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Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism Paperback – May 2, 1995

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Editorial Reviews


"A crucially vital work in the long history of Jewish esoteric spirituality. Aside from its intrinsic importance, the book's influence has been enormous, and is likely to continue all but indefinitely."--Harold Bloom, Yale University

"Major Trends [is] the canonical modern work on the nature and history of Jewish mysticism. For a sophisticated understanding, not only of the dynamics of Jewish mysticism, but of the exquisite complexities of Jewish history and tradition, Major Trends is a major port of entry through which one must pass."--Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Columbia University

About the Author

Gershom Scholem was professor of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem until his death in 1982. He is also the author of The Messianic Idea in Judaism, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism,  On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead and Zohar.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; Reissue edition (May 2, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805210423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805210422
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #211,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
Gershom Scholem was President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and a Professor of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem until his death in 1982. He wrote the standard collage textbook on Jewish mysticism ('Major Trends...'). He is also the author of 'Origins of the Kabbalah', 'Kabbalah', 'On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism', 'On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead', 'The Messianic Idea in Judaism', and 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah'. Every book is a treasure in and of itself. Mr. Scholem put the Kabbalah back on the 20th century map. His studies on the 'Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation)', The Bahir (Bright)', and 'The Zohar (Splendor)' show the brillance of this unique individual.
'Major Trends...' is broken down into nine lectures. He covers everything from the beginings of Jewish mysticism up to modern times. He traces its origen from the Second Temple era, through the apocalyptic/pseudepigrapha period, and right into Jewish gnosticism with the Thrown (merkabah) mysticism. The 'Hekhaloth Books' (hekhaloth: the heavenly halls or palaces the visionary passes through on his way to the seventh heaven where there rises the thrown of divine glory) are well known for the their similarity to standerd gnostic works. The caves around Khirbet Qumran are another (Dead Sea Scrolls). He covers all aspects of this; the 'Song of Songs' and its mystical meaning (it was banned until a man reached 40 years old), the Shi'ur Komah (Measure of the Body of God), and all the magical elements that encompassed this, also theurgy, and so on.
All of this, of course, was several hundred years before the epoch 'Sefer Yezirah' was conceived of.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Valasek on December 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
For those of you who want to understand where and how the major trends in Kabbalism developed, look no further. This book covers all of the major ideas in their proper historical context, from Gnosticism to Hasidism.
The author's concept or purpose is to dispel many of the misleading, and speculative notions on the nature of Jewish mysticism. In the process, taking the mystical/magical portions for the most part out of the equation.
What I like best about Scholem's work is that he is not so concerned with what the meaning of each Kabbalistic notion but is primarily concerned with where it originated and what circumstances allowed for the development of an idea. This allows for an objective and unbiased consideration of the concept being studied.
What you won't get in this book that you will find in most others about this subject is the promotion thereof. No evangelical tendencies exist which make for a more throrough reading.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Arch Llewellyn on March 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
With these nine snapshots of Great Moments in Jewish Mysticism, Scholem gives an amazing crash course in an immense & complex spiritual tradition. His chapter on the Zohar is especially helpful, with concise explanations of tricky concepts like Sefiroth and the Shekinah, God's female aspect (I had no idea! Though since reading this I've heard Leonard Nimoy say that he copped Spock's split-finger greeting from synagogue, where it signaled the Shekinah's presence).
Scholem's affection for the Kabbalists stems from his belief that they kept alive a mythic, almost pantheistic, vision of God against the more rationalizing tendencies of mainstream Judaism. The mystics as he describes them, despite their arcane systems, were closer to popular beliefs and aspirations than the 'official' rabbinical tradition. In 1938, when Scholem gave these lectures, he hoped for a spiritual revival from within Jewish mysticism at a moment of crisis. I don't know if the New Age hipness of the Kabbalah was what he had in mind, but for all the measured, scholarly prose his heart is clearly with the weirdos.
I knew almost nothing about Jewish mysticism going into this book. I put it down with a new respect for one of the human mind's more intricate and neglected creations.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Neal J. Pollock VINE VOICE on November 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
Gershom Scholem transformed Kabbalah into an acceptable academic discipline. Today many writers/scholars/professors follow in his footsteps (e.g. Wolfson and Idel). He, no doubt, did us a great service. It should be noted, however, that he was an historian--neither scientist nor Kabbalist. He appears to have faithfully presented Kabbalistic doctrines, teachings, etc. Nonetheless, the reader should be sensitive to a certain lack of scientific viewpoint on the one hand and mystical/experiential knowledge and orientation on the other--in all of his works. That said, this is a wonderful book, probably his best (certainly his most famous) and one of the best available today on Kabbalah per se. If you like this book, I'd recommend you also read, "Jewish Gnosticism-Merkabah Mysticism-and Talmudic Tradition," "On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead," and his voluminous entry in a Jewish Encyclopedia on Kabbalah published as a stand-alone volume entitled, "Kabbalah." Both this last work and "Major Trends" illuminate most of the main Kabbalistic concepts (e.g. the Shekinah, the female Presence or Immanence of God). Any serious student of Kabbalah will find the present work a necessary addition to his/her repertoire. It's probably the best known contemporary work on the subject. The historical data has great breadth and considerable depth. However, it does suffer from Scholem's lack of mystical or scientific background. For example, near the very front of the book, he asserts that no on would consider the prophets to be mystics. This is untrue. Since I consider it so (and he's broken the non-all ness principle), he is simply wrong. Since a mystic has direct knowledge or contact with God, and prophets have such, they are most definitely mystics.Read more ›
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