Although Hannah Arendt is not primarily known as a Jewish thinker, she probably wrote more about Jewish issues than any other topic. As a young adult in Germany, she wrote about German Jewish history. After moving to France in 1933, she helped Jewish youth immigrate to Palestine. During her years in Paris, her principle concern was the transformation of antinomianism from prejudice to policy, which would culminate in the Nazi "final solution." After France fell, Arendt escaped from an internment camp and made her way to America. There she wrote articles calling for a Jewish army to fight the Nazis. After the war, she supported the creation of a Jewish homeland in a binational (Arab-Jewish) state of Israel.
Arendt's 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, 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 the United States, 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.
About the Author
Hannah Arendt was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1906, fled to Paris in 1933, and came to the United States after the outbreak of World War II. She was the editorial director of Schocken Books from 1946 to 1948, and taught at Berkeley, Cornell, Princeton, the University of Chicago, and The New School for Social Research. Arendt died in 1975.
"Arendt posits a political way of life that disperses sovereignty, nationalism, and individualism into new forms of social and political coexistence."
–Judith Butler, London Review of Books
“Arendt’s experience as a Jew was sometimes that of an eyewitness and sometimes that of an actor and sufferer of events, all of which run the risk of partiality; but it was also always that of a judge, which means that she looked at those events and, insofar as she was in them, at herself from the outside. Her Jewish writings from more than thirty years are less exemplifications of Arendt’s political ideas at work than the experiential ground from which those ideas grew and developed. It is in this sense that her experience as a Jew is literally the foundation of her thought: it supports her thinking even when she is not thinking about Jews or Jewish questions.”
–From the preface by Jerome Kohn