The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 20 No. 3 (Fall 2018)

Forgiving Heidegger

The Duplicity of Philosophy‘s Shadow: Heidegger, Nazism, and the Jewish Other

Elliot R. Wolfson

New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2018.

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Fall 2018

(Volume 20 | Issue 3)

In 1963, at a colloquium in Paris dedicated to the subject of forgiveness, the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas presented the first in what would become a regular series of analyses of Talmudic texts. Later published under the title “Toward the Other,” Levinas’s remarks begin with introductory comments on method and on the meaning of forgiveness and atonement in the Jewish tradition and proceed to an explication of his chosen Talmudic text. But near the end of his observations, things get personal.

In the final narrative in Levinas’s selection from the Talmud, Rab Hanina bar Hama is the third rabbi to interrupt a textual commentary as it is being delivered by another rabbi, Rab, who refuses to begin his commentary again, as he has already done so twice. “How many times am I to repeat myself?” Rab demands. Rab Hanina is gravely offended. Every Yom Kippur eve for the next thirteen years, Rab begs for forgiveness, but Rab Hanina will not grant it. From this perplexing story, Levinas pivots to a matter concerning his own teacher, Martin Heidegger:


One can, if pressed to the limit, forgive the one who has spoken unconsciously. But it is very difficult to forgive Rab, who was fully aware and destined for a great fate, which was prophetically revealed to his master. One can forgive many Germans, but there are some Germans it is difficult to forgive. It is difficult to forgive Heidegger. If Hanina could not forgive the just and humane Rab because he was also the brilliant Rab, it is even less possible to forgive Heidegger.


Heidegger’s sin is, of course, his support for the Nazi Party—one we continue to reckon with more than fifty years after Levinas’s remarks. Thanks to the publication in 2014 of the first volumes of Heidegger’s enigmatically titled Black Notebooks, the extent of his anti-Semitism has become even better known. In these notebooks, Heidegger writes that “world Jewry…free from all attachments, can assume the world-historical ‘task’ of uprooting all beings from being.” He also speaks of “the cleverness of calculation, pushiness, and intermixing whereby Jewry’s worldlessness is established.”

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Nathan Goldman is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and criticism and an editor for Full Stop.

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 20.3 (Fall 2018). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

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