Web review of contemporary anti Hellenism


Greeks funding anti-Hellenism?


Hermes writes:


There has recently been a lot of discussion on whether the practice of traditional Islam is inherently incompatible with European, and more specifically, Hellenic values. A legitimate question following the many attacks on freedom of speech, riots and acts of terror in neighbouring countries; and especially, in the context of the recent decision by the Greek government to allow the building of a mosque in Athens.


Another news item released several weeks ago was that Moises Constantinis, president of the Central Jewish Board of Greece, asked why the salaries of rabbis are not paid by the state, like the priests and imams, given that Jewish believers are Greek citizens.


Currently, Orthodox Christianity has a privileged status under the Constitution, so a case could be made for funding its clergy. However, the imams and rabbis must receive plenty of funding from Saudi Arabia and the US/Israel/supranational Jewish organisations. Almost certainly these sources have an ample supply of cash to fend for themselves. So is it appropriate to saddle the already cash-strapped Greek with another tax? Also, is traditional Judaism, like Islam, compatible with Hellenic values?


One of the most important Jewish holidays is the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights). The story of Hanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great when he conquered the Middle East. Due to his kindly rule, and the attractions offered by the Hellenic way of life, many Jews voluntarily assimilated into Hellenism by adopting the language, the customs and the dress. One hundred years later, another Greek ruler, Antiochus IV, controlled the region. The Jewish version of the story is that he began to oppress the Jews by placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, massacring Jews, and forcing them to sacrifice pigs on the altar of the Temple. Two groups, that opposed Antiochus and his army, united and rose up in what was eventually called the Maccabean Revolt. They won the battle, the Temple was rededicated, and peace reigned.


From then on, Jews have observed the holiday of Hanukah that features all sort of frivolity like lighting candles and playing games of dice in the name of defeating the ‘darkness of Hellenism’. The celebrations also include the virulently anti-Hellenic popular song, Maoz Tzur, usually sung by children. The song is referring to slaughtering the Hellenes, Hellenising Jews and Hellenistic culture in general. Here is an excerpt:


When you have prepared the slaughter

For the blaspheming foe


This is the sort of falsified history that Orthodox Jews are taught, and due to the elevation of their religion amongst the people of the United States, gentile Americans; and more tragically, Greeks, are led to believe this version of events. However, the historically scientific version of events is very different.


The event Hanukkah is based upon is a Jewish civil war. The Hanukkah story is really a revolt against the Hellenized Jews who had become enamoured with the sophisticated Hellenistic culture surrounding them. The rabbis changed the actual story because they wanted to reorientate Judaism following their defeat at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD to make the Jews seem like a martyred people under siege so as to reinvigorate their adherents. The banned Jewish texts, Apocrypha, make it clear the battle against Hellenization was in fact a civil war of Jews against Hellenised Jews. There were no ethnic Greeks involved. So it appears slanderous that orthodox Jews still celebrate victory over the Hellenes - they should be celebrating victory over the traitors within their midst.


However, Hanukkah is not the only evidence of anti-Hellenism in Jewish religious literature. There is a long tradition anti-Hellenism including some of the following: Psalms: 8-9, Isaiah 54:2-3, Isaiah 60:16, Isaiah 49: 22-23. This is only from the Torah. The Talmud is much worse.


Many people would say that this is ancient history and it is not relevant today. This would only be true if the same stereotypes and misinformation did not continue to be spread about Hellenism. Today, Jewish modernizers are denounced as ‘Hellenizers’ in orthodox Jewish circles. The term to be ‘Hellenic’ is derogatory; to be Hellenised, is ‘a darkness’ that must be overcome. An example is Talmudic interpreter, Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky. He has written many enlightening articles, including The ‘Darkness that was Greece’ link. One of his more curious comments is this one:


Greek philosophy was darkness infinitely worse than idolatry.


Um, sorry, but most scholars would say Greek philosophy is the most sublime creation of mankind. Another interesting comment:


The Greeks denied the transcendence of the human spirit and rejected the notion of any metaphysical reality


Wow, most scholars would say the complete opposite. The exaltation of the human spirit and metaphysics is what the Greeks excelled at.


The Greek celebration of humanity, aesthetics, science, art, politics, athletics and reason was in stark contrast to traditional Judaism – which led to animosity towards the Hellenes. The Jewish revolts during the Roman period were not only the cry of a colonised people but also part of a long conflict between Jews and Greeks. There were even large-scale massacres of Greek people in Cyrene 115AD and Cyprus 116AD link. Thereafter, anti-Hellenism was an ever-present feature of Jewish thought and literature. Judaism, especially after the Maccabean Revolt, was largely defined in opposition to Hellenism. In comparison there are hardly any negative references to Hellenism in the Koran. Finally, some orthodox Jews even go as far as to view Western Civilization as the main oppressor of the Jewish people; and therefore, by virtue of providing its foundations, the Greeks as their mortal enemies.


Nevertheless, it is not all that bad. Many secular Greek Jews are great admirers, and even contributors, to Hellenism. And like contemporary Germans they should not be made to bear the burden of the past forever. Also, relations in modern Greece have nearly always been good. Neither should orthodox Jews be denied the right to practice their religion despite the continued slander wrought on the Hellenic people by its historical and contemporary practice.


However, it does appear that some of the core teachings and celebrations of orthodox Judaism are incompatible with Hellenism. Is it wholly appropriate for the Hellenic people to actually fund it?