MARTIN BUBER AND

EXISTENTIALISM IN JEWISH PHILOSOPHY

QUESTIONS PERTAINING TO THE BUBER EXCERPT IN THE MANY FACES OF GOD


What does Buber mean by “turning to the other”?

According to Buber, why do some say that “turning to the other is sentimental”?

What does Buber say was the significance of his encounter with the horse?

What changed about the encounter once Buber realized it was fun?

What does Buber mean: “at the time I considered myself judged?”

In what way does Buber say that we have renounced Judaism?

What is Buber’s metaphor of the sun among the stars, and what point does he illustrate with the metaphor?

What does Buber characterize as “mistaken talk about God’s being and works”?

How, in Buber’s view, can the godless person encounter God?

What is the twofold attitude toward the world, as Buber characterizes it?

How can we characterize Buber’s tone and style of writing? In what ways does Buber’s tone and style add to, or detract from, his message?

**What is Buber’s point in discussing “precept, alleged preparation, practice, or meditation”? Why does he say it “has nothing to do with the primal, simple fact of the meeting”?

How does Buber compare “looking away from the world” (spiritualism) and “staring at the world” (materialism, realism), with what he calls “relation”?

What are the shortcomings of spiritualism and materialism, according to Buber?

How does man “find” God, according to Buber?

What are the Biblical images invoked by Buber’s references to the “light breath” and “wrestling bout”?

According to Buber, how are we to understand the occurrence of, and the result of, our encounter with God?

What is the significance of Buber’s statement that “man receives…not a specific ‘content’ but a presence”?

*What is the significance of Buber’s claim that “meaning…can be provide true by each man only in the singleness of his being”?

What is Buber’s point about transforming God from a “Thou” to an “It”?

In what ways does Buber’s philosophy of a twofold attitude seem to work? What are its shortcomings?

What does Buber mean when he says that man wants the “inexpressible confirmation of meaning…stretched out as something that can be continually taken up and handled?” What is the effect of this on religious life, according to Buber?



Buber is commonly regarded as a religious existentialist. Here is a representative passage from a non-Jewish religious existentialist, considered the originator of this mode of thought. What common characteristics of thought do Buber and Kierkegaard possess?

Well then, everything being assumed in order with respect to the Scriptures – what follows? Has anyone who did not have faith been brought a single step nearer to its acquisition. No, not a single step. Faith does not result simply from a scientific inquiry; it does not come directly at all…

Here is the crux of the matter, and I come back to the case of the learned theology. For whose sake is it that the proof is sought? Faith does not need it; aye, it must even regard proof as the enemy. But when faith begins to feel embarrassed and ashamed, like a young woman for whom her love is no longer sufficient, but who secretly feels ashamed of her lover and must therefore have it established that there is something remarkable about him – when faith thus begins to lose its passion, when faith begins to cease to be faith, then a proof becomes necessary so as to command respect from the side of unbelief.

Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postcript

Here is a more modern rendering of the argument, from a non-believer’s perspective:

…man first of all exists…and defines himself afterwards…there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man simply is…But what do we mean to say by this, but that man is of greater dignity than a stone or a table?...man is, before all else, something which propels itself towards a future and is aware that it is doing so…And when we say that man 0is responsible for himself, we do not mean that he is responsible only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism

Buber defines the encounter of dialogue as subjective.

But it can happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. The power of exclusiveness has seized me.

I and Thou, page 58.

[In creating a work of art], [t]he form that confronts me I cannot experience or describe; I can only actualize it. And yet I see it, radiant in the splendor of the confrontation, far more clearly than all clarity of the experienced world…Tested for its objectivity, the form is not “there” at all; but what can equal its presence?”

I and Thou, page 61.

The You encounters me by grace – it cannot be found by seeking…the relationship is election and electing, passive and active at once…The basic word I-You can be spoken only with one’s whole being.

I and Thou, page 62.

For Buber’s view on the “grace” aspect of the relation with God, see page 9 of the selection from The Many Faces of God.