Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher and theologian, was one of the great religious thinkers of the twentieth century. He had a particular impact on many Christians, stimulating an appreciation for the Jewish origins of Christianity. But he also embodied the humanistic ideal of dialogue and understanding between peoples of different faiths, thus suggesting the positive role that religion might play in promoting a more human world.
Buber grew up and studied philosophy in Vienna before assuming a chair in Frankfurt. There he published his classic book I and Thou, whose central theme was the relational nature of human existence. Our own humanity, he taught, is diminished to the extent that we encounter others as objects rather than subjects. In 1933, with the Nazi rise to power,
Buber was dismissed from his position, though with luck he escaped Germany and settled in Jerusalem. In later years his many books, including biblical reflections and popular treatments of Jewish spirituality and mysticism such as his Tales of the Hassidim, exerted great influence on Christian theology. He also wrote extensively on Jesus. While rejecting Christian claims about Christ, he extended affectionate recognition to Jesus, whom, he believed, exemplified the highest ethical and spiritual ideals of Judaism.
Buber died in Jerusalem on June 13, 1965.
“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