History of the Gershom Scholem Library

History of the Gershom Scholem Library


The library has its beginnings in 1915, when Scholem purchased a copy of the Zohar and a monograph on Hasidism by Aharon Marcus. It seems probable that even at this early stage Scholem hoped to develop a comprehensive library on this subject, as part of the overall Zionist endeavor to promote the spiritual renewal of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

During the years following the First World War, after Scholem left his parents’ home, he became acquainted with leading Jewish bibliophiles such as Zalman Shocken, Martin Buber and Shmuel Yosef Agnon, all of whom had renowned personal libraries. These encounters may have provided Scholem with role models for developing his own library, although his enthusiasm for the science of bibliography and his love of books must also have played a crucial role. By the time Scholem arrived in the Land of Israel in 1923, he had already collected 1,767 books, including 503 on the subject of the Kabbalah. While he was still in Europe, Scholem gained extensive bibliographical knowledge through his frequent visits to leading libraries, and he continued to gain experience through his work in the Jewish National and University Library.

Scholem purchased bibliographical works and catalogues published by Hebrew booksellers in order to find various Kabbalistic works he was interested in adding to his collection. He was also able to expand his library thanks to the reputation he and his collection enjoyed. The unique content and scope of the library was enhanced with the assistance of the Jewish National and University Library, after Scholem agreed that the Library would inherit the collection after his death. Scholem passed away on February 21, 1982, and the collection was duly transferred to the Library.​

The Importance of the Gershom Scholem Library

The Gershom Scholem Library is the only institution in the world that holds an almost-complete collection of sources and studies in the fields of Kabbalah, Hasidism and Sabbatianism, Jewish mysticism and general mysticism. Moreover, the collection forms just one of three arms within the National Library of Israel that bring together virtually every extant work printed or written in the field of Jewish mysticism. In addition to the Gershom Scholem Library, the National Library of Israel is also home to the Manuscripts and Archives Department, which includes a collection of Kabbalistic manuscripts. The Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts also includes Kabbalistic manuscripts. 

The collection of printed works in the field of Jewish mysticism in different editions (alongside the manuscripts held by the Manuscripts and Archives Department and the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts) ensures that researchers enjoy easy access to the materials, thereby promoting accurate, comprehensive and comparative research. Scholem himself played an important role in developing this resource, which can rightly be considered one of his main achievements, alongside his contributions in the field of research.

Alongside rabbis, Kabbalists and interested readers, the Library is also visited each year by dozens of researchers in the Kabbalah and Judaism from throughout the world, who draw on the collection in order to complete their studies. As already noted, the material is also available online to anyone who wishes to access it.

A Unique Collection

The collection of Professor Gershom Scholem’s books is unique, embodying the personal library of one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth centuries, and one of the most important collectors of Jewish books. Scholem combined extraordinary knowledge with great love. In his enthusiasm to perfect his collection, he acquired numerous editions of works in the field of Jewish mysticism, which he ordered according to the historical progression of this academic field, and according to thematic and content-based classifications. The library includes works published during the earliest period of Hebrew printing, as well as modern works from many countries and in many languages (particularly Hebrew, Aramaic, English and German).

Photo: Hanan Cohen

Photo: Hanan Cohen

The Arrangement of the Collection

The library is catalogued according to the chronological sequence of the publication of the Kabbalistic writings, including substantial thematic sections devoted to such subjects as the Heichalot literature, Ashkenazi Hasidism, the Zohar and accompanying commentaries, the Lurianic Kabbalah, charms and cures, Hasidism, Sabbatianism, twentieth-century Kabbalah, and so forth.

The primary sources are followed by research works, ordered in the same manner. The research literature includes books, articles published in periodicals and newspapers, dissertations and theses.
The research literature is followed by a collection of thematic sections, including philosophy, Jewish philosophy, Midrashic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, general mysticism (Christian, Islamic and that of the Eastern religions), gnosis, German literature, the works of Walter Benjamin, bibliographical works, periodicals, commemorative publications, catalogues of manuscripts, and so forth.

The Purpose and Goals of the Collection

The main purpose of the Gershom Scholem Library is to continue the task Scholem himself began of collecting, acquiring and collating works in the fields of Kabbalah and Hasidism; providing scholars with updated tools and indexes for the collection of material in these areas; and providing readers and researchers with access to the themes covered by the collection. The Library seeks to continue to function as a global center for the study of Kabbalah and Hasidism, and aspires to be considered by outstanding researchers in Israel and around the world as the best source of information and fruitful dialogue in its core subjects. The Library also functions as a type of “living museum,” commemorating the life and thought of Gershom Scholem as the embodiment of the blossoming of study of the Kabbalah and modern Jewish thought in the twentieth century.