Making Sense of Martin Buber

One of the most influential Jewish theologians of the 20th century, Martin Buber was an important force behind Germany’s “Jewish renaissance” of the early 20th century, which brought German-Jewish intellectuals of largely secular backgrounds into contact with elements of religious tradition in a way very unlike what could be found in either the Reform or Orthodox mainstreams of the era. A new biography of Buber, by Paul Mendes-Flohr, sheds light on the philosopher’s highly unusual and formative childhood, as Yoav Schaefer writes in his review:

Born in Vienna in 1878, Buber suffered a terrible blow three years later when his mother left him and his father to elope with a Russian officer. She left without saying goodbye. Soon after, his father sent him to live with his own parents in Lemberg, in [Austrian-ruled] Galicia (modern-day Lviv, Ukraine). His grandfather Solomon Buber was a wealthy philanthropist and independent scholar of the “science of Judaism,” known for his scholarly editions of classic collections of midrash; his grandmother Adele was an autodidact who took charge of the young Buber’s education and instilled in him a love for languages. Buber became fluent in seven of them—including German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and English—and learned to read several more. He also received a traditional Jewish education, studying classical sources and rabbinic literature with his grandfather and great-uncle, a prominent Talmud scholar.

What the young Buber didn’t receive was anything that could even begin to alleviate what he later described as the “infinite sense of deprivation and loss” with which his mother’s desertion had left him. Indeed, Mendes-Flohr, following Buber himself, attributes much of his lifelong effort to probe the depths of the interpersonal dimension of human life to his childhood experience of abandonment.

At age fourteen, Buber left his grandparents’ home and the largely traditional world in which he had been raised to live with his father, who had remarried. As an adolescent, Buber gravitated, like so many of his contemporaries, toward the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. . . . Buber remained at heart, Mendes-Flohr writes, “an apostle of Zarathustra,” even though he would distance himself from Nietzsche’s teachings later in life.

It was Zionism, Schaefer notes, that first “brought Buber back . . . to his people.” But he eventually migrated to the cultural Zionism of Ahad Ha’am and then to what can only be termed anti-Zionism, while nonetheless spending the last 27 years of his life in Jerusalem. Still, Schaefer calls attention to the moderating forces in Buber’s politics:

Buber’s political radicalism was tempered by the constraints of reality. “I have accepted as mine the state of Israel,” he declared after the state’s establishment in May 1948. “I have nothing in common with those Jews who imagine that they may contest the factual shape which Jewish independence has taken.” Among the mourners [at Buber’s funeral] were . . . Israel’s prime minister, Levi Eshkol, who delivered one of the eulogies, and its president, Zalman Shazar, who was a pallbearer.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Friedrich Nietzsche, Galicia, German Jewry, Judaism, Martin Buber, Zionism

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy