Martin Buber was a Jewish philosopher, theologian, and sometime Zionist whose life's work spanned across both academic and political spheres. In academic circles he is known for I and Thou (1937) in which he propounded his philosophy of human existence.
Buber was born in Vienna to an Orthodox Jewish family. His father was a Rabbinical scholar, and raised his son speaking both German and Yiddish. As a young man, Buber became engrossed in the works of the great German philosophers— notably Kant and Nietzsche, who greatly influenced his intellectual development. Not surprisingly, these interests were coupled with a departure from the Judaic culture in which he was raised.
In 1896 he went to Vienna to study Philosophy and soon became deeply involved in the burgeoning Zionist movement. By 1902, he was the Editor of Die Welt, a periodical that served as a central pillar in the Zionist community. However, he was disinterested by political Zionism, and felt that the personal and ethical aspects of Judaism ought to be the true focus. Unlike his colleague Theodor Herzl, Buber felt that Jewish cultural tradition should be a key component of a Jewish nation-state. As such, he cut ties with the Zionist movement in 1904 to focus on his academic work.
Throughout the early twentieth century, Buber's academic/theological career continued to flourish. He wrote and published prolifically. His best known work, 1923's Ich und Du ("I and Thou") propelled his career to new heights. In the landmark work, Buber describes the human tendency to objectify people and items outside of one's conscious self. He argues that by recognizing the inherent humanity in another individual, we begin to understand the union between all people, and therefore come closer to understanding God.
Buber held a teaching position at University of Frankfurt am Main from 1930-1933, but resigned when Hitler took power. Although he spent the next five years in Germany involved in Jewish advocacy, he eventually settled in Jerusalem and taught at Hebrew University. While there, he worked towards achieving a bi-national state for Jews and Arabs (an agenda he had promoted since the early 1920s).