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Guershom Scholem

Gershom Scholem

Born in Berlin in 1897, Gershom Scholem died in Jerusalem in 1982. Professor of KABBALAH at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he was a pioneer and one of the greatest researchers in this field. The influence of his immense work extends beyond the academic sphere and the scientific study of TORAH. His archive, comprising over twenty-five thousand books, was transferred in accordance with his last wishes to the National Library of Israel, where it can be consulted by the public.

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The following text is taken from the book written in German by Gershom Scholem, and first published in 1960 under the title: ‘Zur KABBALAH and ihrer Symbolik’.

​"KABBALAH literally means 'Tradition': it has been handed down from generation to generation, and represents what is defined as 'Jewish mysticism'. It has a long history, and for many centuries has exerted a great influence on those within the Jewish People who had a burning desire to gain a deeper understanding of the traditional forms of expression and conceptions of Judaism. The Kabbalists' literary output was more intense in some periods than in others, and accumulated in the form of an impressive number of books, the majority of which date back to the High Middle Ages.

For many centuries, the main work of this great literary movement, the ZOHAR or 'Book of Splendor', was widely revered as a sacred text, and there was no question of questioning its value. Even today, it enjoys the same particularly high degree of esteem in some Jewish communities. When Israel became an independent state, the Jews of Yemen, who represented a remote and isolated community in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, almost all immigrated on "magic carpets", as they then called the planes that transported them. They were forced to leave behind almost everything they owned. But there was only one possession that most of them refused to part with: their copy of the Book of ZOHAR. And to this day, they continue to study it.

But this world has been almost entirely lost to European Judaism. Until our generation, those who studied the history of Judaism showed little interest in the writings related to the KABBALAH, and almost all ignored them. This was because, at the end of the eighteenth century, when Western European Jews turned resolutely towards European culture, KABBALAH was one of the first and most important components of their ancient heritage to be sacrificed. Jewish mysticism, with its complex, introverted symbolism, was felt to be something strange and disturbing... and was soon forgotten.

The Kabbalists had attempted to penetrate and even describe the Mystery of the universe as a reflection of the SECRETS of the DIVINE. The representations in which their experience had crystallized were too deeply rooted in the historical experience of the Jewish People, and seemed to have lost all relevance by the nineteenth century.

In previous centuries, the world of KABBALAH was essential in helping Jews to understand who they really were. Today, this world seems to have vanished into the vortex of modern life, to such an extent that for entire generations knowledge of this field was reduced to almost nothing. What remained resembled a wilderness of ruins, where on rare occasions a lone traveler would express astonishment at fragments of bizarre images of the SACRED, which rational thought could of course only reject.

The key to understanding the books of KABBALAH seemed to have been lost. Scholars were perplexed and bewildered by a world which, instead of offering simple, clear concepts that could be developed and enriched, presented symbols of a very particular nature in which the spiritual experience of the secrets of mysticism were intertwined almost inextricably with the historical experience of the Jewish People.

It was this blending of these two fields, which in most other religious mysticism had remained separate, that gave the KABBALAH its distinctive character. It's hardly surprising, then, that it should seem strange to those who study Christian mysticism, given that it doesn't at all correspond to the different categories of mysticism to which they are accustomed. The more sordid, lamentable and cruel the fragment of historical reality reserved for the Jews in the torments of exile, the more profound and precise a symbolic meaning appeared, and the more the messianic hope radiated and transfigured this difficult situation. At the heart of this reality lay the immense hope of rebirth, the myth of exile and redemption that kabbalists have extensively developed...…"

See also: The Hidden Meaning of the Torah, by Gershom Sholem

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