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Buber, Martin

Buber, Martin

WORKS BY BUBER

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Martin Buber (1878–1965) was primarily a religious and social philosopher and a Zionist leader, whose work is of great relevance to the social sciences. He was professor of religion at Frankfurt until 1936. Moving to Israel (then Palestine), he became professor of sociology of culture (social philosophy) and later the first chairman of the department of sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and taught such subjects as the sociology of religion and ethics, social philosophy, and the history of sociology. He was the first president of the academy of sciences and humanities in Israel.

Buber’s studies ranged over a great variety of fields, beginning with his work on the Hassidic communities and traditions (The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism. 1921–1954), which brought the stream of Jewish sectarianism and mysticism to the attention of a wide Western public. In his works on educational and religious philosophy (for instance, Eclipse of God: Studies in the Relations Between Religion and Philosophy 1952a; Daniel: Dialogues on Realization 1913; For the Sake of Heaven 1943–1944; “Rede über das Erzieherische” 1926; “Urdistanz und Beziehung” 1951; “Das Problem des Menschen” 1948), and most explicitly in his book I and Thou (1936), he developed the principle of the “dialogue.” He studied Biblical thought, especially the conception of kingship and polity in Biblical times (The Prophetic Faith 1942) and, mainly through his translation (with F. Rosenzweig) of the Bible into German, he became involved in Biblical exegesis. His publications in social philosophy centered on Utopian social thought and the experiments in collective life in Palestine and Israel (Paths in Utopia 1947) and on Judaism and Zionism (At the Turning: Three Addresses on Judaism 1952b; Israel and the World: Essays in a Time of Crisis 1921–1943). For a time he was editor of the series Gesellschaft, which published articles by leading German sociologists, for example, Tönnies (on custom), Simmel (on religion), and Oppenheimer (on the state).

Buber’s methodological and analytical approach combined influences from many sources. In his philosophical emphasis he was close to the traditions of social philosophy associated with Max Scheler and Martin Heidegger, and those of religious existentialism identified with Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Jacques Maritain. He was also close to those German sociologists, like Lorenz von Stein, who first asserted that the “social” is independent of the “political,” and to such Utopian and religious thinkers as Saint-Simon, Proudhon, Landauer, and Eduard Heimann, who looked for regenerative forces in society.

However, Buber’s approach to the problems of social and cultural transformation, creativity, and regeneration was different from the usual Utopian approach. Utopian views tend to be static, emphasizing a flight from various constraints of modern society or presenting an unattainable model of a desirable society. Buber’s central sociological or social philosophical concern was to define the conditions of social and cultural transformation and the conditions of the stagnation or demise of cultures and societies rather than to prescribe simple structural or organizational change. He sought to identify the situations where creativity really can occur, and he believed that these situations exist to some extent in all cultures but that their fullest development occurs only rarely.

Cultural creativity, according to Buber, is the product of four basic forms of opposition: tradition versus innovation; the shaping of concrete, instrumental social relations versus the creation of an independent sphere of cultural products and values; the growth of forms of culture versus the development of self-awareness or self-consciousness on the part of the actors; and the plurality of institutional spheres versus the existence of some central common core of cultural tradition.

The possibilities of cultural creativity and social regeneration appeared to Buber to be greatest in those situations where the opposites exist in a state of tension that preserves the autonomy of each. The domination of any one element over the others may produce organizational or structural change unaccompanied by any cultural or value tranformation, or it may lead to the stagnation or demise of a society or culture. Buber was especially concerned with the possibility that the state might dominate the more generative forces of social and cultural spontaneity. He thought this an inherent possibility of all political systems, but one that had reached its culmination in modern totalitarianism. However, he refused to denigrate political activity as such; rather, he saw it as a basic, essential, autonomous component of social life, which if kept within proper limits—limits that change according to circumstances—constitutes a positive force in the process of social creativity.

The central characteristic of situations producing creativity is the existence of a dialogue, of communicative openness—a dialogue between man and man and between man and God. Such communicative openness is maximized in situations having certain structural characteristics: the participants have a strong commitment both to direct personal relations, transcending and cutting across more institutionalized and formalized frameworks, and to direct relations to the sphere of ultimate values—that is, the realm of the sacred.

Buber never thought that the conditions of communicative openness and creativity were tied to any concrete social, organizational, or cultural contents. Historically, he saw the apex of cultural creativity in the great classic civilizations, China and Greece, during their periods of transition from tribalism to universalism. He also saw it in the instances of the historical Judaic political-religious community, of the Hassidic community, and of some modern Utopian communities, especially the communal settlements in Palestine. All these manifest a strong commitment to worldly activity, but an activity that transcends the goals of any given concrete community and that is based on general, universal, and transcendental orientations.

Unlike many of the Utopians, Buber also tried to identify situations that permit some creativity of this kind within the more routinized and formalized situations generally prevalent in societies, especially in modern ones. He found these favorable conditions in modern religious and international dialogue, in educational institutions, particularly those devoted to adult education, and, in fact, in any situation which promises to break up communicative closure among national, professional, and religious entities. Buber’s search for the multiplicity of concrete situations in which communicative openness and dialogue can be maintained is evidence of his belief that these situations are not tied to any concrete contents: cultural and social regeneration does not come from a social system established according to some formula; rather, it results from a continuous, ongoing process.

Through his examination of the conditions of cultural creativity, Buber’s analysis contributes to the understanding of the proper place of charisma in social processes and helps reveal both the creative and destructive possibilities inherent in charismatic orientations. Of crucial importance here is his analysis of the variety of social and cultural forms that permit the creative possibilities of charismatic orientations to find expression. By not limiting the charismatic to any given contents, such as the political or religious, Buber connected it directly with the total process of cultural creativity and social regeneration. This related the authenticity of charismatic attitudes to the existence of direct, unmediated relations of man to man and man to the sacred. Thus Buber defined the nature and structure of the open situations through which the charismatic quality can become effective in the processes of social and cultural transformation.

Shmuel N. Eisenstadt

[Directly related are the entriesPsychology, article onexistential; psychology; Religious specialists; Utopianism. Other relevant material may be found inCreativity, article onsocial aspects; Judaism; Social institutions; and in the biographies ofScheler; Stein.]

WORKS BY BUBER

(1913) 1964 Daniel: Dialogues on Realization. New York: Holt. → First published in German.

(1921–1943) 1963 Israel and the World: Essays in a Time of Crisis. 2d ed. New York: Schocken. → Contains essays originally published in German and Hebrew.

(1921–1954) 1960 The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism New York: Horizon. → Contains essays originally published in German and Hebrew.

(1926) 1962 Rede über das Erzieherische. Volume 1, pages 787–809 in Martin Buber, Werke. Munich: Kösel.

(1936) 1958 I and Thou. 2d ed. New York: Scribner. → First published in German.

(1942) 1949 The Prophetic Faith. New York: Macmillan. → First published in Hebrew. A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Harper.

(1943–1944) 1953 For the Sake of Heaven. 2d ed. New York: Harper. → First published as Gog und Magog.

(1947) 1950 Paths in Utopia. New York: Macmillan. → First published in Hebrew.

(1948) 1962 Das Problem des Menschen. Volume 1, pages 307–407 in Martin Buber, Werke. Munich: Kösel.

(1951) 1962 Urdistanz und Beziehung. Volume 1, pages 411–423 in Martin Buber, Werke. Munich: Kösel.

1952a Eclipse of God: Studies in the Relations Between Religion and Philosophy. New York: Harper.

1952b At the Turning: Three Addresses on Judaism. New York: Farrar.

1957a Distance and Relation. Psychiatry 20:97–104.

1957b Guilt and Guilt Feelings. Psychiatry 20:114–129.

1962— Werke. Vols. 1–3. Munich: Kösel. → A projected multivolume work.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cohen, Arthur A. 1957 Martin Buber. New York: Hillary House.

Diamond, Malcolm 1960 Martin Buber: Jewish Existentialist. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Friedman, Maurice 1955 Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue. Univ. of Chicago Press.

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Martin Buber

Martin Buber

The Jewish theologian and philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965) was one of the most creative and influential religious thinkers of the 20th century. His book "I and Thou" has had a wide impact on people of all faiths.

The life and thought of Martin Buber are intimately related to the problems and the fate of modern Judaism. He experienced as a young man the spiritual estrangement and confusion which have often been the lot of modern Jews; as a Jewish scholar and teacher in Germany during the 1930s, the increasingly ruthless suppression of Jews by the Nazis; and as a Zionist, the building of the nation of Israel during and after World War II. Yet precisely in and through his reverent exploration of the Jewish tradition and his concrete identification with his people's destiny, Buber was a truly universal man whose life and insights belong to everyone.

Martin Buber was born on Feb. 8, 1878, in Vienna. When he was 3 his parents were divorced, and he was raised by his paternal grandparents in what is now Lvov in the Ukraine. The natural piety and learning of both his grandparents were an important influence on Buber, although he gave up Jewish religious practices shortly after he celebrated his bar mitzvah (at age 13).

From 1896 to 1904 Buber studied philosophy, religion, and art history at the universities of Vienna, Berlin, Leipzig, and Zurich, receiving a doctorate from Vienna in 1904. His dissertation was on mysticism, which attracted him both intellectually and personally. He was also influenced by existentialism through the writings of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky.

Although religiously estranged from Judaism, Buber as a student became a member of the Zionist movement, which sought a center and sanctuary for the world's Jews in the ancient Palestinian homeland. In 1901 Buber edited the Zionist journal Die Welt, but he soon found himself out of sympathy with the purely political program of the majority, aligning himself instead with a smaller group who believed that Zionism must be built upon a Jewish cultural and spiritual renaissance. He retired from active participation for a number of years but returned to the movement in 1916 by founding and editing the very influential journal Der Jude.

Relevance of Hasidism

Buber's explorations into Hasidism, the result of his resolve to become better acquainted with the Jewish tradition, led him into the spiritual dimension of Judaism and thereby into his mature philosophy. The Hasidic movement (hasid means pious) revitalized eastern European Jewry in the 18th century, although by Buber's time it had become isolated and fossilzed. Original Hasidism was a deeply joyous, world-affirming mysticism which sought God in a "hallowing of the everyday" and in human community. Buber believed this to be the essence of Judaism and of religion itself. Buber believed that the peculiar genius of Hasidic piety was the encounter with the divine in the midst of everyday life with its neighbor-to-neighbor responsibilities and joys. This insight, reinforced by existentialism's intense focus on concrete human life and ethical decision, provided the basis for Buber's "philosophy of dialogue," in which the presence of the divine Thou is encountered within, and for the sake of, the concrete relationships "between man and man."

Buber became an eminent authority on Hasidism, preserving its treasures by translating its literature and interpreting its spiritual genius to the contemporary Western world. Among his translations of Hasidic classics and studies of Hasidism are For the Sake of Heaven (1945), Hasidism (1948), Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters (1947) and The Later Masters (1948), The Way of Man according to the Teachings of Hasidism (1950), The Legend of the Baal-Shem (1955), and Hasidism and Modern Man (1958).

"I and Thou"

Buber contributed importantly to 20th-century philosophy by offering a creative alternative to the impasse between science-dominated philosophies which reduce human reality to mechanistic terms and idealistic philosophies which abstract the human spirit from its embeddedness in the world and human community. In I and Thou (1922) he analyzes man's two types of relationship to reality, I-It and I-Thou. In the I-It relation, I deal with the world and other persons functionally, manipulatively, as "things" to be investigated and used. This is an inescapable and necessary relation to reality which is not evil in itself but becomes evil insofar as it constantly tends to dominate and shut out another, more profound relation, the I-Thou. In the I-Thou relation, I encounter the world, other persons, and God as Thou in interpersonal dialogue which opens up the true depths of reality and summons to ethical responsibility in the midst of life. Among Buber's philosophical writings, besides I and Thou, mention should be made of Between Man and Man (1947) and Eclipse of God (1952).

Career as a Teacher

In 1923 Buber became the first appointee to the chair of Jewish religious thought at the University of Frankfurt, where he taught for 10 years. During this period he collaborated with his friend, the distinguished Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig, on a new translation of the Hebrew Bible into German which was acclaimed a masterpiece. Buber's deep involvement with the biblical literature led to profound studies in biblical interpretation, such as Moses (1946) and The Prophetic Faith (1949).

In 1933 Buber was made director of the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education in Germany, carrying out a "spiritual war against Nazism" until forced to leave in 1938. He went to Palestine to become professor of social philosophy at the Hebrew University, where he taught until his retirement in 1951. Buber worked tirelessly until the end of his life for the new nation of Israel and was widely respected for his integrity and moral passion. Ranging over a wide variety of modern issues, such as education and politics, Buber's writings focus especially on the state of Israel, as in Israel and the World (1948). Buber also dialogued sensitively with Christians and deeply admired Jesus. His book Two Types of Faith (1951) compares Judaism and Christianity. Honored by people all over the world, he died on June 13, 1965.

Further Reading

Full-length studies of Buber's life and thought in English include Maurice S. Friedman, Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue (1955); Malcolm L. Diamond, Martin Buber: Jewish Existentialist (1960); Maurice Friedman and Paul Arthur Schilpp, eds., The Philosophy of Martin Buber (1967); Ronald G. Smith, Martin Buber (1967); and Lowell D. Streiker, The Promise of Buber: Desultory Philippics and Irenic Affirmations (1969). Aubrey Hodes, Martin Buber: An Intimate Portrait (1971), is a personal study by a close friend.

Additional Sources

Friedman, Maurice S., Encounter on the narrow ridge: a life of Martin Buber, New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Friedman, Maurice S., Martin Buber's life and work, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988.

Friedman, Maurice S., Martin Buber's life and work: the early years, 1878-1923, New York: Dutton, 1981.

Friedman, Maurice S., Martin Buber's life and work: the later years, 1945-1965, New York: Dutton, 1983.

Friedman, Maurice S., Martin Buber's life and work: the middle years, 1923-1945, New York: Dutton, 1983.

The other Martin Buber: recollections of his contemporaries, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1988. □

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Buber, Martin

Martin Buber (bōō´bĕr), 1878–1965, Jewish philosopher, b. Vienna. Educated at German universities, he was active in Zionist affairs, and he taught philosophy and religion at the Univ. of Frankfurt-am-Main (1924–33). From 1938 to 1951 he held a professorship in the sociology of religion at the Hebrew Univ. in Jerusalem. Greatly influenced by the mysticism of the Hasidim, which he interpreted in many of his works, and by the Christian existentialism of Søren Kierkegaard, Buber evolved his own philosophy of religion, especially in his book I and Thou (1923, 2d ed. 1958). Conceiving the relations between God and man not as abstract and impersonal, but as an inspired and direct dialogue, Buber has also had a great impact on contemporary Christian thinkers. He worked to permeate political Zionism with ethical and spiritual values and strongly advocated Arab-Israeli understanding. Among his writings are Jewish Mysticism and the Legends of Baalshem (1931), Mamre (tr. 1946, repr. 1970), Moses (1946), and The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism (2 vol., tr. 1960).

See his A Believing Humanism: My Testament, 1902–1965 (tr. 1967), and his Meetings, ed. by M. S. Friedman (1973); biographies by M. S. Friedman (3 vol., 1981–3, and 1 vol., 1991); M. S. Freidman, Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue (4th ed., 2002).

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Buber, Martin

Buber, Martin (1878–1965). Jewish philosopher and Zionist leader. As a Zionist, influenced by Ahạd ha-ʿAm, Buber emphasized the importance of education. As a ‘Hebrew humanist’, he emphasized the rights of the Arabs, stating ‘the Jewish people proclaims its desire to live in peace and brotherhood with the Arab people and to develop the common homeland’. His Ich und Du (I and Thou) was published in 1923 (Eng. edn. 1937) and contains his famous philosophy of dialogue. He distinguished between ‘I-It’ relationships, which are impersonal interactions designed to achieve a particular end, and ‘I-thou’ relationships which are mutual, direct, and open. This leads to the characterization of God as the ‘eternal thou’—the one who is only known through direct personal relationship.

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Buber, Martin

Buber, Martin (1878–1965) Austrian Jewish philosopher. An ardent early advocate of Zionism, he edited Der Jude (1916–24), the leading journal of German-speaking Jewish intellectuals. He opposed the Nazis in Germany until forced to move to Palestine in 1938. His most important published work is I and Thou (1922), on the directness of the relationship between man and God within the traditions of Hasidism. He also wrote on the ideals of the state of Israel.

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