The Way of Human­i­ty Accord­ing to Cha­sidic Teaching

Mar­tin Buber; Bernard H. Mehlman and Gabriel E. Padaw­er, trans.

  • Review
By – June 10, 2024

In the intro­duc­tion to their new trans­la­tion of Mar­tin Buber’s The Way of Human­i­ty, Rab­bi Bernard H. Mehlman and Gabriel E. Padaw­er list the three rea­sons why they embarked on this project: to pro­vide a clear and ele­gant trans­la­tion that avoids ungain­ly sole­cisms; to use gen­der-neu­tral lan­guage; and to offer read­ers a schol­ar­ly text com­plete with end­notes and expla­na­tions. The authors are suc­cess­ful on all three counts.

This trans­la­tion serves as an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to Buber’s thoughts and ideas. For those who have wres­tled with the dif­fi­cult lan­guage of Buber texts like I and Thou, this short col­lec­tion of Hasidic tales and com­men­tary is delight­ful in its clar­i­ty. The book includes a brief fore­word by renowned Buber schol­ar Paul Mendes-Flohr, as well as an after­word that details the inter­est­ing ori­gins of Buber’s essay in both Hebrew and German.

Buber was not a halachic Jew. His friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor, Franz Rosen­zweig, affec­tion­ate­ly called him a rev­er­en­tial apiko­rous.” As bril­liant as his com­men­tary is, it is impor­tant to remem­ber that the Hasidism pre­sent­ed here adheres to Buber’s par­tic­u­lar uni­ver­sal­ist approach.

The book con­sists of six tales, each fol­lowed by Buber’s com­men­tary. These tales are not ran­dom­ly select­ed. Rather, Buber is chart­ing a path to enlight­en­ment. The first two sto­ries are about find­ing one’s authen­tic self. The third illu­mi­nates the need to uni­fy the self and avoid frag­men­ta­tion. The fourth describes the impor­tance of self-devel­op­ment. In order to accom­plish [a] major endeav­or,” Buber writes, one must find one’s way through the hus­tle and bus­tle of every­day liv­ing in order to reach the self.” In the fifth tale, Buber encour­ages us to be pre­oc­cu­pied not just with the self, but also with the world. This leads us to the sixth tale, in which the devel­oped self, now in har­mo­ny with the world, is able to let God in. 

Josh Han­ft holds Advanced Degrees in Eng­lish and Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and curat­ed the renowned read­ing series, Scrib­blers on the Roof, for over twen­ty years.

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