Monday, August 23, 2021

Buber and Rosenzweig- The Odd Couple Who Breathed New Life into Contemporary Jewish Thought


Our four great Jewish thinkers of the modern era-The unorthodox return to Orthodoxy without being Orthodox

My Discussion on Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, August 14 and 21.

Discussion delivered on August 14:

Here is the link to the video on Martin Buber:

We now come in our discussions to thinkers who shaped our contemporary Jewish scene

I am dealing with them in pairs, that have opposites and a likes in tandem. Buber and Rosenzweig are Jews on the outside who come into the realm of Jewish thought. Kaplan and Heschel are Jews deeply immersed in the ancient Judaism who then seek to bring it to Jews who are on the outside. Jews on the Outside who come in from the cold.

Martin Buber

*I took graduate courses in psychology- noticed, in counselling texts, numerous reference to Martin Buber and Dialogue. *As a student in Rabbinical school,  it was popular to go about with pins in which was written the slogan: I-Thou ( Ich-Du).  *Buber was active with Zionism, and often spoke to my father’s youth group in Vienna ( together with Alfred Adler)

My father , a young member of the first chapter of Hashomer Hatzair in Vienna with Meir Yaari, founder of Israel’s Marxist-Zionist party, Mapam.

Notes from ( by Akiba Ernst Simon, one of my teachers and a member of the Frankfurt Lehrhaus

Martin Buber, (born February 8, 1878, Vienna—died June 13, 1965, Jerusalem), German-Jewish religious philosopher, biblical translator and interpreter, and master of German prose style. Buber’s philosophy was centred on the encounter, or dialogue, of man with other beings, particularly exemplified in the relation with other men but ultimately resting on and pointing to the relation with God. This thought reached its fullest dialogical expression in Ich und Du (1923; I and Thou).

From Vienna to Jerusalem

Buber was the son of …assimilated Jews… … brought up by his grandparents in Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine)[my mother’s home] The search after the lost mother became a strong motive for his dialogical thinking—his I–Thou philosophy.

Solomon Buber (1827–1906), the Lemberg grandfather, a wealthy philanthropist, dedicated his life to the critical edition of Midrashim, Mother also a “ maskil.” Not observant as a young man.

In his university days—he attended the universities of ViennaBerlin, Leipzig, and Zürich—Buber studied philosophy and art. ..The Nietzschean influence was reflected in Buber’s turn to Zionism and its call for a return to roots and a more wholesome culture.

… He was among the early protagonists of a Hebrew university in Jerusalem.

In 1916 Buber founded the influential monthly Der Jude (“The Jew”), which he edited until 1924 and which became the central forum for practically all German-reading Jewish intellectuals. Zionist-more closely cultural than political- Brit Shalom.

Buber took up the study of Ḥasidism. In Ḥasidism Buber saw a healing power for the malaise of Judaism and mankind in an age of alienation that had shaken three vital human relationships: those between man and God, man and man, and man and nature. They can be restored, he asserted, only by man’s again meeting the other person or being who stands over against him, on all three levels—the divine, human, and natural. Buber maintained that early Ḥasidism accomplished this encounter and that Zionism should follow its example.


[He was significant in opening the world of Hasidism to modern Jews, as well as Christians. The key criticism is that he “ cleaned up” the texts, reworded them to fit his theology, rather than present them as they were intended. He also himself avoided Hasidim. When he was a guest speaker at my Rabbinical school, one of my teachers asked him if he would like to attend a Hasidic shtiebel- he was absolutely uninterested]].


Buber’s manifold activities were inspired by his philosophy of encounter—of man’s meeting with other beings.

This basic view underlies Buber’s mature thinking; it was expressed with great philosophic and poetic power in his famous work Ich und Du (1923; I and Thou).

[FIRST-CLARIFICATION  -German, like French and other European languages has 2 forms for You-formal and informal ( or familial).Formal- Sie, Vous, Usted- as opposed to informal-Du, tu. Hebrew never had this distinction ( atah); English used to- hence, Thou as opposed to You. It is personal, intimate, as in Pennsylvania Dutch, not as in the “ Thou” used in later snob-speak]

Till today, his teachings are a very important part in what is called the third force in psychology: ‘humanistic psychology” (in  distinction from Freudian and behavioral): .

Core concept-self-actualization ( Carl Rogers , Abraham Maslow)  This is a link to  a very good description of his importance in the field of counselling:

“Philosopher Martin Buber detailed the qualities that characterize a real “encounter,” or I–Thou meeting, between two people. His ideas remain as relevant today as when they helped to shape the humanistic movement in psychology and counseling.”

 A summary of his I-Thou:

According to this view, God, the great Thou, enables human I–Thou relations between man and other beings. Their measure of mutuality is related to the levels of being: it is almost nil on the inorganic and botanic levels, rare on the animal level, but always possible and sometimes actual between human beings. A true relationship with God, as experienced from the human side, must be an I–Thou relationship, in which God is truly met and addressed, not merely thought of and expressed.

Contrast with :I–It relationship, as in scholarly pursuits in which other beings are reduced to mere objects of thought or in social relations (e.g., boss and worker) wherein persons are treated largely as tools or conveniences.

Toward God, any type of I–It relationship should be avoided, be it theoretical by making him an object of dogmas, juridical by turning him into a legislator of fixed rules or prayers, or organizational by confining him to churches, mosques, or synagogues 

Very much a Rebbe, without Hasidim or Hasidism

An excerpts from his Tales of the Hasidim


·         Sample Quotes:


·         The true meaning of love one's neighbor is not that it is a command from God which we are to fulfill, but that through it and in it we meet God.

Martin Buber NeighborMeaning Of LoveCommand Martin Buber (2013). “On Judaism”, p.212, Schocken

·         All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

Martin Buber InspirationalTravelFreedom Martin Buber (2015). “Hasidism and Modern Man”, p.47, Princeton University Press   

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

Martin Buber LoveTwoPeople "Where is God in the Flood?" by Rabbi Avi Strausberg, October 17, 2017. 

·         The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.

Martin Buber EducationRealStruggle "Encounter with Martin Buber". Book by Aubrey Hodes, 1972.

When people come to you for help, do not turn them off with pious words, saying, 'Have faith and take your troubles to God.' Act instead as though there were no God, as though there were only one person in the world who could help -- only yourself.

Martin Buber[based on a famous Hasidic saying on why God created atheism] PeopleWorldHave Faith

·         A human being becomes whole not in virtue of a relation to himself [only] but rather in virtue of an authentic relation to another human being(s).

Martin Buber VirtueRelationHumans

·         I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a man's life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience.

Martin Buber KnowledgeLearningAdventure "Martin Buber: An Intimate Portrait". Book by Aubrey Hodes, 1971.


·         In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction that cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you.

Martin Buber

This is a great audio-visual explanation of Buber’s I Thou, and you can see how well it transfers to modern humanistic psychology. The sound went dead on this video clip during the recording so click on the link here:

Buber in 10 minutes:by Eric Dodson.Prof Psych University of West Georgia.










The second of my “ Pairs” in Jews on the Outside who came in from the Cold

Shabbat August 24

Link to the discussion video 

Franz Rosenzweig

First published Fri Feb 27, 2009; substantive revision Mon Jan 28, 2019

Franz Rosenzweig (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)


Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929) ranks as one of the most original Jewish thinkers of the modern period.

. ...“total renewal of thinking” through a novel synthesis of philosophy and theology he named the “new thinking.”

 Rosenzweig’s account of revelation as a call from the Absolute other helped shape the course of early 20th-century Jewish and Christian theology. ...a lasting impact on 20th-century existentialism; ... dialogue presented the interpersonal relation between “I” and “You” as both constitutive of selfhood and as yielding redemptive communal consequences. (See Buber)... ... the German translation of the Bible in which he collaborated with Martin Buber. He founded a center for Jewish adult education in Frankfurt—the Lehrhaus

Key points:

From a very assimilated background... a near-conversion to Christianity, an inspired return to Judaism

the composition of the beginning of his magnum opus on military postcards sent home from the Balkan front,

 the abandonment of a promising academic career in order to live and teach in the Frankfurt Jewish community,

and his heroic efforts to continue his thinking, writing, and communal work after succumbing to the paralysis brought on by ALS.

...  the greatest work of modern Jewish philosophy: The Star of Redemption. The Star is a system of philosophy that seeks to give a comprehensive and ramified account of “All” that is, and of the human being’s place within that “All”.

***** His conversion almost to Christianity and back to Judaism:

 July 7, 1913, Rosenzweig engaged in an all-night discussion with Rosenstock and his (Rosenzweig’s) cousin Rudolf Ehrenberg ( baptized at age 11) …he later claimed to have spent the hours after the conversation alone in his room, pistol at hand, “face to face with the Nothing.” He emerged from the experience determined to convert to Christianity in order thereby to take up his place in the historical realization of redemption in the world.

[And then]


Franz Rosenzweig (

. Rosenzweig wrote to his own parents: "We are Christians in all things, we live in a Christian state, go to Christian schools, read Christian books, our whole culture is based on a Christian foundation." … Rosenzweig promised to get baptized. … one condition. He was, he said, not a goy, but a Jew, and wanted to take a closer look at the things from which he would be separated by this conversion. He asked his relatives for a time of contemplation and reviewing, a time of a last (or was it the first?) conscious participation in the "Ten High Holy Days from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur. For him these became the "ten days of return" to his roots in Judaism…

 He expressed his resolve to reject conversion saying: "We agree …no-one comes to the Father but through him (Jn 14:6). No one comes to the Father - but it is different when somebody does not have to come to the Father because he is already with him. And this is so for the people of Israel …”


[What happened? He walked into a small Orthodox synagogue and came out converted. Note- not a liberal synagogue with organ, choir, the service more in German than Hebrew. It must have been incomprehensible for him. Yet it shook him.

His progress-deepening his Jewish study and exploring Jewish observance ( not totally Orthodox- example- on Tefillin- “ Not Yet”.]


In 1914, already under [Herman] Cohen’s influence and unmoved by the romantic theology of Martin Buber popular at the time,[ his collaborator] Rosenzweig wrote his first essay in Jewish theology, “Atheistic Theology.” …only by taking the transcendence and at once the revelation of God seriously—rather than reducing the divine to an expression of a Jewish life force—can we grasp the split the human being experiences in history, between his personal self-realization and the realization of the world. It is the notion of revelation, Rosenzweig suggests, that allows us to view history along an absolute redemptive trajectory, established by God’s relation to the human being in the world. Such a notion of revelation would reappear at the center of Rosenzweig’s systematic work, The Star of Redemption, a few years later.

[Note-he is writing his thoughts on post-cards that he sends home form the battlefront of WWI]

His critique of Buber-they became good friends-( from Simon)

After the religious philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, Buber’s friend and fellow translator of the Bible, read Ich und Du, he remarked: “Buber gives more recognition to the ‘Thou’ than anybody before him, but he wrongs the ‘It’.” … While Rosenzweig tried to live it as much as possible and became more and more a practicing Jew, Buber stood his ground as one who embodied his Judaism in no prescribed, special manner.



His contribution to world philosophy: The New Thinking:

The old classical philosophy has come to a dead-end

Abstracting from time. In their quest to grasp what is universally and essentially true, philosophers abstract from the temporal, relational context in which human beings experience the world around them. (Essence vs existence).

Reductive reasoning. The attempt to grasp what things are essentially inclines the old thinking to reason out a single ground for all beings, thereby reducing particular beings to something other than what they are. [reductionist fallacy]

Thinking from the Absolute standpoint. The quest for the most comprehensive answer to the “what is” question of the philosophical tradition leads the old thinking, in its German Idealist manifestation, to aspire to an “Absolute” standpoint from which the whole of what is—the “All”—can be grasped in its unity

 Rosenzweig proposes a “new thinking” that pursues knowledge of God, world, and the self in their interrelationsfrom out of the individual standpoint of the human being in time.

 For the new thinking suggests that one does not attain truth by stepping out of the river of time, but rather that truth is that which “unfolds in time.”

[roots of what becomes known as “existentialism.” Philosophers constantly sought the “ ‘essence’ of an object or person. Nomenon behind phenomenon. Modern philosophy rejected “essence” ( the metaphysical) but could address only the physical. In Existentialism, what counted was “ Existence”]




The Freie Jüdische Lehrhaus

(Joshua Krug)

The Freies Jüdische Lehrhaus, or Free Jewish House of Learning… an educational institution, and a practical model, meant to speak to Western Jews who were strangers, not “natives,” to Judaism. This Lehrhaus, or house of learning, a revamped beit midrash tailored to assimilated Jews, met in community buildings and rented halls. It lacked modern precedent. The educational experiment riffed on ideas emerging in Weimar Germany concerning adult education, as it synthesized critical academic study of Judaism with Talmud Torah (Torah study), toward a revitalized practice of adult Jewish teaching and learning. Here, Jews ignorant of, and alienated from, Jewish life and tradition acquired knowledge and understanding of Judaism and explored Jewish identity, on their own terms.


… in 1920, “a learning that no longer starts from the Torah and leads into life, but the other way round: from life, from a world that knows nothing of the Law, or pretends to know nothing, back to the Torah. That is the sign of the time.

Rosenzweig’s principle of “learning in reverse order” resulted in counterintuitive hiring practices. Largely assimilated, Jewish and Jew-ish characters from the German intellectual and cultural scene, often with limited Jewish knowledge, taught Judaism-related subjects.. [This was equivalent of the blind leading the blind as a new movement in education].

[ lecturers: doctor Richard Koch , the chemist Eduard Strauss , and the feminist Bertha Pappenheim and Siegfried Kracauer , a popular culture critic for the Frankfurter Zeitung . Among those who would later become famous were SY Agnon , who received the Nobel Prize in Literature, andvGershom Scholem , the founder of modern studies on Kabbalah . The expressionist writer Alfons Paquet , 1000 members in a community of 30,000-LA Limmud was happy to have 500 in a community of 500,000! I have to add that the Frankfurt Jewish community alone raised more charity to help the survivors of the Kishinev pogrom of 1904 than all of Americas Jewish community.!  This included some of the theoreticians of critical theory, which upended classical Marxist thought to add multiple factors besides economics that sit on us- ( some were in my father’s community-Adorno-Horkheimer- . Made famous by Hebert Marcuse, who was seen as an inspiration for the SDS in my day- except he repudiated the hippies and yippies. It has since been perverted into the current form of Critical Race Theory)]

It only lasted a few years, as Rosenzweig succumbed to ALS ( Lou Gehrig’s Disease). However, it was later reopened under Martin Buber and replicated throughout Germany- it was reincarnated in US as the Havurah movement and such mass education programs as Limmud.

It is still an educationally astounding format, even if it means I would have no business. It forces the leader to confront the core texts of Judaism and grapple with them.]


Buber Rosenzweig Translation

Translations are revolutionary: William Tyndale-Martin Luther-Moses Mendelsohn

…the unfamiliar, authentic quality of the original Biblical text, Rosenzweig and Buber made an effort to imitate certain characteristics of the original …to reproduce the cadence of the original Biblical text, and to imitate what they understood to be its “spoken” quality, by dividing any given section they were translating into “breath-units.”

Example, from Deut Haazinu

: כִּשְׂעִירִם עֲלֵי דֶשֶׁא
וְכִרְבִיבִים עֲלֵי עֵשֶׂב.

Robert Alter translation.)

 like showers on the green
and like cloudbursts on the grass.


wie Nebelrieseln übers Gesproß   Like foggy droplets on grass sprouts,
wie Streifschauer übers Gekräut   Like patchy showers on lawn.



Der Stern der Erlösung The Star of Redemption


The Magen David as a visual diagram of the key elements of Jewish Thought-For the first time we have a symbol with content: As the cross represents individual salvation for the Christian, so the Star now represents redemption for the world.

We see the intertwined triangles. On one triangle are the three key elements of that which is: God-the Universe-The Human Being. All three are completely disparate elements. How can they interact? That is the second triangle. God relates to the universe through the act of creation;
 relates to them human being through the revelation of his presence; the Human being relates to the world through the act of redemption.

 The Star of Redemption does not lead us out of this world beyond reality. Rather it concludes with the stepping out into the world with the task of proving the truth in the world. "About death …", are the first words of the book. Rosenzweig starts out with a reality that is experienced very personally. "Into life …", are his last words. The truth of revelation leads into the reality of life when it is proved [bewährt]. After completing The Star of Redemption Rosenzweig felt that he now had to personally face up to proving the truth and not avoid reality by continuing to write books any longer.


Nothing Jewish is alien to me ( a play on Roman writer; Love brings to life whatever is dead around us. "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", or "I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me. Nichts Judisches ist mir fremd.)


“All future events are merely a reproduction of the first moment of Love, giving birth to itself from an inner womb that continuously fertilizes itself. Love carries in itself its everlasting renewed beginning.”
“There is no act of love toward one’s neighbor that falls into the void. Just because the act was realized blindly, it must appear somewhere as effect. Somewhere,”
Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption

"[2Franz Rosenzweig

·         The knowledge of everything knowable is not yet wisdom

Franz Rosenzweig, Nahum Norbert Glatzer (1955). “On Jewish Learning”, p.86, Univ of Wisconsin Press

 To have found God is not an end but in itself a beginning.

·         Philosophy takes it upon itself to throw off the fear of things earthly, to rob death of its poisonous sting.

o    The Star of Redemption (1921), p. 3.

·         Cognition is autonomous; it refuses to have any answers foisted on it from the outside. Yet it suffers without protest having certain questions prescribed to it from the outside (and it is here that my heresy regarding the unwritten law of the university originates). Not every question seems to me worth asking. Scientific curiosity and omnivorous aesthetic appetite mean equally little to me today, though I was once under the spell of both, particularly the latter. Now I only inquire when I find myself inquired of. Inquired of, that is, by men rather than by scholars. There is a man in each scholar, a man who inquires and stands in need of answers. I am anxious to answer the scholar qua man but not the representative of a certain discipline, that insatiable, ever inquisitive phantom which like a vampire drains whom it possesses of his humanity.

o    in Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought (1961/1998), p. 9

-Dealing with ALS and Death

Rosenzweig suffered from the muscular degenerative disease Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease). Towards the end of his life, he had to write with the help of his wife, Edith, who would recite letters of the alphabet until he indicated for her to stop, continuing until she could guess the word or phrase he intended (or, at other times, Rosenzweig would point to the letter on the plate of his typewriter). They also developed a communication system based on him blinking his eyes.

Rosenzweig's final attempt to communicate his thought, via the laborious typewriter-alphabet method, consisted in the partial sentence: "And now it comes, the point of all points, which the Lord has truly revealed to me in my sleep, the point of all points for which there—". The writing was interrupted by his doctor, with whom he had a short discussion using the same method. When the doctor left, Rosenzweig did not wish to continue with the writing, and he died on the night of 10 December 1929, in Frankfurt, the sentence left unfinished.[9]

Rosenzweig was buried on 12 December 1929. There was no eulogy; Buber read Psalm 73 The quote is on his monument.[10]

 Monument to Franz Rosenzweig on the wall to his house:

He was the trail-blazer of the Jewish-Christian dialogue

Companion of Martin Buber

Master of the translation into German of the Bible

Founder of the Free Jewish Academy in Frankfurt AM

Quote: Thus I am always with you( Ps  73:23)

This is an audio-visual rendition of the thought of Rosenzweig, as described by faculty of the Catholic University of Portugal .As Catholics, they have a very good understanding of the philosophy of the Jewish Rosenzweig.

 This is the direct link to the video on Rosenzweig.

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