Martin Buber, perhaps the most celebrated Jewish existentialist philosopher of the 20th century, died in 1965 at the age of 87, but his teachings will be front and center at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County on Sunday, Oct. 22.
David M. Brahinsky, who teaches philosophy and religion at Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania, will present an analysis of Buber’s life and work, including his “I and thou” construct and his quarrels with Theodor Herzl’s vision of Zionism.
Brahinsky, who credits the Austrian-born Buber with making “the early chasidic movement and the Baal Shem Tov known to the world,” said the philosopher believed in what he described as “cultural Zionism.” Herzl, who died in 1904, had, of course, focused on the politics of establishing a nation-state for the Jews.
As time went on, Brahinsky said, Buber found himself increasingly at odds with many of the early Zionist leaders. Taking what Brahinsky terms a “meditative experiential” approach, Buber saw Israel’s issues as inexorably linked to the universal human condition. He has been quoted as saying, “We need someone who would do for Judaism what Pope John XXIII has done for the Catholic Church.”
In 1903, Buber became involved with chasidism, expressing admiration for the way its adherents carried their religious beliefs into their daily lives and culture.
In the early 1920s, Buber advocated the establishment of a binational Jewish-Arab state, a common homeland with both peoples living in peace and harmony — even at the cost of Jews remaining a minority.
Buber’s most famous book, “I and Thou,” deals with a range of issues, including religious consciousness, modernity, and concepts of evil, ethics, education, and biblical interpretation. He contrasted I-thou relationships — in which there is direct interaction with others, including God — and I-it relationships, in which the “I” objectifies others and, instead of seeing them as they are, sees them as the imagination presents them.
Following his talk, Brahinsky, 72, a Princeton resident, will shift gears and join fellow members of the Roosevelt String Band for a concert featuring songs in Hebrew and Yiddish celebrating Zionism and Israel, as well as Jewish-themed music written by Bob Dylan. Joining Brahinsky, the group’s lead singer, on stage will be Phil McCauliffe on bass, Guy DeRosa on harmonicas, and Noemi Bolton on the banjolele, guitar, and vocals.