Page 162 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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Benjamin in
Walter Benjamin: The History of a Friendship
trans., Jewish Publication Society, 1982). Benjamin had a pro­
found influence on Scholem’s theological views and Scholem
tried with little success to win his friend back from Marxism to
Zionism and Judaism. The story of Scholem’s relationship with
Benjamin, who committed suicide in 1940, is one of the most
poignant accounts of the different paths European Jewish intel­
lectuals took in the decades before the Holocaust.
During the war years, Scholem also became friendly with a
number of Eastern European Jews such as the Hebrew novelist
S.Y. Agnon and the future president of Israel, Zalman Ruba-
schoff (Shazar). Scholem was the first to translate Agnon into
Following the war, Scholem, who had started to study mathe­
matics, decided to write his doctorate on Jewish mysticism. He
had no intentions of earning an academic position since he had
resolved to emigrate to Palestine. He chose as his subject the early
Kabbalistic text,
Sefer ha-Bahir
and received his doctorate in 1923
from the University of Munich. Scholem essentially trained him­
self to read Kabbalistic texts, just as he had earlier taught himself
to read Hebrew. His decision to study the Kabbalah was the result
of his belief that only a meticulous knowledge of the historical
sources of Judaism could contribute to Jewish revival and that the
main force of vitality in Jewish history lay in mysticism. As a
secular Zionist from a non-traditional background, he searched
for an historical tradition outside the orthodox halakhah. But
unlike the German-Jewish rationalists he rejected, he found this
tradition not in Jewish philosophy, but in mysticism.
In 1923, Scholem emigrated to Palestine: Thus his intellectual
and political rejection of German-Jewish life became a personal
act. The philosopher Hugo Bergmann, who was the chief libra­
rian of the nascent Hebrew University, which had not yet opened
its doors, found money to hire Scholem as Judaica librarian.
When the university opened in 1925, Scholem was appointed
lecturer in Jewish mysticism and was promoted to professor sev­
eral years later. He served in this capacity until his retirement in
1965. His career therefore overlapped with the history of the
Hebrew University to whose development he made a singular