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The Jewish Gandhi Question, or, Ich and Swa: Martin Buber and the Five Minute Mahatma

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Abstract

On 21 November 1938, a South Indian Jewish lawyer named Abraham Barak Salem attended “a special prayer recited for the German Jews’ persecution by Hitler and [the] Nazis” at his synagogue in the port city of Cochin. Salem is known as the “Jewish Gandhi” for his leadership of non-violent satyagraha campaigns to end caste-based discrimination within his local Indian Jewish community—of which he occupied the lowest rung or meshuchrarim. The special prayer was responding to Kristallnacht, the widespread violence against Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria foreshadowing Hitler’s Final Solution. Kristallnacht’s global profile demanded a response from Gandhi himself, who had hitherto remained silent on the Jews’ position in fascist Europe. On 26 November 1938, Gandhi published “The Jews” in which he claimed “[m]y sympathies are all with the Jews,” dismissed a Jewish Palestine as “a crime against humanity,” and encouraged Jews to engage in non-violent satyagraha against the Nazis:

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Abraham Barak Salem, “Diary 7 (1938–1939),” The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Archives, Bancroft Library, The University of California, Berkeley.

  2. 2.

    Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg, “Jewish ‘Apartheid’ and a Jewish Gandhi,” Jewish Social Studies 50, 3/4 (1988): 147–76.

  3. 3.

    Gandhi, “The Jews,” Harijan 26 November 1938, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Electronic Book) vol. 74 (New Delhi: Publications Division Government of India, 1999), 241. Hereafter CWMG + volume: page.

  4. 4.

    For example, Gandhi, “Notes: Intoxicating Wines in Judaism,” Harijan,16 September 1939, CWMG 76: 317–9. Gandhi returns to the Jews’ position briefly; “Opinions Differ,” Harijan 11 November 1939, CWMG 77: 80–83.

  5. 5.

    Quoted in Gandhi, “The Jewish Question,” Harijan 27 May 1939, CWMG 75: 415–6. The Statesman rejects the idea that Hitler would recognize non-violence as “infinitely superior” to storm troopers, for Nazis see courage only in the former whereas “elsewhere it becomes the impudent provocation of Jewish-Marxist canaille.” “Is Non-Violence Ineffective?” Harijan 7 January 1939, CWMG 74: 391–3.

  6. 6.

    Fred Dallmayr, “Introduction: Toward a Comparative Political Theory” in The Review of Politics (Special Issue, “Non-Western Political Thought”) 59, 3 (1997): 421.

  7. 7.

    Fred Dallmayr, “Beyond Monologue: For a Comparative Political Theory,” Perspectives on Politics 2, 2 (2004): 249.

  8. 8.

    Dallmayr, “Toward a Comparative Political Theory” (1997): 421.

  9. 9.

    Dallmayr, “Beyond Monologue” (2004): 249.

  10. 10.

    Dallmayr, “Beyond Monologue” (2004): 254.

  11. 11.

    Fred Dallmayr, Dialogue Among Civilizations: Some Exemplary Voices (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

  12. 12.

    Fred Dallmayr, Margins of Political Discourse (Albany: SUNY, 1989), 38.

  13. 13.

    Magnes to Gandhi, 24 February 1939, (typed with hand-written edits), Misc. Subject File #367, MK Gandhi Papers, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi: 1. Hereafter “NMML.”

  14. 14.

    Dallmayr, “Beyond Monologue: For a Comparative Political Theory” (2004): 250.

  15. 15.

    Dallmayr, “Beyond Monologue: For a Comparative Political Theory” (2004): 250–1.

  16. 16.

    For example, Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981), xvii. See also Haim Gordon, The Heidegger-Buber Controversy: The Status of the I-Thou (London: Greenwood Press, 2001), 116. Gordon is concerned with Heidegger’s emphasis on solitary Being over Being together, a concern with suggestive echoes for the “Gandhi–Buber Controversy” here.

  17. 17.

    Given its presence in Gandhi’s archive, Dalton’s claim that “[t]here is unfortunately no record of Gandhi having received” Buber’s letter seems unfounded. Dennis Dalton, Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 134. Whether or not Gandhi replied is less clear; if he did reply, it was dismissive. Glatzer and Mendes-Flohr claim that Gandhi never replied to Buber. Martin Buber, The Letters of Martin Buber: A Life of Dialogue. eds. Nahum Glazer & Paul Mendes-Flohr. trans. Winston, Winston, & Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1991), 476, fn 1. Crane claims that Buber wrote to his biographer Aubrey Hodes on 4 August 1957: “Gandhi replied to Dr. [Judah] Magnes and myself only in a postcard, in which he told us he regretted he didn’t have time to reply.” Jonathan K. Crane, “Faltering Dialogue? Religious Rhetoric of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Buber,” Anasakti Darshan 3, 1 (2007): 34–52. See also Margaret Chatterjee, Gandhi and his Jewish Friends (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1992).

  18. 18.

    The term “nomothetic” originates with Wilhelm Windelband. See his “Rectorial Address, Strasbourg, 1894” in History and Theory, 19, 2 (1980): 169–85.

  19. 19.

    EVR, “Te. I. Nalvurimaic Can̂ka 14-vatu Mānāṭu [14th Conference of the S[outh] I[ndia] Liberal Federation],” Kuṭi Aracu 1 January 1939: 14 (my translation).

  20. 20.

    Masao Miyoshi & Harry Harootunian, eds. Learning Places: The Afterlives of Area Studies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002).

  21. 21.

    Diana Kapiszewski, Lauren MacLean, and Benjamin Read helpfully summarize and contextualize the increasing demand among comparative political theorists for fieldwork in Field Research in Political Science: Practices and Disciplines (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), esp. 42–43.

  22. 22.

    As Roxanne Euben, like others, have noted, the Greek practice of theôria presupposed travel in the achievement of political wisdom. Journeys to the Other Shore: Muslim and Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

  23. 23.

    Glatzer and Mendes-Flohr (1991), 479.

  24. 24.

    Buber to Gandhi, 24 February 1939, (typed with hand-written edits), Misc. Subject File #367, MK Gandhi Papers, NMML: 5.

  25. 25.

    Martin Buber, I and Thou. Trans Walter Kaufmann (New York: Simon & Schuster, [1923] 1970), 126–7. Kaufmann has a sophisticated approach to translating Du. I have, however, throughout changed “You” in his translation to “Thou” for simplicity.

  26. 26.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939), 7, 12.

  27. 27.

    Anthony J. Parel, Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006), 126.

  28. 28.

    Dalton, Mahatma Gandhi (1993), 228, 137.

  29. 29.

    Uday Singh Mehta, “Gandhi on Democracy, Politics, and the Ethics of Everyday Life,” Modern Intellectual History 7, 2 (2010): 368–9.

  30. 30.

    Mehta (2010): 367–9.

  31. 31.

    Edward Said, The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (New York: Knopft Doubleday, 2007), 318–9.

  32. 32.

    Judith Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 36, 50.

  33. 33.

    Butler, Parting Ways (2012), 38.

  34. 34.

    Gandhi, “The Jews,” (1938), CWMG vol. 74: 240.

  35. 35.

    Gandhi, “Reply to German Critics,” Harijan 17 December 1938, CWMG vol. 74: 295.

  36. 36.

    Gandhi, “Discussion with Christian Missionaries,” Harijan 24 December 1938, CWMG vol. 74: 311.

  37. 37.

    Gandhi, “Some Questions Answered,” Harijan 17 December 1938, CWMG vol. 74: 298.

  38. 38.

    Gandhi, “Discussion with Christian Missionaries,” (1938): 311,

  39. 39.

    Gandhi, “Is Non-Violence Effective?” Harijan 7 January 1939, CWMG vol. 74: 392.

  40. 40.

    Gandhi, “Is Non-violence Effective?” (1939): 393.

  41. 41.

    Gandhi, “Some Questions Answered,” (1938): 298.

  42. 42.

    Gandhi, “No Apology” (1939): 39.

  43. 43.

    Gandhi, “Is Non-violence Effective?” (1939): 393.

  44. 44.

    Gandhi, “The Jewish Question” (1939): 415.

  45. 45.

    Gandhi, “Discussion with Christian Missionaries” (1938): 310.

  46. 46.

    Gandhi, “Discussion with Christian Missionaries” (1938): 311.

  47. 47.

    Gandhi, “The Jews” (1938): 241.

  48. 48.

    For an early example, see Gandhi, An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, (1929) CWMG 44: 304.

  49. 49.

    For example, see Buber’s 1930 essay “Gandhi, Politics, and Us” republished in Martin Buber, Pointing the Way: Collected Essays, ed. Milton Friedman (New York: Harber, 1957), 126–38.

  50. 50.

    In addition to “The Jews,” Buber must have read subsequent related articles by Gandhi. For example, Buber replies, as we’ll see below, to Gandhi’s claim in “Some Question Answered” about Jewish “stigma” deriving from how “their ancestors crucified Jesus.” CWMG 74: 297.

  51. 51.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 1–2.

  52. 52.

    Ibid.

  53. 53.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 3.

  54. 54.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 3–4.

  55. 55.

    Gandhi, “Withdrawn,” Harijan 27 May 1939, CWMG 75: 416–8. Gandhi here withdrew his claim that Jews were encouraging America and England to fight Germany on their behalf.

  56. 56.

    Gandhi, “The Jewish Question” (1939): 415.

  57. 57.

    Ibid.

  58. 58.

    Gandhi, “Some Questions Answered” (1938): 298.

  59. 59.

    Gandhi, “Reply to German Critics,” Harijan 17 December 1938, CWMG 74: 295.

  60. 60.

    Judith M. Brown, Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989): 283. The quote of Gandhi’s that prompts Brown’s comments appeared in “Conundrums,” Harijan 30 September 1939, CWMG vol. 76: 356.

  61. 61.

    Gandhi, “Some Questions Answered” (1938): 298.

  62. 62.

    Gandhi, “The Jews,” (1938): 241.

  63. 63.

    Gandhi, “The Jews” (1938): 240–2.

  64. 64.

    Gandhi, “The Jews” (1938): 240.

  65. 65.

    Gandhi, “Discussion with Christian Missionaries” (1938): 309.

  66. 66.

    Gandhi, “Some Questions Answered” (1938): 298. It is unclear how this training program relates to Parel’s suggestion above that Gandhi believed the masses capable of “civic non-violence” but not “heroic non-violence.”

  67. 67.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 8.

  68. 68.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 4.

  69. 69.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 8.

  70. 70.

    Gandhi’s occasional discussion of exceptions to non-violence did not include the Jewish position in Nazi Germany.

  71. 71.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 15.

  72. 72.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 15–16.

  73. 73.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 14.

  74. 74.

    Gandhi, “The Jews” (1938): 239.

  75. 75.

    Gandhi, “The Jews” (1938): 239.

  76. 76.

    Gandhi, “The Jews” (1938): 239.

  77. 77.

    Gandhi, “The Jews” (1938): 242.

  78. 78.

    Gandhi, “The Jewish Question” (1939): 416. The accusation that Gandhi was “influenced by…fanatic pan-Islamists” was made by Greenberg. Quoted in CWMG 75: 415.

  79. 79.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 10.

  80. 80.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 14.

  81. 81.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 5.

  82. 82.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 6.

  83. 83.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 8.

  84. 84.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 5–6.

  85. 85.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 6. These passages dealing with “substance” and surrounding ones are absent from the letter’s republication in Friedman’s edited volume Pointing the Way [(1957): 139–47], thereby moving from a nation languishing on stepmother soil to the “command” and “fulfillment” of the “promised land,” skipping over Buber’s effort to respond to Gandhi’s concern with biblical justifications.

  86. 86.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 5.

  87. 87.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 11.

  88. 88.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 12.

  89. 89.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 13.

  90. 90.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 11.

  91. 91.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 12.

  92. 92.

    Gandhi, “The Jewish Question” (1939): 415.

  93. 93.

    Gandhi, “Letter to HSL Polak,” 14 October 1909, CWMG vol. 10: 167–72.

  94. 94.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 168.

  95. 95.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 62.

  96. 96.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 6.

  97. 97.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 78.

  98. 98.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 70.

  99. 99.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 12.

  100. 100.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule (1909) CWMG 10: 280, 303.

  101. 101.

    Gandhi, “Is Non-Violence Ineffective” (1939) CWMG 74: 392.

  102. 102.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 103–4.

  103. 103.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 12.

  104. 104.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 269.

  105. 105.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 273.

  106. 106.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 264.

  107. 107.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 306.

  108. 108.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 293.

  109. 109.

    Gandhi, “Is this Humanity?” Young India 21 October 1926: CWMG 36: 391.

  110. 110.

    Gandhi, “Talk to Satyagrahi Volunteers,” Harijan 25 March 1939, CWMG 75: 134–5.

  111. 111.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 265.

  112. 112.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 143.

  113. 113.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 160–1.

  114. 114.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 141.

  115. 115.

    This shared idiom extends through Buber’s work, involving even Sanskrit terms like “Brahma” and “Atman.” Buber, I and Thou (1970): 143. See also Buber’s embrace of, rather than rejection of, the “wheel of rebirth.” Buber, I and Thou (1970): 139.

  116. 116.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 132.

  117. 117.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 132–43.

  118. 118.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 310.

  119. 119.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 287.

  120. 120.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 289.

  121. 121.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 290

  122. 122.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 310.

  123. 123.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 296–7.

  124. 124.

    Gandhi, “Some Questions Answered” (1938): 297.

  125. 125.

    Gandhi, “No Apology” (1939): 39.

  126. 126.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 135–6.

  127. 127.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 95.

  128. 128.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 68.

  129. 129.

    Buber to Gandhi (1939): 6.

  130. 130.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 270. It is unclear how this supra-spirit of nationality squares with Gandhi’s criticism of railways as “dangerous” for putting man “in contact with different natures, different religions” thereby becoming “utterly confounded.” It would seem that railways would allow the fulfillment, not invite the failure, of such a supra-spirit of nationality.

  131. 131.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 282.

  132. 132.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 308.

  133. 133.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 276.

  134. 134.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 306.

  135. 135.

    Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1909): 271.

  136. 136.

    Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994).

  137. 137.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970): 163.

  138. 138.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970), 94. Buber gives agency to land as geographic between-ness here as the “builder,” just as what “builds a marriage” is neither I involved in the coupling but in the Thou revealed between. For an alternative discussion of the builder as a “living person,” see Dan Avnon, “The ‘Living Center’ of Martin Buber’s Political Theory,” Political Theory 21, 1 (1993): 59–60.

  139. 139.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970), 168.

  140. 140.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970), 138.

  141. 141.

    Gayle Ormiston and Alan Schrift, eds., The Hermeneutic Tradition (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990)

  142. 142.

    Diane Michelfelder and Richard Palmer, eds., Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Debate (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989).

  143. 143.

    Fred Dallmayr, “Hermeneutics and Critique: Dialogue or Disjunction? Borders or Horizons? Gadamer and Habermas Revisited,” Chicago-Kent Law Review 76 (2000): 825–51. Fred Dallmayr, “Self and Other: Gadamer and the Hermeneutics of Difference,” Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities 5, 2 (1993): 507–24. See also “Letter to Dallmayr (1985)” in Michelfelder & Palmer, Dialogue and Deconstruction (1989): 93–101.

  144. 144.

    Stephen D. Kepnes, “Buber as Hermeneut: Relations to Dilthey and Gadamer,” Harvard Theological Review 81, 1 (1988): 211. Which position is more “naïve” may be more open than Kepnes suggests.

  145. 145.

    Buber, I and Thou (1970), 126–7.

Acknowledgments

I thank Helen M. Kinsella and Daniel Kapust for inviting me to participate in the Theory’s Landscapes conference as well as for their comments on this article. Thanks also to the comments I received on my presentation from the other conference participants. The archival research featured in this chapter took place in 2009 on a Fulbright-Hays DDRA grant for a project then tentatively titled “Periyar, Ambedkar, and Gandhi: A Study in Comparative Political Theory” graciously hosted by the Madras Institute of Development Studies; many thanks to the several archivists at the Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, New Delhi, who helped me navigate the Gandhi collection. A closely related piece received feedback at the inaugural panel of the exhibit Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in November 2013, and I thank Lawrence Cohen and Francesco Spagnolo for the opportunity to present there; Francesco also helped me navigate the Magnes Collection, particularly the diaries of Abraham Barak Salem. A more complete version of this chapter benefitted from Stephen Eric Bronner’s generous remarks in 2015. Elements that featured as part of my presentation at the Theory’s Landscapes conference, but which have subsequently become a separate piece, received engaged comments that were indirectly instrumental in shaping the current chapter and thus deserve acknowledgment; work focused on such elements was presented first in Wendy Brown’s dissertation workshop in May 2010 and then at the Seventh Tamil Chair Conference at UC Berkeley in April 2011. Along the way, such work received thoughtful comments from Pradeep Chhibber and Mark Bevir.

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Baxter, M.H. (2017). The Jewish Gandhi Question, or, Ich and Swa: Martin Buber and the Five Minute Mahatma. In: Kapust, D., Kinsella, H. (eds) Comparative Political Theory in Time and Place. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-52815-5_7

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