Commentary Magazine


Relevance & Sin

To the Editor:

. . . I learned much from reading Gershom Scholem’s “The Holiness of Sin” [January]. . . . Although I had previously been aware of some of the desperate aspects of the Kabbalah movement in the medieval period, I knew nothing of the mystical kelipot and the belief that filling the kelipot to bursting with great evil would cause a holier, redeemed world to appear. Also, . . . I had long appreciated Cecil Roth’s treatment of the Marranos, but it had never occurred to me that continued exile and enforced apostasy would eventually cause a significant minority of the Marranos to feel that evil had been divinely ordained . . . and that therefore they should commit as much evil as they possibly could.

All this offers a new perspective on . . . a significant minority of present-day youth. Their apostasy lies in fighting what appears to be an immoral war, or, more to the point, in participating in what to them seems a corrupt and hypocritical society. . . . I do not mean to imply that anybody is trying to fill kelipot or that our youth even know or believe in such a theory, but they often act and behave as if they do. . . . Although I do not approve, I now understand, and for the first time, the conviction held by some of our youth that it is their moral duty to behave in the most abominable way conceivable.

Apparently they feel they must make things get so bad that we shall have no choice but to rebuild. Nor is this feeling restricted to youth. Professor Scholem’s wisdom has focused my attention on some members of the older generation I have witnessed at political gatherings repeatedly contending that to build you must first tear down, and urging mindless destruction and disorder. . . .

It is obvious that “messiahs” will appear by the score in times of turmoil, but it was never clear to me until I read “The Holiness of Sin” why so many in our day want to appear as evil incarnate, or at least do not hold themselves accountable for their moral behavior. . . . Thank you for my new understanding of our times. . . .

H. Melvin Lieberstein
Wichita State University
Wichita, Kansas

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