I was doing some research on modern Kabbalistic sources, and came across a book called Kabbalah: New Perspectives, by Prof. Moshe Idel. In it he mentions a poem by Prof. Gershom Sholem (1897 – 1982) – the founder of the modern academic field of Kabbalah. But before I say more about this poem, here is some background on its author.
Sholem devoted his career to replacing the traditional attainment of Kabbalah with academic and philological research. For example, in one of his lectures, published in the book Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, this is how he describes Kabbalah in his time, “As a result of Kabbalah’s lengthy process of development, during which Kabbalah paradoxically influenced Jewish history, it has again become the same thing it was in the beginning – an esoteric wisdom of small groups of people, who are deprived of contact with life and have no influence on it.” Likewise, in the article “On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time,” Sholem writes, “There is no doubt that in recent generations there were no awakened individuals who could bring mystical teachings to new forms or start significant social movements.”
In this article, like in many others, Sholem denies modern Kabbalah, or Kabbalah of the 20th century. He points out that Kabbalah has ceased playing an important role in the Jewish culture of his time and that no original and innovative Kabbalistic methods have been created since the 18th century! This viewpoint is very obvious in the article “On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time.” Sholem’s attitude to Kabbalah in his time is also described by the modern researcher, Prof. Boaz Hoss, in the article “Don’t Ask All Questions.”
Considering all this, it’s important to point out that Gershom Sholem, the founder of the modern academic research of Kabbalah, and a scholar who’s renowned by the entire academic world, never says a word in any of his research about Baal HaSulam, the greatest Kabbalist of his time, nor of his works on Kabbalah. How can a researcher overlook something like this? This is an example of envy, dishonesty and petty egoism that do not allow a researcher to face the truth: to admit to himself and to the entire world that all academic research of Kabbalah, anything besides its attainment – is false!
When I was giving a series of lectures in American universities, I heard different comments about Gershom Sholem. In particular, I recall one distinctive comment from the Rector of the University of Illinois, who said, “Gershom talked about Kabbalah, but you are talking from Kabbalah. He urged people to research it with the mind, while you urge people to enter it with their feelings.”
The poem that appears below was written by Gershom Sholem shortly before his death, and it shows that despite everything, he finally admitted that he is in the dark and does not attain that which is concealed in the Kabbalistic texts. Yet, the superficial academic approach and the dishonesty in researching Kabbalah that he sowed continue to be practiced by his students.
“Death in the Professoriate” was a result of replacing research of Kabbalah “through oneself and inside oneself” (or in other words, by correcting oneself in similarity to the Upper One) with academic research that’s done “outside of oneself” (in conjunction with meditation according to Abulafia).
“Vae Victis” (Woe to the Conquered) or “Death in the Professoriate”
I threw myself into ancient books.
I was awestruck by their signs.
I spent too much time alone with them.
I could no longer leave them behind.
The glimmer of Truth is ancient,
Yet disaster is unforeseen:
Generations are weakly linked,
And knowledge is not clean.
I have brought back the blurred face
Of the fullness of time.
I was ready to leap into the abyss,
But was I really primed?
The ancestral symbols are here explained;
The Kabbalist was no dope.
But what transformed time proposed
Remains foreign, beyond our scope.
Time transformed casts us a fearsome glance,
For it is unwilling to turn back again.
Yet abandoned joys grow palpable
Once your Vision has dissolved in pain.