Martin Buber (1878—1965)

Martin Buber was a prominent twentieth century philosopher, religious thinker, political activist and educator. Born in Austria, he spent most of his life in Germany and Israel, writing in German and Hebrew. He is best known for his 1923 book, Ich und Du (I and Thou), which distinguishes between “I-Thou” and “I-It” modes of existence. Often characterized as an existentialist philosopher, Buber rejected the label, contrasting his emphasis on the whole person and “dialogic” intersubjectivity with existentialist emphasis on “monologic” self-consciousness. In his later essays, he defines man as the being who faces an “other” and constructs a world from the dual acts of distancing and relating. His writing challenges Kant, Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dilthey, Simmel and Heidegger, and he influenced Emmanuel Lévinas.

Buber was also an important cultural Zionist who promoted Jewish cultural renewal through his study of Hasidic Judaism. He recorded and translated Hasidic legends and anecdotes, translated the Bible from Hebrew into German in collaboration with Franz Rosenzweig, and wrote numerous religious and Biblical studies. He advocated a bi-national Israeli-Palestinian state and argued for the renewal of society through decentralized, communitarian socialism. The leading Jewish adult education specialist in Germany in the 1930s, he developed a philosophy of education based on addressing the whole person through education of character, and directed the creation of Jewish education centers in Germany and teacher-training centers in Israel.