Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hellenism in Jewish Palestine

I know it's the title of a book by Saul Lieberman. I only have the other one, "Greek in Jewish Palestine". I'd love to see what he says about this.)

Commenter Joseph Anonymous Kaplan wrote:

Chanuka long did it take for greek philosophy to become part of "orthodox" Rabbinic Judaism?

Oh, that was very fast. The entire Talmud bears witness to the absorption of Greek philosophy and culture. The Seder is "how rich people ate"? It's modeled after a Greek Symposium, a dinner and educated debate, with all the forms - heseiba, bringing in the food on tabellach (as my gemara teacher called it in 12th grade when we did Arvei Psachim), discussion around the table on a set theme, heavy drinking (arba kosos), etc. Here's a picture that (except for the nakedness) perfectly illustrates the sort of meal described in the Gemara:

Second, the Socratic method, of picking at a concept to uncover the hidden bases and assumptions - this is the basis of Rabbinic debate in the Talmud, as well as of most legal education in America.

Third, while this took somewhat longer to come into Judaism, we have neo-Platonic emanationism which is parallel to, if not the source of (scholars are divided on this) the whole Kabbalistic creation and structure: the ten emanations that fill the pleroma or fullness, the space between God and the physical world, the totality of Divine powers. And in the war between Aristotelian rationalism and Platonic emanationism, it's quite clear - the emanationists, the neo-Platonists, have won.

The division in Kabbala between the unchanging Infinite, and the shifting and changing Sefiros which are the tools by which the universe was created, formed, emanated, made - this parallels Gnosticism, which was a Greek religion which was more or less created to be antisemitic, from what I can tell - where the transcendent Good God does not communicate with the world, but the world was created by the evil Demiurge, a lesser divine being, who actually communicates with the world.

No, there wasn't any widespread adoption of Greek philosophy per se, but of their methods, yes.

Although Rabbi Akiva does seem to speak of man created after an archetype, which is a central Platonic idea - that of abstract forms, the ideal Man vs. the real.

And (shades of the R' Svei zt"l and yblcht"a R' Lamm argument years ago) there does seem to be some parallel between Plato's parable of the cave, and R' Shimon's and R' Eliezer's behavior on coming out of the cave after 12 years - that having been inside the cave, they no longer know how to deal with reality. In fact, it seems so similar that it may be a re-telling, with some remapping of the concepts to fit Judaism and the reputation of Rashb"i.

Quite likely, Euclid's mathematics was relevant to "sod ha'ibbur" calendrical calculations; certainly the unnamed Peirush on Rambam's Hil. Kiddush haChodesh depends on geometry to explain the relative geocentric motions of Earth, Moon and Sun.

Other influences of Greek culture include the Greek bible; Rabban Gamliel's opinion that one can lein Megillah in Greek because the Greek language is equally holy as Hebrew; the adoption of Greek names into Hebrew (any number of people in the Talmud, such as Sumchus); etc.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald says, in his Chanukah lecture, "we are all Hellenists" in that we all benefit from, and incorporate ourselves in, modern society, in various ways and to various degrees. None of us reject modern secular American or European society totally.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

just to clarify ANI YOSEF I am Joseph I was "anonymous":)

chomer and Tzurah- form and content is the issue at hand

In the challenges of modernity, Hellenism, and enlightenment to rabbinic Judaism we have methodology, technology, tools vs. content. the former is not the prime challenge in matter of fact it can be integrated into rabbinic Judaism without much of an issue. unless it is coupled with what is seen as heretical content. The challenge I was referring to is content such as philosophic beliefs and historical beliefs that are contrary to how torah was understood.

there were two forms of Hellenism the gradual kind that was having its inroads into Jewish life and was not viewed as such a problem.
there was another form an aggressive kind that wanted to uproot torah and mitzvos, annul bris shabbos torah study etc.the hyper assimilationist who welcomed these decrees was waging a war on Judaism not just expanding their opportunities for international commerce and the like. if it would have been cultural we never would have had the battle and we would have become much like Spanish Jewry became in the 14th century acculturated rather than assimilated. Although there are those who argue that this acculturation coupled with their philosophic beliefs weakened them to the degree that we saw mass conversions when the political and religous climate changed and Jews were forced to choose between their homes wealth and position and their faith, unlike other periods of persecution

The 18th and 19th century battles for the emancipation of the Jews was the same issue. If it would have been gradual we would not have lost as many. the haskala attempted to both hasten the emancipation but also to some degree waged war on the values of the rabbinic Jews and their religious leaders of that time. The russian goverment at times it is clear wanted to convert the Jews and saw the haskalah as a useful tool. they became the unwitting ally of those who wanted to destroy Judaism just as many of the hellenists did

the Islamic poetry was a catalyst for Hebraic grammar studies. form more than content. when too much content seeped in even after time there was a backlash.

A Chassid using a cell phone is not a problem. The chassidim are not Amish. tools technology even methods most of the time is kosher...content not so much for example.. the belief that kabbalah as accepted by the arizal yosef karo the rema maharal shlah the vilna gaon, rabbi schneur zalman of liadi etc was neo gnosticism is a problem.