Volume 6 / Issue 1 SPRING 2020

3 8 S p i r i t ua l i t y S t u d i e s 6 - 1 S p r i n g 2 0 2 0 3 Buber’s Discovery of Ethos in the Mystical Tradition of Hasidism Following the conflict with Gustav Landuaer Buber’s thinking underwent a substantial transformation and it is appropriate to speak of a significant self-correction on Buber’s part. This self-correction, however, does not mean a total discontinuity between Buber’s pre-dialogical and dialogical thought. Buber’s interest in mysticism is among those elements of his pre-dialogical thought that survived his turn to dialogical philosophy. Importantly, already in his pre-dialogical writings Buber manages to identify an ethical imperative in a certain type of mysticism – namely Hasidism – which he subsequently integrates into his philosophy of dialogue. What is more, the ethical imperative inherent in Hasidism seems to have constituted a contributing factor to Buber’s turn to dialogi - calism. Thus, although Buber’s early philosophy of mysticism obviously reinforced the acosmic orientation of his pre-dialogical thought, it also created an opening to the overcoming of acosmism. Let me shed more light on this issue by means of an analysis of Buber’s early essayDie jüdische Mystik , which appeared in 1906, i.e. ten years before the decisive confrontation with Gustav Landauer. This essay was written as a preface to Bu - ber’s collection of Hasidic narratives entitledDie Geschichten des Rabbi Nachman . It contains intriguing passages that anticipate Buber’s later reorientation towards intersubjectivity and ethics. The opening paragraphs of the essay introduce the reader to the relations of Jewish mysticism to Persian, Greek and Christian spiritual traditions. However, after these preliminary remarks Buber turns to the analysis of what he refers to as “ the soul of the Jew ” [“ die Seele des Juden ”] (Buber 1906, 6). He suggests that it contains a peculiar innate element that constitutes its core and provides it with a substance. He calls this element pathos . Although pathos is hard to define, Buber describes it as “ the desire for the impossible .” He suggests that this desire is the driving force behind Jewish mysticism (Buber 1906, 7). In the subsequent passages Buber presents a chronological overview of the history of Jewish mysticism, which he interprets in a progressive way. In his view Jewish mysticism grad - ually loses its acosmic features until it completely breaks with the tradition of mystical acosmism. He suggests that the first epoch of Jewish mysticism is to be located between the publication of two major works: the Sefer Yetzirah and the Zo - har , i.e. circa between the 7th–13th century. This is the time of the development of the Kabbalah, which in many aspects draws on Greek philosophical traditions, especially Pythagoreanism and Neoplatonism. Buber notes that in this period the study of the Kabbalah is limited to a narrow circle of scholars and remains out of touch with everyday life (Buber 1988, 5–6). It is practiced along the lines of the Neoplatonic theoria , which focuses on contemplation and does not contain any specific ethical doctrine. However, the importance of ethics and intersubjectivity in mysticism begins to increase following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, when a renaissance of the Kabbalah takes place. In this second phase, which is connected especially to Isaac Luria, a much greater emphasis is placed on the action of the individual and on his responsibility for others. As Buber argues, Isaac Luria initiates a paradigm that focuses on “ the ethical-ecstatic act of the individual as a co-working with God to achieve redemption ” (Buber 1988, 6) [4]. Buber maintains that the preoccupation with human will and the individual’s responsibility for the fate of the people re - ceives even more attention in the Jewish ascetic movements of the 17th and 18th centuries. The progressive discovery of the importance of ethics and intersubjectivity reaches its peak in the middle of the 18th century with the rise of the movement of Hasidism. Buber presents a rather paradoxical description of Hasidism: on the one hand, it represents the highest form of Jewish mysticism; on the other hand, it is a refutation of mysticism. Buber captures the controversial character of the Hasidic movement in a decisive dictum, which constitutes the very core of his essay. He declares that “ Hasidism is the Kabbalah become ethos ” (Buber 1988, 10). In contrast to the earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, the Hasidic tradition shifts the emphasis away from contemplation, transcendence, asceticism and subjectivist ecstasy. Instead, it emphasizes ethical action, the concern for this world and everyday human community. Contrary to other kinds of mysticism that call for the detachment and separation of the soul, Hasidism teaches the unfolding of the soul in the midst of a community (Buber 1988, 10–15). Although Hasidism stands in a tradition rooted in the force of pathos , it manages to uncover the prime importance of ethos , which had been gaining increasing ground in the movements that preceded it.