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French Jewish Author Benny Levy Dies

Associated Press Writer
October 16, 2003, 3:40 PM EDT

JERUSALEM -- Benny Levy, a secretary to the famed French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and a former militant socialist who later embraced a life of piety and study of Judaism, has died in Jerusalem at the age of 58.

Levy, a leading French philosopher and author, died Wednesday of a heart attack, said Colette Olive, a spokeswoman for his French publisher, Editions Verdier.

Levy was born in Cairo, Egypt, on Aug. 28, 1945, into a Jewish family and later moved to France, where he studied at the elite Ecole Normale Superieure. Joining Paris's Marxist-Leninist circles, Levy became a prominent radical in the 1968 student protests and was best known by his rebel name, Pierre Victor.

Levy is perhaps best known for his role as personal secretary to an aging and blind Sartre from 1974 until his death in 1980.

A month before Sartre's death, the Paris weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur published final his thoughts and interviews -- the last ever given -- that Levy conducted with Sartre. The interviews caused a stir because they seemed to show Sartre had abandoned a leftist ideology and embraced religion, a path that Levy himself took.

Levy was accused of making up the interviews until Sartre confirmed their contents just before his death.

Levy moved to Israel and devoted himself to the study of the Torah, Talmud and other Jewish religious texts.

"The path of Benny Levy has often been summarized in a flashy formula: from Mao to Moses," wrote the French newspaper Liberation in an obituary published Thursday. The newspaper said that Levy once described himself as "an intellectual terrorist" when talking of his role as leader of one of the most radical factions during the 1968 unrest.

Later, his writings became dominated by religion, not political philosophy.

In 2000, together with French philosophers Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkielkraut, Levy opened an institute in Jerusalem dedicated to the study of the work of his teacher, French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

Daniel Lefort, the cultural counselor at the French Embassy in Tel Aviv, helped organize events at Levy's institute and said the philosopher's path from radical to religious scholar showed he was someone who sought answers.

"I think this is a product of a very active personality," he said of Levy. "He was always in search of something."

Levy talked of the metamorphosis in an interview with Israel's Haaretz newspaper in July 2000. "I lost my political dreams and my political view of the world," he said. "I thought I would die. was empty, totally empty. But Torah has come to refresh my soul like life-giving water."

Levy's latest book, "To Be Jewish," is to be published next month in France. Levy was buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday.


  Jean Paul Sartre. A french philosopher of the 20th century.
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