Although Hannah Arendt is not primarily known as a Jewish thinker, she probably wrote more about Jewish issues than any other topic. When she was in her mid-twenties and still living in Germany, Arendt wrote about the history of German Jews as a people living in a land that was not their own. In 1933, at the age of twenty-six, she fled to France, where she helped to arrange for German and eastern European Jewish youth to quit Europe and become pioneers in Palestine.
During her years in Paris, Arendt’s principal concern was with the transformation of antisemitism from a social prejudice to a political policy, which would culminate in the Nazi “final solution” to the Jewish question–the physical destruction of European Jewry. After France fell at the beginning of World War II, Arendt escaped from an internment camp in Gurs and made her way to the United States. Almost immediately upon her arrival in New York she wrote one article after another calling for a Jewish army to fight the Nazis, and for a new approach to Jewish political thinking. After the war, her attention was focused on the creation of a Jewish homeland in a binational (Arab-Jewish) state of Israel.
Although Arendt’s thoughts eventually turned more to the meaning of human freedom and its inseparability from political life, her original conception of political freedom cannot be fully grasped apart from her experience as a Jew. In 1961 she attended Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem. Her report on that trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem, provoked an immense controversy, which culminated in her virtual excommunication from the worldwide Jewish community. Today that controversy is the subject of serious re-evaluation, especially among younger people in America, Europe, and Israel.
The publication of The Jewish Writings –much of which has never appeared before–traces Arendt’s life and thought as a Jew. It will put an end to any doubts about the centrality, from beginning to end, of Arendt’s Jewish experience.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of Science Fiction eBook: The Jewish Writings|
|Release Date: 03-12-2009|
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|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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The Jewish Writings
The Enlightenment and the Jewish Question
The modern Jewish question dates from the Enlightenment; it was the Enlightenment—that is, the non-Jewish world—that posed it. Its formulations and its answers have defined the behavior and the assimilation of Jews. Ever since Moses Mendelssohn's genuine assimilation and Christian Wilhelm Dohm's essay "On the Civic Improvement of Jews" (1781), the same arguments that found their chief representative in Lessing appear over and over in every discussion of Jewish emancipation. It is to Lessing that such discussions owe their propagation of tolerance and humanness, as well as the distinction between the truths of reason and those of history. This distinction is of such great importance because it can legitimate each accidental instance of assimilation that occurs within history and thus needs to appear merely as an ongoing insight into the truth and not as the adaptation and reception of a particular culture at a particular, and thus accidental, stage of its history.
For Lessing, reason, which all humans share in common, is the foundation of humanity. It is the most human connection that binds Saladin with Nathan and the Templar.* It alone is the genuine connection linking one person with another. The emphasis of humanness based on what is reasonable gives rise to the ideal of tolerance and to its promulgation. His notion that deep inside every human being—despite differences of dogmatic convictions, morals, and conduct—is the same human being, his reverence for all that bears a human countenance, can never be derived solely from the general validity of reason as a purely formal quality; rather, the i