Bergman, Samuel Hugo

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BERGMAN, SAMUEL HUGO (1883–1974), philosopher. Bergman studied philosophy in Prague and Berlin. During his student days at Prague, he was a member and leader of the Zionist student circle, Bar Kochba, and in 1903 began to publish articles on Zionist and Judaic themes. From 1909, when Martin *Buber began to give his lectures on Judaism in Prague and other European cities, Bergman became his close disciple, although he sometimes was very critical of Buber, whose influence on him lasted throughout his entire life. The Bar Kochba circle and his close association with Buber were the pivotal and formative factors of Bergman's personality and philosophy. During World War i, he served as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army. In 1919 he was nominated a member of the "National Council of Jews of the Czechoslovakian Republic" and of the "Committee of Delegations" for the Versailles peace treaty negotiations. He also served as the World Zionist's Organization's secretary of education in London and in 1920 emigrated to Palestine, where he became the first director of the Jewish National and Hebrew University Library in Jerusalem, a position he held until 1935. He was involved in founding the *Histadrut ha-Ovedim, and was elected a member of its executive council. In 1928 he became a lecturer in philosophy at the Hebrew University, and in 1935 was promoted to professor. From 1935 until 1938 he served as its first rector. One of the founders and editors of Kiryat Sefer, he was the editor of general philosophy for the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, and an editor of the philosophical quarterly Iyyun. Bergman was a member of *Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, being the first philosopher to delve seriously into the writings of the party's spiritual master, A.D. *Gordon. Later Bergman also became involved in *Berit Shalom and *Iḥud, of which he became the main spokesman. He headed the Jewish delegation from Palestine to the Pan-Asian Conference held in New Delhi in 1947.

Bergman's main intellectual interests were scientific knowledge and religious experience. He saw reason and faith as two sources of truth and as grounds for human moral orientation, which endow life with significance. Throughout his entire life Bergman strove for a comprehensive approach to these two sources of truth, an approach which would resolve the mutual context of rationality and of mysticism, of knowledge of being with the human longing for sanctity and eternity.

In Bergman's early years, his philosophical views were influenced by Brentano, and he applied himself chiefly to an analysis of the phenomena of perception and evidence. From the early 1920s on, he turned to Kantian philosophy and devoted quite a few of his studies to a critical analysis of the philosopher's struggle for evidence and for causality (see his Ha-Filisofiyah shel Immanuel Kant ("The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant," 1937, 19702)). His approach to these questions was deeply influenced by the neo-Kantian school, especially that of Hermann *Cohen, who became one of his main sources in philosophy and religion. Among his contributions to the study of philosophy are Mavo le-Torat ha-Hakarah ("Introduction to Epistemology," 1940); Mavo le-Torat ha-Higayon ("Introduction to Logic," 1954); Ha-Filosofiyah shel Shelomo Maimon ("The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon," 1932; Eng. trans., 1967); Toledot ha-Filosoiyah ha-Ḥadashah ("History of Modern Philosophy," 4 vols., 1970–77).

Bergman's intention, as stated in the opening remark of his Hogei ha-Dor ("The Philosophers of Our Time," 1935), was to show how scientific-philosophic discourse found itself at a dead end at the beginning of the 20th century and how philosophy "seeks in the last generation, in various directions and with the assistance of a variety of tools, to find the way out of it." The different directions he referred to, are mostly existential-religious ones, some of which he called "Dialogical Philosophy" (Heb. Ha-Filosofiyah ha-Dialogit mi-Kierkegaard ad Buber, Intro. N. Rotenstreich, 1973; Eng., 1991). Under this umbrella Bergman included the philosophies of some of his main masters, namely, besides Buber and Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig and A.D. Gordon. Of no less import for him was Abraham Isaac *Kook, on the Jewish side as well as Rudolf Steiner and Sari Aurobindu on the Christian and Hindu side.

Bergman's own religiosity combined a naive faith and a constant striving for God-experience and guidance, with highly sophisticated humanistic restrictions. Although he deeply believed in personal spontaneous prayer, he participated in the traditional public prayer prescribed by the halakhah. Although he believed in the central role and the necessary authority of halakhah, he was open to the need for change and personal autonomy. Bergman was a devoted Jew, but rejected the exclusiveness of the idea of the election of Israel, and affirmed the unity and messianic cooperation of all religions. He delved all his life into the literary sources of Judaism but was fully convinced that human consciousness should be the final authority for religious decisions and determinations.

This dynamic balance between religious commitment, human responsibility, and devotion to philosophic deliberation marks Bergman's attitude in the many areas in which he was active. He saw the human as being constantly called upon to live in covenant with God, to be His partner, and yet to be fully aware of God's sovereignty over humanity. This approach shaped his political Zionist view and led him to seek dialogue and compromise with the Palestinian people. It permeated his commitment to social justice and pluralism, and his understanding of philosophy and religion as endless journeys towards the truth, which one can progressively approach, but which always remains transcendingly divine, and cannot be possessed by the human mind or deed.

Bergman's observations on religion are to be found, among his many publications, especially in his Hogim u-Ma'aminim ("Thinkers and Believers," 1959), Faith and Reason: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought (ed. A. Jospe, 1961), and Anashim u-Derakhim ("Persons and Paths," 1967). He also wrote Ba-Mishol, ed. N. Rotenstreich, 1976.


B. Shohetman and Sh. Shunami (eds.), The Writings of Shemuel Hugo Bergman, A Bibliography (1903–1967) (1968); add. bibliography: S.H. Bergman, Tagebuecher & Briefe, ed. M. Sambursky (1985); Y. Amir, "Teguvot Ereẓ Yisre'eliot le-Haguto shel Franz Rosenzweig" (diss., Jerusalem, 1993), 129–248; (incl. supp. bibl. of Bergman's publications and secondary sources, 490–591); Z. Bar-On (ed.), On Shmuel Hugo Bergman (1986); W. Kluback, Courageous Universalitythe Work of Schmuel Hugo Bergman, (1992); Z. Maor, "Mistikah Yeẓirah ve-Shivah el ha-Yahadut: Ḥug Prag bi-Teḥilat ha-Me'ah ha-Esrim" (diss., Heb. Univ., 2005); M. Schwarz, Hagut Yehudit Nokhaḥ ha-Tarbut ha-Klalit (1976), 145–64.

[Nathan Rotenstreich /

Yehoyada Amir (2nd ed.)]