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Gershom ScholemAn Intellectual Biography$
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Amir Engel

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226428635

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226428772.001.0001

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Messianism as Symbol: The Lurianic School and the Emergence of a Mystical-Political Society

Messianism as Symbol: The Lurianic School and the Emergence of a Mystical-Political Society

(p.62) Chapter 3 Messianism as Symbol: The Lurianic School and the Emergence of a Mystical-Political Society
Gershom Scholem

Amir Engel

University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses Scholem’s retelling of the Lurianic Myth, based on the esoteric writing of the immensely influential Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria. Although Scholem often described Jewish mysticism as a historical corpus of Jewish Mythology, the Lurianic myth is the only myth that Scholem ever retold from beginning to end in any coherent matter. He appropriately titled it, the Myth of Exile. As such therefore, this retelling should serve as the epitome of Scholem’s literary achievement. For Scholem, it is here showed, the Lurianic myth serves as pivotal turning point in his historiography. It is here that his discussion of Jewish mysticism transforms to become a fully-fledged history of Jewish modernity. And finally, it is here that Scholem betrays his deepest political and philosophical biases. For, the attempt to imagine the Lurianic Kabbalah as a living principle, that is, as a principle of behavior, transforms it into an ideology, in a contemporary sense. Indeed, a careful reading of this myth reveals an ideology about community and freedom, which is remarkably close to the ideology which Scholem propagated when he was active in the Zionist Youth movement in Berlin, when he still struggled to imagine his own myth of exile.

Keywords:   myth, exile, Rabbi Isaac Luria, historiography, ideology, Kabbalah, redemption, Theory of the Symbol

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