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!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • 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.