This page lists historian scholars of Jewish mysticism. For theological scholars see List of Jewish Kabbalists: modern teachers of Jewish mysticism
Scholem Collection of Jewish mysticism archive room in the National Library of Israel (Hebrew University campus), Jerusalem

Academic-historical research into Jewish mysticism is a modern multi-discipline University branch of Jewish studies. It studies the texts and historical contexts of Judaic mysticism using objective historical-critical methods of Religious studies, such as Philology, History of ideas, Social history and Phenomenology. The historical development of Jewish mysticism under study covers the range of phases, forms and expressions, from early Rabbinic Merkabah mysticism, through Medieval Hasidei Ashkenaz and Classical Kabbalah, early-modern Safed Kabbalah and Sabbateanism, to modern Hasidism and 20th century expressions. It is often seen as a parallel field to academic research into rationalist Jewish philosophy, though some scholars contribute in both areas. In Israel both subjects, together with Ethical literature, share the unbrella department of Jewish thought.

Historical research into Jewish mysticism was first prepared by the 19th century Wissenschaft des Judentums school, whose historiography ignored, opposed or downplayed Kabbalah. The founding of the present flourishing University discipline is attributed to Gershom Scholem and his school in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the 20th century, whose historiography positioned Jewish mysticism as a mainstream vitalising source in the centre of Jewish development. A second generation of scholars are today found in Israel, the United States and Europe. The field is broadly divided into three camps:[1]

  1. Professors/researchers of Jewish mysticism/thought in academia, who study Jewish mysticism through its internal textual development
  2. Professors/researchers of Jewish history/society in academia, who contribute to the study of Jewish mysticism through its external social contexts
  3. Independent historian researchers outside of Universities, who follow a religious historiography, but use the scholarly academic apparatus of research, sourcing and presentation. This research is most common in relation to Hasidism, due to its social popularisation of Kabbalah. These works are not usually cited in the critical-methodology of academia, but work is being done to examine their findings

Spiritual figures within the Jewish mystical tradition are not listed here, but in Timeline List of Jewish Kabbalists. Contemporary teachers of Jewish mysticism across the Jewish denominations, listed there, should only be listed here if they also publish scholarly-form historical research into Jewish mysticism. Academic scholars of Jewish mysticism have followed a diverse range in personal belief commitment or detachment to Jewish mysticism, independent of their research.

Prelude historians of Judaism before Scholem

Prelude 19th and early 20th century historians of Judaism whose research included Jewish mysticism and its social history, before the founding influence of Scholem changed historiographical views:

Academic scholars of Jewish mysticism/thought

Academic method scholars of Jewish mystical texts, both mainstream University discipline historians of ideas, and individual modernist-critical scholars who gave philosophical interpretations of Jewish mysticism:


United States

  • Abraham Joshua Heschel (Neo-Hasidic philosopher and theologian, Jewish Theological Seminary)
  • Alexander Altmann (a founding figure in US, also scholar of Jewish philosophy, taught Brandeis University)
  • Elliot Wolfson (University of California, Santa Barbara)
  • Arthur Green (Hasidism scholar, also Reconstructionist/Neo-Hasidic theologian, Hebrew College, Boston)
  • Norman Lamm (Modern Orthodox leader, Hasidic-Mitnagdic study, Yeshiva University)
  • Allan Nadler (Mitnagdic response to Hasidism)
  • Daniel C. Matt (academic translation of the Zohar)
  • Shaul Magid (Indiana University)


  • Louis Jacobs (London, Hasidic studies, Conservative Judaism theologian)

Religious historiography researchers of Jewish mysticism

Only scholars whose writings include research in the historical development or biographies of Jewish mysticism should be included here, not those who have published solely theological works or commentaries on Jewish mysticism. They should be included in Modern teachers of Jewish mysticism instead:


United States




  1. ^ Studies in East European Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization). The introduction by Joseph Dan surveys the field of Jewish mysticism academia today, citing the first two categories as two departments in Universities: the (philological) "mystics" and the (social) "historians". In the past, each kept to separate domains, but now multi-disciplinary crossover fertilisation prevails. The third, religious historiography camp is referenced in the academic scholarship, welcoming the research, but cautioning use of its findings
  2. ^ Kabbalah: New Perspectives, Moshe Idel, Yale University Press 1990

External links