Tikkun Winter 2019 (34.1) - Page 137

Martin Buber By Paul Mendes-Flohr Yale U. Press Martin Buber is one of the greatest of Jewish thinkers. Sadly, much of his most exciting writing is rarely read by liberals and progressives for various reasons. First, he was someone who took Judaism and God seriously, not the perfect way to appeal to a Left that is often religiophobic. And second, he was a Zionist, though of a branch of Zionism that sought reconciliation with Palestinians as one of its central concerns. Sadly, that branch has withered in an Israel which, from 1948 on, has been led by men (at first, those who claimed to be socialists, but after 1977 mostly by overt right wing nationalists) who have no use for any form of idealism, caring for the stranger/Other, or genuine reconciliation of heart with the Palestinian people. His most famous philosophical work, I and Thou, contrasted the immediacy of an I-Thou relationship (with its requirement of being fully present to and involved with an “Other”) to the I-It relationship in which the “Other” is treated like an inanimate object. Buber seemed to be suggesting that we could have an I-Thou relationship with God, a theme that was picked up by his colleague in Germany, Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose teachings and life inspired the creation of Tikkun magazine. Buber delved deeply into the stories of Hasidic masters, introducing Hasidism to Jews and Christians who had dismissed the Hasidism with the same disdain that many Jewish scholars had manifested. Yet Buber today is best re- membered as a religiously-inspired socialist Zionist who resisted creating the State of Israel without first finding a way to create reconciliation with the Palestinian people. He insisted that the land cannot be built on injustice. . . Whenever any state banishes from the area of its protection and responsibility one of its minorities, one which is the most conspicuous and annihilates it slowly or quickly as Germany has done with its Jews, without the minority having transgressed against it—in so doing such a state shakes the foundations of its own existence. The Zionist project, he said, could not and must not be sustained by a national egotism and insisted that in its focus on the economic and political project at hand it had neglected the ethical quality of its com- munal and interpersonal life, especially with respect to the Arabs of Palestine. Paul Mendes-Flohr creates an insightful presentation of Buber’s life and work. Himself a scholar and professor emeritus of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, and Hebrew University of Jerusa- lem, and author (in Hebrew) of Progress and its Discontents: Jewish Intellectuals and their Struggle with Modernity and (in English) of Contemporary Jewish Thought (with Arthur A. Cohen), Mendes-Flohr is able to highlight in this book the full range of Buber’s powerful contribution to Jewish thought and its relevance for social change movements. Today, decades after his death, many progressives look to his pro- phetic visions for inspiration. VOL. 34, NO. 1 © 2019 TIKKUN MAGAZINE 137