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Modern Judaism Advance Access published January 9, 2017

Zohar Maor



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When Zionism will bring the messiah, The Star (of Redemption) will
be superfluous. Yet all the books will be superfluous (Rosenzweig,

Anarchism held many attractions to me . . .. But it, too, filled me with

terror. . . . This is a kind of messianic vision to which the transition is
not possible with the forces functioning in history (Scholem, 1974).2
The encounter between Franz Rosenzweig and Gershom-Gerhard
Scholem was neither profound nor particularly consequential. While
Rosenzweig appreciated Scholem’s proficiency in Kabbalah, for him
Jewish mysticism would never become a significant source of inspiration.3
Scholem, meanwhile, extolled Rosenzweig as a modern Jewish theologian
but rarely referred to his work in his studies of Kabbalah or in his essays on
Jewish themes. Nevertheless, Scholem’s interpretation of, and disagree-
ment with, Rosenzweig’s concept of redemption—and the anti-Zionism
that it entailed—is an important issue which accounts for the dramatic
shift in his appraisal of Rosenzweig. Scholem’s take on Rosenzweig is
also instrumental in comprehending his interwar esoteric thought, which
finds only little expression in his writings. For Scholem, redemption was
not merely a matter for academic debate; it involved burning existential
and political issues, especially as it related to Zionism, of which
Rosenzweig was an ambivalent observer and Scholem an engaged critic.
Scholem was the first to introduce Rosenzweig’s thought to a
Hebrew-speaking audience, in a 1930 memorial lecture at the nascent
Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During his inspiring and brilliant
speech (which was published as a booklet immediately thereafter),
Scholem presented Rosenzweig as “one of the most sublime manifes-
tations of the genius and religious greatness of our people.” He lauded
the second book of the second part of The Star of Redemption as “one of
what may be called Judaism’s ‘definitive statements’ on religious ques-
tions.”4 In a letter to Martin Buber he prophesied that, “the day may
come when people will study and discuss this book as they do
[Maimonides’] Guide for the Perplexed.”5 It was little wonder, then, that

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2 Zohar Maor

Buber found him a suitable candidate to translate The Star into Hebrew,
an undertaking that Scholem deemed impossible.6
With time, however, Scholem’s avid reception of Rosenzweig gave
way to deep reservation. In his 1980 autobiography, From Berlin to
Jerusalem, for instance, his judgment is rather unfavorable. While
Scholem maintained that The Star was “one of the central creations
of Jewish religious thought,” he noted Rosenzweig’s “marked dictato-
rial inclinations” and highlighted the chasm that yawned between the
two men vis-a-vis their contrasting attitudes to Zionism and the

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German–Jewish relationship.7 In an extensive interview in 1974,
Scholem stated that he was “very critical” of Rosenzweig’s concept of
Judaism. There, too, he accused Rosenzweig of harboring misplaced
devotion to the idea of a Jewish–German synthesis,8 adding that
Rosenzweig’s Judaism was too “ecclesiastical”—meaning, constructed
along Christian lines—and, equally abhorrent to Scholem, was reduced
to rituals and tradition. Consequently, Scholem concluded that it was
unlikely, “that we will accept [The Star] as the Jewish theological sys-
tem.” Scholem thought that Rosenzweig had erroneously ignored the
anarchic spirit of modernity and its profound influence on Judaism,
and that the traditional Jewish life that Rosenzweig celebrated, and
which was the lynchpin of his philosophy, was doomed to extinction.9
The apparent sea change in Scholem’s attitude over the years re-
quires an explanation. After all, the first fissures in the relationship
between the two men, which would widen into a gulf underscored in
Scholem’s later writings, preceded even his early adoration for
Rosenzweig. For even as far back as 1915, Scholem was yet an ardent
Zionist and a zealous opponent of any hope for a Jewish renaissance in
Germany, and also an avowed anarchist, believing that only seculariza-
tion held the promise of religious rejuvenation. And yet, that outlook
did not prevent him from singing The Star’s praises in his 1930 speech.
In fact, those anarchistic themes were present in the speech, inter-
twined with what he viewed as the relevant ideas in The Star.
Ostensibly, the young Scholem had every reason, both as a Zionist
and as an anarchist, to reject Rosenzweig’s theology—as he would
come to do in his old age. Why, then, did he welcome it at first and
then reverse his judgment later on?10
Michael Brocke was the first to address the fraught issue of the
Scholem–Rosenzweig relationship. Basing himself on Rosenzweig’s di-
ary and letters, he delicately outlined the gradual estrangement be-
tween the two men which he ascribed to their diverging views on
language and translation.11 The problem with his account derives
from the fact that Scholem’s differences with Rosenzweig on those
topics were already in place before his 1930 laudatory speech. Hence,
there must have been some other factor that attracted Scholem to
Scholem and Rosenzweig 3

Rosenzweig in the first place, despite their contrasting views on

Zionism, Deutschtum and translation.
Prima facie, the publication of the first edition of Rosenzweig’s
letters in 1935 could account for at least some of Scholem’s newfound
aversion to him. Scholem may have been offended by what Rosenzweig
thought of him, as revealed in some letters, for while Rosenzweig
greatly appreciated Scholem’s erudition and dedication to Judaism—
particularly when it came to Kabbalah—he censured the manner in
which he reconnected with Judaism, and particularly his decision to

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render Judaic studies into a rigorous academic discipline:12 “For him,
his Judaism is just a cloister. There he is, engaged in his spiritual exer-
cises, without paying heed . . . to the human. Therefore he became
speechless . . .. Perhaps he is the only one among us who really returned
home. But he returned home alone.” In another letter, Rosenzweig
railed against Scholem’s “bad” intolerance and contempt toward non-
Zionists: “One should not dispute what he does, especially with a nihil-
ist like Scholem. The nihilist is always right. When someone sweeps
away with his sleeve all of the chess pieces, he naturally hinders me
from winning. Scholem’s heart is plagued by the resentment of the
ascetic . . .. We are not destitute, as Scholem would have us believe
due to his Zionist dogma . . .. Both of us have only something . . ..
And we must hold fast to it, and play with those who have already
learned to play with their fingers and not their sleeves. Maybe
Scholem will learn that too.”13
Upon the publication of Rosenzweig’s letters, his widow, Edith
(who was one of the editors of the collection) sent a letter of apology
to Scholem. She sought to apologize for another of Rosenzweig’s let-
ters, in which he addressed Scholem’s course on the Zohar in his
Frankfurt Lehrhaus. Scholem, he wrote, teaches “rudely—and brilliantly,
as always.”14 Scholem’s response speaks volumes as to the depth of the
insult and the humiliation he endured.15 And yet, Scholem was likely
aware of Rosenzweig’s unfavorable opinion of him well before
Rosenzweig’s death and the publication of his letters, probably even
before he delivered his speech in 1930. Another letter, published in
1979, can serve as a concise expression of the strained relationship
between the two men: “He [Scholem] projects his bad conscience on
me and believes I’m angry with him,”16 Rosenzweig wrote in 1926. If
Rosenzweig’s reservations regarding Scholem’s character were indeed
already known to Scholem in 1930, and their disagreement over various
Jewish topics had already taken root, the question remains: What
prompted Scholem to reverse his opinion of Rosenzweig later in life?
It is my contention that the deciding factor was Scholem’s evolving
ideas of redemption and Zionism. At first, Scholem found Rosenzweig’s
systematic, innovative portrayal of Jewish messianism and nationalism
4 Zohar Maor

instrumental to his own fight against the route then taken by Zionism;
thus he employed it in order to introduce his own (unsystematic) por-
trait. Indeed, most of the texts that Scholem dedicated to Rosenzweig’s
outlook—all from the years 1930 to 1931—focus on issues of redemp-
tion, exile, and Jewish nationalism. Rosenzweig’s arguments on those
matters intersected with those of Scholem, even though they developed
their interrelated ideas in different contexts. After the Holocaust, how-
ever, when Scholem renounced his critique of Zionism, the existing
differences between him and Rosenzweig sharpened and his appraisal

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of Rosenzweig’s work was reversed.
As the title of his seminal book indicates, the concept of redemp-
tion was pivotal to Rosenzweig, an element in a triad that also includes
creation and revelation. Unlike Christianity, he stated that Judaism
casts redemption as the most fundamental religious category of the
three.17 A full account of all the aspects of this concept would be be-
yond the scope of this essay, and I will focus only on those facets that
piqued Scholem’s interest. It is important to note that some of the
recent interpretations of Rosenzweig challenge the once-accepted im-
age of his thought that aimed at excluding the Jew from politics and
history. For instance, Benjamin Pollock has concentrated on the ne-
glected aspects of Rosenzweig’s political thought and stressed that his
rebuff of the nation state was based on his belief in a world-empire and
not on a principal denial of politics. Peter Gordon compared
Rosenzweig’s concept of redemption with Heidegger’s authenticity
and highlighted their mutual quest for immanence against the
Idealist tradition. For Gordon, Rosenzweig’s redemption is not a denial
of the temporal but its elevation by its confluence with the eternal.18 As
Samuel Moyn has summarized, Rosenzweig’s views both “appeal to pre-
or trans-historical values like God’s eternity” and embrace “the histor-
ical determination of human life.”19 Notwithstanding these corrections
of Rosenzweig’s views on history and politics, the account of
Rosenzweig’s concept of redemption suggested here follows
Scholem’s alleged interpretation of it; as many of his contemporaries
did, Scholem read The Star as a trans-historical and political text.
To paraphrase his critique of Scholem, Rosenzweig believed that
redemption’s purpose is to deliver man from his cloister and speech-
lessness, and open him up to his fellow men. Revelation has shaken
man out of loneliness and initiated his dialog with God, but it has also,
in turn, isolated him from the world. Redemption, enacted by the
Divine commandment to “love your neighbor,” breaks that isolation.
Whereas the un-redeemed mystic’s “soul . . . [is] opened only for God, it
is invisible to the world and shut off from it,” and consequently he
“must deny the world” and “repudiate it,” (207), the redeemed saint
is open to the world. “The love for God is to express itself in love for
Scholem and Rosenzweig 5

one’s neighbor” (214). Love casts one’s fellow as a “soul” rather than a
mere object, thus vivifying the world. Life—which is the ultimate goal of
The Star—is defined as “a form of one’s own, forming itself from within
and therefore necessarily enduring” (222). The world will reach its
completion when it “become[s] alive as a whole instead of becoming
individual foci of life” (223). A world fully alive is the anticipated king-
dom of God.20
Life is essentially free; to make the world alive is to redeem it from
the deterministic fetters of objectivity, of mere existence.

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Consequently, God’s kingdom cannot be attained by way of historical
progress. It is not only that the modern scientific objectification of the
world impedes redemption, but the modern ethos of progress (which
Rosenzweig, oddly enough, identifies as Muslim) cannot grasp its own
course. The world is indeed constantly progressing toward perfection,
but such progress “has no relationship at all to time” (224); that is, to
history. Moreover, Rosenzweig’s concept of redemption, in contrast to
his concept of progress, is oriented toward the present rather than the
future: “Eternity is a future which, without ceasing to be future, is
nonetheless present. Eternity is a Today which is, however, conscious
of being more than Today . . .. For the future is first and foremost a
matter of anticipating, that is, the end must be expected at every mo-
ment. Only thus does the future become the time of eternity . . .. Every
moment can be the last. That is what makes it eternal . . ..” (226)21
Anticipation bestows actuality to Rosenzweig’s concept of redemption:
Were the kingdom only to grow, with mute, insensate, compulsive
propulsion, ever progressing, progressively further into the endless-
ness of time, with no end ahead of it outside of endlessness, then
indeed the act would be lame. Then the ultimate would be endlessly
far away, and therefore the proximate and the neighbor also inacces-
sible. In fact, however, the kingdom progresses in the world at an
incalculable pace, and every moment must be prepared to assume
the fullness of eternity. Accordingly the Ultimate is that which is ex-
pected with every next moment, while the Proximate is within reach at
every moment, for it is but the place holder of the ultimate, the high-
est, the whole (228).
Rosenzweig even evokes the explosive idea of bringing “Messiah
before its time,” but skirts the pitfall of false messianism by orienting
his own messianism out of the political realm (in the strict sense). Its
central locus is prayer (Moshe Schwartz was correct in asserting that
The Star is, first and foremost, a philosophy of prayer.22) The real en-
counter with the other takes place during communal prayer; the act of
thanksgiving is an anticipation of a redeemed, unified world; prayer, in
itself, counters the objectivity and determinism of the world, and vivi-
fies it (268–74). Prayer, just like other redemptive acts, must transcend
6 Zohar Maor

the realm of causality: it cannot compel God to act as we would wish

Him to; neither can it bring forth the future. Rather, it should antici-
pate the future by ascending to a time beyond time, and turn the future
into the eternal today, which is “a circle returning in upon itself” (289–
90). The cyclic, repetitive structure of Jewish prayer, and of the Jewish
calendar and holidays, generates this redeemed “today.”23
My accent on Rosenzweig’s actualization of messianism should be
seen as a corrective to Leora Batnitzky’s penetrating account of
Rosenzweig’s philosophy, in which she argues that his messianism is

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future-oriented. That orientation is in line with Rosenzweig’s recoil
from any limitation of God’s revelation (that is religion) and determin-
istic conception of the future. Jewish diasporic existence waivers fixed
and finite homeliness (Heim) and thus presents and represents to the
whole world God’s uncanniness (unheimlichkeit). However, Batnitzky
herself quotes Rosenzweig’s dictum, “what is not to come save in eter-
nity will not come in all eternity.”24 Rosenzweig indeed advocates “mes-
sianic politics” so as to open political (and religious) life to infiniteness
and eternity, but at the same time, he craves to actualize the infinite
future today.
Jewish messianic life is effected by Jewish ethnicity: “only blood
gives present warrant to the hope for a future” (324). The uniqueness
of Judaism cannot be limited to specific deeds or a creed; it must be life,
the life of a people. In itself, ethnicity is merely a stratum, but within the
context of Judaism, it is transformed into a net of I–thou relationships
and a living continuity of religious tradition. The inimitable unity of the
Jewish people anticipates a unified, redeemed world. Jewish national-
ism must resemble mankind; thus, it cannot become isolated from
unredeemed humanity, but should rather live beyond it and beyond
The Jewish people must shrug off all the accepted trappings of
nationhood if it is to freeze the indefatigable march of history in its
search for eternity; meaning, the eternal cyclic motion. It must choose
exile and wandering over having a state and the setting down of roots in
a homeland. The Jewish people must resist gentile time and history,
renouncing the flexible, transitory law and habit in favor of the un-
changing, sacred law of the Torah. Likewise, Jews must make do with-
out a national language; Hebrew is to remain a holy tongue, the
language of prayer. Ultimately, the Jew will live the redeemed and re-
deeming life of prayer instead of the dead life of history (298–308, 404–
If the way to redemption, as Rosenzweig stressed in the second part
of The Star, depends on dialogical speech, redemption itself, as pre-
sented in the third part, is associated with silence, “For union occurs
in silence only; the word unites, but those who are united fall silent”
Scholem and Rosenzweig 7

(308). Here, true togetherness is effected not through dialog but

through shared ritual and unconscious, native intimacy. In
Rosenzweig’s account, Jews’ national tongue is the language of prayer
and not of daily communication; hence “nothing is more essentially
Jewish in the deepest sense than a profound distrust of the power of
the word and a fervent belief in the power of silence” (302). Moreover,
Jews are forbidden from pronouncing God’s name, in anticipation of
the redemption when “God and his name will be one,” meaning that
“God himself is there redeemed from his word” (384–85; see also 238).

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This silence—the hallmark of an enlivened world—is prefigured by
Shabbat. The Jewish day of rest suspends activity and secular conversa-
tion in favor of silence, when the week’s cycle is closed, and is thus the
ideal antecedent for a redeemed world. For Rosenzweig, Shabbat also
resembles the passive character of redeemed life, which therefore can-
not be achieved through political activity.
Clearly, Rosenzweig’s concept of redemption is diametrically op-
posed to Zionism, although his attitude toward the Jewish national
movement was ambivalent and fluctuating.26 Rosenzweig opposed
Zionism’s secularism, its denial of exile and its activism—especially its
efforts to “normalize” the Jewish people by establishing a nation-state.
To his mind, state- and nationhood do not belong to the kingdom in
themselves; they are merely the raw material that redemption enlivens
and reshapes (Rosenzweig does not tell how) by the power of love
(241). Thus, Zionism can at best prepare the ground for true redemp-
tion. Rosenzweig’s aversion to Zionism was shaped, at least partly, by
the profound trauma of war and its implications as to the devastating
effects of homelands and nation-states. Rosenzweig explained that wars
stem from the gap between national vocations and present reality, in-
herent to the prevailing concept of linear progress. Conversely, the Jew
always lives his vocation as an already present thing, due to his cyclic
conception of time and his sense of inner, innate perfection. For the
Jew, war is therefore inconceivable (328–32). From such a vantage
point, nothing seems more wrongheaded than Zionism’s conception
of a faulty Jewish existence in exile that must be replaced by a fuller life
in the Jewish homeland and/or state.
In one of his letters, Rosenzweig sharpened the difference between
his and Zionism’s notions of redemption. He paraphrased a talmudic
legend about the messiah, who promises one sage that he will arrive on
that same day. However, after the day passes and he fails to arrive, the
prophet Elijah clarifies the pledge: “today – if you will hear His voice.”27
The crucial conflict of Zionism and “true” Judaism, Rosenzweig argued,
is between a “‘today’ that seeks only to be the bridge to tomorrow, and
a ‘today’ that is a stepping stone to eternity.”28 In other words, Zionism
fails to tread the only path to redemption—anticipation.
8 Zohar Maor

By the time Scholem read The Star, his own conception of redemp-
tion had already taken shape as part of his esoteric thought (influenced
by Kabbalah and articulated in a distinct kabbalistic discourse), which
celebrated the abscondence of God and the modern void. He hardly
gave these ideas any public expression (which is why they have gone
largely unnoticed by research); only the intimate journals, private let-
ters, and enigmatic treatises he never published reveal his original se-
cret doctrine (Geheimlehre). I have shown elsewhere that in later years,
Scholem imbued the tenets of this negative doctrine (corresponding to

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the negative theologies of Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor
Adorno) in his seminal portrayal of Jewish mysticism.29 In formulating
it, Scholem was affected deeply by his break with Buber, the mentor of
his youth, and by the trauma of the Great War.
Before the war, Scholem was an ardent follower of Buber, enthu-
siastically subscribing to his verweltlichung transvaluation, according to
which divinity is not beyond us but rather within us. Zionism, for both
mentor and disciple, was not about a political solution to Jewish misery
but about responding to the fin-de-siècle culture crisis. Zionism ventures
to heal the most profound of modern miseries, which emanates from
the deepest modern blunder: the experience of duality. The Jewish
mission and the essence of Zionism are to renew the mystical roots
of Judaism, thus overcoming duality, to augur the day when God and
His name shall be one. This craved unity dissipates the borders between
human and divine, between good and evil, and between the natural and
the metaphysical. Such a mystical consciousness can construct a harmo-
nious world, redeemed from the constant engagement in instrumental-
ity, a world in which every human deed is sanctified. Thus, each
individual who overcomes his existential duality would be paving the
way to redemption. Scholem accepted these notions and rendered
Buber’s narrative of a redemptive-mystical Zionism in a clear messianic
The Great War and Buber’s enthusiastic identification with
German idealistic militarism, however, turned Scholem away from
the venerated mentor and his creed. Scholem recognized the immoral
and violent implications of an unrestrained sanctification of human
deeds; he concluded that the complete unification of God and world
would undermine the possibility of any kind of transcendental ethical
demand or critique. In a poignant letter to his once-adored teacher, a
disenchanted Scholem wrote: “The highest price should be paid for a
movement or it will fall into the abyss that threatens at every moment to
swallow it: [The abyss of] immanence . . ..”31
But disillusionment with Buber and the trauma of war notwith-
standing, Scholem did not become more rational or liberal; he main-
tained his deep engagement with mysticism as well as his anarchistic
Scholem and Rosenzweig 9

bent. The trauma of violence catalyzed the crystallization of a new

Zionist formula based on an alternative metaphysical scheme. That for-
mula was intended to neutralize the hazardous potential of Buber’s
immanent thinking. Scholem rejected Buber’s key notion of the divine
presence and disqualified it as “gentile” and “idolatrous”; true Jewish
mysticism, he claimed, consisted in the inaccessibility of God, not His
omnipresence.32 Scholem stressed that a sense of divine remoteness is
the true essence of Judaism. Only the horror generated by the gap
between man and nature has produced the modern inclination toward

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pantheism: “Oh, you mighty swindle of pantheism. . . . My life is first
created through distance, distance is the only source of the law; it is the
law itself. Intermingling with the landscape is modernity’s biggest and
most horrid magical trick. It is aestheticism – the deep fear and mur-
derous horror of distance, because distance could make demands.”33
In his “Ninety-five Theses on Judaism and Zionism,” written in 1918
and dedicated to his close friend Walter Benjamin, Scholem empha-
sized the negativity of his metaphysics: “The Kabbalah calls God, the
infinite, also Nothingness.”34 The true God cannot be reached or
grasped, and neither can His revelation.35 Scholem replaced
Buberian experience with silence, a humble stand before an inaccessi-
ble divinity: “Fervor and silence – these are the secret of Zionists.”36
Scholem’s Zionism, however, was poles apart from the prevailing
Zionist ideology: “The national concept of Judaism leads toward
Palestine; the Jewish concept – toward Zion,” he argued in one of his
enigmatic theses.37 Zion is not a national, secularized homeland, but
the Holy Land; only by positing Zion as its goal could Zionism avoid the
prevailing conflation of nationalism and violence. In his unpublished
1920 essay “The Politics of Zionism,” Scholem asserted that the holiness
and centrality of Zion could be preserved only through its distancia-
tion: “To speak of Zion is to betray it . . .. Safeguarding the distance is
the highest political symbol.” He argued that, “Zionist politics assumes
the existence of an untransferable secret doctrine made of the gar-
ments of the concealed light . . .. In this political framework one doesn’t
get close to the center by approaching it asymptotically, but rather by
the persistent encircling of its affiliated periphery. By the elimination of
the center, it can be brought to its unfolding.” 38
The same was true of Scholem’s updated concept of redemption.
He retained his vision of a perfected human existence and its associa-
tion with Zionism’s true vocation, yet rendered it unapproachable. Just
like God, divine law and the holy land, redemption is inaccessible,
though it shapes our lives through its inaccessibility. Zionism, as a re-
demptive movement, must not strive to realize a perfect reality but
rather long for it. Only thus can it challenge the deteriorating Jewish
bourgeois existence, on the one hand, while avoiding the violent
10 Zohar Maor

repercussions of messianism, on the other. Confronting the dramatic

socialist revolution in Munich in the summer of 1919, Scholem wrote in
his diary: “A socialist’s logical fallacy: pure community is redemptive;
socialism wants to create a pure community; therefore, socialism brings
redemption. This is what I call . . . the chimera of the will . . . pure
community cannot be willed into existence. Only mystics can want to
call forth the Messiah (whereby out of principle he never arrives). One
can approach evil only because it doesn’t exist, while things that do
exist, the Good among them, cannot be approached.”39 The same goes

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for Zionism: “The time has come in which the hearts must decide what
they wish to renounce: the Zionism whose essence is paving the way
[Vorbereitung] for the eternal, on the one hand, or the Zionism of the
Jewish state, whose essence is catastrophe, on the other.”40 Messianism
and Zionism can only coincide in eternity.
This does not entail the irrelevance of messianism, however.
Scholem viewed messianism as ultimately actual, as he wrote in his diary
in 1917: “The greatest image of history is to be found in the idea of the
messianic realm. (History’s endlessly deep relationship to religion and
ethics arises out from this thought.) Walter [Benjamin] once said that
the messianic realm is always present, which is an insight of stupendous
importance – though on a plane which I think no one since the proph-
ets has achieved.”41 He developed this notion later on in his diary:
As a religious category, Time becomes the eternal present. . . . The
messianic realm is history in the present. The prophets could speak
about this idea only hypothetically by using the image of the future.
What does “And in those days” mean? If one thinks it through to the
end, “those days” refers to these days. The kingdom of God is the
present, for the present moment is the beginning and the end. The
kingdom of God . . . has no metaphysical future. . . . All other type of
time, the racing, constantly shifting time, is only distortion . . ..”42

Scholem argued that God can fully reveal Himself only in the pre-
sent because of its “true unreality.” The messianic age is not a future
phase of history; it is a different quality of time. Accordingly, Scholem’s
move to bring messianism into the present and his claim to its unap-
proachability are not mutually exclusive. The messianic time is present
but cannot coincide with historical time—it can be reached only when
one transcends one’s human perspective. It is thus anarchic: “ . . . anar-
chism is [not] a condition to be strived for. Anarchism is the theocratic
state of mind opposing every contemporary period of time that’s not an
eternal present.”43 Thus, true messianism saves Zionism from apoca-
lypse by rendering it anarchic, by knowing that its final destiny is Zion,
not Palestine, and that the two cannot merge in real history.
Arguably, Scholem’s deep interest in Rosenzweig’s exilic concept of
redemption was born of a deep disillusionment with his earlier hopes
Scholem and Rosenzweig 11

that the Zionist enterprise would foster redemption in the Land of

Israel. In a draft from 1931, he acknowledged that Zionism had suc-
ceeded in catalyzing Jewish renaissance in the Diaspora, but claimed it
had failed to build an ideal society in the Land of Israel. As we will
discuss below, the 1929 riots left him critical of the Zionist policy to-
ward the Arabs and skeptical as to the likelihood of establishing a just
society under such conditions. He mournfully concluded:
We set out to search for redemption and found only exile . . . and it
seems that those Haredim who say that redemption comes un-

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awares,44 and by God, and cannot come by human action (biydey
adam), have been proven right. Of all things, the history of Zionism
is a dreadful parable for this truism. As Zionism’s mindset became
more apocalyptic, it became a boiling cauldron of disenchantments,
and the living content that was concealed in the cauldron was poured
into the lazy river of eternal exile . . .. Redemption was veiled as be-
fore, and above the marsh of exile that our soul was squeezed into, no
star brightens the darkness.45

Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption might have lit up Scholem’s dark-

ness by thwarting apocalypticism and directing redemption into Jewish
exilic life. Paul Mendes-Flohr was right in stressing that Scholem was
attracted to Rosenzweig’s concept of messianism due to its anti-
apocalyptic tenor, but his assertion that Scholem, as a Zionist, bluntly
rejected its a-historical orientation,46 is questionable. As the above-cited
paragraph indicates, at that time, Scholem was far from activist
Zionism. There is a close affinity between Rosenzweig’s notion of mes-
sianism as an anticipation of God’s kingdom and Scholem’s rumina-
tions on messianism as the presence of God’s kingdom in the moment.
That affinity was another reason for Scholem’s profound interest in The
Star. In his Hebrew eulogy of Rosenzweig and in a letter to his widow,
Edith, regarding the eulogy, Scholem stressed the importance of antic-
ipation as the key concept of Jewish theology (unsurprisingly, he also
pointed out its corollary in Kabbalah).47
Nonetheless, Scholem read Rosenzweig through the prism of his
own thought. His 1930 speech, his only comprehensive account of The
Star, framed it as an admirable attempt to confront the Jewish and
general crisis of modernity. He opened the speech with Friedrich
Hölderlin’s poetic account of the Divine void: “Even the Highest
averts/His face, so that nowhere again/An immortal is to be seen in
the skies/Or on the green earth . . ..”48 Later, he stressed that the void
was the source of Rosenzweig’s thought: “The divinity, banished from
man by psychology and from the world by sociology, no longer wanting
to reside in the heavens . . . has withdrawn to some hidden place and
does not disclose Himself. Is He truly undisclosed? Perhaps this last
withdrawal is His revelation . . .. He will reveal His kingship only to a
12 Zohar Maor

world that has been emptied . . .. That is the abandonment and the
question from which The Star of Redemption appeared to Rosenzweig”
(203). When seeking revelation in a modern world, Scholem averred,
God can only be founded where He is hidden: in the secular.
Rosenzweig ventured to find the hidden God in two ways. The first
was through reconstructing divine unity. Scholem compared
Rosenzweig’s account of the crumbling of philosophical totality with
the catastrophic kabbalistic notion of “the breaking of the vessels”: the
fragmentation of the divine revelation and the formation of exile, when

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concealed godly powers scattered among the worlds of evil. “The unity
of thought, and within it the unity of being, the All or whole of philos-
ophy, were shattered. And along with the I’s departure from the for-
tress of the All, the divinity too left. This ‘breaking of the vessels’ of
idealism is what Rosenzweig came to repair in his book” (202). In that
sense, Rosenzweig’s reunification of God, world and man, and his theo-
logical (and existential) recreation of the All at the end of the Star, is a
redemptive act. The divine concealment is a consequence of disintegra-
tion; when the various lines of the star assemble, when they form a
human face, God reveals Himself again, out of the face of man, out
of life (The Star, 421–23).49
The second path to God is related to Scholem’s struggle with
Zionism’s secularist bent, on the one hand, and liberal Judaism’s disre-
gard for Jewish nationalism, on the other hand. Scholem read
Rosenzweig’s demand that the nation be elevated from the realm of
creation, or nature, to the realm of redemption, or life—by casting
ethnicity as a foundation for true religiosity—as a redemptive act. As
Scholem hinted in his speech, it is a notion crucial to Zionism, which
wrongly assumes that it can secularize the Jewish people.50
Furthermore, he opined, it is crucial for a Jewish theology that was
ruined because it separated theology from its true basis, the nation.
Accordingly, Scholem deliberately tried to brush Rosenzweig’s
thought against the grain, by reading The Star from “a historical view-
point . . . let us say frankly, the viewpoint of Zionism,” as he wrote to
Buber. In the same letter he hinted that such a reading is not only a
necessary precursor for a proper comprehension of Rosenzweig but
also for challenging Zionism’s “Medusa face.” Zionism needs
Rosenzweig’s messianism in order to overcome its false secular
self-image; moreover, the letter to Buber indicated, The Star can be
instrumental in neutralizing the violent implications of Zionism.51 In
his letter to Edith Rosenzweig from October 1931, Scholem stressed
that her late husband had succeeded in preserving the Jewish messianic
tension and its vital effect on daily life (unlike his liberal interpreters)
while avoiding its catastrophic effects in bursting onto the stage of
Scholem and Rosenzweig 13

By reading Rosenzweig’s anti-Zionism through a Zionist lens,

Scholem acquired a means with which to curb the violent implication
of the movement, as part of his activity in Brit Shalom.52 Scholem’s
writing on The Star took place right after the bloody 1929 riots in
Palestine, which he saw as Zionism’s watershed moment. These riots
were the first large-scale uprising of the Arab population in Palestine
against the Zionist enterprise. As Anita Shapira has noted, the riots
catalyzed the separation of the Jewish and Arab population in
Palestine, helped to consolidate the revisionist right and furnished a

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more militant and militarist orientation among the (relatively moder-
ate) workers parties.53 Could Zionism still retain its ethical makeup?
Was the violence it engendered compatible with its vision of a model
society? For Scholem, the answer to both questions was ultimately neg-
ative. As he wrote to Buber in May 1930: “ . . . there is no making up of
anything that has been lost for the regeneration of Judaism during the
past six months.”54 In addition to his critique of what he deemed
Zionism’s colonial orientation,55 he outlined its false messianism.
Scholem, afraid that Zionism was secularizing apocalyptic messianism,
envisioned war against the Arabs as Armageddon, the all-out battle of
good versus evil in the end of days. In 1929 he responded in the daily
Davar to the accusation that Brit Shalom was betraying the Jewish long-
ing for redemption: “I categorically deny that Zionism is a messianic
movement and that it is entitled to use religious terminology to ad-
vance its political aims. The redemption of the Jewish people, which
as a Zionist I desire, is in no way identical with the religious redemption
I hope for in the future. I am not prepared as a Zionist to satisfy polit-
ical demands or yearnings that exist in a strictly nonpolitical, religious
sphere, in the sphere of End-of-days apocalyptics. . . .. The Zionist move-
ment is congenitally alien to the Sabbatian movement.”56 Explaining
that essay in a 1974 interview,57 Scholem clarified that he was not
against messianism per se; rather, he was annoyed by the conflation
of Zionism with apocalypticism. Zionism could remain messianic—
within the bounds of his, or Rosenzweig’s, definitions.
Rosenzweig might have shored up Scholem’s efforts to save
Zionism not only with his anti-apocalyptic messianism,58 but also by
delineating the schism between Jewish and general nationalism.
Rosenzweig argued in The Star that:
The eternal people has not been permitted to while away time in any
home. It never loses the untrammeled freedom of a wanderer who is
more faithful a knight to his country when he roams abroad . . . yearn-
ing for the land he has left behind, than when he lives in that land. . . ..
And so even when it has a home this people, in recurrent contrast to
all other people on earth, is not allowed full possession of that home.
14 Zohar Maor

The holiness of the land removes it from the spontaneous reach . . .

This paragraph is another example of the proximity between
Rosenzweig’s and Scholem’s respective critiques of Zionism. It could
be easily interpreted as an argument that only from afar, in exile’s
wandering, could Zion retain its essence as a holy land; for Scholem,
however, this methodological distancing could also take place (in both
senses of the phrase) in Palestine itself. For Rosenzweig, juxtaposing
holiness and remoteness was a crucial aspect of denigrating an imma-

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nent Zionist religiosity that, embroiled in a turbulent political reality,
could eventually breed catastrophe. Zionism, he maintained, should
not get hold of the Holy Land through a massive act of domination
that would eventually lead to a bloody clash with the Arabs. That notion
accorded with Scholem’s conception—that distanciation is the only way
to preserve the holiness of things in a modern world, characterized by
Divine remoteness.
This Zionist reading of Rosenzweig can render his thought actual
and relevant: As Yehoyada Amir has argued,60 what existential meaning
can Zion retain as an inaccessible dreamland for a non-Zionist, West-
European Jew? Conversely, the meaning for a Zionist like Scholem is
clear and poignant: The adoption of Rosenzweig’s formulation that,
“The holiness of the land removed it from the people’s spontaneous
reach,” might obstruct messianism’s descent into a violent effort to take
hold of the land. A degree of alienation from the land is, paradoxically,
essential for healthy Zionism, which must be realized as bi-nationalism.
Equally, Rosenzweig’s characterization of the Holy Tongue as a lan-
guage of silence is pertinent to neutralizing the catastrophic edge in-
herent in the rejuvenation of the Hebrew language, as Scholem so
tenderly warned in his oft-cited letter to Rosenzweig from 1926.61
Thus, the exilic vision of Judaism delineated in The Star is a rescuing
bridge over the abyss of immanence that threatens Zionism.
Scholem, however, still believed that the messianic foundation of
Zionism should be altered rather than abolished; he struggled to avoid
the “abyss of immanence,” but not the abyss as such. Thus, his creative
adaptation of Rosenzweig’s concept of redemption confronted not
only Zionism but also the liberal, “bourgeois” interpretation of The
Star, or, more accurately, the liberal strands in Rosenzweig’s own
thought. Scholem’s anarchism led him to defend the apocalyptic di-
mension inherent in redemption. In his 1931 article he argued:
Rosenzweig took a decided and hostile stand against the one open door
in the otherwise very neatly ordered house of Judaism. He opposed the
theory of catastrophes contained in Messianic apocalypticism which
might be considered the point at which even today theocratic and
Scholem and Rosenzweig 15

bourgeois modes of life stand irreconcilably opposed. . . .. This tendency

is probably also responsible for the strangely church-like aspect which
Judaism unexpectedly sometimes takes on here. Apocalypticism, as a
doubtlessly anarchic element, provided some fresh air in the house of
Judaism; it provided a recognition of the catastrophic potential of all
historical order in an unredeemed world. Here, in a mode of thought
deeply concerned for order, it underwent metamorphosis. The power
of redemption seems to be built into the clockwork of life lived in the
light of revelation, though more as restlessness than as potential destruc-
tiveness. For a thinker of Rosenzweig’s rank could never remain obliv-
ious to the truth that redemption possesses not only a liberating but also

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a destructive force . . .. If it be true that the lightning of redemption
directs the universe of Judaism, then in Rosenzweig’s work the life of the
Jew must be seen as the lightning rod whose task is to render harmless
its destructive power.62
Although the last sentence is no less applicable to Scholem’s own
conception of messianism, it appears as though his was a much more
daring undertaking: to convey the destructive force of messianism to
the religious, rather than the political, sphere. In two important letters
to Edith Rosenzweig regarding The Star, Scholem focused on repelling
liberal (and consequently anti-Zionist) interpretations of the book, such
as the one offered by Eduard Strauss. Strauss attacked Scholem’s read-
ing of Rosenzweig (or, more accurately, what he considered Scholem’s
attack on Rosenzweig in the name of mysticism) and accentuated the
exilic and anti-eschatological tenor of The Star. Scholem offered up
bitter polemic against this interpretation (he nevertheless found
Strauss’s ideas intriguing63), stressing that apocalypticism could not
be downplayed by highlighting Judaism’s exilic or halachic dimensions.
The theological notion of exile necessarily involves a breach in history,
and thus apocalypticism. As for halacha, Scholem asserted: “I dare to
doubt whether halacha won’t breathe better and healthier in a house
with an apocalyptic breeze than wandering and becoming prematurely
wrinkled.” Apocalypticism, like mysticism (and Scholem insisted the
two are not interdependent), is part and parcel of Judaism. It should
not be brushed away, but rather utilized to stimulate Jewish religious
life. One can say that in his speech extolling Rosenzweig, Scholem
ventured to introduce mysticism and apocalypticism into The Star itself,
thus extricating it from what he termed its “church-like aspect.”
But Nazism, the Holocaust, and the establishment of the State of
Israel completely altered Scholem’s theological account of Zionism. He
realized that his effort to disengage Zionism from apocalypse had ulti-
mately failed. Zion could no longer remain merely a holy—and thus
unattainable—destination; it must serve as a homeland and a physical
haven. He thought that his Ahad Ha’am based Zionism was doomed.
The potential harbingers of the “spiritual center” were slaughtered in
16 Zohar Maor

Eastern Europe; furthermore, immigration to Palestine would now be-

come dominated by deportees lacking any substantial Zionist or even
Jewish orientation. In a 1969 lecture he lamentably noted:
I do not want to go so far as to say that the questions about our
relation to tradition and to the history of Judaism as a society molded
by religious inspiration have become insignificant or even meaning-
less. But let us not delude ourselves: compared to the inconceivable,
incomprehensible concrete fact that has intervened so destructively in
our life as Jews, these things recede into the background.64

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He also understood that Brit Shalom’s opposition to unrestricted
Jewish immigration to Palestine and to the establishment of a Jewish
state turned a blind eye to the grave threats to Jewish lives in interwar
Europe—although he maintained that even the greatest pessimists
among the Zionists could not foresee the Nazi demonic endeavor to
exterminate the whole Jewish people.65 That fundamental shift elicited
from Scholem a blunt response to Hannah Arendt’s attack on
Zionism.66 He wrote her:
I feel free enough in my thought to remain indifferent to the accusa-
tion of having a reactionary mentality. Not only my declared religious
mentality testifies to that, but also my belief that the social revolution,
desirable as it may be, relates to the Messiah less than is commonly
assumed. It is absolutely clear to me . . . that the political track of
Zionism in an utterly reactionary world . . . gave rise to a highly dubi-
ous and compromising situation that raises many doubts, and I have
no illusions about it. The Zionist movement shares this experience of
the dialectics of the real and its catastrophic possibilities with all the
other movements that sought to change substantially something in
this world. . . . we had to compromise to the bone, which I can say
now in greater confidence than fifteen years ago, when I still thought,
in a naı̈ve dialectic, that it might be averted.67

After 1948 Scholem wrote extensively about messianism and, as

with other topics, one can detect reverberations of his own thoughts
on the subject in his historical accounts. He continued to argue that
apocalypse is an intrinsic aspect of Jewish messianism, an anarchic
element crucial for counterbalancing the rigid and conservative char-
acter of halacha.68 Yet, it seems that after the Holocaust, he became
deeply troubled over the price of messianism, namely the Jewish pre-
dilection for lofty visions of perfection over concrete attempts to grap-
ple with the crude reality—just like that of himself and Rosenzweig!
The conclusion of his 1959 Eranos lecture “Toward an Understanding
of the Messianic Idea in Judaism” exemplifies how passivity, rather
than aggressive activism, had become the greatest threat of
Scholem and Rosenzweig 17

[T]he messianic idea is not only consolation and hope. Every attempt
to realize it tears open the abysses which lead each of its manifesta-
tions ad absurdum. There is something grand about living in hope, but
at the same time there is something profoundly unreal about it. It
diminishes the singular worth of the individual, and he can never
fulfill himself . . .. Thus in Judaism the messianic idea has compelled
a life lived in deferment, in which nothing can be done definitively,
nothing can irrevocably accomplished.

This ideal of “life lived in deferment” was exactly what Scholem

stressed in his early account of messianism; from the above excerpt it is

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clear that he came to see it as castrating. He portrayed Zionism as a
revolt against messianism: “Born out of the horror and destruction that
was Jewish history in our generation, it is bound to history itself and not
to meta-history.”69 Rosenzweig’s passive, exilic messianism, which
Scholem once found so essential for curbing Zionist fervor, had lost
its luster. For instance, Scholem later highlighted the price (from a
Zionist perspective) of Hasidism’s “neutralization of messianism”
through the juxtaposition of the Hasidic apoliticization of messianism
and its diasporic inclination.70
But even later on in his career, Scholem did not free himself from
dialectic thinking. He doubted whether the Zionist repudiation of mes-
sianism could last. After all, the most efficient way to overcome millen-
nia of Jewish messianic longing was to secularize it—and Scholem always
believed that the repressed religious content would eventually burst
back into the secular. Yet, he maintained that, ultimately futile as it
may be, the disengagement of Zionism from messianism should be
pursued,71 that the Jewish messianic impetus must be directed only
toward the religious realm.
After his reorientation, Scholem could no longer read The Star
from a Zionist perspective. It could be read only theologically and, as
such, was of little interest to the religious anarchist that he was.
In summation, it seems that Scholem was never a true disciple of
Rosenzweig. Rather, at a certain point in time, he found Rosenzweig’s
ideas useful toward deepening some key aspects of his own thought,
namely negative theology, the centrality of language to religion, and an
ever-postponed redemption.
The rise of Nazism, the destruction of European Judaism, and the
founding of the State of Israel—all brought Scholem to desert his con-
ception of an open-endedly deferred redemption and to grudgingly
adopt mainstream Zionism. Scholem might have thought that for
such a Zionism Rosenzweig has no relevance whatsoever. From our
contemporary perspective, however, that conclusion seems mis-
placed.72 Perhaps the turbulent and bloody reality in the Land of
Israel in the last three decades should spur us to reexamine, in
18 Zohar Maor

Rosenzweig’s footsteps, the possibility for a creative combination of

redemption and exile. Moreover, perhaps Scholem’s “Zionist” interpre-
tation of Rosenzweig’s thought imbues it with a concrete political and
ethical dimension that, at least in the eyes of some commentators, it
lacks. For instance, Rosenzweig argues that, “the Jew is . . . the only
genuine pacifist” because only he “has already reached the goal toward
which the nations are still moving” (Star, 331). But as Scholem argued
in a 1970 interview (relating to later versions of anti-Zionism), what
meaning does “Jewish pacifism” have “outside history,” without any

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collective responsibility to security policy?73 However, in a sovereign
Jewish state, Rosenzweig’s ideas on the spiritual mission of Judaism and
his warning from a “full possession” of the homeland can serve as mit-
igating factors in the Israeli-Arab conflict.



1. Franz Rosenzweig, diary entry from April 12, 1922, Der Mensch und
sein Werk: Gesammelte Schriften – 1. Briefe und Tagebücher, vol. II, edited by R.
Rosenzweig, E. Roscnzweig-Scheinmann, and B. Casper (The Haag, 1979),
p. 730. All the translations from German and Hebrew are mine unless
otherwise noted.
2. Gershom Scholem, “With Gershom Scholem: An interview,” in On
Jews and Judaism in Crisis: Selected Essays, edited by W. J. Dannhauser, trans.
W. J. Dannhauser et al. (New York, 1976), p. 32.
3. As to the debate among scholars on the extent of Rosenzweig’s
affinity to Kabbalah, see Warren Z. Harvey, “How much Kabbalah in the
Star of Redemption?” Immanuel, Vol. 21 (1987), pp. 128–34; Moshe Idel,
“Franz Rosenzweig and the Kabbalah,” Old Worlds, New Mirrors: On Jewish
Mysticism and Twentieth-Century Thought (Philadelphia, 2010), pp. 159–67;
Rivka Horwitz, “A Revolutionary Understanding of Judaism: Franz
Rosenzweig’s Attitude to Kabbalah and Myth,” in Franz Rosenzweigs “neues
Denken”: Internationaler Kongreß Kassel 2004 (Freiburg, 2006), pp. 689–712.
Scholem himself responded to the lectures of Idel and Harvey that super-
seded their above-mentioned essays in a 1980 conference on Rosenzweig.
See the draft “On Franz Rosenzweig and his Familiarity with Kabbala
Literature,” Naharaim, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2012), pp. 1–6, and Enrico Lucca,
“Gershom Scholem on Franz Rosenzweig and the Kabbalah: Introduction
to the Text,” ibid., pp. 7–19. Scholem argued that Rosenzweig knew very
few summaries of kabbalistic ideas but that his philosophy contains some
remarkable mystical aspects, parallel to kabbalistic sources he was never
acquainted with.
4. Gershom Scholem, “Franz Rosenzweig and his Book The Star of
Redemption,” in On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time and Other
Scholem and Rosenzweig 19

Essays, edited by A. Shapira, trans. J. Chipman (Philadelphia & New York,

1997), pp. 200, 211. See also the letter to Rosenzweig’s widow, Edith,
February 20, 1929, Gershom Scholem, Briefe, edited by. I. Shedletzky, 3
vols. (Munich, 1994), Vol. I, p. 242.
6. Letter from February 27, 1930, The Letters of Martin Buber: A Life of
Dialogue, edited by N. Glatzer and P. Mendes-Flohr, trans. R. Winston, C.
Winston, and H. Zohn (New York, 1991), p. 375. Scholem was the source of
his friend Walter Benjamin’s enduring interest in Rosenzweig’s thought.
See Michael Löwy, “Walter Benjamin and Franz Rosenzweig: Messianism
against ‘Progress’,” in Faith, Truth and Reason: New Perspectives on Franz

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Rosenzweig’s “Star of Redemption,” edited by Y. Amir, J. Turner, and M.
Brasser (Munich, 2012), pp. 376–81.
See Scholem to Buber, April 10, 1930, Briefwechsel aus sieben
Jahrhzehnten, edited by G. Schaeder et al., Vol. II (Heidelberg, 1973),
pp. 372–3.
7. Gershom Scholem, From Berlin to Jerusalem (New York, 1980), pp
139–40; for a fuller account of this encounter see the Hebrew version, Mi-
berlin li-yerushalyim (Tel Aviv, 1980), pp. 163–66.
8. See also his letter to Buber, April 10, 1930, Briefwechsel, Vol. II, pp.
372–73. On Rosenzweig’s complicated concept of Jewish–German relation-
ship see Barbara A. Galli, “Rosenzweig’s Response to Hermann Cohen’s
Deutschtum und Judentum,” Shofar, Vol. 14, No. 4 (1996), pp. 60–78.
9. G. Scholem, “With Gershom Scholem: An interview,” pp. 20–22.
10. See Pawel Maciejko’s account of Scholem’s concept of redemption
and its critique by Rosenzweig: “Gershom Scholem’s Dialectic of Jewish
History: The case of Sabbatianism,” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Vol.
3, No. 2 (2004), esp. pp. 218–19. This illuminating account ignores the
unpublished writings of Scholem’s youth, which are, in my opinion, essen-
tial for understanding the Scholem–Rosenzweig controversy.
11. Michael Brocke, “Franz Rosenzweig und Gerhard Gershom
Scholem,” Jahrbuch des Instituts für Deutsche Geschichte, Vol. 9 (1986), pp.
12. On this decision and its background see David Biale, Gershom
Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter-History (Cambridge, MA, 1979), pp. 74–78.
13. Rosenzweig to Rudolf Hallo, May 12, 1921, in Franz Rosenzweig,
Briefe, edited by E. Rosenzweig and E. Simon (Berlin, 1935), pp. 399–400;
and see also his letter of March 27, 1922, ibid., p. 431.
14. Rosenzweig, letter to Joseph Prager, May 30, 1923, Briefe, p. 482.
15. Scholem to Edith Rosenzweig, May 29, 1935, in Gershom Scholem,
A life in Letters, 1914–1982, edited and trans. by A. D. Skinner (Cambridge,
MA, 2002), pp. 267–68. See her letter in Gershom Scholem: Briefe, edited
by I. Shedletzky, 3 vols. (Munich, 1994), Vol. I, pp. 416–17.
16. Rosenzweig, letter to Buber (May 1926) Briefe und Tagebücher, Vol.
II, p. 1094.
17. Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, trans. W. Hallo (New
York, 1971), pp. 366–70. Page references to this work will henceforth ap-
pear in parentheses after the quotations or references.
20 Zohar Maor

18. Benjamin Pollock, “From Nation States to World Empire: Franz

Rosenzweig Redemptive Imperialism,” Jewish Studies Quarterly, Vol. 11, No.
4 (2004), pp. 332–53; Peter E. Gordon, Rosenzweig and Heidegger: Between
Judaism and German Philosophy (Berkeley, 2003), especially chap. 4. See also
Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Rosenzweig and the Crisis of Historicism,” in The
Philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, edited by Paul Mendes-Flohr (Hanover, NH,
1988), pp. 138–61.
19. Samuel Moyn, “The Spirit of Jewish History,” in The Cambridge
History of Jewish Philosophy: Vol. II. The Modern Era, edited by M. Kavka, Z.
Braiterman, and D. Novak (Cambridge, 2012), pp. 85–90, here p. 88.

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20. See Benjamin Pollock, Franz Rosenzweig’s Conversion: World Denial
and World Redemption (Bloomington, 2014), pp. 160–78. On Dilthey’s pro-
found influence on Rosenzweig’s concept of life see P. Gordon, Rosenzweig
and Heidegger, especially pp. 86–87 and 192–96.
21. See also pp. 219, 289–90; see M. Löwy, Walter Benjamin and Franz
Rosenzweig, pp. 384–89.
22. See Yehoyada Amir, “‘U-ma’ase yadenu konena aleinu’: Ha-tefilah
be-mishnato shel Franz Rosenzweig; iyun be-ikvot mechkarav shel Moshe
Schwartz,” Bikoret u-Parshanut, Vol. 37 (2003), pp. 29–64 (Hebrew).
23. On Rosenzweig’s cyclic concept of time see Zohar Maor,
“Redemption and Law: Rosenzweig’s Critique on Max Brod,” in Faith,
Truth and Reason: New Perspectives on Franz Rosenzweig’s ‘Star of
Redemption’, edited by Y. Amir et al. (Munich, 2012), pp. 404–6.
24. Leora Batnitzky, Idolatry and Representation: The Philosophy of Franz
Rosenzweig Reconsidered (Princeton, 2000), pp. 51–52, 76–77, 90–97, 173–79,
185–86, 203, quote is from p. 195. See also Paul Mendes-Flohr, “‘The
Stronger and Better Jews’: Jewish Theological Responses to Political
Messianism in the Weimar Republic,” in Jews and Messianism in the
Modern Era, edited by J. Frankel (New York, 1991), pp. 167–68.
25. See Steven T. Katz, “Historicism and Eternity: Reflections on the
100th Birthday of Franz Rosenzweig,” Der Philosoph Franz Rosenzweig,
edited by W. Schmied-Kowarzik (Freiburg & München, 1988), Vol. II, pp.
745–69; David N. Myers, Resisting History: Historicism and its Discontents in
German-Jewish Thought (Princeton, 2003), pp. 68–75, 81–105; L. Batnitzky,
Idolatry and Representation, pp. 170–74, 185–86.
26. See F. Rosenzweig, “Toward a Renaissance of Jewish Learning
(1920),” in On Jewish Learning, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer (New York,
1965), pp. 64–67; “Briefe eines Nichtzionisten an einen Antizionisten,” Der
Jude (Sonderheft, 1928), pp. 81–86; “Liberalismus and Zionismus” (1929) in
Der Mensch und sein Werk: Gesammelte Schriften – 3. Zweistromland: Kleinere
Schriften zu Glauben und Denken, edited by R. Mayer and A. Mayer
(Dodrecht, 1984), pp. 557–58. See also Yaacov Fleischmann, “Franz
Rosenzweig as a Critic of Zionism,” Conservative Judaism, Vol. 22 (1967),
pp. 54–66; Ehud Luz, “Tsionut u-meshichiut be-haguto shel Franz
Rosenzweig,” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, Vol. 2, No. 4 (1982–3),
pp. 472–89; L. Batnitzky, Idolatry and Representation, pp. 188–206.
27. Sanhedrin 98a.
Scholem and Rosenzweig 21

28. Letter to Gertrud Oppenheim, February 5, 1917, Briefe und

Tagebücher, Vol. I, p. 345.
29. Zohar Maor, “Death or Birth: Scholem and Secularization,” in
Against the Grain: Jewish Intellectuals in Hard Times, edited by E.
Mendelsohn, R. Cohen, and S. Hoffman (Oxford, 2013), pp. 64–82.
30. Diary entry from May 22, 1915, Lamentations of Youth: The Diaries of
Gershom Scholem 1913–1919, edited by A. D. Skinner (Cambridge, MA,
2007), pp. 54–58. See also Steven E. Aschheim, Scholem, Arendt, Klemperer:
Intimate Chronicles in Turbulent Times (Bloomington, 2001), pp. 17–18.
31. Scholem to Buber, January 28, 1917, in Buber, Briefwechsel, Vol. 1,

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p. 467. The translation in The Letters of Martin Buber: A Life of Dialogue,
edited by N. N. Glatzer and P. Mendes-Flohr (New York, 1991), p. 205 is
32. See diary entries from G. Scholem, Tagebücher, Vol. 1: June 26,
1916, pp. 324–25; August 23, 1916, pp. 387–88; September 10, 1916, pp.
396–99. See Eric Jacobson, Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of
Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem (New York, 2003), pp. 63–68. David
Myers points out the influence of Karl Barth’s negative theology, see
Resisting History, pp. 95–96.
33. Diary entry from June 23, 1918, G. Scholem, Lamentations of Youth,
p. 251.
34. Thesis no. 76, Tagebücher, Vol. 2, p. 305. On this composition see
Daniel Weidner, “Reading Gershom Scholem,” Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol.
96, No. 2 (2006), pp. 208–15.
35. Thesis no. 89, Tagebücher, Vol. 2, p. 305, according to Baal Shem
Tov on the Torah (Jerusalem, 1992). See here Genesis paragraph 34 (and
Psalm 19:8; [Hebrew]).
36. Thesis no. 74, Vol. 2, p. 304.
37. G. Scholem, Tagebücher, Vol. II, p. 305. On the essence of Zion see
also: Vol. I, 11.10.1916, pp. 402–405; “Minor notes on Judaism,” Vol. II, p.
38. G. Scholem, Tagebücher, Vol. II, p. 625.
39. Diary entry from June 29, 1919, Lamentations, p. 306.
40. Gershom Scholem, untitled draft, end of 1924, arc. 4˚ 1599, 277I/
52, Scholem Archive, Jewish National Library.
41. Entry from November 3, 1917, Lamentations, p. 192.
42. Entry from June 17, 1918, Lamentations, pp. 245–46; see also May 7,
1919, p. 295.
43. A draft of a letter to Albert Baer, December 25, 1918, Lamentations,
p. 288.
44. According to the Talmudic saying in tractate Sanhedrin 97b. See G.
Scholem “Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism,” in
The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality, trans. M.
A. Meyer and H. Halkin (New York, 1971), p. 11.
45. Scholem, “Mipney ma na’aseynu tsionim?,” July 1931, Od Davar,
edited by A. Shapira (Tel Aviv, 1989), pp. 91–92.
46. P. Mendes-Flohr, “The Stronger and the Better Jews,” pp. 165–68.
22 Zohar Maor

47. Scholem, letter to Edith Rosenzweig, 20 February 1930, A Life in

Letters, pp. 181–84.
48. G. Scholem, “Franz Rosenzweig and his Book,” p. 198.
49. See Yehoyada Amir, “Ewigkeit und Wahrheit: die Messianische
Erkenntnistheorie Rosenzweigs,” in Vom Jenseits: jüdisches Denken in der
europ€aischen Geistesgeschichte, edited by E. Goodman-Thau (Berlin, 1997),
pp. 143–68; B. Pollock, Franz Rosenzweig’s Conversion, esp. pp. 127–30,
50. Scholem shared with Rosenzweig his reluctance about Zionism’s
secular tendencies in his 1926 letter to him, to be discussed below.

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51. Scholem to Buber, May 22, 1930, The Letters of Martin Buber, p. 377.
52. See Zohar Maor, “Moderation from Right to Left: The Hidden Roots
of Brit Shalom,” Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2013), pp. 79–108.
53. Anita Shapira, Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881–
1948, trans. W. Templer (New York, 1992), pp. 173–216.
54. Letter from May 22, 1930, The Letters of Martin Buber, p. 377. See
also Gershom Scholem, “Zur Frage des Parlaments,” Jüdische Rundschau,
February 8, 1929, p. 65; idem,“Al shlosha pishe’ybrit shalom,” Davar,
December, 12 1929, also in idem, Od Davar, pp. 85–88.
55. Gershom Scholem, “Be-mai ka-miflegi?,” (1931), Od Davar, pp. 80–
82; interview from December 15, 1964, Retsifut u-mered: Gershom Shalom be-
omer u-besiach, edited by A. Shapira (Tel Aviv, 1994), pp. 122–23.
56. “Al shlosha pishe’ybrit shalom,” cited in “With Gershom Scholem,”
p. 44. See also “A’chad Ha’am ve-anachnu” (1931), Od Davar, p. 72. In his
1937 account of Sabbatianism, Scholem stressed its anarchism and the ensu-
ing religious and political implications. In contrast with Baruch Kurzweil’s
accusation, it does not seem that Scholem championed this anarchism. See
“Redemption through Sin,” pp. 78–141, and D. Biale, Gershom Scholem, pp.
172–74; P. Maciejko, “Gershom Scholem’s Dialectic of Jewish History,” pp.
210–12. Another, parallel account of Sabbatianism is in “The Crisis of
Tradition in Jewish Messianism” (1969), The Messianic Idea, pp. 63–77. In
an interview from 1980, Scholem addressed these essays and pointed to
dangerous parellels between apocalyptic messianism, like Sabbatianism,
and secularized apocalyptic movements such as totalitarianism. See “Irving
Howe interviews Gershom Scholem: “The only thing in my life I never
doubted is the existence of God,” Present Tense, Vol. 8, No. 1 (1980), p.
56l; see also David Biale, “The Threat of Messianism: An Interview with
Gershom Scholem,” New York Review of Books, August 14, 1980.
57. “Interview with Gershom Scholem,” pp. 44–45.
58. Scholem’s anti-apocalyptic reading of Rosenzweig’s messianic con-
cept is an important completion to contemporary research efforts (like
Batnitzki and Gordon) to locate Rosenzweig’s thought in the German
and German-Jewish philosophical context. Besides Scholem, Hermann
Cohen and Buber also contested apocalypticism during and after the
Great War.
59. See L. Batnitzky, Idolatry and Representation, pp. 173–74.
60. Yehoyoda Amir, Da’at Ma’amina: Iyunim be-mishnato shel Franz
Rosenzweig (Tel Aviv, 2004) (Hebrew), p. 223.
Scholem and Rosenzweig 23

61. “Thoughts about Our Language,” December 26, 1926, in On the

Possibility, of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time, pp. 27–28. See Galili Shahar, “The
Sacred and the Unfamiliar: Gershom Scholem and the Anxieties of the
New Hebrew,” Germanic Review, Vol. 83, No. 4 (2008), pp. 299–320;
William Cutter, “Ghostly Hebrew, Ghastly Speech: Scholem to
Rosenzweig, 1926,” Prooftexts, Vol. 10, No. 3 (1990), pp. 413–33.
62. G. Scholem, “On the 1930 Edition of Rosenzweig’s Star of
Redemption,” The Messianic Idea, p. 323.
63. Scholem could easily identify with Strauss’s harsh critique of
Buber’s Zionism and the way that his romantic representation of “authen-

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tic” Judaism distorted some of its important facets. See Eduard Strauss,
Judentum und Zionismus (Frankfurt a.M., 1919), and Scholem, letter to Edith
Rosenzweig, February 20, 1930, A Life in Letters, pp. 181–84.
64. G. Scholem, “Israel and the Diaspora,” On Jews, p. 250.
65. On the impact of the Holocaust on Scholem see Noam Zadoff, Mi-
berlin le-yerushalaim u-bechazara: Gershom Shalom bein Israel ve-germania
(Jerusalem, 2015), pp. 168–79 (Hebrew).
66. Hannah Arendt, “Zionism reconsidered,” first published in
Menorah Journal in October 1944, now in her The Jewish Writings, edited
by J. Kohn and R. H. Feldman (New York, 2007), pp. 343–86.
67. Scholem to Arendt, January 28, 1946, Der Briefwechsel: Hannah
Arendt, Gershom Scholem, edited by M. L. Knott and D. Heredia (Berlin,
2010), p. 98, my translation.
68. On Scholem’s account of messianism see D. Biale, Gershom Scholem:
Kabbalah and Counter-History, pp. 148–70; Moshe Idel, “Subversive
Catalysts: Gnosticism and Messianism in Gershom Scholem’s View of
Jewish Mysticism,” Old Worlds, pp. 133–53.
69. G. Scholem, “Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in
Judaism,” pp. 35–36. See also his interview with Ze’ev Galili, “Meshichiut,
Tsionot ve-anrchia ba-lashon,” in Retsifut U-Mered, pp. 56–58 (Hebrew).
70. “The Neutralization of the Messianic Element in Early Hasidism,”
The Messianic Idea, pp. 176–202.
71. See “With Gershom Scholem,” p. 26, and his interview “Zionism –
Dialectic of Continuity and Rebellion,” in Unease in Zion, edited by Ehud
Ben-Ezer (New York, 1970), pp. 267–71. See also Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin,
“The Golem of Scholem,” in Politik und Religion im Judentum, edited by C.
Miething (Tübingen, 1999), pp. 223–38.
72. On the debate among Israeli scholars on the relevance of
Rosenzweig to Israeli thought and life, see Michael Oppenheim, “The
Relevance of Rosenzweig in the Eyes of his Israeli Critics,” Modern
Judaism, Vol. 7 (1987), pp. 193–206.
73. G. Scholem, “Zionism – Dialectic of Continuity and Rebellion,” pp.