Page 165 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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whole Jewish world, he claimed, and profoundly shook the
hegemony of the rabbis. It was therefore the great watershed
between the Middle Ages and modernity, a foreshadowing, as it
were, of the rise of antinomian secularism. Scholem argued that
subsequent Jewish movements, including Hasidism and Has-
kalah, were all reactions to Sabbatianism. Hasidism tried to “neu­
tralize” the messianic energies of Sabbatianism, while the early
followers of the Haskalah were frequently themselves secret Sab-
batians. Thus, Scholem argued that the rise of modern Judaism
was a consequence of a catastrophe within the Jewish religious
tradition and not simply the result of outside influence.
Scholem connected his studies of Sabbatianism with his work
on the earlier Kabbalah through the theme of the Gnostic myth.
He dismissed persecution and other external factors as the causes
of Sabbatianism and argued instead that it was ideas — the ideas
of the Gnostic Kabbalah — that were primarily responsible for the
great messianic outburst. The dissemination of the Lurianic Kab­
balah, he suggested, with its emphasis on redemption and with its
apocalyptic overtones, set the stage for antinomian messianism.
Nowhere is Scholem’s commitment to intellectual history and to
the influence of intellectual elites more apparent than in this
etiology of Sabbatianism.
Scholem’s magisterial history of the Kabbalah therefore sweeps
from late antiquity to the threshold of modernity. Instead of an
isolated and peripheral movement, the Kabbalah in his hands
became the very key to the history of the Jews during this long
It is interesting that although Scholem was no Kabbalist and led
a secular life, he believed firmly that the mythic and mystical
impulses which inform the Kabbalah remain hidden forces in
Jewish history into the twentieth century. He suggested fre­
quently that Zionism itself may have taken its vital energies from
the same sources. Yet, he also made clear his personal ambiva­
lence about these forces. The mystical messianism of the Sabba­
tian movement led to disaster in the wake of Sabbatai Sevi’s failure
as a Messiah. Zionism, too, might be endangered if these same
forces were not properly “neutralized,” by which he meant redi­
rected toward constructive purposes. His own political activity
was informed by these concerns. In the 1920s, he was active in the
Brit Shalom movement which sought to balance the “apocalyptic”
nationalism of the Revisionists with a policy of compromise with