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By Andrew Seligson, Center for Interfaith Engagement Intern
July, 10, 2014
I distinctly remember the first time I read Martin Buber’s classic I and Thou. I was a sophomore in college, and I did not have a particularly strong interest in my Jewish heritage. I was a disciple of the religious polemicist Nietzsche. When I was 16, at my confirmation speech, I was sure that I knew everything there was to know about my tradition. I denounced Judaism and all of religion for being reactionary, anti-science, and dogmatic!
After I went to college, I had begun to have a growing interest in religious thought. I had read many of the great religious philosophers in my free time like Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Lao Tzu, Nietzsche, Feuerbach, etc. Naturally, I was sure I had the right answer. Then I walked into the first day of my Modern Religious Thought class with David Kamitsuka, one of the heads of the religion department at Oberlin College. I looked through the syllabus, proudly announcing that I had read nearly half the syllabus before the first day of class!
Martin Buber, though, I hadn’t heard of. Boring! Probably just like my silly Sunday school teachers. And then I started reading. The first page: “The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude. The attitude of man is twofold in accordance with the two basic words he can speak”… how intriguing, mysterious!
I believe it is sadly true that many young Jewish people of my generation are anxious to distance themselves from their heritage. Little did I know, and I fear that sometimes they do not either, the rich intellectual and spiritual tradition that spans over two millennia! Martin Buber is still my favorite philosopher, and I am currently writing my thesis linking his religious philosophy to his political theology. If you would have told me at 16 I’d be writing on a Jewish mystic in College, or that I’d be regularly attending Shabbat, I would have chuckled, thinking foolishly to myself that I knew better than all of those great Jewish mystics, sages, intellectuals, who probed deeply into the nature of God and reality.
Luckily, reading Martin Buber has been a humbling experience, and delving more into the great 20th-century intellectuals allows me to hold my own and bring unique perspectives to the intellectual climate at Oberlin and elsewhere.