Buber | Vermes

The cover of Vermes' BuberTo man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude.

The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks.

The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words.

The one primary word is the combination I-Thou.

The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It.

These sentences launch Buber’s most famous work of philosophy, I and Thou. In his small book, Theistic flavoured existentialism reaches poetic heights never before explored.

I and Thou is the pinnacle of Buber’s written output, but his life consists of much more. This is what makes Pamela Vermes’ biography of Buber for the Jewish Thinkers series so fascinating. Vermes explores Buber’s passion for Hasidism which begins his career and culminates in his later books, Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters and Late Masters.

Buber was passionate about the Hebrew Bible, which he spent decades translating into German. He wrote other works of Biblical interpretation—Moses and The Prophetic Faith—which explore the characters of the Bible with philosophical acuity.

As a biographer, Vermes excels in summarizing the major works of this literary and philosophical giant without over-simplifying. Like Buber himself, Vermes’ writing requires attentive reading.

This biography has inspired me to go beyond I and Thou and continue exploring the works and mind of Martin Buber.

—Pamela Vermes, Buber (New York: Grove Press, 1988).

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