Martin Buber

Martin Buber (1878-1965)
Martin Buber (1878-1965) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martin Buber (1878-1965) was a Viennese-born Israeli-Jewish theologian, best known for his 1922 classic, Ich und Du (I and Thou).

Buber has been described as a modern representative of a heterodox form of Jewish mysticism called Hasidism. His work is often mentioned in university philosophy and religion courses, mostly for his description of relating to others and to God in terms of an “I – Thou” (Ich‑Du) relationship. This, for Buber, is the only authentic way to relate.

Ich‑Du (“I‑Thou” or “I‑You”) is a relationship that stresses the mutual, holistic existence of two beings. It is a concrete encounter, because these beings meet one another in their authentic existence, without any qualification or objectification of one another. Even imagination and ideas do not play a role in this relation.†

Buber contrasts the “I – Thou” relationship to an “I – It” (Ich-Es) relationship. “I – It” relationships involve the intellect, concepts, projections, etc of another person instead of their authentic source.

The Ich-Es (“I‑It”) relationship is nearly the opposite of Ich‑Du.[25] Whereas in Ich‑Du the two beings encounter one another, in an Ich‑Es relationship the beings do not actually meet. Instead, the “I” confronts and qualifies an idea, or conceptualization, of the being in its presence and treats that being as an object. All such objects are considered merely mental representations, created and sustained by the individual mind.†

100th day of birth of Martin Buber (1878—1965)...
100th day of birth of Martin Buber (1878—1965) :*Graphic designer: Gerd Aretz :*Ausgabepreis: 50 Pfennig :*First Day of Issue / Erstausgabetag: 16. Februar 1978 :*Michel-Katalog-Nr: 962 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buber believes that “I – Thou” relationships are quite rare. In reality most of us oscillate between seeing others in “I – Thou” and “I – it” terms.

When applying the “I – Thou” model to the way we relate to God, this stance may be contrasted to religious systems that advocate the ego becoming lost, engulfed or absorbed in God. Buber never eradicates the individual. It’s always about relationship, either respectful, loving and reverent (authentic) or cold, distant and opportunistic (inauthentic).

Unlike some so-called intellectuals who don’t practice what they preach, Buber resigned from his teaching post in Frankfurt when Adolf Hitler came to power. He left Germany in 1938 to settle in Jerusalem, where he continued to try to put his philosophical ideals into practice.

† For these quotes and their relation to other philosophers like Immanuel Kant, see

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One comment

  1. Buber, perhaps more than an other person, has impacted my belief/understanding of divinity. I totally agree with the above, especially with the coupling of the “mythic/mysticism” component of Buber’s thought with his philosophy. The following quotes from I And Thou further elaborates on the God/person connection. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    Affirming God, for Buber, is no more difficult than affirming the ground out of which duality arises, and Buber understood this. In his book, I And Thou, he alludes to the spiritual significance of this affirmation when he says:

    “Dimly we apprehend this double movement –that turning away from the primal ground by virtue of which the universe preserves itself in its becoming, and that turning toward the primal ground by virtue of which the universe redeems itself in being –as the metacosmic primal form of duality that inheres in the world as a whole in its relation to that which is not world, and whose human form is the duality of attitudes, of basic words, and of the two aspects of the world. Both movements are unfolded fatefully in time and enclosed, as by grace, in the timeless creation that, incomprehensibly, is at once release and preservation, at once bond and liberation. Our knowledge of duality is reduced to silence by the paradox of the primal mystery” (1970, p. 149).

    “The word of revelation is: I am there as whoever I am there. That which reveals is that which reveals. That which has being is there, nothing more. The eternal source of strength flows, the eternal touch is waiting, the eternal voice sounds, nothing more.” (p. 160)

    “God embraces but is not the universe; just so, God embraces but is not my self. On account of this which cannot be spoken about, I can say in my language, as all can say in theirs: You. For the sake of this there are I and You, there is dialogue, there is language, and spirit whose primal deed language is, and there is, in eternity, the word.” (p. 143)


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