The New Yorker, “A Guide to Religious Anarchy: Gershom Scholem’s Kabbalah”

This is a formula for religious anarchy, and Scholem was perfectly aware of that implication. As a young man, he’d been attracted to political anarchism, especially as embodied in the work of Gustav Landauer, a leading German-Jewish theorist of the movement. Though Scholem ultimately could not overcome his skepticism about the social-governance program of anarchist doctrine, based on what he saw as its unduly optimistic assumptions about human nature, these reservations did not apply in a theological context. Indeed, religious anarchy might be said to be grounded in deep spiritual pessimism. (However cruel one all-controlling, singular-Revelation-bestowing God might be, life became infinitely more lonely in His absence.) While Scholem left behind his youthful political idealism, he continued to draw on aspects of anarchist thought in his meditations on the Kabbalah. Elevating the notion of the individual’s ability to take responsibility for the historical tradition into a transcendent faith, Scholem came, over time, to define himself explicitly as “a religious anarchist.”

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