Page 160 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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DAVID BIAL
Gershom Scholem: 1897-1982
M
a r t i n
b u b e r
is
said to have remarked that “all of us have st
dents, some of us have even created schools, but only Gersho
Scholem has created a whole academic discipline.” Since th
emergence of the
Wissenschaft desJudentums
in Germany a centur
and a half ago, the history of the Jews has been subjected t
intensive study by extraordinary scholars such as Leopold Zun
Moritz Steinschneider and Heinrich Graetz in the nineteent
century and Simon Dubnow, Julius Guttmann, Saul Lieberma
and Salo Baron in our own. Yet, none made such a revolutionar
contribution as Gershom Scholem. For Scholem not only com
manded a whole field — the history of Jewish mysticism — but h
created that field in the sense that it had previously been th
unwanted stepchild of the Jewish historians. By transforming thi
largely neglected and denigrated subject into the main actor o
the stage of Jewish history, Scholem radically changed our per
ception of the “essence” of Judaism. Where Judaism was prev
ously considered to be a rational and legal religion, Schole
showed that it also contained legitimate irrational and ecstati
elements.
It would be impossible to summarize in one essay all the fruit
of Scholem’s long career. Scholem’s bibliography has been pub
lished as a pamphlet by the Magnes Press of the Hebrew Univer
sity (1977). Readers interested in a more comprehensive discu
sion of Scholem’s historiography and philosophy of history ar
referred to my book,
Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter
History
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979). In
stead, I shall devote these remarks to a concise discussion o
Scholem’s biography, the major conclusions of his historical wor
and, finally, the contribution his historiography has made t
modern Jewish thought.
Scholem was born in Berlin in 1897 to a family of printer
already two generations removed from traditional Judaism. H
was raised in a largely secular environment, celebrating Christ
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