Almost everyone will agree that Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) is rightfully recognized as a major figure of 20th century atheism. Fewer people will agree about his stature as a philosopher. Even fewer people will testify to the staying power of his novels and plays, although he still inspires some good poetry written against his philosophy.
However, it’s still not general knowledge that Sartre was not only unfaithful to Simone de Beauvoir, but also to atheism. With the help of his secretary Benny Levy (no not that one) Sartre wandered into Judaism late in life. And so the late-late Sartre said things like these:
“The Jew lives. He has a destiny. The finality towards which every Jew moves is to reunite humanity . . . It is the end that only the Jewish people [know] . . . It is the beginning of the existence of men for each other.”
Edward Said had an encounter with the Sartre-Levy duo and wasn’t entirely impressed:
“Lévy (then still known as Pierre Victor) seemed to Said to be: ‘a sort of station master, among whose trains was Sartre himself. Aside from their mysterious interactions at the table, he and Victor would occasionally get up; Victor would lead the shuffling old man away, speak rapidly at him, get an intermittent nod or two, then the pair would come back.’ When Sartre made a platitudinous closing statement that failed to mention such burning issues as the Palestinians, disputed territories or Israeli settlements, Said assumed it had been written by ‘the egregious Victor’ himself.”
Read more about Sartre’s Judaism here.