Judaism and Hannah Arendt


what does Judaism have to say regarding Hannah Arendt’s theory that evil is passive, banal rules following as opposed to a form of active conscious evil?



  1. Despite the fact that Hannah Arendt did not reach any of her conclusions through her familiarity with authentic Judaism (which she did not have), nevertheless, I think that parts of what she writes are applicable to Jewish thought. Judaism does not believe that a person is born intrinsically evil for which there is no reprieve. Rather, Judaism teaches that a person needs to control their negative qualities so that they do not act in an evil way. However, Arendt’s philosophy seems to be saying that a “regular” or a “normal” person has no responsibility for their evil actions if they were a part of a society that approved of such actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Judaism teaches that we are all responsible for our actions and living in a corrupt and evil society does not exempt – in any way whatsoever – a person’s obligation to do what is right in the eyes of Hashem.

    Therefore, for example, Judaism does not accept that a person was “simply following orders” as a valid excuse for evil and degenerate behavior, because, however much environment can influence a person, in no way can it justify behavior that is absolutely and entirely contrary to the Torah.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team