Martin Buber

The creation of a Jewish existentialism--and a Jewish state.

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Categorizing Buber

A question often put is whether Buber can be considered a Jewish thinker. Buber certainly considered himself to be speaking from within the Jewish tradition. "I can stand beside my father's house," said Buber, "and yet see whole world go by." But it was often remarked that while Buber enjoyed unbounded admiration in the Christian world his reception among Jews was less enthusiastic, partly because there is a strong element of antinomianism in Buber's thought that places him outside the Jewish traditional approach to religion in which the Torah and its precepts are imposed heteronomously [i.e. not autonomously] upon the Jew and are not dependant on whether he personally can appropriate them by saying "Thou" to them.

An attempt at appointing Buber to a chair in religious studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem was abandoned because of opposition by the Orthodox. Eventually he was appointed instead Professor of Social Philosophy where his influence was keenly felt in educational and other spheres and where he was idolized by generations of students.

Proposing a Bi-National State

Buber was a Zionist from his youth and was highly admired when he moved to Jerusalem in 1938, yet his political views which looked forward to an eventual bi-national commonwealth of Jews and Arabs were thought na´ve, unrealistic and dangerous. It is said that during his life in Israel he never entered a synagogue in his refusal to accept any kind of external, and hence for him, unauthentic, forms of religious activity.

Buber's literary style, except in his Hasidic tales and his novel, hardly makes for easy reading. At times it seems almost as if he believed that the only way to give expression to profound ideas is to be obscure. The story is told that, soon after he had settled in Jerusalem, a woman complimented him on his excellent Hebrew, saying that it was so good that she understood everything he said. Buber is reported to have replied (though he denied this) "I shall not be satisfied with my Hebrew until you cannot understand a word I say."

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.