Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Hellenists

Is Chanukah really about the evils of Greeks like Plato and Aristotle? Is it an implicit condemnation of Greek philosophy and culture?

R. Yitzchak Herzog, Judaism: Law & Ethics, pp. 175-176:

For over a hundred years before the days of Mattathias, Egyptian and Syrian influences -- the unworthy survivors of ancient Greek culture -- had been insidiously contaminating and undermining the spiritual teachings and practices of Judaism. The Jews who had followed Alexander the Great to the city of Alexandria had been allowed access as free citizens to all the advantages of Greek civilisation. Their influence gradually spread to Jerusalem. The Greek world was at first a revelation to Judea of a wider horizon and of a new and refined enlightenment. The Jews followed eagerly the arts of painting and of sculpture. The Greek language began to supercede the ancient Hebrew tongue. But after the death of Alexander, Greek ideals, as manifested in Egypt or in Syria, had lost much of their real intrinsic value.

It was not a soulful culture that penetrated into Judea. The cult of spiritual loveliness that is the incentive to true art had degenerated into extravagant habits and frivolous customs. Greek frivolity and extravagance drew their Jewish imitators also into a vortex of dissipation. Dionysian festivals were introduced into Jerusalem. Intoxicating orgies and shameless licentiousness were encouraged in high places. The new formed love of beauty and of art could never compensate for the loss of the old Jewish virtues of chastity and morality. A new Greek philosophy, coloured by this love of pleasure, began to invade the domain of religion. Even earnest men, under Greek influence, ventured to cast doubts upon the old traditional beliefs...
(emphasis added)

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