Jean-Paul Sartre and The Jewish Question


Jean-Paul Sartre and The Jewish Question

Anti-antisemitism and the Politics of the French Intellectual

Jonathan Judaken

Texts and Contexts Series

408 pages


April 2009


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Jean-Paul Sartre and the Jewish Question examines the image of “the Jew” in Sartre’s work to rethink not only his oeuvre but also the role of the intellectual in France and the politics and ethics of existentialism. It explores more broadly how French identity is defined through the abstraction and allegorization of “the Jew” and examines the role anti-antisemitic intellectuals play in this process.
Jonathan Judaken reconsiders the origins of the intellectual in France in the context of the Dreyfus affair and Sartre’s interventions in the parallel Franco-French conflicts in the 1930s and during the Vichy regime. He considers what it was possible to say on behalf of Jews and Judaism during the German occupation, Sartre’s contribution after the war to the Vichy syndrome, his positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the ways Sartre’s reflections on the Jewish Question served as a template for his shift toward Marxism, his resistance to colonialism, and for the defining of debates about Jews and Judaism in postwar France by both Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals. Judaken analyzes the texts that Sartre devoted to these issues and argues that “the Jew” constituted a foil Sartre consistently referenced in reflecting on politics in general and on the role of the intellectual in particular.

Author Bio

Jonathan Judaken is an associate professor of modern European cultural and intellectual history at the University of Memphis.


“Judaken brings together for the first time Sartre’s thoughts, theories, and references to European Jews from his literature, philosophy, essays, and conversations. . . . This excellent commentary is a major contribution to the huge literature on this famous existentialist. . . . This book is as much about antisemitism as it is about Sartre, and will be useful to students of French intellectual history, too.”—Choice

“A very useful book, [Jean-Paul Sartre and the Jewish Question] traces the writing of Sartre in the context of a literary life both complex and obscure, though also famous. . . . This large and large-hearted new book includes posthumous evaluations of Sartre by the many French Jewish intellectuals who followed in his wake.”—Arnold J. Wolf, Central Conference of American Rabbis Newsletter

"A well-developed and impressively knowledgeable study. . . . Judaken’s book helps us to understand the secret of Sartre’s stubborn refusal to fade into the past, by showing this ultimate insider choosing to identify with and powerfully analyse the plight of the marginalized and oppressed—Jews, blacks, homosexuals, workers, colonial peoples, and women—as did no other thinker of his century."—Ron Aronson, Times Literary Supplement

“In [Judaken’s] refusal to relegate Sartre to the ivory tower, and in his undisguised admiration for his courage to live out the messy ambiguities of his constantly evolving project, Judaken provides an essential portrait of the man who practiced the engagement that he preached.”—Holocaust and Genocide Studies

"Jonathan Judaken's study of Jean-Paul Sartre and the Jewish Question stakes a claim to new scholarly territory. . . . This is a book that indeed scandalizes, in that it takes interpretive risks, and as promised, uncovers a "fecund site" for further discussion and debate."—Richard F. Crane, H-Net

“All serious readers of Sartre's Anti-Semite and Jew should read Jonathan Judaken's Jean-Paul Sartre and the Jewish Question in order to understand its place in Sartre's oeuvre. Judaken has taken our understanding of this important text to a new level."—Robert Bernasconi, author of How to Read Sartre

“Jonathan Judaken's book takes commentary on Sartre to a new level and simultaneously provides a thought-provoking example of what the author terms ‘the cultural history of ideas,’ that is, a study of thought that both attends to its conceptual complexity and situates it within a larger sociocultural and political matrix. It also offers the first investigation of Sartre that systematically takes as its guide the pivotal importance of his influential reflections on the Jewish Question.”—Dominick LaCapra, Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies, Cornell University

"This book is crucial for a better understanding of Sartre's thought in general.  It will also be of primary interest to all those who work in the field of twentieth-century cultural history, especially to those who are interested in the problematic of the so-called "culture wars" in contemporary France. Beyond that, it will also appeal to those who try to understand why the issue of antisemitism was still a major issue in Europe after the Second World War and is still one at the beginning of the twenty-first century."—Christian Delacampagne, Professor of French, Johns Hopkins University

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