Why Gershom Scholem, the Great Scholar of Jewish Mysticism, Continues to Fascinate

In the past two years, four new biographies of Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), the pioneering historian of the Kabbalah, have appeared in English. Born to a middle-class German-Jewish family, Scholem rebelled against his assimilated upbringing, embraced Zionism, studied Judaism and Hebrew, and in 1923 left Europe for the Land of Israel. He went on to revolutionize the study of Jewish history through his extensive analyses of mystical texts. In his review of these books, Steven Aschheim considers their subject’s complex attitudes toward Zionism and his enduring appeal:

[A]though Scholem resembled fellow exiled Jewish intellectuals of his generation such as his [close friend] Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, and Leo Strauss, who have been similarly lionized (and were his real interlocutors), he was the only one of them who [actually settled in] Israel. Their commons suspicion of bourgeois conventions, their postliberal sensibility, their rejection of all orthodoxies, and their fascination with esotericism were (and continue to be) attractive to those convinced that conventional approaches to the modern predicament were (and are) not viable. All sought novel answers to what they regarded as the bankruptcy of 20th-century civilization and its ideological options.

Perhaps, too, Scholem’s fascination for contemporary audiences is linked to a certain affinity between his concentration on textuality, rupture, paradox, [and] the abyss and the doubts and ironies of our postmodern world. But, in contrast to the postmodernists, Scholem maintained his belief . . . in the possibility of redemption. “A remnant of theocratic hope,” he wrote, “accompanies that reentry into world history of the Jewish people that at the same time signifies its truly utopian return to its own history.” Yet this hope was always combined with a delicious subversiveness, as he remarked when he was nearly eighty: “I never have stopped believing that the element of destruction, with all the potential nihilism in it, has always been the basis of utopian hope.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: German Jewry, Gershom Scholem, History & Ideas, Kabbalah

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7