Gershom Scholem Is Born

December 5, 1897

Gershom (Gerhard) Scholem, preeminent scholar of Jewish mysticism is born in Berlin. Scholem, who was born into an assimilated German family, turned to Zionism at an early age. Scholem’s interest in Judaica and Zionism was against the wishes of his father. Despite the opposition of his father, his mother gave him a portrait of Theodor Herzl as a present in 1911.

In 1915, he was expelled from school for writing a letter opposing Germany’s involvement in World War I. His first published work in 1918 was a German translation of Yizkor – A Memorial Volume for Fallen Watchmen and Workers in Eretz Yisrael.

After completing a Ph.D. thesis in 1923 he arrived in Israel. He taught at the Hebrew University, becoming the first professor to devote all his studies and teaching to the topic of Jewish mysticism. He traveled throughout the world to find manuscripts and materials devoted to the topic. In 1939, he delivered a series of lectures in New York which would become his groundbreaking work, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, published in 1941. In the course of his life, he published over 40 volumes and approximately 700 articles. He wrote about Messianism, including a seminal work on the false Messiah Shabbetai Tzvi.

In addition to his teaching and writing, he was also the first head librarian of the National Library’s Judaic collection and created a hybrid method of the Dewey Decimal System to catalogue Judaica. He donated his book collection of over 25,000 works to the National Library of Israel.

Of Scholem, the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber once remarked, “all of us have students, schools, but only Gershom Scholem has created a whole academic discipline!”

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Photo Credit: Gershom Scholem