Martin Buber | Martin Buber | Hasidic Judaism

Posted By on January 26, 2018


1. Biography

Mordecai Martin Buber was born in Vienna in February 8, 1878. When he was three, his mother deserted him, and his paternal grandparents raised him in Lemberg (now, Lviv) until the age of

fourteen, after which he moved to his fathers estate in Bukovina.

Buber would only see his mother once more, when he was in his early thirties

. This encounter he described as a mismeeting that

helped teach him the meaning of genuine meeting. His grandfather, Solomon, was a community leader and scholar who edited the first critical edition of the Midrashim traditional biblical commentaries. Sol

omons estate helped support Buber until it was confiscated during World War

II. Buber was educated in a multi-lingual setting and spoke German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, English, French and Italian, with a reading knowledge of Spanish, Latin, Greek and Dutch. At the age of fourteen he began to be tormented with the problem of imagining and conceptualizing the infinity

of time. Reading Kants

Prolegomena to All Future Metaphysics

helped relieve this anxiety. Shortly

after he became taken with Nietzsches

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

, which he began to translate into Polish. However, this infatuation with Nietzsche was short lived and later in life Buber stated that Kant gave him philosophic freedom, whereas Nietzsche deprived him of it. Buber spent his first year of university studies at Vienna. Ultimately the theatre culture of Vienna and the give-and-take of the seminar format impressed him more than any of his particular professors. The winters of 1897-98 and 1898-99 were spent at the University of Leipzig, where he took courses in philosophy and art history and participated in the psychiatric clinics of Wilhelm

Wundt and Paul Flecksig (see Schmidts



Formative Years: From German Culture to Jewish Renewal, 1897-1909

for an analysis of Bubers life

during university studies and a list of courses taken). He considered becoming a psychiatrist, but was upset at the poor treatment and conditions of the patients. The summer of 1899 he went to the University of Zrich, where he met his wife Paula Winkler (1877-1958, pen name Georg Munk). Paula was formally converted from Catholicism to Judaism. They had two children, Rafael (1900-90) and Eva (1901-92). From 1899-1901 Buber attended the University of Berlin, where he took several courses with Wilhelm Dilthey and Georg Simmel. He later explained that his philosophy of dialogue was a conscious reaction against their notion of inner experience


(see Mendes-


From Mysticism to Dialogue: Martin


Transformation of German Social Thought

for an analysis of the influence of Dilthey and Simmel). During this time Buber gave lectures on the seventeenth century Lutheran mystic Jakob Bhme, publishing an article on him in 1901 and writing his dissertation for

the University of Vienna in 1904 On the

History of the Problem of Individuation: Nicholas of Cusa

and Jakob Bhme.

After this he lived in Florence from 1905-06, working on a habilitation thesis in art history that he never completed. In 1904 Buber came across

Tzevaat Ha-RIBASH


The Testament of Rabbi Israel, the Baal-Shem Tov

), a collection of sayings by the founder of Hasidism. Buber began to record Yiddish Hasidic legends in German, publishing

The Tales of Rabbi Nachman

, on the Rabbi of Breslov, in 1906, and

The Legend of the Baal-Shem

in 1907.

The Legend of the Baal-Shem

sold very well and influenced writers Ranier Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka and Herman Hesse. Buber was a habitual re-writer and editor of all of his writings, which went through many editions even in his lifetime, and many of these legends were later rewritten and included in his later two volume

Tales of the Hasidim

(1947). At the same time Buber emerged as a leader in the Zionist movement. Initially under the influence

of Theodor Herzl, Bubers Democratic Faction of the Zionist Par

ty, but dramatically broke away from

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