A new biography of the seminal twentieth-century historian and thinker who pioneered the study of Jewish mysticism and profoundly influenced the Zionist movement
Gershom Scholem (1897–1982) was perhaps the foremost Jewish intellectual of the twentieth century. Pioneering the study of Jewish mysticism as a legitimate academic discipline, he overturned the rationalist bias of his predecessors and revealed an extraordinary world of myth and messianism. In his youth, he rebelled against the assimilationist culture of his parents and embraced Zionism as the vehicle for the renewal of Judaism in a secular age. He moved to Palestine in 1923 and participated in the creation of the Hebrew University, where he was a towering figure for nearly seventy years.
David Biale traces Scholem’s tumultuous life of political activism and cultural criticism, including his falling-out with Hannah Arendt over the Eichmann trial. Mining a rich trove of diaries, letters, and other writings, Biale shows that his subject’s inner life illuminates his most important writings. Scholem emerges as a passionately engaged man of his times—a period that encompassed two world wars, the rise of Nazism, and the Holocaust.
About the Author
David Biale is Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter‑History, the co-author of Hasidism: A New History, and a three‑time winner of the National Jewish Book Award.
“Biale’s book is a fresh, often surprising depiction of Scholem. He shows us the vulnerable man behind the sovereign scholar without reducing the one to the other or relinquishing his admiration”—Steven E. Aschheim, Jewish Review of Books
"In this latest addition to Yale University Press’ fine Jewish Lives series of short biographies, Biale shows that for all of his immersion into the mythic and irrational, Scholem remained a modern bourgeois intellectual."—Washington Jewish Week
"Biale . . . not only captures Scholem’s scholarship, but also his personal involvement in the major issues, conflicts, tragedies, and triumphs of Jewish life during the last century. . . . [An] excellent new book."—Reform Judaism
“David Biale’s ability to capture and illuminate a 'life' in its full and manifold aspects for so complex and multi-faceted a man is a major achievement. A superb, much-awaited biography.”—Steven Aschheim, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem