Yehoshua Arieli (1916-2002)

Walter Nugent, November 2002

Yehoshua Arieli, McDonald Professor emeritus of American history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, died peacefully at his home in Jerusalem on August 3, 2002, age 86. Among the very few foreign scholars whose work has exerted an impact upon the historiography of American political ideas, Arieli was best known for his book Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology (Harvard University Press, 1964), which explores what was distinctive about the political culture of revolutionary and early national eras in particular.

In Israel he was the undisputed doyen of American history and American studies. He established the field at the Hebrew University and aided in its creation at the universities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. In 1993 he was awarded the Israel Prize, the country's highest civilian award; the citation stated that he "had set rigid standards for himself and for others, as a human being, as an intellectual, and as an historian." On his 80th birthday, his friend Isaiah Berlin wrote that Arieli possessed "absolute integrity, amazing erudition ... and ... great heart."

Arieli was born in 1916 at Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) in the Sudetenland. He emigrated to a kibbutz in Mandate Palestine in 1931. From 1937 to 1940 he studied history, philosophy, and music at the Hebrew University. He then joined the British Army's Pioneer Corps in North Africa and Greece. Captured by the Germans in 1941, he spent four years in a POW camp, managing (as he once told us) to conceal that German was his mother tongue and that he was Jewish. After the war he became head of the Youth War Company in Jerusalem, served with the Haganah and after independence with the Israel Defense Forces in the battle for Jerusalem and in 1956 as military governor of Gaza. Because of-not despite-his military experiences he took a decisive public stand after the 1967 Six Day War against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. He held that position for the rest of his life.

From 1951 to 1953 he studied at Harvard on a Fulbright, notably with Oscar Handlin, and received his PhD in 1955 from the Hebrew University. In 1967 he founded the Department of American Studies there. He held fellowships at the Center for the Study of Liberty (1960-61) and the Charles Warren Center (1967-68) at Harvard, Wolfson College, Oxford (1973-74), the National Humanities Center (1979-80), and the Max Planck Institute, Goettingen (1984-85). He published six books and about sixty essays in Hebrew, German, and English, notably on the historical roots of nationalism, on the religious roots of modern societies, and on the universal and particularistic patterns of American nationalism.

He is survived by Yael, his wife of 56 years, three children, and grandchildren.

—Walter Nugent, University of Notre Dame
—Avihu Zakai, Hebrew University of Jerusalem