A philosopher is a philosopher and we should have no need to categorize them by sex. But in the long tradition of thought in Judaism, for a long-time philosophy fell to the boys. Though there were women thinkers before the Second World War, their voices become increasingly insistent in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Hannah Arendt 1906 – 1975
Arendt was born in Germany into a secular Jewish culture which was to define her post-doctorate career more than perhaps anything else. As a student, she studied under Martin Heidegger and gained her doctorate in 1929.
In 1933 things changed for all those of Jewish heritage and culture in Germany when Hitler came to power. Arendt was briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo when she was researching anti-Semitism for the Zionist Federation of Germany.
After her release, she fled from Germany and to France only to move on again when France fell to the Nazi war machine.
Though she published much throughout her life, The Human Condition being her most acclaimed, it was her coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichman and subsequent publishing of the Banality of Evil in 1963 for which she is probably the most famous.
Emma Goldman – 1869 – 1940
Born in Russia to a Jewish family Goldman emigrated to America in 1885. Her fundamental commitment was to absolute freedom which led her down a path to anarchy. She was jailed for a failed attempt on the life of Henry Clay Frick, and then again for inciting people to resist the draft in the First World War.
Some have traced her thinking back to a Jewish tradition of universal justice which earned her a place in the Jewish Women’s archive. She was deeply atheist and perhaps now has a wry smile about her accolade.
Norma Rosen 1925 –
Dr. Rosen was born in the Brooklyn Jewish enclave of Borough Park in 1925. Her body of work flies through many topics, motherhood, faith and ethics, but she is most famous for one of the very early works on the impact of Nazi genocide in her novel Touching Evil published in 1961.
It was probably through the influence of her husband she really became conscious of Jewish religious culture and observances and she began to study it in earnest. In the 1992 book Accidents of Influence, Writing as a Woman and a Jew In America, she began to explore her roots as well as feminism and intellectualism.
There are many more women who inhabited the period of time when being Jewish changed forever. Jeanne Hersch, Simone Weil and Edith Stein all saw the effects of Nazism. Others followed in the tradition which was never again the same and where women’s voices needed to be heard just as much as men’s. Voicing their experience was just as important and critical to any understanding.
Philosophy and Judaism are both steeped in male tradition, in some ways these women thinkers had to break through two barriers to come to recognition.