Gandhi’s View on Judaism and Zionism in Light of an Interreligious Theology
1. Gandhi’s Religiosity and His View on Other Religions
2. Satyagraha and Its Limits
2.1. Gandhi and Judaism
2.2. Gandhi and Zionism
3. The Challenge of Gandhi’s Satyagraha
3.2. Gandhi, Israel and Palestine
Conflicts of Interest
Margaret Chatterjee did basic work on Gandhi and religion (Chatterjee 1983, 2005). For an older short study on Gandhi and religious pluralism: (Jordens 1987). On Gandhi’s religious quest: (Nanda 2002); on Gandhi and Hick: (Sugirtharajah 2012). For a study of Gandhi’s religious pluralism: (Jolly 2012).
This insight comes close to the saying “If you are my witness, I am God” in the Midrash Psiqta de-rav Kahana (Psiqta de-rav Kahana 1962, p. 208).
In Hind Swaraj, he defends the idea of varna and writes that “[e]ach followed his own occupation or trade, and charged a regulation wage” (Gandhi 2009, p. 66). Like Gandhi, who combined a conservative and a novel attitude, Mendelssohn was a traditional Jew as well as an enlightened man, who rejected dogmatic thinking (Meir 1997, pp. 148–49).
Gandhi took his celibacy vow in 1906, in the same year of the establishment of his satyagraha movement.
In his introduction to Hind Swaraj, Parel notes the great influence of Rajchandra Ravjibhai Mehta (1868–1901), a Gujarati Jain and diamond merchant, who helped Gandhi to overcome an intellectual crisis in 1894.(Gandhi 2009, p. lx)
On 23 September 1930 he wrote to Narandas Gandhi that there is an equality of the religions. (CWMG 44, p. 166; Jordens 1987, pp. 10–11).
Elsewhere, he compares the different religions to beautiful flowers from the same garden or to branches of the same majestic tree; Harijan, 30 January 1937.
Hick once said: “Had I been born in India, I would have been a follower of Gandhi”. (Sugirtharajah 2012, p. 131, n. 5).
For the importance of translation as an act of peace, in which the target language is changed, transformed and renewed because the source language is conveyed in the target language, see (Rosenzweig n.d., pp. 154–55). Rosenzweig believed that there was only one language behind and in all the languages, there was only one world with many differences, which made communication possible.
Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s murderer, who came from the group Mahasabha that favored Hindu nationalism, referred to the Gita.
Hind Swaraj, p. 41.
Ed Noort draws my attention Gandhi’s saying: “[…] I do think that in an age when people were unrestrained in their appetite for the enemy’s blood, Moses restricted retaliation to equal measure and no more”. M. K. Gandhi, “Notes,’ Young India, 9 February 1922.
In Harijan on 17 December 1938, he wrote that Jews sought revenge against the Nazis by appealing for a war against Germany.
The article was written on the 11th, after the Reichskristallnacht in the night of 9–10 November (Panter-Brick 2008, p. 110).
In a letter d.d. 1 July 1937 to Chaim Weizmann, Kallenbach doubted the wisdom of leaving the Jews “at the mercy of the goodwill of the Arabs”. (Panter-Brick 2008, p. 96).
The Indian Nation as Gandhi understood it as driven by morality of the ancient Indian civilization was above religions. Muslims and Hindus had the “same ancestors”. (Gandhi 2009, pp. 48, 50–51) In his Quit India speech on 8 August 1942, he repeated that to be Indian is above all religious differences.
Sic in a letter sent to Kallenbach from Segaon (Wardha), Sevagram Ashram, on 26 November 1938.
Parel notes that, compared with the original Gujarati text of Hind Swaraj, the English translation is careful not to hurt Muslim sensibilities. Sentences were omitted in order not to cause discomfort to Muslims. (Gandhi 2009, p. 48, note 81)
Following Shimoni, Chatterjee writes on “double standards” (Chatterjee 1992, p. 157). This view is contested by Nanda (Nanda 2002, p. 221), who writes that Gandhi had more hopes for satyagraha of Jews than of Arabs: his dilemma was that of a prophet, who is also a political leader: ”he knew his idealism was the realism of tomorrow”. (ibid.) For Nanda (2002, p. 220) Gandhi was neither pro-Arab or pro-Jew: he saw the problem from a moral viewpoint. See also Shohet’s reaction in his newspaper Jewish Advocate, 2 December 1938. Avraham E. Shohet was an Indian Jew from the Bagdhadi community in Bombay and the head of the Bombay Zionist Association. In a letter d.d. 7 March 1939 he wrote that Gandhi viewed the Palestine question as a purely Muslim question. (Shimoni 1977, p. 49)
(Hösle 1992) Answering a letter of Hayim Greenberg, Gandhi deemed that it is true that a Jewish Gandhi would be taken promptly to the guillotine, but that ahimsa remained efficacious in the long run. Harijan, 22 May 1939.
See (Gandhi 2009, p. 79): “ The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree”.
In the letter of 1940, Gandhi did not directly address the situation of the Jews.
In a parallel way, he hated the “Western civilization” of the British, which was based upon power and lust, but he did not hate the British. To the “reader” in Hind Swaraj (Gandhi 2009, p. 72), the “editor” says: “Your hatred against them [the British] ought to be transferred to their civilization”. On the last page he writes: “I bear no enmity towards the English, but I do towards their civilization”. (Id., p. 117).
In his letter to Gandhi, Judah L. Magnes retorted that a war against something evil would not become a righteous war,—in Gandhi’s wording, a justifiable war—, but a necessary one. (Buber and Magnes 1939, pp. 30–33).
True, Gandhi proposed satyagraha also to the Czechs, the Abyssinians, the British and the Indians, but in the case of the Jews, the result was particularly catastrophic.
Gandhi said to Fischer: “I told Silverman [Sidney Silverman, a British member of Parliament, visited Gandhi 8 March 1946] that the Jews have a good case in Palestine. If the Arabs have claim in Palestine, the Jews have prior claim”. Fischer added in a later version “a prior claim, because they were the first”. Simone Panter-Brick, however, deems that Gandhi,—as lawyer,—meant: “a claim which is self-evident in the absence of evidence to the contrary”. That the Jews had “a good case” meant that there was sufficient evidence to support a legal position (Panter-Brick 2008, p. 147). However, against this interpretation ad meliorem partem pleads Gandhi’s article entitled “Jews and Palestine”, published in Harijan 21 July 1946, in which he complains that the Jews depended upon American money and upon the British arms “for forcing themselves on an unwelcome land”.
In a statement given to Kallenbach in July 1937, Central Zionist Archives, S. 25.3587.
This is a question of M. Chatterjee, who further asks if the duty to save life was not a compelling duty for somebody as influenced by Jainism as Gandhi. (Chatterjee 1992, p. 116)
Hardiman (2003, p. 59) notes that, for Gandhi, no human being was without some form of human conscience. He copes with the objection that in a cruel regime as Nazi Germany there was no chance for civil resistance (he coins the felicitous term “dialogical resistance”) to succeed. He counters the argument by describing what happened in February 1943 in Berlin when non-Jewish spouses protested against the arrest of their Jewish husbands. In the end, the Nazis released their Jewish husbands. (id, pp. 60–61) But these Jewish men were detained for registration, not for deportation; for the Nazis, their status was different from that of other Jews. See (Meyer n.d., pp. 63–64).
For Alan Race (Race 2001), theology and dialogue are twin tracks.
Rabindranath Tagore translates sat as “Reality” (Tagore 1931, p. 85).
In 1931, he reversed the formulation “God is Truth” to “Truth is God”. In Harijan, 16 February 1934, pp. 4–5, he wrote: “He [God] and His Law are one. The Law is God. […] He is Truth, Love, Law and a million things that human ingenuity can name”. (Chatterjee 1983, p. 103).
This line of thinking is almost like that in the pious Jewish movement of Hasidism, which proclaims that only God really exists. The mystical idea that all is God is already present in the medieval Tikkunei Zohar 81b: “no place is empty of Him” (lét ‘atar panuy miné). The discussion of the different Hasidic explanations of this utterance would exceed the scope of this footnote.
See also the saying of Gandhi in January 1928: “Our prayer for others ought never to be: ‘God give them the light Thou hast given to me.’ But ‘give them all the light and truth they need for their higher development.’” (Chatterjee 1983, p. 129).
S. Lev, “Gabriel Isaac, Gandhi’s Forgotten Lieutenant”, p. 34 quotes Isaac who, “[l]ike Ritch, Polak and Kallenbach, […] also emphasized that ‘as a Jew, he could not rest while another people was being subjected to persecution of a type with which he was familiar’”.
The Indian nationalist Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose sided with Japanese imperialism and Nazis, in order to overthrow the British in India. When he was elected President of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi intervened and prompted his demission. Kumaraswamy (2018, p. 160) notes that those, who quote Gandhi’s disapproval of Jewish collaboration with imperialism, rarely comment on Bose’s track record. Chatterjee (1992, p. 123) notes that in today’s India, Bose is still seen by some people as a hero.
Buber referred to this biblical verse in his reaction to Gandhi’s article on the Jews.
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Meir, E. Gandhi’s View on Judaism and Zionism in Light of an Interreligious Theology. Religions 2021, 12, 489. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070489
Meir E. Gandhi’s View on Judaism and Zionism in Light of an Interreligious Theology. Religions. 2021; 12(7):489. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070489Chicago/Turabian Style
Meir, Ephraim. 2021. "Gandhi’s View on Judaism and Zionism in Light of an Interreligious Theology" Religions 12, no. 7: 489. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070489