Rare Audio of Gershom Scholem lecturing in 1975

This morning I received an anonymous email from an ip number in Tel Aviv with the only available recording of Gershom Scholem. There is also another single recording in the Israeli broadcasting Authority vaults. But here was the only publically available mp3. It was from a lecture given in 1975, the year that Scholem spent in sabbatical at Boston University, when many of the Brandeis students who entered the field of Kabbalah attending his lectures. This lecture was delivered at the Panarion conference, 1975, an annul Jungian conference held in Los Angeles.

Extremely rare audio of Gershom Scholem lecturing on Kabbalah in 1975:

An entry describing a recording of Scholem speaking at any length

The topic was the Tzelem- the astral body. A talk that Scholem gave 15 years prior at the Eranos conferences and was only available in German at the time of the lecture. One gets a good sense of Scholem in the 90 minutes.

He opens with a two interesting autobiographical statements. First, that research into kabbalah- is research into the hidden recesses of the mind. Second, that Scholem in his turn to kabbalah was searching beyond the Talmud.

It is interesting that even after 60 years in Israel his accent is still entirely German even when pronouncing Hebrew. It is noticeable that he even has no Hebrew accent when pronouncing Hebrew words.

Scholem made a joke that there were so many PhD’’s in mandate Palestine that one would think “Dr” is the Jewish first name . And that no one could evaluate his work before he was hired by Hebrew University, so he was reviwed by a Rabbinical botanist in Hungary who read in Scholem’s edition of the Bahir about male and female palm trees.

He claimed to have an optic memory not an auditory one.

Now to the lecture itself, which Scholem claimed was really two lecture. The first half of the lecture on the personal confrontation with the soul and the second half on Tzelem. One sees how much Scholem was interested in psychological explanations even when not at the Eranos conferences.

Scholem opened up with the opposition of Ibn Latif to kabbalistic psychology and the need for someone in do a study of him. (Ibn latif, Rav Pe’alim, ed. S. Schoenblum, Berlin, 1885, reprinted: Jerusalem, 1970; see also: ed. H. Kasher, Ramat Gan, 1974.)

Scholem quoted from Moshe of Kiev – Shushan Sodot, the following passage from a student of Abulafia. As you read the passage note that Scholem reads the passage as reaching the psychology depth of the soul and Moshe Idel in his work uses the same passage to discuss prophecy, prophetic kabbalah, and visual phenomena.

The wise and illuminated R. Nathan, blessed be his memory, told me ‘Know that the perfection of the secret of prophecy for the prophet is that he should suddenly see the form of his self-standing in front of him. He will then forget his own self and it will disappear from him. And he will see the form of his self in front of him, speaking with him and telling him the future.

Scholem explains it as showing the Kabblah as offering self-knowledge into the depths of the human nature. From a 2012 perspective, it feels funny that he treats the conceptions of the self as a static entity. He is writing pre-Charles Taylor pre- Foucault without any genealogy of the construction of the self. He attributes the differences between the centuries of texts to creativity and imagination, not to the changing constructions of the self.

In the second half of the talk, Scholem presents his article on Tzelem. He acknowledges the universality of the idea of the Astral body. He make a big point that the audience should read Sylvan J. Muldoon, Hereward Carrington,  Projection of the Astral Body (1923) who offer a theosophic approach in line with Madame Blavatsky. Then he traces the history of the astral body from Greek papyri to Iamblicus and from there to the Arabic magical works and Pico.

From there, Scholem discusses the concept of a personal angel, the Zohar need for garments to enter this world, -the haluka derabanan- bodies of light- and the idea of an ethereal robe. He basically treats them as if they are all the same with different imaginative understanding. He finishes up with the soul traveling through the spheres and planets, Dante’s concept of the shadow and the zelem hovering over body. So read the original essay.

I yearn for some historical sense. Scholem jumps from his classical knowledge to the use of the classical material in the kabbalah, then he just sees the synthesis in the 16th century as a synthesis. Looking back, Scholem can use to actually deal with the topic Ginzburg’s discussion of the pneuma, Warburg studies of melancholia, and then some Yates and Brian Vickers. His applying the 20th century sense of self to the 16the century is unnerving.

5 responses to “Rare Audio of Gershom Scholem lecturing in 1975

  1. (Professor Emeritus) Alan Jay Weisbard, Madison, WI

    Alan, I think I may have been in attendance at that lecture, or perhaps a similar one given a year or two prior at B.U. While my field was not Jewish studies, I had spent time in Israel by then and done a fair amount of reading of Judaica, including a number of Scholem’s essays on various topics. I certainly knew of his stature as a scholar and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be in his presence.

    As I remember, the (large) lecture hall was packed, and it was very difficult to hear Scholem clearly, particularly with his strong accent and the frequency of terms from a variety of languages. To be honest, I found the lecture somewhere between impenetrable and incomprehensible, as did my wife, who had been a graduate student in Jewish History at Harvard (and for a year at Hebrew U.) and had German and far better Hebrew than I. There have been very few lectures in my career as an academic that I understood less well.

    Oh well.

    I’ve done considerably better with Scholem’s published work in English translation.

    I am curious how Scholem’s students found him as a teacher (as distinct from a scholar), and how Israelis did with his public lectures in Hebrew.

  2. Pingback: Rare audio of a Gershom Scholem lecture (1975) « BLT

  3. avakesh, you did not even bother listening to the lecture. Scholem quotes the full version. oy.
    Zinberg is entirely dependent on Scholem. He was just quoting from Scholem of the 1920’s,not his post-Ernaos version of 50 years later. Psychology was the lingo of the 1970’s. What you are really noting is how Scholem’s presentation changed over 50 years.

    • True, I did not listen, because I would not understand him. I relied on your able representation. The point, however, is that Scholem misunderstood the source. If you like, he misunderstood it two times.

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