In the oral Torah, Jews are told of the importance of greeting those who approach them; the exteriority of a face demands its due regard. The most compelling instance of such a principle I know comes from a Hasidic tale penned in Auschwitz. A rabbi encounters, or rather, re-encounters, a Polish Volksdeutsche from Danzig, now the SS officer whose job is to select out those for immediate extermination. To an astonished rabbi, the officer repeats the very formula the two of them customarily performed when they both lived in a very different Europe: “Good morning, Herr Rabbiner. ” “Good morning, Herr Müller. ” The SS officer points his baton right, sending the rabbi the way of reprieve. 1 Levinas extends this notion one step further–or back, as it were–by speaking of one's answerability to/for the other person as an always obligatory “After you!” L'havdil–in Hebrew, “to mark the distinction”–I am nevertheless reminded of the gravity and humanity inhering in the simple exchange of greeting even amidst the most trying of circumstances, whether face-forward or aboutface.
This book has taken a long time to come to light, having weathered trying circumstances of its own. Supervening turns in fortune have attended its unfolding–the private space beneath the public. If I make reference to travail, however, it is simply to lay claim to the wisdom of acknowledgment when the approach of others calls one out of, and to, oneself. It is in such a spirit that I acknowledge all those who in one way or another greeted the writing of this book together with its writer, whom I therefore thank and address in return. I owe a deep material debt to Martin Peretz and Walter Scheuer without whose personal generosity I could have devoted neither the time nor the resources to complete this book, and to Robert King in the same