2true mystic will never pay attention to such matters; for him the religioustradition is a timeless continuum, in which at most various aspects of oneand the same essential truth are revealed.IIEven now, scholarly research of Jewish mysticism in many respects is anelaboration of the work of Gershom Scholem (1897–1982), who was thefirst to study the history of this phenomenon on the basis of an objectiveand methodical approach. In view of the fact that he devoted practically hisentire life to the study of Jewish mysticism, it is of interest to assess how Scholem viewed the paradox mentioned above.During most of his life Scholem was exceedingly reluctant to reveal hispersonal views of Jewish mysticism. Fortunately, we now have at our dis-posal some letters and texts from which we may deduce Scholem’s personalattitude toward the object of his research.
From these documents itemerges that Scholem himself regarded the philological description of Jew-ish mysticism in its historical development as the mere ‘outside’; the truemystical experiences of Jewish mystics were concerned with the ‘inside’, the‘core of the matter’. The modern historian of religion does not share thisexperience with the mystic, but for the purpose of his research has to con-tent himself with examining a text, an indirect rendering of such an expe-rience.To illustrate this fundamental difference, Scholem used the metaphor of the sphere and the circle. The three-dimensional sphere represents the vitalcore from which Jewish mystics draw their inspiration. The shadow that thesphere casts on a wall has the form of a two-dimensional circle. It is this cir-cle, the indirect reflection of the sphere, which is studied by historians of religion; the scholar is no longer able to enter into the centre of the sphere.Scholem used to express this inevitable limitation concisely in the words:‘die Philologie der Kabbala ist nur eine Projektion auf eine
Whoever investigates historical developments cannot but perceive and de-scribe things
one after another
, whereas for the mystic who finds himself inthe centre of the sphere, all things happen
. History brings––––––––––––––––––––––––
The documents concerned are a letter from Scholem to Bialik from 1925 (pub-lished in 1967), to Salman Schocken from 1937 (published in 1979), as well as hisessay ‘Zehn unhistorische Sätze über Kabbala’ from 1958. See Peter Schäfer, ‘“DiePhilologie der Kabbala ist nur eine Projektion auf eine Fläche”: Gershom Scholemüber die wahren Absichten seines Kabbalastudiums’,
Jewish Studies Quarterly
5(1998) 1–25; Nils Roemer, ‘Breaching the “Walls of Captivity”: Gershom Scholem’sstudies of Jewish Mysticism’,
72 (1997) 23–41.
Schäfer, ‘Philologie der Kabbala’, 5.