Ars Judaica

The Kabbalistic Trees of Gershom Scholem

Ars Judaica (2020), 16, (1), 125–154.

Abstract

Scholars have only recently begun to take interest in ilanot (kabbalistic trees), a genre of kabbalistic creativity ignored by Gershom Scholem, the preeminent scholar of Jewish mysticism. Given that Scholem was intimately familiar with manuscripts the world over, his lack of attention to this genre in his innumerable writings must be considered an anomaly in need of explanation. Yet Scholem created ilanot of his own: a series of colorful, poster-size kabbalistic diagrams now held in the Scholem Archives at the National Library of Israel. These were produced to Scholem’s precise specifications for his teaching at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. My discussion of their production and analysis of their semiotics will range from the personal - including Scholem’s relationship to the graduate students who made these posters for their advisor - to the professional questions of how these images visualize particular kabbalistic ideas. I conclude with an examination of how “Scholem’s ilanot” compare to those crafted by historical kabbalists over the centuries.

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Author details

Chajes, J. H.