Redemption Through Politics
FOR ME-though I would imagine that much the same would be true for anyone who has been living with at least some degree of intellectual alertness through the polemical agitations of this highly politicized era in which we all unhappily find ourselves-the experience of reading Gershom Scholem’s “The Holiness of Sin” (p. 41) was rather like having an amplified carillon implanted inside my head, so many bells did this account of a remote Jewish sect, remote in time and apparently remote in its preoccupations, ring in my mind and so loudly did they reverberate throughout my entire being.
In the 1930′s, when “The Holiness of Sin” was first published, the quip became popular among those who knew enough Hebrew to read it that Scholem had produced the most illuminating analysis anyone had yet done of the Stalinist mentality, particularly as that mentality was responding to such shocks as the massacre of the kulaks, the Moscow Trials, the purges, and the Hitler-Stalin pact.
Scholem, of course, made no explicit comparisons himself and was almost certainly not thinking consciously of Stalinism at all. Nevertheless, a reader of “The Holiness of Sin” in 1937 would have had to be very narrowly focused indeed in his thinking to miss the breathtaking similarities between the kinds of arguments the Sabbatians used in denying that the conversion of Sabbatai Zevi to Islam proved that he was not after all the Messiah of the Jews, and the arguments employed by the Stalinists in trying to persuade themselves against all the evidence of the senses that a socialist revolution was in fact being fulfilled in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Today we are not so likely to dwell on those similarities, but we are just as likely to be struck by another set of equally astonishing contemporary resonances having to do with the basic doctrine of the holiness of sin itself or, as the Sabbatians generally put it, the idea that the violation of the Law is its true fulfillment.
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