The Renewal of Judaism (1911)

  • Asher D. Biemann


When I speak of renewal I am well aware that this is a bold, indeed almost daring, term, which, being at variance with the current outlook upon life and the world, is unacceptable to it. All activities of the typical man of today are governed by the concept of evolution, that is, the concept of gradual change—or, as it is also called, progress—emerging from the collective effect of many small causes. This concept, which, as one begins to realize, can claim only a relative validity even in the realm of natural processes, has, to be sure, greatly stimulated and advanced the natural sciences, but its effect upon the realm of the mind and the will has been highly deleterious. Man’s spirit has been as greatly depressed by a sense of inescapable evolution as it had once been depressed by the sense of inescapable predestination, induced by Calvinism. The extinction of heroic, unconditional living in our time must be ascribed, to a great extent, to this sense. Once the great doer expected to alter the face of the world with his deed and to inform all becoming with his own will. He did not feel that he was subject to the conditions of the world, for he was grounded in the unconditionality [Unbedingtheit] of God, whose Word he sensed in the decisions he made as clearly as he felt the blood in his veins. This confidence in the suprahuman has been undermined; man’s consciousness of God and deed had already been stifled in his cradle; all one could hope for was to become the exponent of some small “progress.”


Jewish People Relative Validity Relative Life Modern Socialism Messianic Ideal 
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  1. 3.
    Ahad Ha’am (pen name of Asher Zvi Ginsberg, 1856–1927), Hebrew essayist, philosopher, and advocate of spiritual Zionism; editor of the Odessa-based Hebrew monthly Hashiloach (1896–1927). Buber corresponded with Ahad Ha’am on several occasions and sent him a copy of Der große Maggid (see Ahad Ha’am’s letter to Buber of 20 July 1923, in Grete Schaeder, ed., Martin Buber. Briefwechsel aus sieben Jahrzehnten [Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 1973], vol. 2, p. 167).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Moritz Lazarus, Die Erneuerung des Judentums: Ein Aufruf (The Renewal of Judaism: A Call) (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1909) (published posthumously).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Buber follows the well-established dichotomization of Hebraism and Hellenism as expounded, most prominently, by Mathew Arnold (see, for instance, his essay “Hebraism and Hellenism,” 1898). See also Buber’s A**. essay, “The Spirit of the Orient and Judaism” (1916), in On Judaism (New York: Schocken, 1967).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Cf. Martin Buber: “The spirit of the Orient and Judaism,” in On Judaism (New York: Schocken, 1967), p. 57: “I would define the Oriental type of human being … as a man of pronounced motor faculties, in contrast to the Occidental type … whose sensory faculties are greater than his motor [faculties].”Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    On the subject of art see, Buber’s A**. essays, “On Jewish Art” (1901) and “Jewish Artists” (1903), in The First Buber: Youthful Writings of Martin Buber, ed. and trans. Gilya G. Schmidt (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1999).Google Scholar

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© Asher D. Biemann 2002

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  • Asher D. Biemann

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