Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Gershom Scholem & Jewish Mysticism (1975)

Jewish Tradition

Gershom Scholem [born as Gerhard Scholem in 1897 in Berlin–died in 1982 in Jerusalem] is the best-known modern scholar of Jewish mysticism, viewed as the world’s leading authority on the science and history of Kabbalah. Gershom (גֵּרְשֹׁם‬) roughly means in Hebrew “a sojourner there.” This was the name Moses gave his son after his escape from Egypt, “for he said, ‘I have been a גר (ger) in a foreign land.’” (Exodus 2:22).

Scholem immigrated to Mandate Palestine in 1923, at the age of 26, settling in Jerusalem; his first job was as a librarian at the National Library. What is noteworthy is that Scholem studied Kabbalah as a secular humanist and not as a religious thinker. For him it was about critical historical scholarship and not authentic mysticism as found in the religious rabbis of old.

In introducing this lecture, “On the Confrontation of Man with Himself and The Doctrine of the Astral Body,” the Gershom Scholem Archive writes:
The word “tselem” first appears in Genesis 1:26 when God creates man and says “let us make man in our image (tselem) and in our likeness.” In Hebrew “tselem” means “plastic image” and describes the individual essence of each human being. It constitutes an independent entity mediating between body and spirit. In mystical experience, the tselem could manifest as the perception of one’s own double, which revealed the deepest spiritual essence within man. Professor Scholem retraces the historical development of the doctrine of the tselem in Jewish mysticism and tells us how it is related to the principle of individuation in man.
Kabbalah, as Scholem points out means “tradition,” and it is a tradition with a pursuit of ultimate truths, including our role in the world. In Kabbalistic thinking, the essence of each individual is important, the essence made up of body, soul and spirit and the interplay among the parts that make us human, a thought that is beyond my understanding, but not beyond my interest or desire to know.

As I  understand it, a part of the Kabbalistic view is that all things, including humans and the world they inhabit, is broken and in need of redemption. This is not the same as saying that humans are not valued or prized, or that the individual itself is unimportant. Quite the contrary. Is it not true that one redeems what one considers valuable?  For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

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