Gershom Scholem Dead at 84

Gershom Scholem, one of the foremost Jewish historians of this century whose research into the Kabbalah shed new light on the role of mysticism in Jewish history, died here yesterday at the age of 84. Funeral services will be held tomorrow.

A lecturer at the Hebrew University since 1925, Prof. Scholem was born in Berlin to an assimilated family but became interested in Judaism at an early age. His absorption with the subject was fanned by his contacts with such writers, scholars and philosophers as Martin Bubet, Choim Nachman Bialik, S.Y. Agnon and Zalman Shazar, who was later to be a President of Israel. The Kabbalah intrigued him. But Scholem found little to guide his research in earlier works. Historians such as Heinrich Graetz dismissed the compendium of Jewish mysticism as an accumulation of nonsense while others idealized it unquestioningly.

WENT BACK TO THE ORIGINAL SOURCE

As a young scholar, Scholem went to the original source. His doctoral thesis was on the “Seffer Habahir” (The Book of Clarity), one of the basic books of the Kabbalah, which he translated into German. His first research work was published in Germany in 1923, the year he settled in Palestine. During his first two years there he served as head of the Judaica and Hebrew departments of the Hebrew University’s library, and afterwards as a professor of Kabbalah.

In the course of nearly 60 years, he published hundreds of books, articles and research papers which today form a comprehensive archive on Kabbalism. He discovered many unknown manuscripts and deciphered the language of Kabbalah.

One of his major scholarly achievements was to prove that the “Zohar,” the most famous of the Kabbalah books, was written in the 13th century by Rabbi Moshe de Leon, not by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai as previously believed. In his later years, Scholem devoted himself to research on the Messianic movements in Judaism.

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