Gershom Scholem: From Berlin to Jerusalem and Back

Noam Zadoff

"Gershom Scholem: From Berlin to Jerusalem and Back" by Noam Zadoff. Book cover has a closeup profile headshot of Gershom Scholem.A new intellectual portrait of a prominent 20th-century philosopher

The German-born Gerhard (Gershom) Scholem (1897–1982), the preeminent scholar of Jewish mysticism, delved into the historical analysis of kabbalistic literature from late antiquity to the 20th century. His writings traverse Jewish historiography, Zionism, the phenomenology of mystical religion, and the spiritual and political condition of contemporary Judaism and Jewish civilization. During his lifetime, he published over 40 volumes and close to 700 articles and trained at least three generations of scholars of Jewish thought, many of whom still teach in Israel, Europe and North America.

Scholem famously recounted rejecting his parents’ assimilationist liberalism in favor of Zionism and immigrating to Palestine in 1923, where he became a central figure in the German Jewish immigrant community that dominated the nation’s intellectual landscape in Mandate Palestine until World War II. Despite Scholem’s public renunciation of Germany for Israel, Zadoff explores how the life and work of Scholem reflect ambivalence toward Zionism and his German origins.

Zadoff divides the book into three parts. He first examines how Scholem created new academic and social circles in Palestine, while at the same time continuing to publish in German and take part in Jewish cultural projects in his country of origin. Zadoff then turns to the reaction of Scholem to the Holocaust and its aftermath, which constituted a turning point in his life. The third part of the book deals with Scholem’s gradual return to the German intellectual world after World War II.

Zadoff's erudite interpretations of Scholem’s scholarship, embedded in its rich social and cultural contexts, show anew the remarkable contested worlds Scholem inhabited, resisted and accommodated to—sometimes in ways that ran counter to his own self-portrait.

About the Author

Noam Zadoff is an assistant professor of Jewish studies and history at Indiana University.