cover image A Year with Martin Buber: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion

A Year with Martin Buber: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion

Dennis S. Ross. Jewish Publication Society, $24.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-8276-1465-9

Rabbi Ross (When a Lie Is Not a Sin) superbly distills the theology of Martin Buber (1878-1965), a consequential Jewish thinker whose focus on making human interactions meaningful influenced Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." As Ross concedes, Buber's writings, marked by "artistic flourishes," can be "difficult reading." Ross's artful solution is to pen short sections on every Torah portion, divided into three parts: a short summary of an aspect of that portion (such as the debate over whether Noah was righteous only by the low standards of his time), followed by an interpretation of a relevant section of Buber's work, and then Ross's own perspective on and struggles with related ethical issues. Not every section is equally valuable; for example, following up a discussion of Abraham's challenging God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah with an anecdote about Buber confronting Reinhold Niebuhr about a partially critical review is a letdown that only undermines the implications of the biblical patriarch's famous question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?" Despite that, this remains an invaluable entry point to a humanist thinker who sought to identify, build, and preserve "holiness in our daily routines" by putting people, rather than objects, first. (Dec.)