Perhaps the greatest scholar of Jewish mysticism in the twentieth century, Gershom Scholem (1897–1982) once said of himself, “I have no biography, only a bibliography.” Yet, in thousands of letters written over his lifetime, his biography does unfold, inscribing a life that epitomized the intellectual ferment and political drama of an era. This selection of the best and most representative letters—drawn from the 3000 page German edition—gives readers an intimate view of this remarkable man, from his troubled family life in Germany to his emergence as one of the leading lights of Israel during its founding and formative years.
In the letters, we witness the travails and vicissitudes of the Scholem family, a drama in which Gershom is banished by his father for his anti-kaiser Zionist sentiments; his antiwar, socialist brother is hounded and murdered; and his mother and remaining brothers are forced to emigrate. We see Scholem’s friendships with some of the most intriguing intellectuals of the twentieth century—such as Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor Adorno—blossom and, on occasion, wither. And we learn firsthand about his Zionist commitment and his scholarly career, from his move to Palestine in the 1920s to his work as Professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Hebrew University. Over the course of seven decades that comprised the most significant events of the twentieth century, these letters reveal how Scholem’s scholarship is informed by the experiences he so eloquently described.