The exchange between Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig on the status of halakha is a well known, but also frustrating fixture in scholarship. For rather than responding to Rosenzweig’s critique, Buber seems to retreat in silence, claiming to be “unable to speak” about his position on Jewish Law. Scholars have generally tried to explain Buber’s failure to respond on philosophical and biographical grounds. What I propose, by contrast, is to revisit the question of Buber’s silence and secrecy from a hermeneutical standpoint, arguing that Buber engaged in a deliberate strategy of concealment that constituted its own form of response. The hermeneutics of silence discloses a call for religious renewal that follows a state of Dialogvergessenheit, but which cannot be made audible. Neither dialogue nor its remembrance can be commanded. While Buber struggles with his Nichtredenkönnen, he also stands in a tradition of secretive hermeneutics – the Jewish hermeneutics of sod.
My special thanks to Admiel Kosman, who sparked my interest in this debate, for opening his door to discussions, sharing his insights and making his essays available before publication with the greatest generosity and a kind heart. I deeply thank Paul Mendes-Flohr and Benjamin Pollock for encouraging and supporting my research on Buber in every way. I thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable remarks which helped improve this essay. Last but not least, I am grateful to Asher for insightful comments and for being a partner in dialogue and life.
© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston