Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Age of Reason?

I'm reading Gershom Scholem's autobiography, and the strongest impression that I got from it so far, was the intellectually stimulating environment he found himself in. The Apikorsus of all brands was there for the picking. There were groups, circles, clubs and organizations of all kinds based on this or that shared common belief. Today, there are a few of us here and there who have to go to great lengths to meet a like minded soul. When I read accounts of that time period, I feel like I'm in the wrong century. Granted, most of the intellectual fads of the time, were based on some sort of socialism, which is revolting to me, mostly due to it's naivete, and completely unfounded belief in humanity. Nonetheless, it was a time fertile for intellectual creativity, and Meshugaim like us, who cared or at least though they cared for the truth, were common enough to be a class for themselves, that can flourish as such.
This bring me to my second point, the different manifestations of our Apikorsus. It seems like these guys had guts, something that I find lacking in many of us, myself including, to a degree. Certainly, much of this difference can be attributed to demographics. Most Jews at that time, especially in Eastern Europe, were religious, and that was the time when those that couldn't stay were leaving. It was a mass exodus, simply because it's time had come. In numbers there is power, and it seems like the established religious power holders, were on the defensive. We're now a century after this process, and the religious community has come back in a much smaller, compact and introverted form. It's also been setup (at least the ultra Orthodox) with the primary goal of keeping its members in the fold. This has created a very different dynamic, a sort of reversion to tribalism if I may use the term, which is very successful at keeping it's limited numbers in the fold.
And still, I think there is something missing. Maybe it's living in America, the land of the cheeseburger and the SUV. I don't know, but why can't we be something more than just a couple of Meshugaim. We're definitely a product of the times, and times have changed, alas they've become more boring.


Freethinking Upstart said...

>Granted, most of the intellectual fads of the time, were based on some sort of socialism, which is revolting to me, mostly due to it's naivete, and completely unfounded belief in humanity.

Maybe you could talk more about your revulsion with socialism. I find political theories intriguing.

What do you think most of the intellectual fads of today are based on?

Frum Heretic said...

If you haven't already read it, check out the fascinating article from The Nation:

Baal Habos said...

Acher, agreed, it's kind of sad there are so few of us. That's actually on of the depressing things about blogging. I expected to see the circle of bloggers grow exponentially, but that has not really happened.

Frum Heretic, the best line in that article: "You know that I believe that mysticism is nonsense, total and complete nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship."

Pen Tivokeish said...

I believe it a has a lot to do with material wealth.

Poverty was and still is a great motivator.

Also, the kotzker vort: "אַל תֹּאמַר מֶה הָיָה שֶׁהַיָּמִים הָרִאשֹׁנִים הָיוּ טוֹבִים מֵאֵלֶּה כִּי לֹא מֵחָכְמָה שָׁאַלְתָּ עַל זֶה. " that it may be true, but no need to dwell upon it. :)

Baal Habos said...

PT, yes, poverty is a great motivator. So how come Bnei Brak is not awash with skepticism? (Or is it?)

I think there's more to it.

Acher said...

"You know that I believe that mysticism is nonsense, total and complete nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship."

By far my favorite quote of all time.


Yor point is valid but isn't completely accurate historically. Often lots of fevrent intellectual activity was going on amongst youth who grew up in middle class families or even well off. Case in point, Scholem himself.

Oh the times they are changing, hoho the times they are changing...

Bob Dylan


It's too bad I was very tired last night when I read your comment, because I was very much in the mood for writing some bitingly sarcastic polemic against foolish do-good political movements. Today, I'm in a more equanimous state of mind, which is good I guess. Briefly, my cynical nature and the clear perception that everyone is ultimately selfish, no matter what sauce they may put their words in (it's a simple fact of nature), makes me scoff at any type of socialism, which is ultimately based on some belief in the goodness of the human spirit. Utter nonesense, and all attempts at it have proven my view to be correct again and again.
As to contemporary political thought, I have to admit that politics doesn't interest as much, if at all, as history, and I only study political theories for their historical value, so I'm relatively ignorant as to contemporary political thought.

evanstonjew said...

First of all Scholem wasn't an apikoris in our sense. He came from an assimilated home and returned to Judaism. Second he was religious, even mystical though he never went to a shul. Third the difference between then and now was that they had hope, and though very sophisticated in a Berlin-German way, they were not cynical. Fourth he wasn't a socialist but a radical close to anarchists. His friend Benjamin became a communist, but Scholem was never ever close.

Scholem knew little of East European yiddishkeit. Buber did. Scholem was a great yekke, right about Zionism, right about Israreli politics, right about Hanna Arendt and Eichman to name just a few of his famous polemical fights.

If I had to pick the greatest of that chabura in the sense of the most geshmack I would say Agnon.The greatest German Jewish writer of that period for me is Kafka. The one with the greatest general influence is Benjamin. The guy who taught me the most about Judaism is Freud followed by Scholem. LOL.

What a wonderful awesome generation.

Acher said...


>though he never went to a shul

Incorrect, but otherwise, true, true, true, and true. But I wasn't specifically referring to Scholem, reading him just got me thinking of the times, and in reality I probably relate more to the Russian intellectual, the ostjude, than to his Yekke couterpart. There was much more cynicism there, but it seems like at that time it was of a constructive kind, not of the desperate kind I see in myself and others today.