• Asher D. Biemann


What are Martin Buber’s essential writings? The editor is confronted with a body of work that spans a creative period of more than 65 years and that appears in a variety of literary genres and methods combining poetry, fiction, playwriting, translation, philosophy, and narrative, with subjects ranging from Viennese literature to Christian mysticism, from the Hebrew prophets to Taoism, from philosophy to art, and from Hasidism to capital punishment. Martin Buber (1878–1965) was nothing short of a humanist in a Renaissance manner, a universal scholar in the tradition of the classical Goethe, whose Bildung (education) became an icon for many German-speaking Jews and remained their ideal long after it was abandoned by their German fellow citizens.1 In this, Buber stood at the climax of a development that had begun with the European Enlightenment and its Jewish manifestation, the Haskalah, embracing education as the single catalyst for political and social emancipation, and which continued throughout the nineteenth century with Jews enthusiastically immersing themselves in their cherished German culture and not seldomly disappearing in it.


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  1. 1.
    On the concept of Bildung among German Jews, see especially George L. Mosse, German Jews Beyond Judaism (Bloomington and Cincinnati: Indiana University Press and Hebrew Union College Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  2. That Buber was fully aware of this tradition becomes obvious in his essay “Goethe’s Concept of Humanity,” written for the 1949 Goethe Bicentennial Convocation at Aspen, Colorado (“Das Reinmenschliche,” in Pointing the Way. Collected Essays, ed. and trans. Maurice Friedman [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957], pp. 74–80). Since Buber was unable to attend, the essay was read by Ernst Simon, who contributed an essay himself to the convocation, “Goethe und der religiöse Humanismus” (English) in Goethe and the Modern Age, ed. Arnold Bergstrasser (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1950), pp. 304–25.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    On Buber’s own account of his childhood and heritage, see his “Autobiographical Fragments,” in The Philosophy of Martin Buber (Library of Living Philosophers, vol. 12), eds. Paul A. Schilpp and Maurice Friedman (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1967), pp. 3–39. For comprehensive biographical information, see Hans Kohn, Martin Buber—Sein Werk und seine Zeit. Ein Beitrag zur Geistesgeschichte Mitteleuropas 1880–1930, with a postscript by Robert Weltsch, “Martin Buber 1930–1960” (Cologne: Joseph Melzer, 1961);Google Scholar
  4. Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988);Google Scholar
  5. on Buber’s earlier years, see Gilya Gerda Schmidt, Martin Buber’s Formative Years: From German Culture to Jewish Renewal, 1891–1909 (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1995); for recent scholarship, see Martin Treml’s introduc-tion to the Martin Buber Werkausgabe, vol. 1 (Frühe kulturkritische und philosophische Schriften, 1891–1924) (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2001).Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Cf. Martin Buber, “My Way to Hasidism,” in Hasidism and Modern Man, ed. and trans. Maurice Friedman (New York: Horizon Press, 1958), p. 55. Buber stopped putting on his tefillin (small rit-ual leather boxes worn during prayer) at age 14 and never returned to them. See Buber’s letter to Franz Rosenzweig of 1 October 1922, translated in Franz Rosenzweig, On Jewish Learning (New York: Schocken, 1965), p. 110.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    On the reception of Buber’s Hasidic writings, see Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Begegnungen und Vergegnungen: Die Rezeption Martin Bubers im Judentum,” in Martin Buber (1878–1965). Internationales Symposium zum 20. Todestag, eds. Werner Licharz and Heinz Schmidt (Arnoldshainer Texte, vol. 57), vol. 1 (Frankfurt/M.: Haag & Herchen, 1989), p. 242. Along with Bloch and Rathenau, Mendes-Flohr mentions Georg Lukàcs, as well as the American counter-culture icon Norman Mailer.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Hasidism indeed became a preferred subject for young Jewish rebels, as well as neo-Romantic intellectuals at that time. As early as 1862, Moses Hess referred to Hasidism as a “transition from mediaeval Judaism to a regenerated Judaism” and expected an incalculable “great good which will result from a combination of Chasidism with the national movement.” See Moses Hess, Rome and Jerusalem, the Last Nationalist Question, trans. Meyer Waxman (London and Nebrasaka: University of Nebraska Press, 1995 [reprint]), p. 247f., Note 5. Likewise, the historian Simon Dubnow and the revolutionary Hebrew publicist Micha Yosef Berdichevski began to value Hasidism in their work at about the same time as Buber did. Berdichevski, in fact, contacted Buber about a “society for the collection of Jewish legends and fables (see letter to Buber, 28 February 1909, in Martin Buber. Briefwechsel aus sieben Jahrzehnten, ed. Grete Schaeder [Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 1973] [henceforth referred to as Briefwechsel I, II, or III], vol. 1. p. 273). Buber also intended to coedit a Corpus Hasidicum with the Hebrew writer Samuel Yostef Agnon, which was, however, abandoned after Agnon’s collection of Hebrew sources went up in flames in 1924. The preface to Buber’s The Great Maggid (1923), however, still credits Agnon with supplying at least some of the material.Google Scholar
  9. Note also S. Schechter, Die Chassidim. Eine Studie über jüdische Mystik (Leipzig: Jüdischer Verlag, 1909)Google Scholar
  10. and Samuel A. Horodezky’s Religiöse Strömungen im Judentum, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des Chassidismus (Bern: E. Bircher, 1920).Google Scholar
  11. On the resurgent interest in Hasidism, see also Paul Mendes-Flohr: “Fin de Siècle Orientalism the Ostjuden and the Aesthetics of Self-Affirmation,” in Divided Passions: Jewish Intellectuals and the Experience of Modernity (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991);Google Scholar
  12. Michael Brenner: The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany (New Haven and London: Yale University Press 1996).Google Scholar
  13. See also the essay by Barbara Galli, “Nathan Birnbaum’s Reaction to Buber’s Retelling of rabbi Nachman of Bratslav’s Tales,” in The Journal of Jewish Thought & Philosophy, vol. 10, no. 2 (2001): 313–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 9.
    On the intellectual roots of Buber’s Jewish Renaissance, see Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Zarathustra’s Apostle: Martin Buber and the Jewish Renaissance,” in Nietzsche and Jewish Culture, ed. Jacob Glomb (London and New York: Routledge, 1997);Google Scholar
  15. also Asher D. Biemann, “The Problem of Tradition and Reform in Jewish Renaissance and Renaissancism,” in Jewish Social Studies 8, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 58–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 11.
    On the Democratic Fraction, see Gideon Shimoni, Zionist Ideology (Hanover and London: Brandeis University Press, 1995), p. 213; 281f.;Google Scholar
  17. Michael Berkowitz, Zionist Culture and Westera European Jewry before the First World War (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), p. 43f.Google Scholar
  18. 12.
    See, for example, Buber’s “Ways to Zionism” of 1901, in The First Bubrr: Youthful Zionist Writing of Martin Buber, ed. and trans. Gilya Gerda Schmidt (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1999), pp. 105–9.Google Scholar
  19. 13.
    On Buber’s Zionism, see Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Das Volk des Bundes und seine politisch-moralische Verantwortung. Bubers Zionismus und der Staat Israel,” in Martin Buber (1878–1965), vol. 2. eds. Licharz and Schmidt, pp. 203–21. That Buber’s attitude toward nationalism was not one of clearly defined national humanism until after World War I was indicated by Hans Kohn (cf. Martin Buber, p. 163) and demonstrated by Paul Mendes-Flohr, who sees in Gustav Landauer’s harsh criticism of Buber’s initially enthusiastic response to the war (shared with many other German Jews) a turning point in Buber’s attitude toward nationalism and Zionism (cf. Paul Mendes-Flohr, Von der Mystik zum Dialog. Martin Bubers geistige Entwicklung bis hin zu “Ich und Du” [Königstein/Ts: Jüdischer Verlag, 1978]. English: From Mysticism to Dialogue [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989], especially chapter 5).Google Scholar
  20. An article on Buber’s early Zionism is Martina Urban, “In Search of a ‘Narrative Anthology’: Reflections on an Unpublished Buber-Manuscript,” in Jewish Studies Quarterly 7 (2000): 252–88.Google Scholar
  21. 14.
    Martin Buber: “Jewish Renaissance” (1901), in The First Buber, ed. Schmidt, p. 32; 34.Google Scholar
  22. 18.
    On Buber’s impact on the creation of Jewish art, see Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, “Defining ‘Jewish Art’ in Ost und West, 1901–1908. A Study in the Nationalisation of Jewish Culture,” in Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook, 39 (1994): pp. 83–110.Google Scholar
  23. 21.
    See Ulrich Linse, ed., Zurück o Mensch zur Mutter Erde: Landkommunen in Deutschland 1890–1933 (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983).Google Scholar
  24. 22.
    Heinrich and Julius Hart, Das Reich der Erfüllung, no. 2 (Leipzig: Eugen Diederichs, 1900), p. 92. Quoted in Kohn, Martin Buber, p. 294.Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    “Alte und neue Gemeinschaft,” manuscript; now, Paul R. Flohr and Bernard Susser in Association of Jewish Studies Review 1 (1976): pp. 50–6. In English translation as appendix to Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue. Google Scholar
  26. 24.
    Martin Buber, “Preface to ‘Die Gesellschaft’,” in On Intersubjectivity and Cultural Creativity, ed. and introduction by Eisenstadt (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1992), p. 94f.Google Scholar
  27. 26.
    Ludwig Feuerbach, Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft (Zurich and Winterthur: Verlag des literarischen Comptoirs, 1843), Preface.Google Scholar
  28. 27.
    Martin Buber, “Ein Wort über Nietzsche und die Lebenswerte,” Die Kunst im Leben 1, no. 2 (December 1900): 13; also, “Zur Geschichte des dialogischen Prinzips,” in Martin Buber, Werke I (Schriften zur Philosophie) (Munich: Kösel and Lambert Schneider, 1962), p. 291f.Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    Cf. Georg Simmel, Die Religion (Die Gesellschaft, Band II) (Frankfurt/M.: Rütten & Loening, 1906).Google Scholar
  30. 34.
    On the Buber-Rosenzweig debate on Jewish law, see Benny Kraut, “The Approach to Jewish Law of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig,” Tradition 12 (1972): 49–71;Google Scholar
  31. Zvi E. Kurzweil, “Three Views on Revelation and Law,” Judaism 9 (Fall 1960): 291–98.Google Scholar
  32. On Buber’s specific view on Halakha see Gershom Scholem, “Martin Buber’s Conception of Judaism,” in On Jews and Judaism in Crisis. Selected Essays, ed. Werner Dannhauser (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), pp. 126–71;Google Scholar
  33. Arthur Cohen, “Revelation and Law. Reflections on Martin Buber’s Views on Halakha,” Judaism 1 (July 1952): 250–56.Google Scholar
  34. 36.
    Beiträge zur Geschichte des Individuationsproblems hei Nicolaus von Kues und Jakob Böhme, unpublished and incomplete manuscript, Martin Buber Archives (Jerusalem), Ms. Var. 350. 2/aleph. An excerpt was published through Franz Rosenzweig in Aus unbekannten Schriften. Festgabe für Martin Buber zum 50. Geburtstag (Berlin: Lambert Schneider, 1928). For an analysis of the dissertation, see Mendes-Flohr, From Mysticism to Dialogue. Google Scholar
  35. 40.
    In Buber’s own testimony. See “Zur Geschichte des dialogischen Prinzips,” in Das Dialogische Prinzip (Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 1984), p. 308 (English as afterword in Between Man and Man, ed. Maurice Friedmann, trans. Ronald G. Smith [NewYork: Macmillan, 1965], p. 210).The first edition of I and Thou included a postscript by Buber, probably to clarify his place between two other works of similar ideas—Franz Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption and Ferdinand Ebner’s The Word and the Spiritual Realities (both of 1921)—dating the conception of his work to spring 1916 and the first complete draft to fall 1919. The book was published de facto in December 1922. In January 1919, Buber shared the idea of a five-volume project with Hugo Bergmann (cf. Martin Buber, Briefwechsel II, no. 17; also ibid., no. 81; see also Schottroff, “Martin Buber an der Universität Frankfurt,” p. 26f.). On the question as to whether and to what extent Buber was familiar with Rosenzweig’s and Ebner’s work before he wrote the final version of I and Thou see Rivka Horwitz, Buber’s Way to “I and Thou”: The Development of Martin Buber’s Thought and his “Religion as Presence” Lectures (Philadelphia, New York, Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1988), p. 133ff. Also Briefwechsel II, p. 54f., note 1.Google Scholar
  36. 41.
    On the Jewish sources of I and Thou see Emil Fackenheim, “Universal and Jewish Aspects of the I-Thou philosophy,” in Jeivish Philosophers and Jewish Philosophy, ed. Michael L. Morgan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), pp. 75–88.Google Scholar
  37. 43.
    Referring to I and Thou, Buber acknowledged that he wrote “in an overpowering inspiration” at the expense of exactness (“Replies to my Critics,” in Philosophy of Martin Buber, p. 706). Walter Kaufmann, in his essay, “Bubers Fehlschläge und sein Triumph” (in Johanan Bloch and Haim Gordon, eds., Martin Buber—Bilanz seines Denkens [Freiburg: Herder, 1983], p. 28), charges the book with the “oracle-hke tone of a false prophet.”Google Scholar
  38. 46.
    Cf. Robert Weltsch, “Martin Buber 1930–1960,” in Hans Kohn, Martin Buber, p. 450. On Buber’s life in Jerusalem see also Schalom ben Chorin, “Martin Buber in Jerusalem,” in Martin Buber 1878–1978, ed. Wolfgang Zink (Bonn: Hohwacht, 1978), p. 95f.Google Scholar
  39. 51.
    Cf. Martin Buber, Werke, vol. 1 (Schriften zur Philosophie) (München and Heidelberg: Kösel and Lambert Schneider, 1962), p. 409f.Google Scholar
  40. 53.
    Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (New York: Macmillan, 1965), p. 199.Google Scholar
  41. 54.
    Martin Buber, The Knowledge of Man, ed. Maurice Friedman (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1965), p. 11.Google Scholar
  42. 58.
    On Buber’s trips to America and his influence, see Robert Weltsch, “Martin Buber 1930–1960,” p. 461f.; Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber’s Life and Work, Later Years, p. 184f.; Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Martin Buber’s Reception among Jews,” Modern Judaism 6, no. 2 (May 1986): 111–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 59.
    Most prominently, Malcolm L. Diamond, Martin Buber: Jewish Existentialist (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1960).Google Scholar
  44. See also the discussion of Buber in Paul Roubiczek, Existentialism—For and Against (London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1964), pp. 139–60; and Jean Wahl, “Martin Buber and the Philosophies of Existence,” in Philosophy of Martin Buber, pp. 475–510.Google Scholar
  45. Will Herberg, in Judaism and Modern Man (New York: Farrar & Straus, 1951), confessed that he owed his “existentialist approach” to Buber. Eugene Borowitz, too, places Buber, together with Rosenzweig, in the context of religious existentialism (Choices in Modern Jewish Thought. A Partisan Guide [West Orange, N.J.: Behrman House, 1983], pp. 143–65).Google Scholar

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© Asher D. Biemann 2002

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