Sartre & God (was Re: the mature Marx?)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Wed Dec 27 11:38:52 MST 2000

Nestor wrote:

>En relación a Re: Sartre & God (was Re: the mature Marx?),
>el 25 Dec 00, a las 10:44, Louis Proyect (?) dijo:
>>  Like it or not, in 1979, Sartre (still the Sartre of "Anti-Semite and Jew")
>>  couldn't  have cared less about the Palestinians: If you were a
>>person of his
>>  generation in  France (born in 1905 as he was, and having lived
>>through WWII),
>>  you would be inclined  toward the Zionist position, whether out of guilt or
>>  because of a subtle (seperatist)  racism.
>Not my view. Sartre was ALWAYS pro-Zionist, even during the times when he
>appeared as a defender of the rights of the Arabs and Palestinians. The issue
>of _Les Temps Modernes_ where he puts Zionist and Arab intellectuals _on the
>same foot_ is a feat in doublespeak. It is as if you put, say, Walter Benjamin
>and Hjalmar Heidrich on the same foot in a number covering the "Jew-Aryan"
>conflict in Central Europe, 1930s.

Sartre's pro-Zionism may have been colored by the racist idea of the
Jews as "feminine" & therefore incapable of violence & the Arabs as
"masculine" & therefore given to terrorism (as explained by Elliott
Horowitz below).  The gendering of races made Sartre not only unable
to understand the struggles of Palestinians & Zionist violence
against them & non-Algerian Arabs but also incapable of criticizing
anti-Semitism beyond producing the simple inversion of anti-Semitic
ideological themes, giving positives where anti-Semites put negatives.

*****   from Jewish Social Studies Volume 4, Number 2

"The Vengeance of the Jews Was Stronger Than Their Avarice": Modern
Historians and the Persian Conquest of Jerusalem in 614

Elliott Horowitz

..."The Jews are the mildest of men, passionately hostile to
violence.  That obstinate sweetness which they conserve in the midst
of the most atrocious persecution, that sense of justice and of
reason which they put up as their sole defense against a hostile,
brutal, and unjust society, is perhaps the best part of the message
they bring to us and the true mark of their greatness."  Thus wrote
Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1946 Reflexions sur la question juive,
published two years later in English under the title Anti-Semite and
Jew, a work he later admitted to have written "without reading one
Jewish book."1  Sartre's reflections on the "Jewish question" and, in
particular, his essentialist (and some might say racist) remarks on
the Jewish character have elicited various responses in the
half-century since they were published, some implicit and some overt,
some mild and some passionate.2  Harold Rosenberg, for example, noted
upon the book's appearance in English that "Sartre has cut the Jews
off from their past," and he alleged that "Sartre has consciously
permitted himself to accept the anti-Semite's stereotype of the Jew.
His disagreement with anti-Semitism reduces itself to arguing that
these Jewish traits...are not so bad."3  More recently, Elaine Marks
has argued that "Sartre is transformed in the third part of his essay
into the antisemite against whom he rails in the first part."4

Sartre's essay, which sought to combat European antisemitism, seems,
rather ironically, to have perpetuated a number of its stereotypes,
including those of the Jew's "obstinate sweetness" and passionate
hostility to violence, stereotypes that may arguably be seen as the
modern equivalent of the Jew's alleged effeminacy.  Since medieval
times, and especially in the early modern era, it had been widely
asserted that Jewish men menstruate monthly, a charge that has been
perceptively interpreted by Yosef Yerushalmi as suggesting implictly
that "Jewish males . . . are, in effect, no longer men but women, and
the crime of deicide has been punished by castration."5  Other
scholars have linked the charge of male menstruation with the
truncated (and thus less virile) phallus of the circumcised Jew.6

In modern times the Jew's allegedly effeminate character has received
different kinds of expression.  Late in the eighteenth century, as
John Efron has noted, Abbé Grégoire could remark that Jewish men
"have almost all red beards, which is the usual mark of an effeminate
temperament," and late in the nineteenth, as Sander Gilman has noted,
the controversial German theologian David Friedrich Strauss could
comment on the "especially female" nature of the Jews.7  Gilman and,
before him, George Mosse have pointed to the "increasingly intense
anti-Semitic critique" in nineteenth-century Europe, "of the Jewish
body as inherently unfit for military service" and the association in
that century of Jewish males with nervousness and traditionally
female hysterical tendencies.8  Gilman has also shown how the
feminized view of the Jewish male was internalized even by such
figures as the Viennese rabbi and scholar Adolf Jellinek, who wrote
in 1869: "In the examination of the various races it is clear that
some are more masculine, others more feminine. Among the latter the
Jews belong."9

As a particularly relevant precursor to Sartre's feminization of the
Jews, we may cite Jules Michelet, France's foremost historian in the
nineteenth century, who had asserted that the God of the Hebrew Bible
always preferred "the weak over the strong," and thus preferred
Jacob, "delicate and sweet ['fin et doux'] like a woman" over "the
valiant Ishmael and the strong Esau."10  Michelet also wrote that
"one could not believe one word" of the massacres alleged by the
biblical narrator to have been perpetrated by the Hebrews upon the
tribes of Canaan, for "their numerous servitudes rendered them far
removed . . . from the warrior's life of the Arabs and their
glorification of carnage."11  Although he made a point of stating for
the record "j'aime les Juifs" ("I love Jews"),12 this was certainly a
back-handed compliment, as was the later observation by the great
French Orientalist Ernest Renan that the Jews "are full of pity for
the poor fools who pass their life cutting each other into pieces,
instead of enjoying the pleasures of a peaceful life as they do."13
Note, by contrast, the pointed words of the Jewish legal historian
Jean Juster in his magisterial work on the Jews in the Roman Empire,
at the conclusion of his chapter on Jewish criminality: "All the
crimes which a man commits," he wrote in 1914, "Jews committed as

1. Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew, trans. G. J. Becker (New
York, 1948), 117.  For the later confession, see Susan Rubin
Suleiman, "The Jew in Sartre's Reflexions sur la question juive: An
Exercise in Historical Reading," in The Jew in the Text: Modernity
and the Construction of Identity, Linda Nochlin and Tamar Garb, eds.
(London, 1995), 216, quoting from Sartre's interview with Benny Lévy,
"The Last Words of Jean-Paul Sartre," trans. Rachel Phillips Belash,
Dissent (Fall 1980): 418-19.

2. On various reactions to Sartre's work, including her own, see
Suleiman, "The Jew in Sartre's Reflexions," 201-18.  See also
Menachem Brinker, "Sartre on the Jewish Question: Thirty Years
Later," Jerusalem Quarterly 10 (Winter 1979): 117-32.  Brinker's
important essay was apparently unknown to Suleiman.

3. See Harold Rosenberg, "Sartre's Jewish Morality Play," in his
Discovering the Present: Three Decades in Art, Culture, and Politics
(Chicago, 1973), 276, 281-82.  (This essay originally appeared in
somewhat different form with a somewhat different title in Commentary
7, no. 1 [January 1949].)

4. Elaine Marks in The French Review 45 (1972): 784, quoted (with
approval) by Suleiman, "The Jew in Sartre's Reflexions," 201 (see
also 208).

5. Y. H. Yerushalmi, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto (New York,
1971), 128.  See also Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews
(New Haven, Conn., 1943), 50, 148-49, and Peter Biller, "Views of
Jews from Paris around 1300: Christian or 'Scientific'?," Studies in
Church History 29 (1992): 192-99.

6. See Sander Gilman, Freud, Race, and Gender (Princeton, N.J.,
1993), 25, 38-39, and, most recently, Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic
Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish
Man (Berkeley, Calif., 1997), 210-11, and the sources cited there.

7. J. M. Efron, Defenders of the Race: Jewish Doctors and Race
Science in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (New Haven, Conn., 1994), 182n11;
Gilman, Freud, 162, citing Strauss's Der alte und der neue Glaube
(Leipzig, 1872), 71).

8. George Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and
Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe (New York, 1985), 143-46; Sander
Gilman, The Jew's Body (New York, 1991), 42, 63-64; Gilman, Freud,
31-32, 42-43, 95.  Sheila Briggs has pointed to the feminization of
the Jew in nineteenth- and twentieth-century German theology and his
association, as in the thought of Reinhold Seeberg, with "the female
stereotype of spontaneous rather than reflective religiosity"
(Briggs, "Images of Women and Jews in Nineteenth and Twentieth
Century German Theology," in Immaculate and Powerful: The Female in
Sacred Image and Social Reality, C. W. Atkinson, C. H. Buchanan, and
M. R. Miles, eds. [Boston, 1985], 250-51, 255-56).

9. Jellinek added that "a juxtaposition of the Jew and the woman will
persuade the reader of the truth of the ethnographic thesis."
Jellinek particularly stressed the feminine character of the Jewish
voice ("let me note that bass voices are much rarer than baritone
voices among the Jews").  See Gilman, Freud, 42-43, quoting from
Jellinek's Der jüdische Stamm (Vienna, 1869), 89-90.  The
translations are Gilman's.  For a later case of Jewish
internalization, see Hans Gross's comments on the "little, feminine
hand of the Jew," quoted by Gilman, Freud, 42.  Daniel Boyarin, as
part of his self-described attempt to "reclaim the eroticized Jewish
male sissy," has argued recently that "there is something correct in
the persistent European representation of the Jewish man as a sort of
woman" (Unheroic Conduct, xxi, 4-5).

10. See Jules Michelet, La Bible de l'humanité (Paris, 1864), 374,
cited and discussed (but mistranslated) by Shmuel Almog, "The Racial
Motif in Renan's Attitude to Jews and Judaism," in Almog, ed.,
Antisemitism Through the Ages, trans. N. H. Reissner (Oxford, 1988),
272.  Almog's article originally appeared (in Hebrew) in Zion 32

11. Michelet, La Bible, 381-82.

12. Later quoted by Gabriel Monod, "Michelet et les juifs," Revue des
Etudes Juives 53 (1907): xix.

13. Ernest Renan, History of the People of Israel, 5 vols. (Boston,
1905), 3: 354.  The original French edition appeared between 1887 and
1893.  On Renan's view of the Jews and their history, see Almog, "The
Racial Motif," and, more recently, Maurice Olender, Les langues du
paradis (Paris, 1989), 75-109.

14. Jean Juster, Les juifs dans l'empire romain (Paris, 1914), 2:
214.  Note Norman Bentwich's review in Jewish Quarterly Review n.s. 6
(1915-16): 335, where he wrote of Juster: "In his collection . . . of
every recorded crime committed by either an individual Jew or a
Jewish community, he has prepared the field of comparative study for
some less cautious follower."...

<>   *****


More information about the Marxism mailing list