Biography of Martin Buber

Martin Buber was born in Austria in 1878. He was raised in an orthodox Jewish family and came from a line of rabbis. From a young age, he studied Jewish literature and philosophy, but at an early age, he also began to question Jewish customs. In turn, he became immersed in other German philosophers, especially Søren Kierkegaard, who was a Christian philosopher, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who theorized the “death of God.” Buber’s own work would end up focusing on human relations and reciprocity, synthesizing multiple philosophical traditions and founding his own school of thought that would come to be called the “philosophy of dialogue.”

Despite his break from orthodox Judaism and his embrace of secular philosophies, by the 1900s Buber was a Zionist who advocated for a Jewish state in Israel. Unlike other Zionists, he did not think the state of Israel had to be based on Jewish religious teachings. He edited Die Welt, a German-language weekly periodical devoted to the Zionist cause, beginning in 1902. Buber taught in Germany until Hitler came to power in the 1930s, which caused him to resign from his university position and found the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education, which provided a space of resistance from Hitler’s censorship of Jewish teachings. In 1938, right before the outbreak of World War II, Buber moved to Jerusalem, in what would become Israel after the War. He would live there for the rest of his life.

Buber’s legacy is a rare mix of intellectual and political influence. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature ten times, almost every year from 1950 to 1965, when he died. In the last ten years of his life, was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize an additional seven times.

Study Guides on Works by Martin Buber

Martin Buber’s most influential work, I and Thou, was originally published in German as Ich and Du in 1923 and was translated into English in 1937. It is the foundational text of what has come to be called the philosophy of dialogue. This covers...