The Arty Semite

How Jews Can Defend Animals without Invoking Treblinka

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
wiki commons

French Jewish philosopher Élisabeth de Fontenay has published books on Jewish themes, such as 1973’s “The Jewish Faces of Karl Marx” (Les figures juives de Marx) from Les editions Galilée, and on animal rights, such as 1998’s philosophical inquiry “The Silence of Animals” from Les éditions Fayard or 2008’s “Without Offending Mankind” from Les éditions Albin Michel. In March though, Les éditions du Seuil published Fontenay’s “Birth Certificates” (Actes de naissance) a book of conversations with journalist Stéphane Bou, which addresses both themes.

This combination of divergent interests in one subtle mind is useful, since some animal rights advocates have crudely conflated their subject to tragedies of modern Jewish history, as in Charles Patterson’s dramatically named 2002 “Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust” from Lantern Books. Patterson’s title derives from a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Letter Writer,” in which the sickly, hallucinating Herman Gombiner, a Holocaust survivor, declares:

In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.

This fictional character’s statement is often carelessly attributed to Singer himself, who, although a vegetarian deeply devoted to animal protection, should not be confused with his creation.

In 2003, Roberta Kalechofsky’s “Animal Suffering and the Holocaust: The Problem with Comparisons” from Micah Publications provided a sensitive approach to how Jews can feel concern for animals. Fontenay likewise cautions: “Parallel thinking about Jewish matters and animals should not lead to any equating of the two subjects.”

Fontenay adds, however, that giving a voice to the voiceless is indeed a Jewish tradition: “Since 1945, almost every great Jewish author, whether writer or philosopher, has been obsessed with the subject of animals.” And she further derives inspiration from the French Jewish philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch, whom she praises for “continuing the Résistance by other methods.”

Fontenay also admires recent publications about other aspects of French Jewish experience, such as the 2005 novel “The Protests” (Les manifestations) by Nathalie Azoulai from Les éditions du Seuil; Adrien Barrot’s 2007 “If This Be a Jew: Thoughts on the Death of Ilan Halimi” (Si c’est un Juif: Réflexions sur la mort d’Ilan Halimi) from Les éditions Michalon; and Danny Trom’s 2007 book-length essay, “Promise and Impediment: The Radical Left-Wing and the Jewish Problem” (La promesse et l’obstacle: La gauche radicale et le problème juif) from Les éditions du Cerf.

Fontenay’s passionate interest in Judaica comes from a deeply emotional source: much of the family of her Odessa-born mother, Nessia Hornstein, was murdered by the Nazis.

Listen to a France Inter radio program hosted by Élisabeth de Fontenay about animal rights.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Élisabeth de Fontenay, Karl Marx, Danny Trom, Charles Patterson

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.