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    Why blame the Greeks?

    Hellenism ChanukahDuring World War II when Rabbi Jacob Danglow was visiting Jewish internees in a camp in Australia, he conducted a Chanukah service and innocently mentioned Jewish problems with the Greeks.

    Unfortunately there were Greeks as well as Jews at that camp and a riot almost ensued. Such is the result of people misunderstanding what they hear!

    However, it may be that too much is made of the supposed antagonism between Judaism and Greece.

    The villain of the Chanukah story, King Antiochus, was not the first to introduce hellenism into Judea. All that he did was to be inept and provoke a crisis.

    Among the Jews there were many, especially in the upper class establishment, who believed Judaism and hellenism could be successfully integrated, and indeed similar Jewish attempts to live in two cultures have punctuated Jewish history.

    In the London Jewish Chronicle in December, 1961, Professor Raphael Loewe asks if Jews really knew what they had against Greek culture.

    Idolatry? Biblical history was full of idolatrous episodes.

    The human characteristics ascribed to the Greek gods? Judaism had its own problems with human descriptions of God.

    Immorality? The Greeks did not invent orgies and excesses, and classical Greek ethical teaching was not unimpressive.

    A perceived threat to Jewish national identity? Many Jews did not see it that way.

    Loewe’s own view is that Jews were shocked at the representational art of the Hellenistic world which clearly contradicted the strict Jewish sense of the nature of God.

    Another version of the same theory appears in the “Universal Bible” of Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, who says the Greeks saw beauty as an end in itself, where Judaism believed in beauty for God’s sake.

    The sages say that when the Torah speaks of Yefet dwelling in the tents of Shem (Gen. 10:27) it indicates that the beauty of Yefet (from yafah, beautiful) must be subject to the morality of Shem (the ancestor of Israel).

    Samson Raphael Hirsch remarks that “Japheth (Greece) has ennobled the world aesthetically; Shem has enlightened it spiritually and morally”.

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