Martin Buber’s Thought Is Not Likely to Experience a Resurgence

September 15, 2020 | Allan Arkush
About the author: Allan Arkush is the senior contributing editor of the Jewish Review of Books and professor of Judaic studies and history at Binghamton University.

Reviewing a recent biography of the German Jewish theologian Martin Buber, composed by the distinguished scholar Paul Mendes-Flohr, Allan Arkush writes:

Martin Buber, one of the leading Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, was a very unorthodox thinker, anathema to most traditionalists yet deeply religious in his own way. Born in 1878, Buber was an ardent Zionist from the earliest days of the movement in the 1890s to his death in 1965. Yet he consistently opposed the creation of a Jewish state and was in the end barely able to make his peace with it. Once a world-famous and highly controversial figure, he is now well remembered only by small crews of modern Jewish thinkers and Zionist historians and not much larger groups of other Jews and non-Jews outside the academy who still derive inspiration from his works and life.

Mendes-Flohr has . . . written a book whose objectivity is unimpeachable. It ought to be greatly appreciated even by readers who do not share all of Buber’s—or the author’s—ideals.

It’s hard to imagine a resurgence of interest in Buber that would inspire new readers to follow in either the religious or the political path that he marked out. It’s also hard, I would say, to regret that this is the case. Buber’s understanding of revelation was too nebulous to be of enduring value; his politics were too idealistic to be effective. It is, however, easy to believe that Mendes-Flohr’s superbly written, deeply sensitive, and far-reaching biography of this seminal and semi-forgotten figure will stimulate new interest in him among students of 20th-century religious thought and politics.

Read more on Modern Age:

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register Already a subscriber? Sign in now