Martin Buber

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.

Most current scholarly work on Buber is done in the areas of pedagogy, psychology and applied social ethics.


“All real living is meeting.” I and Thou, (pg. 11)

“The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being.” I and Thou

“Spirit is not in the I but between I and Thou.” I and Thou, (pg. 39)

“You know always in your heart that you need God more than everything ; but do you not know too that God needs you — in the fullness of His eternity needs you ? How would man be, how would you be, if God did not need him, did not need you ? You need God, in order to be — and God needs you, for the very meaning of your life.” I and Thou, (pg. 82)

“I am not concerned with finding a conceptual pigeonhole for ecstasy. It is the unclassifiable aspect of ecstasy that interests me… The ecstatic individual may be explained in terms of psychology, physiology, pathology; what is important to us is that which remains beyond explanation: the individuals experience. We pay no heed here to those notions which are bent on establishing “order” even in the darkest corners; we are listening to a human being speak of the soul and of the soul’s ineffable mystery.” Ecstatic Confessions, The Heart of Mysticism, (pg. xxxi)

“Marriage, for instance, will never be given new life except by that out of which true marriage always arises, the revealing by two people of the Thou to one another. Out of this a marriage is built up by the Thou that is neither of the I’s. This is the metaphysical and metapsychical factor of love to which feelings of love are mere accompaniments.” I and Thou  (pg. 45-46)

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” I and Thou (pg. 96)

“In the eyes of him who takes his stand in love, and gazes out of it, men are cut free from their entanglement in bustling activity. Good people and evil, wise and foolish, beautiful and ugly, become successively real to him ; that is, set free they step forth in their singleness, and confront him as Thou. In a wonderful way, from time to time, ex- clusiveness arises — and -so he can be effective, helping, healing, educating, raising up, saving. Love is responsi- bility of an I for a Thou.” I and Thou (pg. 15)

“When the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the great Rabbi Israel Shem Tov, saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Maggid of Mezritch, had occasion for the same reason to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say, “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” Again the miracle would be accomplished.

Still later, Rabbi Moshe-leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire. I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient, and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhin to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God, “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient. For God made man because he loves stories.“ Tales of the Hasidim

“Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?” Tales of the Hasidim

“For God does not want to be believed in, to be debated and defended by us, but simply to be realized through us.” ― Martin Buber, On Judaism

“When I confront a human being as my Thou and speak the basic word I-Thou to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things. He is no longer He or She, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is Thou and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.”  I and Thou

“You can rake the muck this way, rake the muck that way– it will always be muck. Have I sinned or have I not sinned? In the time I am brooding over it, I could be stringing pearls for the delight of Heaven” Hasidism and Modern Man, (pg. 164-65)

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”



Featured Media

Buber In Ten Minutes
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