Navigate to News section

Gandhi’s Jewish Lover

A less-explored aspect of the Mahatma’s life

Marc Tracy
March 28, 2011
Gandhi (L) and Kallenbach.(Ynetr)
Gandhi (L) and Kallenbach.(Ynetr)

A new biography reveals that Mahatma Gandhi at one point fell in love with and left his wife for Hermann Kallenbach, a German Jewish bodybuilder and architect. Ynet quotes the Daily Mail quoting the book: “Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach about ‘how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.’” Gandhi nicknamed himself and Kallenbach, respectively, “Upper House” and “Lower House,” which I’d guess is, um, an architecture joke.

It is well known that Gandhi’s philosophy included a component called Brahmacharya that involved “active celibacy,” such as sleeping naked with his grand-niece. However, the revelation about Kallenbach appears to be new: Wikipedia, a venue not normally known for coyness or euphemism, identifies him merely as Gandhi’s “very close friend.” Kallenbach was a fascinating figure in his own right, an important patron of Gandhi while the Great Soul honed his ideas about nonviolence in early-20th-century South Africa, and subsequently an ardent Zionist who later tried (unsuccessfully) to persuade Gandhi to endorse the Jewish state.

The biography, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and former New York Times executive editor Joe Lelyveld, was the subject of a cover rave in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review. The Wall Street Journal has a much more critical take—less on the book than on Gandhi himself.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.