Auction 42 - Rare and Important Items

A Collection of Letters Written by Gershom Scholem as a Young Man to Women Friends - Germany, 1916-1922

Opening: $4,000
Sold for: $5,250
Including buyer's premium
23 letters written by Gershom (Gerhard) Scholem and sent to some of his women friends, whom he met while studying in the universities of Berlin and Jena. Berlin, Allenstein and Jena, 1916-1922. German. This collection of letters depicts an interesting time in the life of Gershom Scholem (born in Berlin 1897, came to Jerusalem in 1923, where he died in 1982), one of the greatest and most prominent Kabbalah scholars in the 20th century, a bibliographer and a collector of compositions in the fields of Kabbalah, Hassidim and mysticism. Scholem devoted his life to the study of Jewish mysticism and was one of the first to conduct academic research in the field. He discovered and published many manuscripts in the field of Kabbalah and studied every aspect of the Jewish traditions of mysticism. By the time he turned 80, he has published ca. 600 essays and studies in the field of Kabbalah. In the earliest letter in this collection Scholem has not yet turned 19. In 1915 Scholem was accepted to the University of Berlin, where he studied for five semesters, and where he first met the addressees of the letters, Grete Lissauer and Käthe Holländer. At that time he also made his first acquaintance with Walter Benjamin, purchased a copy of the Zohar, and began writing essays on the subject of Kabbalah. During this period Scholem lived with his parents, until February 1917, when, following a harsh argument between him and his father, his father stated that Scholem must leave the house and that he intends to stop the financial support Scholem was enjoying by his parents all together (later, as the two made up again, his father continued to pay for his son's tuition and for all of his expenses until he moved to Israel, even though he persisted in his refusal to have Scholem back in the house). In June 1917 Scholem was enlisted to the army, but three months later he was dismissed after being diagnosed as mentally ill. After his release he went on to study in the University of Jena, where he studied math and philosophy. One year later, in May 1918, following also Walter Benjamin's influence, Scholem went on to the University of Bern in Switzerland, where he began studying Semitic languages and philosophy. His first book was published that year (a translation of the second and revised edition of the book of Yizkor, written in memory of members of the Zionist Proletariat Movement, who were killed on duty, in Palestine). It was in this period that Scholem has decided to continue with the field of Jewish Studies instead of mathematics. Thus, he decided to return to Germany and continue his studies in the University of Munich. In Munich he studied philosophy from September 1919 until March 1922. It was there where he wrote his dissertation on the Sefer Ha'Bahir, which he translated to German, and published together with his commentary. In 1922 he received his doctorate degree in Munich summa cum laude. A year later, his book Das Buch Bahir, which was based on his dissertation, was published. • Eighteen letters in this collection were sent to Käthe Hlländer (six of which written on postcards). The letters were sent from Berlin, Allenstein and Jena, between November 1916 and 1922. Some of the letters are not dated. In his letters to Hlländer, Scholem writes frankly of his relations with his family (telling, among other things, about the fight he had with his father, about how he was left with no money, and about moving to a hostel in Berlin- Wilmersdorf). He asks to hear about common acquaintances – Grete Lissauer, Toni Halle, and Grete Krämer; he tells Holländer of his thoughts regarding math and philosophy and even tells her of medical examinations he underwent while preparing for his army service. Four of these letters were sent in June-August 1917, when Scholem was enlisted in the army. In the letter from July 30th 1917, written in a psychiatric hospital where he stayed for a recovery period of six weeks, Scholem writes about the anti-Semitism he encounters in the army, about the fact that the doctors in the hospital are all Jewish and about the headaches he suffers from, which make it difficult for him to think. • Five letters in this collection are addressed to Grete Lissauer. Berlin, April – December 1916. It is possible these were sent to Holländer to be handed to Lissauer. In his letters to Lissauer Scholem writes frequently of subjects related to his studies and the philosophy of mathematics, of papers he is working on (some of which were published in Der Jude), on recommended books (in the letter from April 21st 1917 Scholem tells of his purchase of Dostoevsky’s “Idiot”) and of his opinions on books he had read (he writes frequently of mathematics, Kant; mentions the protestant theologist Franz Molitor, and writes of his intention to go to the lecture of the philosopher Ernst Cassirer). In one of his letters Scholem apologizes for his style, explaining that he is only 19 years old. The addressees, Holländer and Lissauer, are mentioned in Scholem’s diaries from the years 1913-1919, where the reader finds an ambivalent attitude towards them; see: Lamentations of youth, the diaries of Gershom Scholem, 1913-1919, edited and translated by Anthony David Skinner, Cambridge: Massachusetts, 2007, pp. 104-105, 184. A total of 23 letters. Size and condition vary. Mostly good condition. Some letters have several tears, some affecting the text. Folding marks and some spots.
Rare and Important Items