Jewish Thinkers’ Fatal Attraction to an Anti-Semitic Philosopher

Oct. 13 2021

Unquestionably one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger laid the intellectual foundations of existentialism and bequeathed the West his ideas of authenticity and self-actualization. He also wrote about the necessity of providing “German intellectual life once more with real talents and educators rooted in our own soil,” lest it be handed over to “growing Jewification [Verjudung].” And that was before he joined the Nazi party and helped to purge his university of Jews, while worrying that “World Judaism” would “undertake the uprooting of all beings from being as world-historical mission.”

The 20th-century Jewish thinkers whose ideas were deeply shaped by Heidegger’s—some of whom, like Hans Jonas and Hannah Arendt, had been his disciples—would not have known of the last quotation, or many like it, that appear in his long-unpublished Black Notebooks. But they did know about his support for Nazism, and his lack of contrition after World War II ended. These Jews, both those who studied under Heidegger and those who merely read him, are the subject of a new book by Daniel Herskowitz. Steven Aschheim writes in his review:

Herskowitz’s rich, exceedingly complex treatment of his central Jewish protagonists—Martin Buber, Leo Strauss, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Emmanuel Levinas—and their engagement with Heidegger defies any effort at a quick or comprehensive summary. But one can point to the common tendencies and themes that he identifies in their writings, as well as some of the ways in which they diverged. All regarded Heidegger’s worldview as ultimately nihilistic, and they felt compelled to contend with Heidegger’s rejection of the Jewish God or any other “external and ultimate reference point that can offer a stable ground to human existence and history.” At the same time, as Herskowitz demonstrates, these thinkers often found the German thinker’s work “to be fertile ground for reconceptualizing what it means to be Jewish,” despite his troubling political history.

Abraham Joshua Heschel . . . had an ongoing, if more sporadic, concern with Heidegger’s thought, culminating in his 1963 lectures at Stanford that became the small book Who Is Man? “The fundamental assumption with which Heschel approaches Heidegger,” Herskowitz argues, “is that ‘the problem of being can never be treated in isolation but only in relation to God.’” Accepting the Heideggerian position that “a key element of human existence” consists in “the fundamental distress of existential alienation and misplacement,” Heschel redirected this sense of homelessness as the reflection of “an embedded existential urge toward a relation with what is beyond”—the personal God of the Hebrew Bible.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Anti-Semitism, Jewish Philosophy, Leo Strauss, Martin Heidegger, Philosophy

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy