Hebrew Humanism (1941)

  • Asher D. Biemann


At the beginning of the century, when a circle of young people to which I belonged began to direct the attention of Jews in German-speaking countries to a rebirth of the Jewish people2 and of the Jew as an individual,3 we defined the goal of our efforts as a Jewish Renaissance. It was not by mere chance that we chose a historical concept that was not purely national. It is true that the beginnings of the Italian Renaissance were inspired by the idea of renewing the populus Romanus, of regenerating Italy But there was something else behind the Renaissance. The nature of this “something” was demonstrated at the time by my teacher, the philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey,4 and with particular clarity ten years later by Konrad Burdach,5 the distinguished German philologist who followed our work with warm sympathy. They showed us that behind the Renaissance was the idea of affirming man and the community of man, and the belief that peoples as well as individuals could be reborn. We felt this to be the truth, and it was in this sense that I used the term Renaissance in my first essay on the subject.6 But its full meaning dawned on us only gradually in the course of the last four decades, when our own work brought us to realize the basic consequences deriving from our choice of this term. When in 1913 a group of my friends discussed the founding of a Jewish school of advanced studies7—a project frustrated by World War I—it was this realization that led me to define the spirit required to direct a program of this kind as Hebrew humanism.


Religious Community Literary Tradition Mere Chance Jewish School Human Pattern 
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  1. 5.
    Konrad Burdach (1859–1936), German historian and philologist. The reference is to Burdach’s book of 1918 Reformation, Renaissance, Humanismus (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1963). Buber apparently met Burdach at least once in Berlin and was “very impressed” (cf. letter to Ernst Simon, 9 January 1928; Grete Schaeder, ed., Martin Buber. Briefwechsel aus sieben Jahrzehnten [Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 1973], no. 259).Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    The group was organized by Martin Buber, Erich Kahler, and Arthur Salz and met on 30 March at the Hotel Savoy in Berlin (see also Hans Kohn, Martin Buber—Sein Werk und seine Zeit (Cologne: J. Melzer 1961, p. 150).Google Scholar

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© Asher D. Biemann 2002

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  • Asher D. Biemann

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