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Martin Buber - Biography

Martin Buber (1878 – 1965) was a philosopher. Martin Buber is identified as both Austrian and Israeli. This range of identifications represents the shifting borders that occurred throughout his lifetime. In conflict with his Orthodox Jewish heritage, Martin Buber devoted much of his work to secular philosophy. He is best remembered for his examination of dialogue. He famously examined the difference between the I-You and I-It relationships. He considered these relationships to constitute the basic words that defined human understanding and relations. Throughout his career, Martin Buber was awarded the Goethe award of the University of Hamburg, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Israel Prize in the humanities, the Bialik Prize for Jewish, and the Erasmus Prize in Amsterdam.

Martin Buber wrote in a poetic style. His texts evoke Hasidic folktales, midrash, and the metaphysical tradition of dialogue.

Martin Buber was born in Vienna on February 8, 1878. His parents Carl and Elise Buber split from each other in 1882. After the separation of his parents, Martin Buber spent a decade in the custody of his grandparents, Solomon and Adele. The older couple lived in Lvov. Martin Buber’s grandfather wrote some of the first modern midrash. His grandfather was well respected by even the most orthodox member of the Jewish community. When Martin Buber began to explore and embrace Zionism, his grandfather’s reputation would provide Buber with the credibility he needed. His grandparent’s business interests were profitable, and they kept the young man financially secure until the Nazi Invasion of Poland.

His grandmother was responsible for Martin Buber’s early education. Martin Buber embraced education and was a polyglot. Martin Buber was familiar with Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, German, Greek, Latin, French, Italian and English. German was his home language; however, when he started to attend the Franz Joseph Gymnasium, his language skills served him well since the language of instruction was Polish. The fluidity and breadth of Martin Buber’s language skills would foster his interest in the philosophy of communication.

The Austro-Hungarian empire of Martin Buber’s youth was a multi-ethnic state. Vienna was a vibrant city whose music, theater and literary scenes were vibrant. Buber translated the poetry of Arthur Schnizler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal into Polish. These translations were some of the Martin Buber’s first publications. From 1896 until 1899, Buber spent his time studying psychology, philosophy, literature and art.

In 1900, Martin Buber (along with the woman he would eventually marry, Paula Winkler) relocated to Berlin. Buber took charge of Die Weltin 1902. Die Welt was an important journal that wrote in support of Zionism. Buber supported the movement, but eventually he withdrew from the organizing arm of the movement. In 1903, Buber began to associate himself with the Hasidic movement. He felt a deep respect and connection to the Hasidic life since the Hasidim placed their religion at the center of their everyday lives. Buber found that the Hasidim’s concern on traditional, cultural values contrasted with the Zionism’s focus on their political machinations. The following year, Martin Buber pulled away from much of his Zionist activism. In 1904, Buber published his thesis on Jakob Böhme and Nikolaus Cusanus Beiträge zur Geschichte des Individuationsproblems.

In 1906, Martin Buber’s Die Geschichten des Rabbi Nachman was published. These tales recounted the life and stories of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Nachman was a famous and respected Hasidic rebbe. Martin Buber re-interpreted these stories in the Neo-Hasidic manner. In 1908, later, Martin Buber’sDie Legende des Baalschem was published. In this work, Martin Buber discussed the life of the founder of Hasidism.

Although Martin Buber was a devout Zionist, his vision of the movement contrasted with that of Theodor Herzl. Herzl advocated that Zionism be used as a tool to form a Jewish state. But Martin Buber advocated two states in Palestine. After Israel became an independent state, Martin Buber envisioned a federation of Middle Eastern states that included Israel. Martin Buber viewed Zionism as a way to promote Jewish cultural and spiritual development.

While in Berlin, Martin Buber made the acquaintance of Gustav Landauer, an anarchist. Landauer would also help shape Martin Buber’s intellectual life by criticizing Buber’s public support of the German war offensive of World War One. This criticism led Martin Buber to retreat from his interest in social mysticism and to engaged in a philosophical examination of dialogue. Between 1910 and 1914, Martin Buber analyzed and wrote on myths. In 1916, Martin Buber, Paula Winkler and their two children moved to the town of Heppenheim. Heppenheim is located near Frankfurt. After 1916, Martin Buber became the editor for the journal Der Jude.

In 1923, Martin Buber created his most essential and famous text Ich und Du (translated as I and Thou). I and Though explores dialogical existence across the themes of religion, ethics, education, and Biblical hermeneutics. Single One by Soren Kierkegaard and The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach inspired this work. For Martin Buber, existence was defined by encounter. He framed this encounter by using the word pairs I-You and I-It. Martin Buber believed these could be used to categorize levels and modes of awareness in relationship to both autonomous agents and objects. Martin Buber explains that everyone shifts through these modes of engagement.

The I-You pair revolves around the idea of holistic and balanced relationships in discrete and actual encounters. The I-You pair represents a dialog. According to Martin Buber, I-You relationships are characterized by authenticity and a lack of objectification and qualification between those engaged in the relationship. The inability to quantify aspects of these relationships does not remove the relationship from the realm of experience and observation, according to Buber. In the I-You context, the infinite and universal can become concrete. In I –It context, one or both participants is reduced to objecthood through conflict. The I-It relationship represents a monologue. Martin Buber felt that this second type of relationship is expanded by the increased materialization of society.

From 1926 to 1928, Martin Buber was the co-editor for Die Kreatur the quarterly publication.

During this time, Buber befriended Franz Rosenzweig. The two men would work together to create a new German translation of the Bible. Buber did not consider this work simple tranlation. Instead he considered the work Verdeutschung (or in English Germanification.) He strove to provide not a direct literary translation, but he sought to create a new series of equivalent of meaning and phrasing. The University of Franfurt am Main gave Martin Buber an honorary professorship in 1930.

However, three years later Martin Buber would leave the university in protest of Hitler rise to power. The German government prevented Martin Buber from teaching in an official capacity. In 1935, the National Socialist authors' association revoked Martin Buber’s membership.

Rosenzweig convinced Martin Buber to accept a position as a lecturer at a center for Jewish adult education. Buber lectured on ethics, Judiaism and later social philosophy. This organization was important since it subverted the Nazi decree that Jewish people could not receive an education. He would continue his teaching career for most of his life even once he moved to Jerusalem. Buber left Frankfurt in 1938. He immigrated to the British Mandate for Palestine in Jerusalem. Hebrew University gave Martin Buber a professorship in anthropology and sociology.

For Martin Buber, the answer to the troubled relationship between Jews and Arab Palestinians could be found in the Biblical and Hasidic philosophy. He joined Ichud, a group that worked toward creating a binational state. Buber felt that this political condition would be more true to the goals of Zionism.

Martin Buber’s Paths in Utopia was published in 1946. Martin Buber argued for a "dialogical community" built on "dialogical relationships". During this period, Martin Buber toured and lectured throughout the United States and Europe.

On June 13, 1965, Martin Buber died. This came approximately seven years after Paula had passed away.

Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Jewish Philosopher. (February 8, 1878 – June 13, 1965)