chapter  1
14 Pages

Biography

From the beginning, Emmanuel Levinas’s life was affected by dramatic alternatives that had huge political as well as intellectual implications. He was born into a Jewish family in Lithuania, on 30 December 1905 according to the Julian calendar that was still used in that part of the world at this time, that is to say on 12 January 1906 in our contemporary Gregorian calendar. His home town in Lithuania was Kaunas, which at that time was still part of the Russian Empire. It was therefore known also as Kovno to Russian speakers and as Kovne to many Jewish inhabitants, who formed roughly a third of the local population. Daily life was often rather traditionally sectarianized, with Russians generally administering authority, Lithuanians running agricultural production and Jews engaged in commerce. His family were rather middle-class but still observantly Jewish, and as his father ran a bookshop that catered for local government officials and the grammar school, there was daily contact with non-Jewish clients.