In Honor of the 2nd-Century’s Greatest Scholar of Kabbalah, an Essay by the 20th Century’s

Today is the minor Jewish holiday of Lag ba-Omer, which marks the end of the period of mourning that follows Passover. In Israel it is celebrated with pilgrimages to the birthplace of Shimon bar Yoḥai, the 2nd-century sage credited with authoring the Zohar. According to legend, he composed this book, the primary text of Kabbalah, during the several years he spent hiding from the Romans in a cave—from which he emerged on this day. No scholar in modern times did more to make the Jewish mystical tradition respectable and understandable than Gershom Scholem (1897-1982). In this essay, published in Commentary in 1980, Scholem tells the story of how he came to devote his life to the study of Kabbalah:

My interest in the Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism—manifested itself early on, while I was still living in Germany, my native country. Perhaps it was because I was endowed with an affinity for this area from the “root of my soul,” as the Kabbalists would have put it, or perhaps it was my desire to understand the enigma of Jewish history that was involved—and the existence of the Jews over the millennia is an enigma, no matter what all the “explanations,” in such profuse supply, may have to say about it.

The great historian Heinrich Graetz, whose History of the Jews had entranced me as a young man, displayed the greatest aversion to everything connected with religious mysticism, as did almost all the founders of the school of German Jewish scholarship known as Wissenschaft des Judentums in the last century. Graetz calls the Zohar, the classic work of the Spanish Kabbalah, a book of lies, and employs a whole dictionary of invectives whenever he speaks of the Kabbalists. Yet it seemed improbable to me—I could not say why—that Kabbalists could have been such charlatans, buffoons, and masters of tomfoolery as he made them out to be. Something seemed to me to be hidden there, and it was this that attracted me. The lasting impression made on me by Martin Buber’s first two volumes on Ḥasidism—written in German and drenched in the romanticism and flowery metaphors of the Vienna School and the Jugendstil—must also have played a part in this attraction.

In any case, from 1915 on I timidly began reading literature about the Kabbalah, and later tried my hand at original texts of kabbalistic and ḥasidic literature. This was fraught with difficulties in Germany at that time, for though it was always possible to find Talmud scholars, there was no one to serve as a guide in this area. . . . So I had to try to familiarize myself with these sources on my own.

Between 1915 and 1918 I filled quite a few notebooks with excerpts, translations, and reflections on the Kabbalah, though they were still far from scholarly efforts or insights. But the fever had taken hold, and in the spring of 1919 I decided to shift the focus of my academic work from mathematics to Jewish studies and to begin a scholarly investigation of the Kabbalah, at least for a few years.

To be sure, the universities did not encourage Jewish studies in those days. Today, when there are hardly any Jews remaining in Germany, all the German universities are eager to establish chairs in Judaica. But in those days, when Germany had a lively Jewish population in great ferment, not a single university or provincial ministry would hear of Jewish studies. (What Heinrich Heine wrote is quite true: if there were only one Jew in the world, everyone would come running to have a look at him, but now that there are too many, people try to look away.) Nonetheless, I wanted to try and unlock these mysterious texts, written in peculiar symbols, and make them comprehensible—to myself and to others.

Read more at Commentary

More about: German Jewry, Gershom Scholem, Hasidism, Kabbalah, Lag ba'Omer, Martin Buber

Despite the Toll of War at Home and Rising Hostility Abroad, Investors Are Still Choosing Israel

When I first saw news that Google wasn’t going through with its acquisition of the tech startup Wiz, I was afraid hesitancy over its Israeli founders and close ties with the Jewish state might have something to do with it. I couldn’t have been more wrong: the deal is off not because of Google’s hesitancy, but because Wiz feared the FTC would slow down the process with uncertain results. The company is instead planning an initial public offering. In the wake of the CrowdStrike debacle, companies like Wiz have every reason to be optimistic, as Sophie Shulman explains:

For the Israeli cyber sector, CrowdStrike’s troubles are an opportunity. CrowdStrike is a major competitor to Palo Alto Networks, and both companies aim to provide comprehensive cyber defense platforms. The specific issue that caused the global Windows computer shutdown is related to their endpoint protection product, an area where they compete with Palo Alto’s Cortex products developed in Israel and the SentinelOne platform.

Friday’s drop in CrowdStrike shares reflects investor frustration and the expectation that potential customers will now turn to competitors, strengthening the position of Israeli companies. This situation may renew interest in smaller startups and local procurement in Israel, given how many institutions were affected by the CrowdStrike debacle.

Indeed, it seems that votes of confidence in Israeli technology are coming from many directions, despite the drop in the Tel Aviv stock exchange following the attack from Yemen, and despite the fact that some 46,000 Israeli businesses have closed their doors since October 7. Tel Aviv-based Cyabra, which creates software that identifies fake news, plans a $70 million IPO on Nasdaq. The American firm Applied Systems announced that it will be buying a different Israeli tech startup and opening a research-and-development center in Israel. And yet another cybersecurity startup, founded by veterans of the IDF’s elite 8200 unit, came on the scene with $33 million in funding. And those are the stories from this week alone.

But it’s not only the high-tech sector that’s attracting foreign investment. The UK-based firm Energean plans to put approximately $1.2 billion into developing a so-far untapped natural-gas field in Israel’s coastal waters. Money speaks much louder than words, and it seems Western businesses don’t expect Israel to become a global pariah, or to collapse in the face of its enemies, anytime soon.

Read more at Calcalist

More about: cybersecurity, Israeli economy, Israeli gas, Israeli technology, Start-up nation