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The Messianic Idea in Judaism: And Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality Paperback – May 10, 1995

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Editorial Reviews


"These major essays of historical synthesis provide a probing and challenging overview of Jewish history still pertinent to contemporary concerns."
—Robert Alter

“Gershom Scholem earned international renown as a brilliant interpreter of esoteric religious texts as well as a trenchant contributor to many of the central intellectual debates of his day. At a time when apocalyptic impulses are intensifying with the approach of a millennial moment in the Christian calendar, we can only welcome Scholem’s soberly presented and scrupulously researched account of their Jewish counterparts.”
—Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley
“Having had the privilege of knowing Gershom Scholem and having learned much from him, I am delighted to see this collection made available once more. I am especially fond of the essay on “Revelation and Tradition,” which is vintage Scholem—learned, sharp, witty, and adorned with delightful anecdotes from the Talmud. In juxtaposition with the essay that follows, on Wissenschaft des Judentums, it documents the subtle relationship between rational and nonrational elements in the Jewish tradition, the very relationship that Scholem both described so incisively and embodied so vividly.”
—Jaroslav Pelikan, Yale University

About the Author

Gershom Scholem was a professor of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem until his death in 1982. Among his most important works are Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, The Messianic Idea in Judaism, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, and editor of Zohar, the Book of Splendor: Basic Readings from the Kabbalah.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; Reprint edition (May 10, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805210431
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805210439
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #165,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Nicq MacDonald on November 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
Gershom Scholem, recognized as one of the foremost academic scholars of Jewish mysticism of the 20th century, presents here an excellent series of essays exploring the crises caused by fits of messianism in Judaism, especially the Sabbatian crisis.

The essays include:

Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism- details the concept of the messiah (mosiach) in the Hebrew exoteric traditions throughout history.

The Messianic Idea in Kabbalism- explores the origins of kabbalistic messianism in Isaac Luria and how this paved the way for Sabbatai Zevi.

The Crisis of Tradition in Jewish Mysticism- discusses the antinomian tendencies of messianic movements (esp. in the Sabbatians and post-Sabbatians, such as the Frankists and the Donme) and how Jewish law is abridged by proclamations of a new law, which is further advanced in the next essay,

Redemption through Sin- a more thorough look at antinomianism in Judaism, and how it stems from the idea of Spiritual Torah vs. Written Torah.

Further essays explore the Donme movement in greater detail, takes a look at a rare Sabbatian will from a Sabbatian who lived in New York in the 1800's, further essays on Hasidism and it's retort to Messianism, as well as the mystical aspects of Devekut (Hasidic "Cleaving to God"), and further essays in Jewish scholarship and an essay on the birth of the Star of David as a Jewish symbol.

Highly recommended to all parties interested in more advanced scholarship in Kabbalah and Jewish Heresy.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on May 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
The first half of this book discusses the evolution and decay of the Sabbatai Zevi messianist movement: not just of its birth (discussed in more detail in Scholem's book Mystical Messiah) but also of its slow decay. (For readers unfamiliar with Zevi, a brief summary: in the mid-1660s, Jews throughout the world came to believe Zevi was the Messiah; after being threatened with execution by the Ottoman Empire, Zevi converted to Islam. Nevertheless, some Jews continued to believe in him until the 19th century).

Scholem proposes two possible causes for the survival of Sabbatianism after Zevi's apostasy. First, 17th-century kabbalah (the Jewish mystical tradition) saw Messianic renewal not just as a nationalist rebirth of a Jewish state, but as a more spiritual process transforming all of creation, ultimately leading to Messianic deliverance. Scholem speculates that kabbalism made it easier for Jews to trust their own personal experiences over historical reality; as a result, some Jews could not admit "that their own personal experience had been false and untrustworthy." Moreover, many Jews had left countries (most notably Spain) where they were forced to practice Judaism in secret; thus, they found it easy to believe that Zevi was doing the same.

Scholem also addresses the Sabbatians' split-up into multiple factions. "Moderate" Sabbatians continued to follow halacha (Jewish law) believing that they were bound to do so until Messianic deliverance reappeared. But more radical Sabbatians either followed Zevi's lead by apostasizing, and/or by secretly rejecting halacha (Jewish law). The radicals believed that since the Messiah had come, the commandments of the Torah were abrogated, based on the idea of a "mystical Torah" of absolute freedom predating creation.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Valasek on April 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
The large majority of this book discusses the rise and fall of messianism through the medieval period and how it affects Judaism today. There are also other essays present that discuss the history of the Star of David symbolism and the mystical golems.

The author presents the case of how Sabbatianism and Hasidism influenced the messianic themes that are prevalent in today's Judiasm. Some of the more interesting readings cover the notion of Sabbatianism and its transformation to a sect that believes in a messiah that pointed the way to redemption through sin as a result of its heretical leadership.

Identifying some of the religious inadequacies of Sabbatianism and how they gave rise to Hasidism and the notion of a messianism that focuses on self and personal redemption, the author presents a plausible argument worthy of serious debate for years to come.
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