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Kirkus ReviewsA mixed bag of 23 essays, most previously unpublished in English, by the passionate German-born Zionist and master scholar of Jewish mysticism.
As in many such gatherings, there is too much intellectual "filling" that might well have been left out; had this volume been reduced by a third, it would have seemed more substantive. In addition, a great many more explanatory notes are needed; how many readers, after all, will understand references to "anti- Canaanite" thought or to "Alfasi"? Some of Scholem's (18971982) essays are meant only for specialists. An analysis of Franz Rosenweig's The Star of Redemption proves to be as dense as that acclaimed but little-read work of 20th-century Jewish theology. Some half-dozen essays, however, are highly accessible and scintillating, particularly "Reflections on Modern Jewish Studies," a devastating critique of the highly rationalist and apologetic 19th-century "science of Judaism." Scholem maintains that "operative within the Jewish Haskalah" (Enlightenment) were "tendencies towards historical suicide" and the "destruction and dismantling" of many facets of the tradition unacceptable to the Haskalah's leading thinkers. Also noteworthy are the beautifully crafted essays "Three Types of Jewish Piety" and "My Way to Kabbalah," an autobiographical sketch. The introduction by Shapira (the chief editor of Scholem's writings), while too short, provides a fascinating intellectual sketch of Scholem, revealing, for example, that his magisterial biography of the 17th-century false messiah Shabtai Zevi was written "in its entirety, almost at once, in one draft, without early studies or partial preparations."
The best parts of this collection reveal that Scholem, who spoke of himself as a God-believer but also a "religious anarchist," delved into previously neglected aspects of Judaism's long history with unparalleled intellectual empathy and thoroughness.