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Heschel vs. Buber: The Long-Lasting Debates Essay


Introduction: Where the Problem Is

Such is the nature of theology that certain questions are hard to find the right answer to. Only with help of long, devastating debates, the truth can be finally found and perceived as a part of the life pattern.

Although Buber’s idea of speaking to God directly and Buber’s approach to the tragedy that is known in the world history under the name of Holocaust is quite clear and easy to understand, his arguments are still erroneous, which Heschel manages to prove.

Considering the arguments that Heschel drives to criticize Buber, one can approach the ideas that Heschel was trying to convey in his book. Considering the conflict between the Truth and the nature of a man, Heschel clarifies that the discreet, open dialogue between a man and God is completely impossible.

Trying to find out whether the dialogue between a man and God must be direct and discreet, the author clarifies certain controversial concepts about the relationships between a man and the Lord from Heschel’s point of view.

Comparing his ideas to the ones expressed by Buber, Heschel makes it clear that establishing the above-mentioned dialogue is far from being that easy. Therefore, the problem needs much more consideration than Buber suggests.

On the Conflicting Issues: Opposing Buber’s Ideas

Despite the impressiveness of Buber’s ideas and the fact that there is a doubtless intrigue in Buber’s considerations, Heschel makes it clear that the obedience to God and following the postulates that the Bible gives people makes one of the most important parts of serving the Lord. Herefrom, Heschel marks, the key problem roots.

“What is Truth as available to us? Ii it a curse, a path toward defeat laden with torment? Are we doomed to live with delusion while searching for Truth in vain? We spend a lifetime looking for the key, and when we find it, we discover that we do not know where the lock is”1. Thus, the author considers the problem of the belief and the issues underlying it.

Putting Two and Two Together: Heschel’s Idea of Holocaust

Although it is obvious that the idea of Holocaust has been taken to demonstrate the principles of the belief that Heschel was trying to convey to the public, it is evident that the author suggests the viewpoint that is rather unusual and thus interesting to consider. It is peculiar that the very argument with Buber takes only a single sentence, yet it is one of the most impressive elements of the piece.

However, it would be logical to mention Buber’s idea first. What the latter suggests is the open dialogue with God, so that a man could understand the purpose of the belief and see what the sufferings of a man are for. There is no doubt that Buber views certain historical experience of the humankind as unnecessary sufferings that many people have had to survive in vain.

Following the train of Buber’s thoughts, one can notice that the author claims that certain historical events have been too cruel for people to continue believing in God, which means that there must be certain explanation for them.

However, as a man asks the Lord for the meaning of these trials, there is no answer for the prayers; as a result, one is slowly getting disappointed in the belief and in the ideas that the Bible inspired him/her on. “Heaven is silent to us, and only through the nooks of written and oral tradition is God’s will made known to us as to what we shall do or not do”2.

Therefore, it is obvious that Buber considers that the dialogue between a man and the Lord could solve a number of complicacies. In this context, Buber mentions the events known in the world history as Holocaust, the tragic death of millions of Jews during the period of the Nazi reign in Germany.

Mentioning the dreadful experience of the people who managed to survive the tortures of Holocaust, Buber emphasizes that these victims of the most unbelievable cruelty were driven to deny the faith:

“How is a Jewish life still possible after Auschwitz? I would like to frame this question more correctly: how is a life with God still possible in a time in which there is an Auschwitz?”3. Losing the link with God, a man loses his faith, Buber emphasized.

At this point, the opinions of the authors cross. Making it clear that the faith stems from the trust in the Lord, Heschel clarifies that one does not need to understand what underlies this or that historical event to believe. It is the blind faith that makes the true believer, Heschel marks: “God is Truth.

We carry out His orders, pour water into leaking barrels, believing in the activity for its own sake. Is it conceivable that God who is Truth would be deceiving us?”4.

What Heschel builds his argument around is the remark of Buber:

Nothing can make me believe in God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men; for few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good only is to be attributed to him; of the evil things other causes have to be discovered”5

Considering this conclusion n obvious misconception, Heschel explains that only when serving God blindly, without trying to understand what underlies the events occurring in life, one can reach the idea of what the faith is. Using the Holocaust as the brightest example of how the ordeals from the up above must be taken, Heschel clarifies that the idea of faith is to accept without demanding for explanations.

It must be admitted though that his argument reaches beyond the idea of the “good” and the “evil”. According to Heschel, the very idea of the divine stretches beyond the notions of the evil and the good – God is the ultimate wisdom, the one and only source for the knowledge.

“It would have been simple for the Prophets of ancient Israel to say that evil issues from another source, that God is not responsible for it”6.

Thus, each event in people’s lives comes from the Lord, and must be accepted as such. “Our absolute certainty that God is One and the Creator of all things, the Prophet proclaimed, ‘I am the Lord, who do all these things’ (Isaiah 45:67)”7. Thus, Heschel interprets Holocaust as the event that was to be treated as an ordeal sent from the heavens above.

Criticize Me Fairly: Being Objective

Was Heschel’s critics of Buber justified? It can be considered that the author did have a point, claiming that Buber had gone too far in his demands to know the ultimate truth. It seems that the attempts to cognize God and His reasons are doomed to failure.

Possessing the wisdom of the eternity, God is the most sacred mystery Himself, and there is no use trying to discover the essence of His being – that is something that is beyond a man’s understanding. Therefore, even in the hardest times, a man has no right to claim that the tortures (s)he suffers certify that God does not exist.

As Heschel explained further on in his book, “At times we must believe in Him in spite of Him, to continue being a witness despite Him hiding Himself. What experience fails to convey, prayer brings about. Prayer prevails over the despair”8.

Therefore, Heschel’s arguments against the viewpoint of Buber seem rather well-grounded. Indeed, the very idea of faith believes without demanding to offer any solid proof; otherwise, the essence of the faith would be ruined.

Considering the idea from such viewpoint, Heschel is obviously right about claiming that Buber misunderstands the purpose of the complicacies that people have t face in their lives. Heschel turns the faith into the light that people have to follow in order to pass the ordeals and get closer to the point of their living.

However, it must be admitted that the argumentation of Buber does make sense as well. Indeed, without feeling any tangible feedback and suffering from immense pain, either bodily or within his/her soul, one night start despairing.

This might result in the idea that God is deaf to the pleas of the mere mortals, which, in its turn, will serve as the starting point for a man to lose the faith. Therefore, Buber’s arguments and his question filled with pain and the desire to understand,

Do we stand overcome before the hidden face of God like the tragic hero of the Greeks before faceless fate? No, rather even not we contend, we too, with God, even with Him, the Lord of Being, whom we once, we here, chose for our Lord9,seem to be filled with profound ideas as well.

Yet the despair that his words are shot through is rather the sign of the faith leaving a man. “The judge of all earth, will He not do the justice?!”10, Buber cries out, which shows the lack of belief. Hole-ridden, the arguments of Buber cannot be taken as the sufficient proof for his theory.

Conclusion: Where the Truth Is

According to Heschel, once a man starts believing in God, there is no power that can stop him. It seems that, in contrast to the ideas of Buber, which are based on the desire to understand the origins of the divine and the motifs of the catastrophes that people have to suffer, Heschel’s point of view is filled with the air of the true spirituality.

In addition, the arguments driven by Heschel are much more impressive than the ones that Buber suggests. Applying to people’s faith, Heschel gives them the reason to make their faith ever stronger, whereas Buber seeds the doubt – something that undermines the belief.

Therefore, it can be considered that Heschel’s argumentation is much more convincing than the one of Buber. Only believing, a man can overcome the grief and pain. Giving people the opportunity to believe, Heschel seems to convey the most reasonable idea in this argument.

Bibliogrpahy

Buber, Martin. “The between Heaven and Earth” On Judaism. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1967.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. “The Kotzker and Job” A Passion for Truth. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1995.

Footnotes

1. Abraham Joshua Heschel. “The Kotzker and Job” in A Passion for Truth (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1995), 101

2. Martin Buber. “The between Heaven and Earth” in On Judaism (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1967), 89

3. Martin Buber. “The between Heaven and Earth” in On Judaism (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1967), 89

4. Abraham Joshua Heschel. “The Kotzker and Job” in A Passion for Truth (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1995), 102

5. Abraham Joshua Heschel. “The Kotzker and Job” in A Passion for Truth (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1995), 102

6. Abraham Joshua Heschel. “The Kotzker and Job” in A Passion for Truth (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1995),

7. Abraham Joshua Heschel. “The Kotzker and Job” in A Passion for Truth (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1995), 102

8. Abraham Joshua Heschel. “The Kotzker and Job” in A Passion for Truth (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1995), 108

9. Martin Buber. “The between Heaven and Earth” in On Judaism (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1967), 89

10. Martin Buber. “The between Heaven and Earth” in On Judaism (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1967), 89

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