Objects and Folk Art
- Rosenzweig, Franz
- Russian Jewish Culture
- Sacrifice in the Bible
- Sarah Schenirer and Bais Yaakov
- Scholem, Gershom
- Second Temple Period, The
- Sephardi Jews
- Sexuality and the Body
- Shmuel Yosef Agnon
- Shulhan Arukh and Sixteenth Century Jewish Law, The
- Sociology, European Jewish
- South African Jewry
- Soviet Union, Jews in the
- Spinoza, Baruch
- Talmud, Narrative in the
- The Druze Community in Israel
- The Modern Jewish Bible, Facets of
- Theater, Israeli
- Theme, Exodus as a
- Tractate Avodah Zarah (in the Talmud)
- United States
- Weinreich, Max
- Wissenschaft des Judentums
- Women and Gender Relations
- World War II Literature, Jewish American
- Yankev Glatshteyn/Jacob Glatstein
- Yemen, The Jews of
- Yiddish Linguistics
- Yiddish Literature since 1800
- Yiddish Theater
- Ze’ev Jabotinsky
- Zionism from Its Inception to 1948