MARTIN BUBER'S LIFE AND WORK: The Later Years, 1945-1965 by Maurice Friedman

MARTIN BUBER'S LIFE AND WORK: The Later Years, 1945-1965

Email this review


The third and final volume of Prof. Friedman's huge biography: the best of the lot but still riddled with flaws. Friedman (UCal., San Diego) has devoted almost 40 years to the study and dissemination of Buber's work. For a quarter-century (1950-65), he was Buber's correspondent, colleague, translator, and friend, and this personal commitment strongly colors the latter parts of the narrative. Yet, as before, Friedman fails to make Buber the man come alive--though some allowance has to be made for the 45,000 letters in the Buber Archives that he wasn't allowed to see, as well as for Buber's uneventful, placidly workaholic existence: a list of lectures delivered and awards received hardly makes for a dramatic tale. Friedman does a better job of chronicling Buber's intellectual history--tracing his doomed campaign for a binational Palestine, his long dispute with Gershom Scholem over the nature of Hasidism (Buber stressed the legends over the formal teaching, slighting the Kabbalistic and gnostic features), his efforts at shaping a non-dogmatic philosophical religion based on existential encounter. Friedman draws in exhaustive detail the contrast between Buber's success with non-Jews (honored by Reinhold Niebuhr, Dag Hammarskjfld, and Hermann Hesse, nominated for a Nobel Prize) and his conflicts with Orthodox and right-wing Jews (over his disregard for the Law and Jewish ritual, his attempt to halt Eichmann's execution, etc.). The core of Buber's message, Friedman argues, can be found in a speech he gave in 1953, urging his West German listeners: ""Let us dare, despite all, to trust!"" Friedman paraphrases and explains the myriad variations that Buber played on this noble theme, but his own writing is often cluttered and graceless. He presents a great deal of information, but much of it is ill-sorted, repetitious, and tinged with partisan piety. Though Buber may never have a more devoted biographer than Friedman, he needs one with other qualifications too.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1984
Publisher: Dutton