Welcome to Cellar Religion

As reported by James Carroll in a Boston Globe editorial, a new Islamic Sunni extremist group in Iraq has as its motto, “God shall torture them by your hands.”  This is cellar religion– devoid of reason, devoid of  ethics, devoid of morality, devoid of spirituality.  Throughout the Near East, in Africa and in Asia, most recently in Myanmar (formerly Burma), where rampaging Buddhists attacked minority Muslims, cellar religion predominates. The mission of religion is to serve as an elevator, lifting people from the cellar of emotional religious enthusiasm and zeal, which needs to be purified, to a higher level.  It is at the mezzanine level of reason, ethics and morality and at the top floor of spirituality and mysticism that primal religious emotion and zeal are purified. Each level is necessary for the evolved religious personality.  But in a secular age, the top floor of spirituality and mysticism is often ridiculed as only for kooks.  Then, the genuine search for authentic religious emotion has no place to go but back to the cellar. Much of our world is victimized by these stuck elevators.


Share Button

Digital Relationships

     A Boston College philosophy professor; who teaches a class that examines spirituality, relationships and personal development, gives extra credit to any student who will go on a date. Contemporary students gravitate to group activities that give them a feeling of security and minimize rejection.  Personal relationships take place through texting and a hookup culture that consists of anything on the spectrum of sexual activity with strangers or acquaintances rather than with committed partners.

     While social media, particularly texting, gives the illusion of connection to another person, the digital bursts of 140-250 characters from a “virtual self” builds habits of ADD connections. They cannot possibly have the depth of face to face conversations and relationships.

     Critics of hookup relationships and  the digital culture point to the chaos and the loneliness they create.  In addition there is the fear that fleeting contacts, whether physical or digital, will prevent young people and even older contemporaries from developing successful long term relationships in life.

     This is where the courting culture of 50 to 60 years ago, rooted in religious traditions, has something to offer.  It created a framework of important values that stressed integrity and consideration for each person entering a relationship.  The social script included manners and defined roles so that people who went on dates knew what to expect.  We should, of course, remember the wise words of the sage: “Don’t say: ‘How has it happened that former times were better than these?’ For it is not wise of you to ask that question” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).  But somehow it would be helpful to revive and reshape the dating script and its value structure for our time and place.  It would be like pouring old wine into new bottles.


Share Button

Windows of Opportunity

Windows of Opportunity

                We all know what chaos is.  It carries the popular meaning of a massive and dangerous breakdown of order or consensus.  We see it all around us in the world: dysfunctional individuals, dysfunctional families, dysfunctional businesses and economies, dysfunctional  governments,  dysfunctional  societies and failed states.  The causes range from wars to natural disasters to the unpredictable behavior of human beings and the unpredictable behavior of nature.  The initial emotional reaction of people is one of fear, denial and aggressive assault against the disorder.

                However, scientists who study chaos in its various manifestations point out that in the instability of systems, windows of order and stability suddenly appear.  Observers of an animal population from year to year come to regard the constant changes, physical, social and psychological, as completely random.  But suddenly in the midst of this irregularity, they begin to see stable cycles.  In the affairs of nations as in the lives of individuals there are also windows of  opportunity when chaos is interrupted by stability.  Prophets, mystics and intuitives have known when these islands of stability appear in the sea of chaos and have guided their people to set their life course to them.

                Jews throughout the world celebrate Passover this week.  The nation of Israel  was born in the Exodus.  In the chaos of Egyptian slavery, Moses, with God’s guidance, recognized an exit window and led  the Hebrews through it.  African-Americans have long seen their own experience of slavery as a replay of the Israel’s experience in Egypt.  Their spirituals are filled with Hebrew images.  They regard the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a latter day Moses who, with God’s guidance, launched the Civil Rights Movement that resulted in the opening up of windows of opportunity for them.

                But ours is a planet of very low consciousness in which the turbulent seas of chaos predominate and often swamp the islands of stability and opportunity.  This is the theme of the biblical book The Song of Songs read on Passover at many seders and in the synagogue.  On one level the Song of Songs is the description of the tragic and paradoxical delay of the young woman, Shulamit, drunk with love and overwhelmed with yearning when her lover knocked on the door.  This great moment that she had looked forward to with impatience and longing materialized unexpectedly.  Yet precisely on this very night a strange and stubborn laziness overcomes her.  She refuses to get out of bed and open the door for her lover.  When she finally does open the door, she finds he has gone.  The rest of her life is a search for her lover, but the lost opportunity does not repeat itself.

                How many individuals have lost ideal marriage partners because of inconsequential  and inexplicable reasons that delayed them in making a commitment.?  How many have lost golden employment opportunities for the same reason?

                In the history of nations there are similar windows of stability and opportunity in the storms of international affairs.  On a second level the Song of Songs is about the Jewish people and its response to God’s knock on the door, the divine openings of opportunity in its history.  In reviewing the history of the Jewish people, the medieval Jewish poet-philosopher, Judah Halevi, points to the Edict of Cyrus the Great  of Persia in 538 B.C.E. which allowed the Jewish exiles in Babylonia to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild the Second Temple.  But only a part of the people were prepared to do so.  The majority and the people of wealth and rank remained in Babylon unwilling to leave their houses and  easy circumstances.  When the window closed, the God-given opportunity was lost.  Judea became a poor sparsely populated, isolated province of the Persian Empire instead of a major Jewish center as it was before the exile.  The Second Temple built by the exiles was a weak, pale replica of the First Temple built by King Solomon which it might have rivaled had all the exiles returned.

                A similar window of opportunity opened in the chaotic  aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust.  The historian Paul Johnson and, in a religious context, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the late religious leader of modern Orthodox Jewry in North America, both described the birth and survival of the State of Israel in a narrow window of time.  Stalin in the Soviet Union and Harry Truman in the United States, defying all expectations, both recognized the newly declared state.  This remarkable unanimity, reflecting different motivations, was a political conjunction of opposites that would have been impossible only a short time later. Yet, as Rabbi Soloveitchik pointed out, as did Judah Halevi in the Middle Ages, the people of wealth, influence, education and ability remained in the diaspora.  Had they come to Israel in a mass immigration (Aliyah) and settled the Negev and the Galilee, creating a power center in the Near East, much of the suffering and many of the challenges to the new Jewish state would  have been  more quickly overcome.

                On a third level the Song of Songs is also a parable of the spiritual search for God as the Rabbis of Talmud and Midrash recognized centuries ago.  The young woman is every awakened person of higher consciousness and the lover is God.  “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Song  of Songs 5:2).  How well this describes meditation.  When God knocks and calls to us with guidance, insight and hesed, love, we are slow to respond.  We are comfortably settled.  Everything is okay.  We are satisfied with what the late Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel  called our religious behaviorism, devoid of passion and commitment.  We do not want to rise and open to the mysteries of the night, to a new and more intimate encounter with the Beloved.  Who knows what kind of demands this encounter will make upon us?  So we ignore the opportunity and when the meaning has drained from our lives and we search for it again, it is gone. As Judah Halevi wrote in the Kuzari: “For the Divine Power inspires human power only in such measure as the latter is prepared to receive it; if the readiness is little, little will be obtained and much will be obtained, if it is great.” 



Share Button

Slavery in Freedom

One of the fathers of modern Zionism, the Hebrew essayist and thinker, Asher Ginsberg (1856-1927), who wrote under the pen name Ahad Ha-Am, has an essay called “Slavery in Freedom.” In it he described assimilated West European Jews who gave up their inner Jewish values and identity to conform to the non-Jewish secular values of the countries in which they lived. Though living in external freedom, in comparison to their persecuted East European co-religionists, they were internally enslaved.

Ahad Ha-Am could not foresee another type of slavery in freedom in the Western world in our time brought about by the information technology revolution.  It is tied to modern capitalism and its goal of maximizing profit in the shortest amount of time.  It champions multi-tasking and a machine-like efficiency in human beings.  As I discussed in a previous blog, it has created an expectancy of “the quick fix” in every area of life.

The reduction of human beings to efficient machines, to robots, has gone so far that as David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale (and a victim of the unibomber) writes in an article entitled “The Closing of the Scientific Mind” (Commentary, January, 2014): “Some young people want to be robots (I’m serious); they eagerly await electronic chips to be implanted in their brains so they will be smarter and better informed than anyone else…”  To relieve the stress or boredom of robotization, there are those who turn to entertainment that is also robotized.  As Gelernter writes about the young people who may also be his students: “…they want to see the world through computer glasses that superimpose messages on poor naked nature.”

 What are the seeds of this development?  As I discuss in my book, In Search of Higher Wisdom, the Western world has inherited its obsession for productivity, efficiency, profit and a frenetic concern for time from the ancient Romans.  As my  teacher, the late Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, pointed out, when the Romans met the Jews and noticed their strict observance of the Sabbath and their abstaining from work, their only reaction was contempt.  Juvenal, Seneca and other Roman writers and thinkers believed the Sabbath was a sign of Jewish laziness.  An insightful Aristotle understood that: “We need relaxation because we cannot work continuously.”  For the Greeks and the Romans relaxation is not an end; it is for the sake of more work and productivity.  Even our compulsive work-driven civilization has accepted Aristotle’s view of the need for a day off and the vacation.  The Romans and the secular West view the individual as homo faber, human being at work, and homo ludens, human being at play.  Missing is the human being praying, meditating, reflecting, studying,  thinking, observing the beauty of nature, enjoying the company of family and friends,  eating and playing leisurely and communing with eternity. These are the activities of the Sabbath which the Jews bequeathed to the Western world and which the Romans mocked.

 The great psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, in his book Escape From Freedom, explained that halakha, Jewish religious law, forbids even the plucking of a flower on the Sabbath.  On this day we are required to observe and admire nature, in a Buddhist sense, not manipulate it.  The Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, speaks of the great spiritual benefit of a day of mindfulness (see The Miracle of Mindfulness).  Our world is facing a crucial choice. One road leads to the preservation of human spirituality and an ascension in consciousness, the other leads to the robotization of human beings and a steep decline in spiritual awareness.  Gelernter sums it up by citing Deuteronomy 30:19: “I summon today as your witness the heavens and the earth; I have laid life and death before you, the blessing and the curse, choose life and live!-you and your children.”


Share Button

The Fallacies of Conventional Wisdom

R. Buckminster Fuller, father of the geodesic dome and one of the great geniuses of the 20th century, was walking along the ocean toward sundown. He met a student and asked him:  “What is happening when the sun turns from yellow to orange to red and then slips below the horizon as darkness ensues?”  “Why it’s a sunset,” replied the student.  Fuller sighed and said, “That is the trouble with this society.  No, the sun is not setting, the earth is revolving.” Fuller was decrying conventional wisdom as did Socrates and Plato among the philosophers, Galileo, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein among the scientists and Isaiah, the Buddha and LaoTse among the prophets and mystics.

Share Button

`The Spiritual Heimlich Maneuver

.     Kabbalists speak of a passageway, a channel, that connects the mind to the heart. This channel enables the heart to feel what the mind is thinking. Through this passageway our thoughts travel on the way to becoming emotions. Thus a cold, distant, objective observation becomes a warm feeling  on passing through the connecting bridge. As Dov Ber Pinson, in his book Meditation and Judaism, points out, the structure of the human body resembles in some ways the spiritual form of the soul. Spiritually, the neck represents the passageway through which our thoughts are channeled into emotions. But sometimes the grossness of our thoughts, our false values, our smugness and arrogance clog the passageway. On a physical level, when food gets stuck in the esophagus and we begin to choke, it takes the pressure and shock of the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the morsel of food. In the realm of the spirit, a personal crisis, marital, familial, financial, health or simply the search for meaning in life is the spiritual Heimlich maneuver. It jolts our misguided thoughts out of us and opens up the passageway from head to heart.

     The talmudic Rabbis call this crisis yissurin shel ahavah, sufferings of love, based on the verse “For whom the Lord loves he rebukes” (Proverbs 3:12). It is like good parenting that requires disciplining our children and enforcing certain rules and regulations. C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”   

Share Button

The Quick Fix

A young woman I know, at my suggestion, enrolled in a mind-body course organized by a leading expert in mind-body medicine.  The people in the course suffered from a wide spectrum of ailments, physical, psychological and spiritual.  Some were in pain.  Some were depressed and anxious. Others suffered from hypertension, and still others could not sleep at night. There were people who had destructive marriages and family entanglements.

The course drew on the best in modern medicine, psychology and spirituality, East and West. On this base it developed a series of exercises including meditation and mindfulness (devoting full attention to one thing at a time). Those enrolled were expected to do the exercises religiously in class and at home, and for the rest of their lives after the course was over.  Despite the hefty unrefundable cost of the eight week seminar, half the people dropped out after the first few sessions. Another group attended only sporadically. A small minority attended faithfully, did the exercises and completed the course.  The rest wanted a quick fix.

The information technology revolution has gives us the illusion that there are quick fixes for everything.  I-phones and i-pads communicate instantly, and there are those who are annoyed and even angry if they don’t get instant responses.  One executive carries his i-phone and i-pad everywhere, in the bathroom, in the shower, in bed.  One wonders what kind of relationship he has with his wife and children.  The psalmist writes: “A thousand years are in Your sight; As a passing day, an hour of night.” (Psalm 90:4). This is true of God.  But for human beings it takes time. It is time that is well invested with rich dividends.


Share Button

Hannah Arendt: The Movie and the Myth- Part III

Psychologists have long pointed out that religious and political beliefs, cultural conditioning, unconscious expectations, higher awareness, needs, biases and intents all form our view of reality, what we see and don’t see.  Even in the hard sciences, quantum physicists have determined that mind in all its facets, determines the outcomes of nature’s behavior.  Detachment and objectivity work only up to a point.  The great wisdom traditions of the world’s religions all are profoundly aware of it and insist on careful study of all our motivations.        

In Judaism the intellectual study of law (halakhah), was always combined with the study of ethics (musar), mysticism (Kabbalah-Hasidut) and philosophy.  The man who in his detached, objective, self-sacrificing devotion to learning, embodied the Enlightenment ideal without sharing its values, was Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon, the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797).  It is related that during the Ten Days of Penitence between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Gaon summoned the Maggid (Preacher) of Dubno, Rabbi Jacob Kranz (1741-1804) to give the Gaon ethical instruction.  Rabbi Kranz sat silently in the presence of the Gaon for a long time.  What ethical instruction can one give to a scholar and saint like the Gaon?  Finally, he summoned the courage to say:  “It is all well  and fine to be a scholar and saint like your honor, secluded as you are, removed from the strains and struggles of life.  But go down to the market place of Vilna, among the crafty shopkeepers, the horse thieves and criminals.  Live there for a while and then see whether you can remain a scholar and a saint.”  On hearing this reproof, the Gaon wept profusely for a long time.  For the Gaon, the possible lack of complete empathy on his part for those less privileged than he, who were struggling and suffering in a dangerous world, profoundly affected his need for teshuvah (repentance).


Share Button

Hannah Arendt: The Movie and the Myth- Part II

There is something much deeper  in Arendt’s conscious and unconscious motivation that is responsible for her cluelessness to the public reaction to her articles and book. I believe that the explanation for Hannah Arendt’s conscious and unconscious intent is to be found in her rootedness in the methods, attitudes and values of the modern research university originating in the 19th century in Germany. The evolution of this orientation has enormous consequences for our time. It has been brilliantly analyzed by Anthony T. Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale and former dean of Yale Law School, in his book, Education’s End:Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. According to Kronman, the German research university ideal, transferred to this country by American graduate students studying in Germany, emphasized scholarly detachment and scholarly specialization. Detachment meant complete objectivity. It meant excluding emotional, political, social, and most certainly, religious-spiritual inputs which 19th century Enlightenment scholars categorically rejected. As the detective in a TV crime drama says to a witness: “Only the facts please.”

The problem is that beginning in the 19th century and continuing to the present there has been an explosion of facts. The response of the research university is specialization. It means narrowing the intellectual focus to a very small limited area of facts that  one can control and investigate. The narrow specialization with a focus on facts and a limited focus on their interpretation works well for the natural sciences and certain social sciences like economics. It has also enabled the humanities to deepen information in specific areas and to create accurate texts of classic works.

What about the larger meaning of these fact for a person’s life? One would expect this to be the focus of philosophers and philosophy departments. One of my former students, a philosophy major, raised this issue with his professors. He asked them specifically: “What should I do with my life? How does God affect human choices and decisions? How do we make senses of good and evil in the world? What is the soul? What happens after death? ” His professors laughed at him. They told him to forget this stuff. It would get him nowhere. It would do him no good professionally or in the business world.

The scholars and teachers of the modern research oriented university are dedicated people. They live a life of self-sacrifice beginning as graduate students. As professors they are prepared to give up time for family and personal needs, even health, in the pursuit of continuous, disciplined work in a very restricted field. Huston Smith, the great scholar of the comparative study of religion, revealed to a group of colleagues and students that his wife almost left him because of his workaholic schedule and the habits it evoked. Unlike Smith, who had broad human interests in many areas of knowledge and welcomed and pursued large life questions and meanings, many scholar-teachers are prepared to accept the dominant attitude of the academy and ignore them.

Hannah Arendt wore these blinders in relation to the larger meaning of the Holocaust and the State of Israel for the Jewish people during the Eichmann trial. They also prevented her from understanding compassionately the long tradition of stadlanut, the intercession by Jewish leaders on behalf of the Jews with kings and political leaders. This intercession, already present in the Hebrew Bible, in the Books of Exodus, Esther and Ezra and Nehemiah, was what Jewish leaders during the Holocaust were trying to do with very limited success. Typical was the mission of Joel Brand sent to Turkey to contact the allies about the possibilities of exchanging goods for Jewish lives. In the end one trainload of Hungarian Jews were saved. In the face of the Nazi genocide program, intercession was ultimately useless. Moreover, as Sol Stern and Norman Podhoretz before him note, there were no Jewish councils and no widely acknowledged Jewish leaders in many areas of the Soviet Union under Nazi occupation. Similarly, Arendt turned a blind eye to facts of Jewish revolt and resistance, which though occurring later in the war, were well known, particularly in Israel during the Eichmann trial.

Hannah Arendt’s coverage of the Eichmann trial was conditioned by the attitudes and values she absorbed from the German research university ideal going back to the Enlightenment. But it was also conditioned by her leftist political views and Communist sympathies, her dislike of Zionism and the State of Israel and her emotional attachment to her university professor and former lover, Martin Heidegger. This attachment was so strong that, as Stern points out, the historian Richard Wolin, who carefully researched the Arendt-Heidegger connection, documented Arendt’s activity as Heidegger’s literary agent in America. Ironically, these latter elements were what the old German university-Enlightenment paradigm demanded that scholars ignore in the service of objectivity. True to this paradigm Arendt put on her blinders when she wrote her articles and book but unwittingly was compromised by the very elements the paradigm was unable to exclude.

Though her beliefs and love affair compromised her scholarly detachment and objectivity, Hannah Arendt remained a person of integrity, free of ulterior self-seeking motives.  Not so Heidegger.  He sought to wrap himself in the academic robe of the German university ideal.  In a flashback in the movie he explains to Hannah, when she visits him in Germany after World War II, that he made his peace with the Nazis because he had no head or interest in politics.  It is a lame explanation.  This ivory tower philosopher became an avid member of the Nazi party delivering fiery speeches honoring Hitler.  When the Nazis made him rector of the University of Freiburg, he carried out their directive to eliminate all Jews from the faculty. Others who rejected the Nazis were imprisoned, lived in hiding in abject poverty or abroad as refugees. 

Around the same time as the emergence of the German university research scholars and their value system, there emerged two other groups who, in their own way, shared similar attitudes.  The first was a class of professional bureaucrats who, in the 19th century, took over many of the administrative tasks of the modern nation state.  Like their academic counterparts, they performed their duties in a spirit of dedication.  But they too wore blinders as to the larger meaning and ramifications of what they were doing.  There was also a class of capitalist entrepreneurs whose ambition was to increase the profitability of their enterprises.  Single-mindedly, they sacrificed much in personal and familial relationships to the amassing of wealth and power.  Like the scholar-teachers and the bureaucrat administrators, they turned a blind eye to the economic, political, social, ecological, not to mention ethical-moral damage, resulting from their activities. 

Adolf Eichmann, defending himself at his trial in Jerusalem, sought to don the mantle of the dedicated bureaucrat carrying out his orders in a spirit of self-sacrifice.  But like the pose of Heidegger as a single minded, detached scholar with no head or interest in politics, it was a monstrous lie. Eichmann was a traveling salesman for the Socony Vacuum Company.  By joining the Nazis to become a willing instrument of Jewish genocide, he attained power, prestige and wealth. Similarly, German capitalists like I.G. Farben who, after World War II, claimed to have been interested only in surviving the war, in reality made huge sums of money from Jewish slave labor and the construction of the killing centers.  For these capitalists, the murder of 6,000,000 Jews and countless other innocents was, to use the contemporary chilling military term, collateral damage. 

Hannah Arendt and the Eichmann trial are now distant history.  But the attitudes and values of Arendt, and in a far more self-serving way, her scholar-teacher Martin Heidegger, and in a monstrous way, Adolf Eichmann, are still with us.  In the university, the larger question of life’s meaning and purpose has been buried under mountains of facts and eclipsed by narrow specialization and scholarly detachment, not only in the sciences but also in the humanities.  The university student upheavals in the 1960s that should have brought a return to issues of life’s meaning resulted instead in a culture of political correctness that questions the legitimacy of these issues and the authority of scholar-teachers to examine them.  

The Enlightenment ideal of dedication and self-sacrifice has been eroding for some time.  Reports from the frontiers of biological science relate that genetic experiments are being undertaken with lax supervision and regulation.  In the pursuit of promotions, money and Nobel Prizes, profound ethical questions are being ignored.  The self-serving interest of contemporary entrepreneurs is most recently evident in the near economic meltdown of 2007-2008.  The corporate world’s greed, its dishonesty and indifference to public welfare almost reenacted the Great Depression.  The politicians who weakened the laws that should have stopped the corporate raiders, and the bureaucrats neglected to regulate them, have all inherited the blinders and corrupt values portrayed in the movie Hannah Arendt.

 Part III …

Share Button

Hannah Arendt: The Movie and the Myth-Part I

Part I: The Movie

The movie, Hannah Arendt, focuses on the scholar’s coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem and the public reaction to the articles she wrote about it in The New Yorker and in a subsequent book, Eichmann in JerusalemA Report on the Banality of Evil.  Arendt emerges as a fascinating woman who is completely taken aback by the antagonism her articles and book have aroused in the Jewish community and the subsequent confusion of her non-Jewish colleagues. Even her dear friends in Israel and in the United States react with consternation.

Arendt described Eichmann as representing “the banality of evil,” a phrase that many claimed minimized the horrific instrumentality of Eichmann in the murder of 6,000,000 Jews, men, women and children.  In reply to this accusation, Eichmann claimed at his trial that he was only following orders. This defense, said Arendt, is typical of a faceless bureaucrat and administrator. In her articles and in her book, Arendt blamed the Jewish communal leadership in Europe for facilitating the Nazi transport of Jews to their death.  Without the Jewish leaders’ cooperation, there would have been terrible chaos but more would have escaped and lived. Moreover, she argued there was not sufficient armed resistance on the part of the Jews.

The movie closes with Arendt’s passionate defense of her articles delivered before an audience of students, colleagues and Jewish community leaders in the auditorium of the New School for Social Research in New York where she was teaching. She argued that she was in no way minimizing Eichmann’s crimes.  She too, would have been one of his victims had she not escaped from a French transit camp holding Jews to be sent to death camps in Eastern Europe.  All she was saying was that a new type of passionless evil had emerged in our time typified by Eichmann and discussed in her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Part II: The Mystery

Why is this brilliant scholar clueless as to the wider political, social, emotional and spiritual ramifications of her articles and books?  The fact that she hasn’t a clue that what she has written will unleash a tornado of human response is clear in the language she uses.  She describes the Eichmann phenomenon with the term “banality of evil.”  But arranging for the transport and murder of 6,000,000 people is far from banal.  If she had used the term “bureaucratization of evil,” which is a central thesis of The Origins of Totalitarianism, she would have been right on target and possibly avoided a storm of controversy. 

Much has been written about Arendt’s dislike of modern political Zionism and the movie alludes to it.  In a blistering article in Commentary, “The Lies of Hannah Arendt,” Sol Stern elaborates on Arendt’s antipathy to an independent Jewish state.  In describing the Eichmann trial proceedings in the movie, she is critical of Gideon Hausner’s dramatic prosecution of Eichmann, and she is cynical about David Ben Gurion’s motives in staging the show trial.  After the publication of her articles and book, her dear friend in Jerusalem asks her: “Hannah don’t you have any love for your people?” To which she replies: “I do not love people. I love dear friends and family.” And she does, as movingly dramatized in the movie.

Part II …

Share Button