Gershom Scholem - Life

Life

Gerhard Scholem was born in Berlin to Arthur Scholem and Betty Hirsch Scholem. His interest in Judaica was strongly opposed by his father, a printer, but, thanks to his mother's intervention, he was allowed to study Hebrew and the Talmud with an Orthodox rabbi.

Gerhard Scholem met Walter Benjamin in Munich in 1915, when the former was seventeen years old and the latter was twenty-three. They began a lifelong friendship that ended only with Benjamin's suicide in 1940. In 1915 Scholem enrolled at the Humboldt University of Berlin, where he studied mathematics, philosophy, and Hebrew, and where he came into contact with Martin Buber, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Hayim Nahman Bialik, Ahad Ha'am, and Zalman Shazar. In Berlin, he first befriended and became an admirer of Leo Strauss (their correspondence would continue throughout his life). He subsequently studied mathematical logic at the University of Jena under Gottlob Frege. He was in Bern in 1918 with Benjamin when he met Elsa Burckhardt, who became his first wife. He returned to Germany in 1919, where he received a degree in semitic languages at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich. Less notable in his academic career was his establishment of the fictive University of Muri with Benjamin.

He wrote his doctoral thesis on the oldest known kabbalistic text, Sefer ha-Bahir. Drawn to Zionism, and influenced by Buber, he emigrated in 1923 to the British Mandate of Palestine, where he devoted his time to studying Jewish mysticism and became a librarian, and eventually head of the Department of Hebrew and Judaica at the National Library. He later became a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He taught the Kabbalah and mysticism from a scientific point of view and became the first professor of Jewish mysticism at the university in 1933, working in this post until his retirement in 1965, when he became an emeritus professor. In 1936, he married his second wife, Fania Freud.

Scholem's brother Werner was a member of the ultra-left "Fischer-Maslow Group" and the youngest ever member of the Reichstag, representing the Communist Party (KPD) in the German parliament. He was expelled from the party and later murdered by the Nazis during the Third Reich. Gershom Scholem, unlike his brother, was vehemently opposed to both Communism and Marxism.

Scholem died in Jerusalem, where he is buried next to his wife in Sanhedria. Jürgen Habermas delivered the eulogy.

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