Page 166 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

Basic HTML Version

the Arabs. Years later, following the Six Day War, he warned
again of the dangers of Zionist messianism and of latter-day
Scholem’s warnings of the threat of messianic excess today
demonstrate why his historical work had such contemporary res­
onance. Here was the engage historian par excellence, although
an historian whose modern concerns never caused him to abstract
his sources from their historical contexts. Even if he did not
identify with the mysticism of his sources, Scholem clearly experi­
enced their religious vitality and was able to communicate this
vitality in modern language. Indeed, the fruitful tension between
the secular historian and a religious tradition which one finds in
Scholem made his historiography a signal contribution to modern
Jewish thought. The argument of Scholem’s historiography is
that Judaism was never a monolithic tradition, but rather pluralis­
tic. This pluralism consists in a range of frequently contradictory
opinions — rational and irrational, philosophical and mythical —
which are all equally legitimate. Only by understanding this tradi­
tion in its anarchistic entirety can one grasp the “essence” of
Judaism, an essence which is distinguished by its lack of one
Yet, Scholem went beyond pluralism to suggest that it was
precisely the mystical and even potentially heretical forces which
were the sources of vitality in Jewish history. His studies of Jewish
mysticism were not designed only to rectify a gap in our historical
knowledge, but point to the key to Jewish survival. I have
elsewhere called Scholem’s philosophy a “counter-history” in
which neglected underground ideas — Jewish mysticism — are
revealed as the vital forces.
Thus, Scholem, who called himself a religious anarchist, was
able to find the source of his anarchism in Jewish history itself.
Instead of secularism constituting a break from Jewish history, it
became like a modern version of the Kabbalah in its dialectical
struggle with conservative forces, a struggle necessary to keep
Judaism alive. This dynamic view of Jewish life clearly negated
the monolithic conception of both the orthodox and of the
German-Jewish rationalists Scholem rejected in his youth. The