May 4: Arendt's Jewishness

Readers come to the defense of Hannah Arendt's importance in Jewish thought.

letters to the editor 88 (photo credit: )
letters to the editor 88
(photo credit: )
Arendt's Jewishness Sir, - Calev Ben-David accurately describes Hannah Arendt as a thinker of Jewish origin who made no major contribution to Jewish thought ("The pariah intellectual," April 27). He is also accurate in seeing her reprehensible coldness to the Jewish people in her Eichmann in Jerusalem. But he does not do her relation to the Jewish people and Israel full justice. She worked in a dedicated fashion for a number of Jewish organizations, most importantly Youth Aliyah. During World War II she repeatedly urged the creation of an independent Jewish fighting force, in part because she understood the political implications that force would have after the war. On the eve of the Six Day War she told her close friend Mary McCarthy that Israel's destruction would be, for her, the greatest disaster imaginable. As a small child taunted by German children in school she followed her mother's instructions, stood up proudly and defended herself as a Jewess. She never denied her Jewishness and especially cared that the Jews be able to defend themselves with honor. In this sense certainly, Israel was dear to her heart and mind. SHALOM FREEDMAN Jerusalem Sir, - Calev Ben-David concludes that "(Hannah Arendt and Arthur Koestler) must be counted as no more than marginal Jewish thinkers." This category would include Jesus, Paul, Spinoza, Marx and Freud, to name only a handful. It is the marginal Jews who have the greatest influence. JOSEF GILBOA Jaffa Calev Ben-David responds: I specifically noted Arendt's work with Youth Aliyah, acknowledged that she never denied her Jewishness, and credited the complexity of her feelings toward her Jewishness. Whether one can say, though, that Israel was "dear to her heart" is debatable; I doubt she'd ever use those words. I absolutely feel that Arendt is a "marginal Jewish thinker" (but a major thinker otherwise) in the same sense as Freud and Marx - but surely not in the sense of Spinoza, whose entire life and work were colored by his Jewishness (and in most ways were a direct reaction to it). Embarrassing errors Sir, - Alice Shalvi, professor of English literature and Shakespeare scholar, detracted from the signal achievements which earned her the Israel Prize ("A woman's work," April 20) when she allowed herself to hold forth on Halacha and Jewish law. Two particularly egregious statements: 1. "In fact, the whole marriage ceremony is one of purchasing the wife." As Professor Arye Frimer has pointed out, this is a total misrepresentation of the Jewish ceremony and reflects a misunderstanding of Jewish legal terms such as kinyan. In the marriage ceremony the groom acquires rights, responsibilities and obligations vis-a-vis the bride. This is always by consent and is a quid pro quo, since the wife also has rights, responsibilities and obligations toward the husband. To emphasize that this is not a sale, the rabbis use the term mekudeshet, dedicated or consecrated. (Think Pirkei Avot's knei lecha haver, which also invokes kinyan and means "acquire a friend.") 2. (Interviewer Ruthie Blum: "I understand that lesbianism is not forbidden by Halacha.") Prof. Shalvi: "That's true." It is not true - such acts are forbidden. See, for example, Maimonides, Issurei Biah 21:8. and the Shulhan Aruch Even Ha'ezer 20:2. SHIRA LEIBOWITZ SCHMIDT Netanya Wave the flag Sir, - The "no-flaggers" should understand that the flag is the flag of the State of Israel and not of the current administration. So, decliners, wave the flag for Israel, and not for the politicians glued to their chairs ("Long may it wave," Calev Ben-David, April 27). SUE ZOHAR DESHEH Jerusalem One more reason Sir, - Amid the doom and gloom exuded by many of your columnists, Barbara Sofer reminded us of why we are here ("59 more reasons why I love Israel," April 27). Those of us who still love Israel are the 60th reason, and Sofer is our fitting spokesperson. HAYIM GRANOT Petah Tikva Yossi Beilin knows Sir, - By her questions, and her responses to his answers, it is clear Ruthie Blum came well prepared for her interview with Sari Nusseibeh ("Once upon a conflict," April 27). When Nusseibeh brought up the issue of Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount as the cause of the 2000 Aksa Intifada, she responded that Sharon had Palestinian Authority permission for his visit, and that Palestinian Media Watch research showed the Palestinian leadership had been planning a "second intifada" for nearly a year prior to Sharon's visit. The issue of Sharon's culpability should be put to rest by the personal testimony of Yossi Beilin at an Israeli Foreign Press Association briefing discussing his peace initiative with the Palestinians, held at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on November 22, 2006. Here's Mr. Beilin, now head of the Meretz Party and architect of the Oslo and Geneva Peace plans, testifying in his own words, as quoted in the transcript of the recorded English press conference: Q: "Paige, Japanese Public TV... I would just like to listen to your opinion about the release of Mr. Marwan Barghouti... and also how do you estimate him as a possible future leader?" Beilin: "I believe that it was a mistake to arrest Marwan Barghouti, [and] to bring him to court. Even one of the judges... said it was a mistake to bring him to a civil court. I think that one should release Marwan Barghouti. Marwan Barghouti is... an important political leader. I think that he made huge mistakes. I think that if there is one person responsible for the Second Intifada, it is Marwan Barghouti, who supported the Oslo process, who believed in peace, and at a certain moment changed his mind and thought that if he does not launch an Intifada, which he believed, I think, would be something for two, three weeks - Hamas will win the street. "This was his motivation. I know it from him personally. He told me about it in advance. I wrote about it. I begged him not to do this, and to do whatever possible to continue the peace process. So personally I must say, I'm not an admirer of Marwan Barghouti." This kind of testimony is credible. It is not based on hearsay, research or opinion. Beilin heard it directly from the source and personally argued with Barghouti against starting the second intifada. That was the subject matter of their conversation, totally unrelated to Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. I would hope that next time an opinion maker brings up the Sharon visit as even a possible cause of the second intifada, which resulted in over 1,000 Israeli deaths, interviewers will respond with Yossi Beilin's personal testimony to its true cause. AVI WEINSTEIN Efrat Sir, - The duplicity within the apparent reasonableness of Sari Nusseibeh's words should sound a note of warning to those longing to find a Palestinian moderate. Perhaps Nusseibeh might have conveyed sincerity had he acknowledged that Yasser Arafat did not truly accept peace with Israel, and expressed the hope that, in time, a Palestinian leader who did would emerge. Instead he whitewashes Arafat, claiming that in signing the Oslo Accords he brought "everyone behind him to be prepared to make peace with Israel." If only. Ten days after signing the Gaza-Jericho First Agreement Arafat gave a speech in a Johannesburg mosque in which he declared it to be no more than the agreement between Muhammad and the Quraysh tribe - which Muhammad broke when the time was right. During the entire time he served as Palestinian Authority president, Arafat never prepared the people for peace. This was perhaps the greatest tip-off to his intentions. As Nusseibeh surely knows, PA incitement was ubiquitous, and it was ugly: calls to jihad, veneration of "martyrs," denial of Israel's right to exist and of Jewish heritage in the land. This influence on the thinking of a generation of Palestinians is part of what we must cope with now. ARLENE KUSHNER Jerusalem