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Akiba Ernst Simon

SIMON, AKIBA ERNST (1899–1988), educator, religious thinker, and writer. Born in Berlin, he became an active Zionist in 1918, and co-edited Der *Jude with Martin *Buber, who had a decisive influence on his concept of Jewish nationalism and whom he joined in his relentless struggle for Arab-Jewish understanding. In his positive attitude to Jewish tradition he followed Franz *Rosenzweig. With a broad humanistic outlook, based on his historical and literary erudition and scholarship, he began his work as an educator in Germany and continued it, after settling in Palestine in 1928, as a teacher and co-director of secondary schools and seminaries. In 1934 he accepted Buber's call to join him in teachers' training and adult education programs for German Jewry under Nazi rule.

In 1935 Simon joined the staff of the Hebrew University, where he became professor of philosophy and history of education and, finally, director of the School of Education. He participated in Jewish education programs in various parts of the Jewish world and was a co-editor of the Enẓiklopedyah Ḥinnukhit ("Educational Encyclopedia"; 5 vols. 1961–66). Simon was a co-founder and board member of the Leo Baeck Institute and a contributor to its scholarly publications. He has served as a coeditor of Rosenzweig's letters and Buber's correspondence. In his religious conception Simon identified himself with the *Conservative Movement.

Simon defined his philosophy in numerous articles as a religious humanism. In his view our world is neither theocentric nor anthropocentric. It is to be looked upon not as a circle but as an elipse with two foci; God and man, bound to each other by that mutuality of correlation and tension that is meant by the concept of the Covenant. Certainly the human partner is the weaker one, but he is not nil. God has not created a perfect world, but rather has left it to man to work on its growing perfection. This activity takes on mainly two forms: politics and education, the former representing the problems in their full tragical rigor and the latter offering a modest chance of finding a way out.

In Judaism, the Covenant is realized by the Law of the Torah that forms the main link between God and His people. The halakhah, as a continuous dialogue between the written and oral tradition on one side and the changing reality of Israel and the world on the other side, is the classical way of translating prophetic ideas into human, individual, social, national, and international relations.

Simon was an active member of virtually every group advocating a binational state in Palestine. He was early a member of *Berit Shalom and later of the League for Jewish Arab Rapprochement. He held that the Jews must give the Arabs equal economic rights and accept Arab nationalism as valid as well as acknowledge the reality of the Arab fear of Jews.

Among Simon's writings may be mentioned Ranke und Hegel (1928); Das Werturteil im Geschichtsunterricht (1931); Chajjim Nachman Bialik (1935); Aufbau im Untergang (1934); Mishnato shel Pestalozzi (1962); Bruecken (1965); Are We Still Jews? (1982); The Right to Educate, the Obligation to Educate (1983); Chapters in My Life (1986); "Goethe and Religious Humanism," in: A. Bergstraesser (ed.), Goethe and the Modern Age (1949), 304–25; "Siegmund Freud the Jew," in YLBI, 2 (1957), 270–305; "Martin Buber and German Jewry," ibid., 3 (1958), 3–39; "M. Buber the Educator," in: P.A. Schilpp and M. Friedman (eds.), Buber (1967), 543–76; "The Way of Law" in: A. Jospe (ed.), Tradition and Contemporary Experience (1970), 221–38.


M.L. Diamond, Martin Buber, Jewish Existentialist (1960), 165–70; A.A. Cohen, Arguments and Doctrines (1970), 367–71; S.L. Hattis, The Bi-National Idea in Palestine during Mandatory Times (1970), index; YLBI, 15 (1970), 264.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.