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  • 8/10/2019 Gershom Scholem.time, Charisma..

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    Gershom Scholem: Charisma, "Kairos" and the Messianic DialecticAuthor(s): Amos Funkenstein and Bill TemplerSource: History and Memory, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring - Summer, 1992), pp. 123-140Published by: Indiana University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25618629.

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    Amos Funkenstein

    Gershom Scholem:

    Charisma,

    Kairos

    and theMessianic Dialectic

    1.

    Formulating

    the

    Problem

    Gershom

    Scholem

    devoted

    virtually

    his

    entire lifework

    to

    the

    study

    of

    the

    Kabbalah,

    its

    origins

    and

    impact.

    His

    towering

    achievement reflects farmore than "une vie d'analyse pour

    un

    moment

    de

    synthese,"

    to

    modulate that

    well-known

    maxim

    coined

    by

    the classical

    historian Fustel

    de

    Coulanges

    -

    a

    motto,

    by

    the

    way,

    that

    was

    likewise

    hardly

    applicable

    as a

    characterization

    even

    of

    its author.

    Roughly

    the first fifteen

    years

    of Scholem's

    academic

    creativity

    centered

    on

    a

    formidable

    task: the

    systematic tracking

    down

    and

    evaluation

    of

    kabbalistic

    texts

    in

    European

    libraries and archives. In the

    years

    that

    followed,

    he assembled

    these

    voluminous

    materials,

    rendered accessible by dint of his meticulous philological

    spadework,

    fashioning

    them

    into the

    grand

    architectonic

    design

    of

    an

    imposing historiographic

    edifice. Scholem

    delineated

    a

    painstakingly

    precise picture

    of

    the

    origins

    and

    transformations

    of

    Jewish

    mysticism,

    isolated

    many

    of

    its

    major

    motifs

    in

    a

    series of

    separate

    monographs

    and

    wrote

    the

    early

    history

    of

    the Shabbatean

    movement.

    His

    approach

    to

    the data

    was

    marked

    by

    a

    rigorous

    application

    of

    philological-historical

    criteria. Yet he

    was

    far

    from being a naive positivist and remained quite cognizant of

    his

    own

    metahistorical

    presuppositions,

    never

    trying

    to

    conceal

    their

    presence.

    Scholem's method

    was

    characteristically

    and

    stubbornly

    immune

    to

    the

    intellectual

    fads

    of his

    time.

    And

    there

    was no

    lack of such

    new

    scholarly

    vogues

    during

    the

    course

    of

    his

    long

    career: one

    need

    but

    recall

    the

    obsession

    of

    the

    "history

    of

    religions"

    school

    with

    analogies

    and

    associations

    a

    la

    Retzenstein,

    the

    phenomenological

    method,

    existentialism,

    structuralism,

    the

    new

    hermeneutics,

    psycho

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  • 8/10/2019 Gershom Scholem.time, Charisma..

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    Amos Funkenstein

    analysis

    and

    depth

    psychology.

    Indeed,

    it

    is

    astonishing

    how

    rarely

    Scholem's

    conceptual figures

    and

    insights

    leaned

    on

    other disciplines; often, they even expressed his negative views

    about

    them.

    In this

    light,

    the

    echo his work has

    found

    in

    other

    fields

    (a

    reverberation

    that

    continues)

    both

    within and

    beyond

    the

    pale

    of

    Jewish

    studies

    is

    all

    the

    more

    astounding,

    if

    not

    paradoxical:

    an

    impact

    and

    resonance

    that

    far exceeds

    that

    of

    any

    other scholar since

    the

    beginnings

    of

    the

    Wissenschaft

    des

    Judentums

    with whose work

    I

    am

    familiar.

    In the

    present

    essay

    I

    intend

    to

    explore

    the

    possible

    reasons

    behind

    this

    powerful

    echo

    emanating

    from the Scholem

    oeuvre, as well as his

    position

    as

    representative

    of a new

    style

    in the

    Wissenschaft

    des

    Judentums

    -

    this

    despite

    the fact that

    his

    specialist

    field,

    as

    he

    himself

    admitted,

    was

    centered

    solely

    on

    a

    single

    (and

    indeed

    relatively

    late)

    form

    of

    expression

    of

    Jewish

    spirituality

    and

    intellect

    It

    is

    precisely

    this

    paradoxical

    circumstance

    that

    lies

    at

    the

    heart

    of the

    question

    I

    wish

    to

    pose

    here.

    Can

    we

    find

    a

    cogent

    explanation

    -

    other

    than

    one

    based

    on

    merely

    immanent

    features

    -

    to

    account for

    Scholem's

    extraordinary

    degree

    of

    visibility,

    his

    scholarly

    authority

    extending

    far

    beyond

    the confines

    of his

    own

    field

    -

    in

    a

    word,

    for

    his

    scientific

    charisma}

    That

    charisma

    remains

    difficult

    to

    explain

    if

    we

    resort

    only

    to

    elements

    immanent

    to

    his

    field.

    Admittedly,

    the internal

    assets

    and

    advantages

    of

    his

    work

    as a

    teacher

    and scholar

    were

    immense;

    yet

    during

    the

    span

    of his creative

    career,

    there

    were

    a

    number

    of

    other

    achievements

    elsewhere,

    no

    less

    pioneering,

    and various

    spectacular

    findings

    in

    diverse

    subfields across the

    gamut

    of

    Jewish

    studies. But to

    paraphrase

    Martin

    Buber:

    was

    it

    not

    Gershom

    Scholem,

    more

    than

    any

    other

    scholar,

    who

    singlehandedly

    managed

    to

    establish

    a new

    discipline?

    If

    so,

    the substance

    of

    my

    question

    still

    remains:

    how

    was

    Scholem

    able

    to

    succeed

    in

    persuading

    the

    scientific

    community

    that

    his

    specialty

    was

    in fact

    an

    independent

    new

    discipline?

    Why

    did

    others,

    for

    example,

    fail in their

    attempts

    to

    gain legitimacy

    for

    the subfield

    of

    the

    literature

    of

    ethical

    instruction

    (mussar), equally

    voluminous

    in its

    scope,

    and its

    associated

    movements,

    as a

    special

    discipline?

    How did

    it

    come

    124

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  • 8/10/2019 Gershom Scholem.time, Charisma..

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    Charisma,

    Kairos and the

    Messianic Dialectic

    about that

    a

    whole

    cohort

    in

    the

    religious

    education of Israeli

    intellectuals

    during

    the

    1950s

    and

    1960s

    saw

    the

    Kabbalah

    as

    the sole

    living

    content of Judaism - indeed, that for many of

    them

    Scholem's

    presentation

    of

    the

    Kabbalah constituted the

    only

    concrete

    knowledge

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