In This Article Martin Buber

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Bibliographies
  • Archives
  • Biographies
  • General Introductions to Buber’s Thought
  • Original German Texts: Collected Editions
  • Pre-dialogical Writings
  • Dialogical Writings
  • Biblical and Religious Thought
  • Writings on Hasidism, Judaism, and Zionism
  • Writings on Politics
  • Writings on Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Bible
  • Christianity
  • Editorial Work
  • Hasidism
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Politics and Social Thought
  • Relation to Other Philosophers

Jewish Studies Martin Buber
by
Paul Mendes-Flohr
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0088

Introduction

Martin Buber (1878–1965) was among the most distinguished Jewish religious thinkers in the 20th century. Although he published mostly in German and lived in Germany from his early twenties until his emigration to Palestine at the age of sixty, he regarded himself as a Polish Jew. Born in Vienna, after the divorce of his parents he was raised from the age of three by his paternal grandparents in the Austrian-Hungarian province of Eastern Galicia, which had a predominantly Polish and Ukrainian population as well as a large, overwhelmingly traditional Jewish minority. In the home of his observant grandparents he received tuition in classical Jewish texts and secular subjects; he would later attend a Polish high school. He pursued his higher education in Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna, and Zurich, earning his doctorate in 1904 with a dissertation on medieval German mysticism. He continued to publish widely on mysticism as a freelance author and editor, eventually introducing to European audiences the hitherto unknown world of Jewish mysticism, especially as represented by Hasidism. He also issued works on art, folklore, literature, mysticism and myth, philosophy, and sociology. A veritable polymath, his interests ranged from art to theater, from Celtic to Chinese myths, from Finnish to Yiddish folklore. The full scope of his extraordinary erudition is documented by the thematic division of the twenty-two volume, critical edition of his works in German currently under preparation. (See Martin Buber Werkausgabe, cited under Original German Texts: Collected Editions). He was also active in promoting religious socialism and adult education; he made his mark in the public sphere, however, primarily as a Zionist intellectual who advocated the spiritual and cultural renewal of post-traditional Jewry; indeed, already in 1901 he spoke of a “Jewish Renaissance,” which inspired Zionists and non-Zionists alike. Toward this renaissance, he undertook, initially with Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), a non-Zionist, the translation of the Hebrew Bible, which would resonate the original dialogical and thus religious character of the Hebrew. He is best known, however, for I and Thou, published in German in 1923, in which he distinguished between I-Thou (Ich-Du) relations, characterized by dialogical mutuality, and I-It (Ich-Es) or instrumental relations. He further developed this doctrine as a philosophical anthropology in which he challenged the ontological presuppositions of Dilthey, Heidegger, Husserl, Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, Simmel, and later Levinas. Upon immigrating to Palestine in 1938, he taught social philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and was prominently engaged in promoting a bi-national state as the basis for a just political solution to the Palestinian-Zionist conflict.

General Overview

Given Buber’s ramified literary interests and public activities, the scholarly literature on him is correspondingly diverse. These may be broadly divided between critical assessments of his writings on Jewish Renewal and Zionism, and those on his philosophy of dialogue. Although English translations of his work appeared sporadically since the 1920s, it was only after World War Two that most of his works began to appear in English translation. In turn, Buber’s life and thought would increasingly command the interest of American scholars.

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