Page 161 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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BIALE / GERSHOM SCHOLEM
155
mas as a national folk holiday. The beginning of the twentieth
century marked the highwater mark of Jewish acculturation in
Germany and also the beginning of a crisis in German-Jewish life.
Most German Jews regarded Judaism as entirely compatible with
bourgeois German culture, a position articulated philosophically
by the neo-Kantian philosopher Hermann Cohen. At the same
time, a growing number of young German Jews, inspired by the
mystical thinker Martin Buber, rejected rationalism and
liberalism in favor of Jewish nationalism and mystical renewal.
This revolt against liberal Judaism was deeply influenced by the
Volkisch
movement which captured the imaginations of young
Germans at this time.
Scholem was attracted to the Zionist youth movement Jung-
Juda. Why he chose Judaism and Zionism as expressions of revolt
against his parents’ life-style remains something of a mystery.
Clearly, the Scholem family inspired various forms of revolt: One
of Scholem’s brothers, Werner, became a Communist, served in
the Reichstag as a Communist delegate during the Weimar Re­
public and was killed by the Nazis in Buchenwald; another bro­
ther, Reinhold, became a rightwing nationalist. Scholem himself
read widely in Jewish history as a youth and seems to have come to
his Jewish interests as an autodidact.
H IS PACIFISM
Following his brother Werner, the young Scholem opposed
World War I from the moment the war broke out. This anti-war
stand, which was most uncommon among German Jews, brought
him into conflict with his father, who eventually expelled him
from the house as a result of his political activities. Scholem also
became critical of the German-Jewish youth movement which
supported the war no less than its elders. His opposition to the
war led him to break with Buber who considered the war a
positive mystical experience, at least until about 1917. As a result
of this political disagreement, Scholem came to reject Buber’s
mystical approach to Judaism and turned instead to historical
study of Jewish sources. For Scholem, mysticism was a legitimate
part of Judaism, but a form of thought to be studied historically.
It was during the war that Scholem came to know Walter
Benjamin, the brilliant young literary critic who also opposed the
war. Scholem has recounted the history of his friendship with