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June 13: Martin Buber

Lawrence Bush
June 13, 2010

buber Theologian and social philosopher Martin Buber died in Jerusalem on this date in 1965. He was a socialist Zionist who actively supported the formation of a binational state in Palestine, where he settled after leaving Nazi Germany in 1938. Before his departure, Buber worked with Franz Rosenzweig on an innovative German translation of the Hebrew Bible and helped to lead Rosenzweig’s independent Lehrhaus (House of Jewish Learning), an academy that helped to train and inspire many important Jewish intellectuals. Buber was also a leading popularizer and interpreter of Hasidic folklore and spirituality (it was his immersion in Hasidism that caused him to withdraw his energies from political Zionism in 1904 and to focus on cultural and religious values in Jewish life). He was best known, however, for his 1923 essay, I and Thou, which located religious experience within the encounters between living beings and urged us to see one another less as objects (the “I-It” relationship) but as fully ensouled creatures who are existentially related to one another (the “I-Thou”). Buber was a prolific and romantic writer, imprecise and poetic in his language and deeply utopian in his outlook. He became a global “wise man” and was accorded honors that included Germany’s Goethe Prize (1951), the Israel Prize (1958), the Bialik Prize (1961) and the Netherlands’ Erasmus Prize (1963).
“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable, through the embracing of one of its beings.” —Martin Buber

To learn more about Buber’s work, download a PDF of Louis Harap’s 1978 essay for Jewish Currents, “Martin Buber’s Social Vision”.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.