Page 85 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

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to make the history credible, argue their position rather than tell the story and thus
fall between two stools. To this reader, at least, either one of two alternatives
would have been preferable: either a simple retelling of the Biblical story or a
frankly critical reconstruction of Joshua’s life, which would recognize that tradition
has used undoubted facts and situations to produce a version compounded of
history and legend. As it is, many incidents receive a “ rationalistic” explanation
tha t is neither historically plausible nor true to the spirit of tradition. The seven-
day march around Jericho is described as a “war of nerves,” and the collapse of the
walls is due to a secret sapping operation by Joshua’s men. Modern excavation
on the walls, notably by Garstang, have uncovered evidence of an earthquake and
a conflagration, which led to the destruction of the city, disasters which probably
served as the basis of the narrative in Joshua.
The easy distinction of Duff Cooper is also lacking. But the work has virtues
all its own. I t is more adequately equipped with scholarly apparatus and will
prove useful as a popular introduction to a serious study of the period of the Hebrew
— R o b e r t
G o r d i s in
The Reconstructionist
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism.
er shom
ch o l em
c h o c k e n
x i ,
440 pages.
Judaism can best be defined as a civilization, a mental attitude which expresses
and objectivizes itself in many fields of spiritual life and of intellectual activity.
I t is a civilization of a unique kind, developed in many countries and in many
languages. I t has always been subject to the influence of trends of development in
those broader civilizations in which the peculiar manifestation of Jewish civilization
found itself embedded.
Many attempts have been made to identify it with some specific or single mental
attitude or outlook. Thus with the triumph of rationalism in the middle of the
nineteenth century, Judaism has been identified by many of its most prominent
spokesmen and interpreters with rationalism, as a religion of pure reason, embody-
ing the belief in science and progress current at that time. At the beginning of the
twentieth century, with the rise of neo-romanticism, especially in Germany, and
the new emphasis on the irrational, on mystery and sentiment, Jewish mysticism,
long neglected and even despised, was rediscovered and came again into its own.
Regarded by its adversaries as obscurantism, it was now revealed by its friends
as a living source of poetry and personality, a creation of spontaneity and charm,
a movement which had produced great spiritual leadership and daring thought
about man’s relation to the infinite and man’s place in the human community.
Soon a rich literature about Hasidism grew up!
Yet while thus the latest flowering on the old tree of Jewish mysticism became
familiar to a growing circle of readers, the vast field of the long mystical tradition
from early talmudic days to the present remained little explored. The scholarly
world will always be in debt to Dr. Gershom G. Scholem of the Hebrew University
in Jerusalem for having dedicated many years to painstaking research in that field.
The nine lectures contained in
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism
bear full
testimony to the erudition, the metaphysical power of penetration and the elo-
quence of the author. The first lecture is devoted to an introduction to the general
characteristics of Jewish mysticism, while the following lectures unfold before us
the historical development of Jewish mysticism from the Jewish gnosticism in the
first ten centuries of the Christian era to Hasidism in medieval Germany. We
proceed then to Abraham Abulafia and his school, to the famous book
which, written at the end of the thirteenth century, overshadowed all other Cabalist
literature by its success, fame and influence, and on to the later manifestations of
Cabala, to Isaac Luria, to Sabbatianism and finally to modern Hasidism. Dr.
Scholem succeeds in the very difficult task of presenting a most intricate and
complex problem with great lucidity; his book is a major contribution to our grow-
ing knowledge and understanding of Jewish civilization as well as of religious
thought in general.
Dr. Scholem regards mysticism as a definite stage in the historical development
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