Martin Buber - History

Martin Buber - History

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Martin Buber

1878- 1965


Buber was born in Vienna Austria on February 8, 1878.He is known as an esteemed Jewish philosopher, social critic and theologian. Martin Buber is famous for his classic I and Thou (1932) which discussed the relationship between God and man. As Nazism rose in Germany, Buber became director of the German national Jewish adult education organization, but in 1938 he left Germany for Palestine, where he became chair of social philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among many other works, his studies of Hasidism are remembered as the first popular introduction of the movement to the West.

The Philosophy of Martin Buber | Philosophy | SIU

A distinguished group of philosophers and scholars have contributed to this volume from a wide range of fields that does justice to most aspects of Martin Buber's thought. Our volume is exceptionally rich in the dialogue, not only between Buber and the contributors but also between Buber's thought and that of such eminent thinkers as Alfred North Whitehead, Paul Tillich, and Gershom Scholem.

The sense in which Buber does and does not regard himself as belonging to the traditional categories of philosopher and theologian is made explicit in the "Philosophical Accounting" that he offers at the beginning of his Responsa. These responsa give us an understanding of another unique form that philosophizing may take in our age, while still remaining genuine philosophy. This bursting of ready-made categories is of great importance in an age in which it has all too often become customary to limit the boundaries of "pure philosophy" within the methods and analyses of one or another school. It is particularly important in the case of a thinker like Buber who does not fit into any category.

Table of Contents

Martin Buber: Autobiographical Fragments

Martin Buber

Gabriel Marcel: I and Thou 
Charles Hartshorne: Martin Buber's Metaphysics 
Philip Wheelwright: Buber's Philosophical Anthropology 
Nathan Rotenstreich: The Right and the Limitations of Buber's Dialogical Thought 
Emmanuel Levinas: Martin Buber and the Theory of Knowledge 
Marvin Fox: Some Problems in Buber's Moral Philosophy 
Maurice Friedman: The Bases of Buber's Ethics 
Fritz Kaufmann: Martin Buber's Philosophy of Religion 
Malcolm L. Diamond: Dialogue and Theology 
Mordecai M. Kaplan: Buber's Evaluation of Philosophic Thought and Religious Tradition 
Emil L. Fackenheim: Martin Buber's Concept of Revelation 
Hugo Bergman: Martin Buber and Mysticism 
Emil Brunner: Judaism and Christianity in Buber 
Max Brod: Judaism and Christianity in the Work of Martin Buber 
Hans Urs von Balthasar: Martin Buber and Christianity 
Nahum N. Glatzer: Buber as an Interpreter of the Bible 
James Muilenburg: Buber as an Interpreter of the Bible 
Rivkah Schatz-Uffenheimer: Man's Relation to God and World in Buber's Rendering of the Hasidic Teaching 
Robert Weltsch: Buber's Political Philosophy 
Jacob Taubes: Buber and Philosophy of History 
Herbert W. Schneider: The Historical Significance of Buber's Philosophy 
Jean Wahl: Martin Buber and the Philosophies of Existence 
Paul E. Pfuetze: Martin Buber and American Pragmatism 
Ernst Simon: Martin Buber, the Educator 
Leslie H. Farber: Martin Buber and Psychotherapy 
Carl F. von Weizsäcker: I-Thou and I-It in the Contemporary Natural Sciences 
Louis Z. Hammer: The Relevance of Buber's Thought to Aesthetics 
Carl Kerényi: Martin Buber as Classical Author 
Helmut Kuhn: Dialogue in Expectation 
Walter Kaufmann: Buber's Religious Significance
Martin Buber: Replies to My Critics
Bibliography of the Writings of Martin Buber

1. Biography

Mordecai Martin Buber was born in Vienna in February 8, 1878. When he was three, his mother deserted him, and his paternal grandparents raised him in Lemberg (now, Lviv) until the age of fourteen, after which he moved to his father’s estate in Bukovina. Buber would only see his mother once more, when he was in his early thirties. This encounter he described as a “mismeeting” that helped teach him the meaning of genuine meeting. His grandfather, Solomon, was a community leader and scholar who edited the first critical edition of the Midrashim traditional biblical commentaries. Solomon’s estate helped support Buber until it was confiscated during World War II.

Buber was educated in a multi-lingual setting and spoke German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, English, French and Italian, with a reading knowledge of Spanish, Latin, Greek and Dutch. At the age of fourteen he began to be tormented with the problem of imagining and conceptualizing the infinity of time. Reading Kant’s Prolegomena to All Future Metaphysics helped relieve this anxiety. Shortly after he became taken with Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which he began to translate into Polish. However, this infatuation with Nietzsche was short lived and later in life Buber stated that Kant gave him philosophic freedom, whereas Nietzsche deprived him of it.

Buber spent his first year of university studies at Vienna. Ultimately the theatre culture of Vienna and the give-and-take of the seminar format impressed him more than any of his particular professors. The winters of 1897-98 and 1898-99 were spent at the University of Leipzig, where he took courses in philosophy and art history and participated in the psychiatric clinics of Wilhelm Wundt and Paul Flecksig (see Schmidt’s Martin Buber’s Formative Years: From German Culture to Jewish Renewal, 1897-1909 for an analysis of Buber’s life during university studies and a list of courses taken). He considered becoming a psychiatrist, but was upset at the poor treatment and conditions of the patients.

The summer of 1899 he went to the University of Zürich, where he met his wife Paula Winkler (1877-1958, pen name Georg Munk). Paula was formally converted from Catholicism to Judaism. They had two children, Rafael (1900-90) and Eva (1901-92).

From 1899-1901 Buber attended the University of Berlin, where he took several courses with Wilhelm Dilthey and Georg Simmel. He later explained that his philosophy of dialogue was a conscious reaction against their notion of inner experience (Erlebnis) (see Mendes-Flohr’s From Mysticism to Dialogue: Martin Buber’s Transformation of German Social Thought for an analysis of the influence of Dilthey and Simmel). During this time Buber gave lectures on the seventeenth century Lutheran mystic Jakob Böhme, publishing an article on him in 1901 and writing his dissertation for the University of Vienna in 1904 “On the History of the Problem of Individuation: Nicholas of Cusa and Jakob Böhme.” After this he lived in Florence from 1905-06, working on a habilitation thesis in art history that he never completed.

In 1904 Buber came across Tzevaat Ha-RIBASH (The Testament of Rabbi Israel, the Baal-Shem Tov), a collection of sayings by the founder of Hasidism. Buber began to record Yiddish Hasidic legends in German, publishing The Tales of Rabbi Nachman, on the Rabbi of Breslov, in 1906, and The Legend of the Baal-Shem in 1907. The Legend of the Baal-Shem sold very well and influenced writers Ranier Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka and Herman Hesse. Buber was a habitual re-writer and editor of all of his writings, which went through many editions even in his lifetime, and many of these legends were later rewritten and included in his later two volume Tales of the Hasidim (1947).

At the same time Buber emerged as a leader in the Zionist movement. Initially under the influence of Theodor Herzl, Buber’s Democratic Faction of the Zionist Party, but dramatically broke away from Herzl after the 1901 Fifth Zionist Congress when the organization refused to fund their cultural projects. In contrast to Herzl’s territorial Zionism, Buber’s Zionism, like that of Ahad Ha’am, was based on cultural renewal. Buber put together the first all-Jewish art exhibition in 1901, and in 1902 co-founded Jüdischer Verlag, a publishing house that produced collections of Jewish poetry and art, with poet Berthold Feiwel, graphic artist Ephraim Mosche Lilien and writer Davis Trietsche. This dedication to the arts continued through the 1910s and 20s, as Buber published essays on theatre and helped to develop both the Hellerau Experimental Theatre and the Dusseldorf Playhouse (see Biemann and Urban’s works for Buber’s notion of Jewish Renaissance and Braiterman for Buber’s relation to contemporaneous artistic movements).

Buber was the editor of the weekly Zionist paper Die Welt in 1901 and of Die Gesellschaft, a collection of forty sociopsychological monographs, from 1905-12 (On Die Gesellschaft see Mendes-Flohr’s From Mysticism to Dialogue: Martin Buber’s Transformation of German Social Thought). His influence as a Jewish leader grew with a series of lectures given between 1909-19 in Prague for the Zionist student group Bar Kochba, later published as “Speeches on Judaism,” and was established by his editorship of the influential monthly journal Der Jude from 1916-24. He also founded, and from 1926-29 co-edited, Die Kreatur with theologian Joseph Wittig and physician Viktor von Weizsäcker. Always active in constructing dialogue across borders, this was the first high level periodical to be co-edited by members of the Jewish, Protestant and Catholic faiths. Buber continued inter-religious dialogue throughout his life, corresponding for instance with Protestant theologians Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Despite his prolific publishing endeavors, Buber struggled to complete I and Thou. First drafted in 1916 and then revised in 1919, it was not until he went through a self-styled three-year spiritual ascesis in which he only read Hasidic material and Descartes’ Discourse on Method that he was able to finally publish this groundbreaking work in 1923. After I and Thou, Buber is best known for his translation of the Hebrew Bible into German. This monumental work began in 1925 in collaboration with Franz Rosenzweig, but was not completed until 1961, more than 30 years after Rosenzweig’s death.

In 1923 Buber was appointed the first lecturer in “Jewish Religious Philosophy and Ethics” at the University of Frankfurt. He resigned after Hitler came into power in 1933 and was banned from teaching until 1935, but continued to conduct Jewish-Christian dialogues and organize Jewish education until he left for British Palestine in 1938. Initially Buber had planned to teach half a year in Palestine at Hebrew University, an institution he had helped to conceive and found, and half a year in Germany. But Kristallnacht, the devastation of his library in Heppenheim and charges of Reichsfluchtsteuer (Tax on Flight from the Reich), because he had not obtained a legal emigration permit, forced his relocation.

Buber engaged in “spiritual resistance” against Nazism through communal education, seeking to give a positive basis for Jewish identity by organizing the teaching of Hebrew, the Bible and the Talmud. He reopened an influential and prestigious Frankfurt center for Jewish studies, Freies jüdisches Lehrhaus (Free Jewish House of Learning) in 1933 and directed it until his emigration. In 1934 he created and directed the “Central Office for Jewish Adult Education for the Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden (National Representation of German Jews).

After giving well-attended talks in Berlin at the Berlin College of Jewish Education and the Berlin Philharmonie, Buber, who as one of the leading Jewish public figures in Germany became known as the “arch-Jew” by the Nazis, was banned from speaking in public or at closed sessions of Jewish organizations. Despite extreme political pressure, he continued to give lectures and published several essays, including “The Question to the Single One” in 1936, which uses an analysis of Kierkegaard to attack the foundations of totalitarianism (see Between Man and Man).

After his emigration Buber became Chair of the Department of Sociology of Hebrew University, which he held until his retirement in 1951. Continuing the educational work he had begun in Germany, Buber established Beth Midrash l’Morei Am (School for the Education of Teachers of the People) in 1949 and directed it until 1953. This prepared teachers to live and work in the hostels and settlements of the newly arriving emigrants. Education was based on the notion of dialogue, with small classes, mutual questioning and answering, and psychological help for those coming from detention camps.

From the beginning of his Zionist activities Buber advocated Jewish-Arab unity in ending British rule of Palestine and a binational state. In 1925 he helped found Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace) and in 1939 helped form the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation, which consolidated all of the bi-national groups. In 1942, the League created a political platform that was used as the basis for the political party the Ichud (or Ihud, that is, Union). For his work for Jewish-Arab parity Dag Hammarskjöld (then Secretary-General of the United Nations) nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1959.

In addition to his educational and political activities, the 1940s and 50s saw an outburst of more than a dozen books on philosophy, politics and religion, and numerous public talks throughout America and Europe. Buber received many awards, including the Goethe Prize of the University of Hamburg (1951), the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1953), the first Israeli honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1961), and the Erasmus Prize (1963). However, Buber’s most cherished honor was an informal student celebration of his 85 th birthday, in which some 400 students from Hebrew University rallied outside his house and made him an honorary member of their student union.

On June 13, 1965 Martin Buber died. The leading Jewish political figures of the time attended his funeral. Classes were cancelled and hundreds of students lined up to say goodbye as Buber was buried in the Har-Hamenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem.

A Land of Two Peoples

Theologian, philosopher, and political radical, Martin Buber (1878�) was actively committed to a fundamental economic and political reconstruction of society as well as the pursuit of international peace. In his voluminous writings on Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine, Buber united his religious and philosophical teachings with his politics, which he felt were essential to a life of public dialogue and service to God.

Collected in ALand of Two Peoples are the private and open letters, addresses, and essays in which Buber advocated binationalism as a solution to the conflict in the Middle East. A committed Zionist, Buber steadfastly articulated the moral necessity for reconciliation and accommodation between the Arabs and Jews. From the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 to his death in 1965, he campaigned passionately for a "one state solution.

With the Middle East embroiled in religious and ethnic chaos, A Land of Two Peoples remains as relevant today as it was when it was first published more than twenty years ago. This timely reprint, which includes a new preface by Paul Mendes-Flohr, offers context and depth to current affairs and will be welcomed by those interested in Middle Eastern studies and political theory.

The History of Martin-Buber-House

The middle-class house on the corner of Werlestrasse/Graben in Heppenheim was built at the end of the 19th century. Moving to Heppenheim from a rental apartment in Berlin-Zehlendorf, the Buber Family was looking for more peace and quiet in the South-Western part of Germany. Martin Buber had been spending some time for convalescence in the Odenwald at Lindenfels and grown to love the Bergstraße with its pleasant climate. In 1916, in the middle of WWI, the 38-year-old philosopher and editor, and his family moved into the two-story building. Martin, Paula and their two children Rafael and Eva, enjoyed the large garden surrounding it. Initially tenants, the family was able to purchase the house four years later.

Paula and Martin Buber's study and drawing room were situated on the ground floor alongside the kitchen, dinning-room and morning-room (Teezimmer). Upstairs were the bedrooms, the children's rooms (later Rafael's daughters Barbara and Judith lived there) and the housekeeper's room as well as a small reading chamber ("Bücherkammer"), in which part of Buber's extensive library was housed. In Heppenheim Martin Buber worked on 'I and Thou 'and the first part of his translation of the Hebrew Bible, which was a collaboration with Franz Rosenzweig. The garden was home to vegetables, many different flowers and exotic plants and later the granddaughters' pet dwarf hens. From 1922 onwards, Buber regularly commuted between Heppenheim and Frankfurt, where he taught at Franz Rosenzweig's Free Jewish School (Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus). From 1923 to 1930 he lectured Jewish Religion and Ethics at the University of Frankfurt and from 1930 to 1933 Buber received an honorary professorship for general religious studies. Owing to the intensified persecution of Jews through the NS-authorities, the family was forced to emigrate to Palestine in March of 1938. Since Martin Buber was not able to pay the "Reichsfluchtsteuer "– a tax on Jewish property and assets collected from Jews who were to leave Germany permanently – he struck a deal with the NS-authorities, promising to spend at least five months a year in Heppenheim. Parts of the household, such as furniture and many of his books, had to be neglected and were destroyed on the night of 9th November 1938 in a state-sponsored pogrom ("Reichskristallnacht"). As Buber was now unable to return to Germany, the authorities demanded that he should pay for the damage caused by this vandalism and the Reichsfluchtsteuer. Since he could not afford such a large sum (approx. 27.000 Reichsmark), the house was ultimately seized by the tax authorities and sold off to the district council (Kreis Bergstraße). From the beginning of the Second World War, the former family home became an office space.

In the 1970s, the house was due for demolition in order to make space for a new building for the regional district council. Following the intervention of two committed Heppenheim residents, its significance for German and Jewish intellectual history of the 20th century was acknowledged, and the house was saved. On the condition that it should serve the cause of preserving and passing on Martin Buber's philosophical legacy, the house was declared a listed building by the government of the federal state of Hesse in 1976. After its renovation, a tenant was wanted to represent the spirit of Buber's ideas about dialogue.

The International Council of Christians and Jews, which up until then had its headquarters in London, was presented with the offer and subsequently decided to move into Martin Buber's former home in Heppenheim in 1979.

Since then, the Martin-Buber-House has become a mainstay for interreligious dialogue amongst regional and international audiences. It serves as a place of encounter and exchange by opening its doors to academics, students and all those interested in fostering mutual understanding. From the organisation of international conferences, the hosting of seminars and the curation of a small archive to the offering of guided tours, the house facilitates knowledge-sharing and keeps the memory of Martin Buber.


Publication of the collected works of Buber in German, Werke, was begun in 1962 by K ö sel Verlag in Munich. The first three volumes appeared by 1964.

Buber's most important work is Ich und Du (Berlin, 1922), translated by R. G. Smith as I and Thou (New York: Scribners, 1958). Die Frage an den Einzelnen (Berlin: Schocken, 1936), translated by R. G. Smith in Between Man and Man (Boston: Beacon, 1955), develops the basic themes in some detail. Der Glaube der Propheten (Z ü rich, 1950), translated from the Hebrew by C. Witton-Davies as The Prophetic Faith (New York: Macmillan, 1949), is one of Buber's best biblical studies. Paths in Utopia, translated by R. F. C. Hull (London: Routledge, 1949), is Buber's study of social philosophy Two Types of Faith, translated by N. P. Goldhawk (London: Routledge and Paul, 1951) is his study of Judaism and Christianity.

Other writings that have been translated into English are Eclipse of God Studies in the Relation between Religion and Philosophy, translated by Maurice Friedman et al. (New York: Harper, 1952) and Bilder von Gut und Bose (Cologne, 1952), translated by R. G. Smith and M. Bullock as Good and Evil Two Interpretations (New York: Scribners, 1953) Pointing the Way: Collected Essays, translated and edited by Maurice Friedman (New York: Harper, 1957) and Martin Buber, Writings, a selection edited and introduced by Will Herberg (New York: Meridian, 1956).

Maurice Friedman's Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955 New York: Harper, 1960) is a thorough secondary work with an extensive bibliography.

Edwards, Paul. Buber and Buberism: A Critical Evaluation. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1970.

Friedman, Maurice. Martin Buber's Life and Work: The Early Years, 1878 – 1923. New York: Dutton, 1981.

Friedman, Maurice. Martin Buber's Life and Work: The Middle Years, 1923 – 1945. Reprint ed. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988.

Friedman, Maurice. Martin Buber's Life and Work: The Later Years, 1945 – 1965. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Moonan, Willard. Martin Buber and His Critics: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings in English through 1978. New York: Garland Publishing, 1981.

Schilpp, Paul, and Maurice Friedman, eds. The Library of Living Philosophers, Vol. 12: The Philosophy of Martin Buber. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1967.

Wood, Robert. Martin Buber's Ontology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969.

On Zion : The History of an Idea

Martin Buber was born in Vienna, the son of Solomon Buber, a scholar of Midrashic and medieval literature. Martin Buber studied at the universities of Vienna, Leipzig, Zurich, and Berlin, under Wilhelm Dilthey and Georg Simmel. As a young student, he joined the Zionist movement, advocating the renewal of Jewish culture as opposed to Theodor Herzl's political Zionism. At age 26 he became interested in Hasidic thought and translated the tales of Nahman of Bratslav. Hasidism had a profound impact on Buber's thought. He credited it as being the inspiration for his theories of spirituality, community, and dialogue. Buber is responsible for bringing Hasidism to the attention of young German intellectuals who previously had scorned it as the product of ignorant eastern European Jewish peasants. Buber also wrote about utopian socialism, education, Zionism, and respect for the Palestinian Arabs, and, with Franz Rosenzweig, he translated the Bible. He was appointed to a professorship at the University of Frankfurt in 1925, but, when the Nazis came to power, he received an appointment at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Buber died in 1965.


Buber's influence among European Jewish youth was great. In Israel, however, most of his fellow Jews, religious and secular, considered his unique synthesis of religious existentialism and cultural nationalism unacceptable. Consequently his influence was limited to small groups of intellectuals and kibbutz members. In the United States many rabbis were put off by his strongly anti-institutional orientation to religion. He had a great impact, however, on a small but significant group of Jewish theologians, including Will Herberg (1902 – 1977), Arthur A. Cohen (1928 – 1986), and Eugene B. Borowitz (b. 1924). His impact on Christian theologians, such as Paul Tillich (1886 – 1965) and H. Richard Niebuhr (1894 – 1962), was extensive, and his writings were widely read in Christian seminaries.

Beyond the borders of the religious community, Buber's teachings had a strong impact on psychiatrists such as R. D. Laing, Irvin Yalom, and Leslie Farber on philosophers such as Gabriel Marcel, Phillip Wheelwright, and Ernst Becker and on the anthropologist Victor Turner. Deeply attracted by the political implications of Buber's philosophy of relation, Dag Hammarskj ö ld (the secretary general of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961) was, at the time of his death, engaged in translating Buber's writings into Swedish.

Early Life

Martin Buber was born on February 8, 1878, in Vienna. He was born Else and Carl Buber. In 1882, his parents separated, and so he could no longer live with them. He grew up in Ukraine with his grandparents, Solomon and Adele Buber. His grandfather taught him Hebrew and also introduced him to Jewish theology. He developed an interest in Zionism and Hasidic Literature. He was homeschooled by his grandmother after his grandparent&rsquos estate was confiscated during World War II.

Martin Buber learnt Hebrew, Latin, Greek, German and Polish among other languages. He later turned away from Jewish teachings and focused on works of Immanuel Kant, Fredrich Nietzsche, and Soren. He then took up philosophy in university. In 1899, he met his future wife, Paula Winkler. He studied art history and philosophy in Zurich, Vienna, Leipzig, and Berlin. In 1904, He obtained his doctorate for his thesis on German Mysticism.

On Zion: The History of an Idea

Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a religious existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship.

Buber came from a family of observant Jews, but broke with Jewish custom to pursue secular studies in philosophy. In 1902, Buber became the editor of the weekly Die Welt, the central organ of Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a religious existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship.

Buber came from a family of observant Jews, but broke with Jewish custom to pursue secular studies in philosophy. In 1902, Buber became the editor of the weekly Die Welt, the central organ of the Zionist movement, although he later withdrew from organizational work in Zionism. In 1923 Buber wrote his famous essay on existence, Ich und Du (later translated into English as I and Thou), and in 1925 he began translating the Hebrew Bible into the German language.

In 1930 Buber became an honorary professor at the University of Frankfurt am Main, and resigned in protest from his professorship immediately after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. He then founded the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education, which became an increasingly important body as the German government forbade Jews to attend public education. In 1938, Buber left Germany and settled in Jerusalem, in the British Mandate of Palestine, receiving a professorship at Hebrew University and lecturing in anthropology and introductory sociology. . more

Watch the video: Buber In Ten Minutes


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