In this week leading up to our celebration of Hanukah and its commemoration of the sacrifices made by our forefathers in those times, I'd like to dedicate the coming blog posts to serious discussion about Hellenism and its threat to our very existence - then and now.
Most readers will be aware that Hanukah celebrates the victory of the few righteous Jews who remained steadfast and faithful to Torah truth against the many Hellenized Jews, who wanted to assimilate Greek culture, and their Greek overlords. This is quite a broad and deep subject, so we will only be able to deal with small, but I think very essential, pieces of it.
The first casualty of the war declared by Mattityahu the Cohen Gadol was a Hellenized Jew. So, just what is Hellenism? How is it defined? What makes a Jew a Hellenist? And does it still exist in some form today?
What Is Hellenism? How Is It Defined?
1. ancient Greek culture or ideals.
2. the imitation or adoption of ancient Greek language, thought, customs, art, etc.: the Hellenism of Alexandrian Jews.
3. the characteristics of Greek culture, especially after the time of Alexander the Great; civilization of the Hellenistic period.
Greek Hellēnismós an imitation of or similarity to the Greeks.
Very simple and straightforward, yes? Our forefathers were praised for the fact that they did not adopt Egyptian names, dress or language, but maintained their unique and separate identity. As pointed out inthe previous blogpost, Eisav only wants us to meet him halfway and become like him while keeping our own traditions. This unholy "mixture" is at the heart of evil throughout time.
What Makes a Jew A Hellenist?
Hellenistic Judaism was a form of Judaism in the ancient world that combined Jewish religious tradition with elements of Greek culture. ...The decline of Hellenistic Judaism started in the 2nd century CE, and its causes are still not fully understood. It may be that it was eventually marginalized by, partially absorbed into or became progressively the Koiné-speaking core of Early Christianity centered on Antioch and its traditions.
The conquests of Alexander the Great in the late 4th century BCE spread Greek culture and colonization—a process of cultural change called Hellenization—over non-Greek lands, including the Levant. ... It witnessed close ties, indeed the firm economic integration, of Judea with the Ptolemaic kingdom ruled from Alexandria, and the friendly relations which existed between the royal court and the leaders of the Jewish community. This was a diaspora of choice, not of imposition.
...Jewish life in both Judea and the diaspora was influenced by the culture and language of Hellenism. The Greeks viewed Jewish culture favorably, while vice versa, Hellenism gained adherents among the Jews. While Hellenism has sometimes been presented...as a threat of assimilation diametrically opposed to Jewish tradition,...
Adaptation to Hellenic culture did not require compromise of Jewish precepts or conscience. When a Greek gymnasium was introduced into Jerusalem, it was installed by a Jewish High Priest. And other priests soon engaged in wrestling matches in the palaestra. They plainly did not reckon such activities as undermining their priestly duties.— Erich S. Gruen:73–74
The main religious issue dividing Hellenized Jews from traditional Jews was the application of biblical laws in a Hellenistic (or Roman or other non-Jewish) empire.
...Under the suzerainty of the Ptolemies and later the Seleucids, Judea witnessed a period of peace and protection of its institutions. For their aid against his Ptolemaic enemies, Antiochus III promised his Jewish subjects a reduction in taxes and funds to repair the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.
Relations deteriorated under Antiochus's successor Seleucus IV, and then, for reasons not fully understood, his successor Antiochus IV Epiphanes drastically overturned the previous policy of respect and protection, banning key Jewish religious rites and traditions in Judea (though not among the diaspora) and sparking a traditionalist revolt against Greek rule....
It's like a law unto itself. Every time Jews begin to assimilate, HKB"H raises up a leader or a nation to remind us of our proper place and to firmly put us in it. That's why it doesn't take a prophet to understand where the current climate is leading us today.
Does Hellenism Still Exist In Some Form Today?
Given that Hellenistic culture devolved into Roman culture which has come down to us today in the guise of "Western" culture, best epitomized by American culture, I'd have to say a resounding "yes". In fact, you know it today by names such as Judeo-Christianity and Zionism. Any mixture of Judaism or Jewish nationhood with Western culture, values or ideals is a direct descendant of ancient Hellenism, even if you stick an "Orthodox" or "Kosher" label on it.
Here are some examples. See if you can figure out why I place these things under the Hellenistic category.
Bacon Goes Kosher
As bacon has boomed, kosher imitation bacon has increased in variety, quality, and religious acceptance.
“Very often, kosher trends are not really in lockstep with things that are trending in the general culinary world,” said Miri Rotkovitz, About.com’s Kosher Food Expert. “But in the case of bacon and cured meats it seems to be a lot closer—it seems to be happening parallel to the greater bacon trend.”
Kosher “bacon” is made with a variety of non-pork ingredients; some types are vegetarian, while others use beef, lamb, duck, and sometimes turkey to recreate pork’s flavor.
Rabbi Moshe Elefant, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut Department, estimates his organization, the world’s largest not-for-profit kosher certification agency, certifies hundreds of imitation bacon products—everything from vegetarian strips to bacon-flavored Ritz Crackers—with its “O.U.” seal. “I grew up in a world where if you kept kosher, you knew your diet was very limited. That world no longer exists,” Elefant said. “People who are keeping kosher now are saying, ‘We don’t want to be limited in what we can eat because we’re keeping kosher.’ ”
The Maccabeats - Hasmonean - A Hamilton Hanukkah
And as if that were not painful enough, perhaps the ultimate irony is "Chrismukah"...
Chrismukkah is a pop-culture portmanteau neologism referring to the merging of the holidays of Christianity's Christmas and Judaism's Hanukkah. The term was popularized by the TV drama The O.C., wherein character Seth Cohen creates the holiday to signify his upbringing in an interfaith household with a Jewish father and Protestant mother (although the holiday can also be adopted by all-Jewish households who celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday). Chrismukkah is also celebrated as an ironic, alternative holiday, much like the Seinfeld-derived "Festivus". USA Today has described it as "[t]he newest faux holiday that companies are using to make a buck this season".
And it all originates in America. To the extent that American (Western) culture, norms, values and ideals are mixed together with Judaism or Jewish things, they can be said to have become Hellenized and the Jews who like it and approve of it are Hellenized Jews. Does this describe you or someone close to you? If so, ask yourself what you have to celebrate this Hanukah.