Monday, September 10, 2007

Buber's enthusiasm for the First World War was due in part to his attraction for Nietzsche

David Ohana from Israel Affairs Volume 1, Number 3, Spring 1995 "Special Issue: The Shaping of Israeli Identity: Myth, Memory and Trauma" edited by Rober Wistrich and David Ohanapages 38-60 A Frank Cass Journal ISSN 1351-1721 The Table of Contents can be found at the end of this document and also by clicking the section headings.
Introduction FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE (1844-1900) is regarded as one of the philosophers who has had the greatest influence, since the late nineteenth century, on European cultural and political discourse...From the turn of the century, Nietzschean ideas, whether veiled or overt, permeated the mainstream of Jewish philosophy, political ideas and cultural discourse in modern Hebrew literature and poetry. The main figures in early Zionism, whether left or right-wing, secular or religious, pioneers of the Second and Third Aliya or ideologues of the Jewish underground LEHI and the "Canaanite" movement came under his influence before 1948. After the establishment of the Israeli state, however, the "new Hebrew" became the "Sabra" (ideal type of the indigenous Israeli) and the passionate drive to build a "new man" made way for a more personal outlook. Nietzscheanism ebbed though it did not altogether disappear.

The first Hebrew essay on Nietzsche was written by David Neumark, a rabbi and philosopher, in 1894, and published in From East to West. It was entitled "Nietzsche: An introduction to the Theory of the Superman." Neumark was a decade younger than the Zionist theorist Ahad Ha-am with whom he had close ties. He was among the first to join Herzl and he participated in the First Zionist Congress. Neumark sought to fashion what he called the "new Hebrew" in the image of the Nietzschean "Superman." Reuben Brainin's comment is relevant in this respect: "The future generation shall not be small and weak, beaten and sickly as is this dwarfish generation, rather shall a strong and mighty generation arise, a generation of giants, a generation which shall inculcate new physical strengths and new mental capacities which we never imagined, a generation of the 'Superman.'" Neumark was the first to render Übermensch ("Superman") into the Hebrew, adam elyon (higher man). In this regard, it is interesting to note that the Kabbalistic book, the Zohar refers to a concept of adam ilaha, which is virtually the same term…

Ahad Ha-am sought to create a synthesis between the concept of the Superman and the moral singularity of the Jewish people, distinguishing between the "human" and the "Aryan" aspects of Nietzschean philosophy. The "human" aspect, which could be accepted, should call, as he put it, for "the ascendency of a human type among the chosen of the species to be above the general level." The "Aryan" aspect, which he rejected, was the belief in physical might and beauty. Possibly Ahad Ha-am's Nietzschean language was used here as a polemic weapon. What is certain is that he did not share Nietzsche's radical individualism and that he was sceptical about the Zionist vision of a "new man." His approach was one in which individuals exist for the nation rather than for themselves, something far removed from Nietzsche or the "new Hebrew Nietzscheans." …

Hasidism and the Kabbalah were two modern attempts to revitalize Judaism by renewing it through myth. Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem are each related to one of these historic phenomena, granting a central status to myth in their research. The revolutionary nature of their approach is reflected mainly in their critique of the assumption that saw Judaism as an essentially anti-mystical religion, resolved as Gershom Scholem put it, to eliminate myth. Both scholars broke with tradition by perceiving myth as an innovative factor in traditional Judaism. Nietzsche exerted a significant influence in shaping the approach of Buber and Scholem to myth, rehabilitating it as a vital and creative element in all societies. It is instructive to read Scholem's comments regarding Nietzsche's influence on Buber:

Alongside his analysis of mysticism as a social factor in Judaism, Buber developed a no less keen interest in its mythical foundations which related to a change in appreciating the vital nature of myth. This change of assessment, common to many of Buber's generation, was the result of Nietzsche's influence.44...

In 1895, the young Martin Buber, like many of his generation, was no less excited by Nietzsche's writings, even translating into Polish the first section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.45 Buber wrote: "This book did not influence me as a gift might but as an invasion which robbed me of my liberty and it was a long time before I could free myself from it." Indeed, the importance of Nietzsche for Buber extends right through his life, including his essay on "Nietzsche's Theory of Man" [Gilyonot, 1937] and the chapter "Feuerbach and Nietzsche" in his Hebrew book The Faces of Man. Again, as with many of his generation, Buber's enthusiasm for the First World War was due in part to his attraction for Nietzsche's Lebensphilosophie.46 It should be remembered that together with Goethe's Faust and the New Testament, Zarathustra became one of the most popular works in Germany during the war. In 1917, 40,000 copies of the book were sold. Ironically, Zarathustra took its place on the battlefield alongside the Bible and thus the author of The Anti-Christ found himself once more side by side with the Holy Scriptures. Berdichevsky: The Hebrew Nietzsche? 9:17 AM

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