Martin  Buber.  Die  Chassidischen  Buecher;  Ich  und  Du;  Zwiespreche;  Koenigtum  Gottes.  I.

(1933 – #385)

  Martin Buber — is a notable Jewish religious thinker. But his significance goes beyond the Jewish religious theme. What first of all strikes one is his religious seriousness, his genuineness, he inspires great trust. M. Buber has translated the Bible together with the already reposed Rosenzweig, likewise a very remarkable Jewish religious thinker. In M. Buber — are Biblical sources of insight. He has no desire to be an abstract metaphysician and theologian. He seeks to base his religious thinking upon myth. He is therefore oriented towards Hassidic legends. The deathly numbness of the Talmudic religion of law within the depths of Judaism evoked the reaction of the mystical and mythological movement of Hassidism towards the end of the XVIII Century. M. Buber does not translate the Hassidic legends, but he retells them, deliberately modernising them. And for this they complain about him. But he wants to revive the Jewish religious myth in that which is eternal in it, enabling it to provide spiritual sustenance for also the modern soul. The Jewish modernism of Martin Buber in everything is contrary to the Jewish modernism of Herman Cohen, who wanted to cleanse myth out of the religion and subordinate revelation to Kantian idealism, i.e. in the final end to preach a “religion within the limits of reason”. “Die Chassidischen Buecher” — is a fundamental book of Buber, in it the Hassidic legends are accompanied by his introduction and commentaries. And in these commentaries are revealed the basic religious and religio-philosophic ideas of Buber. Hassidism is a victory of the underground and mystical Judaism over the official and legalistic. The Hassidic legends tend to charm by this pervasion of the religious principle into the whole of everyday life, with this characteristic for believing Hebrews of standing face to face before God. Hassidism is joy in God. In Hassidic life even food becomes a sacramental service. Buber sees the essence of Hassidic religious life in the overcoming of the separation of life in God and life in the world. Religious life is nowise an abandoning of the world. It is an integrally whole salvation, redemption. And in this is an affinity with Christianity and actually the influence of Christianity, as a religion of redemption. But in the opinion of Buber the distinction between Judaism and Christianity consists in this, that for Judaism the redemption is always in the here and now, in each act of life, whereas for Christianity, according to the inaccurate representation by Buber, it is in a special mystery separate from life. The Hassid is not a monk and not a priest, repeating his own sacramental act, but rather a man. God can be seen in all things and can be comprehended in each pure action. It is necessary to serve God in all the entirety of life. The salvation of man is not in an ascetic withdrawal from the life of the world, but the rather consists in this, to give Divine meaning to everything. Religion is the experiencing of everything, it — is in the most trivial matters of life. Judaism and Hassidism in particular — are optimistic, they say “yes” to the world, and to them is foreign the pessimistic element characteristic to Christianity. The Hebrew demonstrates himself initially human to start with, and this is a customary universalisation for Jewish messianism. Rosenzweig in his book, “Der Stern der Erloesung” (“The Star of Redemption”), says that the advantage of the Hebrew over the Christian consists in this, that the Hebrew for realisation of religious perfection does not have to renounce himself and his world, which is a world created by his God, whereas the Christian has to renounce both himself and his world, which is a fallen pagan world, and has to become a completely new being. With this is connected the great optimism and the more readily realised aspect of Judaism, than obtains with Christianity. This is bound up with a different understanding of sin and the Fall, of freedom and grace. The chief thing nevertheless that happens to be said by Buber, who does not produce the impression of being a man exclusively shut up within the Jewish world, what he happens to say is this, that Judaism is a religion for the Hebrews, and not for every man and all of mankind, as with Christianity. The universalism of Christianity is an absolute advantage. For the Judaic mindset, even for the modernising, there is an insurmountable distinction between the Hellene and the Jew. This likewise is something asserted by anti-Semitism, which always is also an anti-Christianity. The universalistic pretension of Jewish messianism, regarding as identical the religious and the national aspects, does not resolve the question. Christianity exists also for Buber, and he could if desired become a Christian. But Judaism, but Hassidism does not exist also the same for me, where genuinely and deeply I could become an adept of the Hebrew religion. It seems doubtless for me, that both in Hassidism and with M. Buber there is an unconscious Christian element, there is already the Christian God-and-manness, the surmounting of the absolute transcendence of the Divinity. In reading the books of Buber it amazed me, this his interpretation of Judaism in certain regards is very close to my interpretation of Christianity. For Buber, God has need of man. This is central for his religious philosophy. God has need of man for his own purpose. In our world is realised the freedom of God. The world is not God’s plaything, but rather God’s destiny. Already in the Kabbala there is the teaching, that God has limited Himself in the world, in order to be loved, to be known. God desired freedom. This thought is very dear also with me. It arises upon a Christian soil, since Christianity is a religion of the God-Man and God-manhood, a religion Divine-human, of an infinite affinity of the Divine and the human. This is a drama of love and freedom between God and His other. I do not imagine, how this can be asserted upon the grounds of a pure monotheism. With Buber I see already the surmounting of suchlike a pure monotheism. And for Buber the religious primal-phenomenon is dialogue.

Israel spoke with God face to face, person to person. There occurs the encounter of man (I) with God (Thou). Buber says therefore, that there is initially “relationship”. With Buber there is an affinity with dialectical theology. But the theology of Buber is consistently of dialogue, since man not only hears, but also answers. And God has need of the responsive answer of man. The entirety of the religious life involves dialogue. The dialogue relationship, of the “I” and the “Thou”, is also the basis of religion, is an aspect primary in it. A verymost remarkable book of Buber is entitled “Ich und Du” (“I and Thou”). This is a not-large, but nonetheless very satisfying and concentrated a book, in it is provided the fundamental basis of the religious philosophy of Buber. There is the “Ich”/”I” (man), there is the “Du”/”Thou” (God) and there is the “Es” (the “it”, the impersonal, the world of things). The I and the Thou are not things, but rather of relationship. Legend for Buber is also nothing other than myth concerning the “I” and the “Thou”, about the caller and the called. There is not the “I” itself per se, but only in relationship to the “Thou” and the “it”. The “Thou” for the “I” is not a thing among things. The “Thou” for the “I” is not an experience, but rather a relationship. The words “I-Thou” are bespoken by all personal beings. Between the “I” and the “Thou” there is no intermediary either in concept or in phantasy, this is a primary relationship. But the “Thou” can be rendered into an “it” (“Es”). God can become not a “Thou” for me, but rather an “It”, a thing-like object. And this occurs with the religious primal-phenomenon in history. The object is always an “it”, and not a “thou”, with a relationship involving an awareness of something as an object. The “I” as regards the “it” (“Es”) involves a separation, between them there is no primal primary-sort relationship. The primal relationship is only towards the “thou”, and not the perception of things. The “thou” does not know coordination, only the “it” knows such. For Buber there is the Duwelt (Thou-world) and the Eswelt (It-world). Only the Duwelt (Thou-world) is a world of revelation and of religious life. The Eswelt (It-world) is objectivisation. But the “thou” is never objectivisation. Buber defines spirit, as the responsive answer of man the “thou”. The “I” in relationship to the “thou” — is person, in relation to an “it” — is a subject. The relation of “I” and “it” is a coordination of subject and object. God is not revealed in the relation of subject, God is revealed, as “Thou”, and not as an object. These are central core thoughts for Buber and have not only a religious, but also a great philosophic value. The philosophy of Buber is perhaps nigh close to the so-called existential philosophy. The existential world is not the world of objectification, not a Duwelt (Thou-world), where within it obtain the “I” and the “thou” and their primal relationship. But in distinction to the existential philosophy of Heidigger and Jaspers the existential philosophy of Buber bears a religious character. In these thoughts of Buber there is no binding connection only with Judaism, they are fully applicable for the Christian consciousness and perhaps even moreso applicable. The religious thinking of Buber stands higher than the official, the academic theologising, for which between the “I” and the “thou” stands the conceptual and God is rendered something from the Eswelt (It-world). But the thought of Buber needs to be taken further. besides the “I” and the “thou” there is still further the “we”, there is an immediate primary-sort relationship of the “we” and the “thou”. The “we” is revealed in the existentiality of the Church. The not-large book, “Zwiesprache” (“Dialogue”) appears to be a continuation of the book “Ich und Du”. Very remarkable is a definition of Buber, how the Word of God reaches man. The Word of God does not fall like an it, as a thing, which I know, but it falls like a meteor, the light of which enters my eyes, but the meteor itself I do not see. Buber in this book orients us to the fundamental theme concerning “I” and “thou”. When two speak each to the other with “this thou” aspect, there occurs between them a coming into being. This is for Buber the path into authentic being, which in the Eswelt (It-world) is hidden off. Buber posits likewise a very important and very little as yet worked out problem, that of collectivity and community. Collectivity for him is not connection, but rather being bound together as though fettered, which is what likewise obtains in the compulsory social world. Connection is community. Community presupposes, that people are not each round about the other, but rather are each of the other. But these thoughts of Buber are insufficiently developed. This indeed is also the problem of the “we”. It might be said, that collectivity is of the natural order, whereas community is of the order of grace. The social projection of the religious philosophy of Buber is insufficiently clear. It is premature to speak about his book, “Koenigtum Gottes” (“The Kingdom of God”), since it has only recently been released. His Hassidic legends are an artistic recrafting into concrete form of the theme concerning “I” and “thou”. In one place Buber speaks about the danger of a sacramentally-cultic religion for the relationship of man to God within the world and in life. It might be said, that on the sacramentally-cultic side of religion matters can readily pass over to objectivisation, i.e. over to the Eswelt (It-world). Contrary to this is the prophetic side of religion. But about this especially Buber does not speak. He speaks likewise about the struggle of religion with myth. From the sidelines it is insufficiently clear the relationship of Buber to official Judaism, towards the predominant current in the Jewish religion. Imbued as he is with the mystical traditions of the Kabbala and Hassidism he undoubtedly goes beyond the bounds of confessionism, he enters into the main channel of the mystical and spiritual currents of mankind. But the question remains basic concerning the relation of Judaism and Christianity. What does Buber think regarding Christ? Has there not transpired for the fate of the world an ultimate and fundamental encounter of the “I” and the “Thou” within the God-Man Christ? Buber bestows an enormous significance to freedom, he connects fate with freedom. But for the encounter for the “I” and the “thou”, for an actual reply of man to God there has to be within man an element not created, not received from God, the element of primordial freedom. This problem seems to me a basic problem for religious philosophy. With this is connected also an actually real dialogue within the relationship between the “I” and the “thou”. In any case, the books of Buber have to be acknowledged an outstanding matter within the religious thought of Europe.

Nikolai  Berdyaev.


©  2005 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1933 – 385 – en)

MARTIN BUBER.  Die Chassidischen Buecher;  Ich und Du;  Zwiespreche;  Koenigtum  Gottes.  I.   Journal Put’, mai. 1933, no. 38, p. 87-91.