I And Thou

I And Thou


Martin BUBER

168 p.

This book counts for

My Dewey Decimal Challenge

and for

The 2011 Non-Fiction Challenge


I and Thou, Martin Buber’s classic philosophical work, is among the 20th century’s foundational documents of religious ethics. “The close association of the relation to God with the relation to one’s fellow-men … is my most essential concern,” Buber explains in the Afterword. Before discussing that relationship, in the book’s final chapter, Buber explains at length the range and ramifications of the ways people treat one another, and the ways they bear themselves in the natural world. “One should beware altogether of understanding the conversation with God … as something that occurs merely apart from or above the everyday,” Buber explains. “God’s address to man penetrates the events in all our lives and all the events in the world around us, everything biographical and everything historical, and turns it into instruction, into demands for you and me.” Throughout I and Thou, Buber argues for an ethic that does not use other people (or books, or trees, or God), and does not consider them objects of one’s own personal experience. Instead, Buber writes, we must learn to consider everything around us as “You” speaking to “me,” and requiring a response. Buber’s dense arguments can be rough going at times, but Walter Kaufmann’s definitive 1970 translation contains hundreds of helpful footnotes providing Buber’s own explanations of the book’s most difficult passages [amazon]


Martin Buber (Hebrew: מרטין בובר‎; February 8, 1878 – June 13, 1965) was an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a form of religious existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship.[1][dead link]

Born in Vienna, Buber came from a family of observant Jews, but broke with Jewish custom to pursue secular studies in philosophy. In 1902, Buber became the editor of the weekly Die Welt, the central organ of the Zionist movement, although he later withdrew from organizational work in Zionism. In 1923 Buber wrote his famous essay on existence, Ich und Du (later translated into English as I and Thou), and in 1925 he began translating the Hebrew Bible into the German language.

In 1930 Buber became an honorary professor at the University of Frankfurt am Main, and resigned in protest from his professorship immediately after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. He then founded the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education, which became an increasingly important body as the German government forbade Jews to attend public education. In 1938, Buber left Germany and settled in Jerusalem, in the British Mandate for Palestine, receiving a professorship at Hebrew University and lecturing in anthropology and introductory sociology.

Buber’s wife Paula died in 1958, and he died at his home in the Talbiyeh neighborhood of Jerusalem on June 13, 1965. [wikipedia]

More about Martin Buber  here; and there’s even a Martin Buber Facebook page!


The school year 1982-1983 brought me the delightful discovery of philosophy, and the reading of I And Though was a total revelation to me; it may even have been the unconscious threshold that brought me to conversion. I remember having copied back then dozens and dozens of pages of that book, and I probably quoted it more than once in the 4 hour long essay I had to write the day of the final exam – lucky me, the national theme for the philosophy exam that year was LANGUAGE !

 I still enjoy so much this book, some thirty years later; on a dual basis of philosophy and theology, or spirituality should I say, it’s a deep reflection on the nature of being, of ‘being in communion’, to use the title of another book I’m currently reading.

I don’t think I have ever read anything as profound on the nature of relationship; on how relations make us human indeed, most especially when our relating to others is inspired and modeled on our relating to the Other, or rather on His relating to us; and on how materialism, that is, treating everything and everyone as simple matter, relegates us to a subhuman status. How relevant this book is today!


“in every You we address the eternal You.”

“The basic word I-You can be spoken only with one’s whole being… I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You. All actual life is encounter.”

“Freedom and fate embrace each other to form meaning; and given meaning, fate -with its eyes, hitherto severe, suddenly full of light- looks like grace itself.”  p. 102

“Egos appear by setting themselves apart from other egos. Persons appear by entering into relation to other persons.” p. 112

“When a man steps before the Countenance, the world becomes wholly presence to him for the first time in the fullness of the presence, illuminated by eternity, and he can say You in one word to the being of all beings.”

“What is it that is eternal: the primal phenomenon, present in the here and now, of what we call revelation? It is man’s emerging from the moment of the supreme encounter, being no longer the same as he was when entering into it.” p. 157

“The cult gradually becomes a substitute, as the personal prayer is no longer supported but rather pushed aside by communal prayer; and as the essential deed simply does not permit any rules, it is supplanted by devotions that follow rules.” p. 162.


2 thoughts on “I And Thou

  1. Pingback: Just A Little Touch From Jesus | Joyful Jesus Blog

  2. Pingback: My Dewey Decimal Challenge 2011 « Words And Peace

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