Holy Seasons and the Hellenic Spirit

James Adler

This week's on-line version of the exemplary liberal Israeli paper Ha'aretz has asked an unfortunate question of its readers, "Who are the Maccabees of today?"

It is too bad Ha'aretz's question tries to turn this religious holy season into something political and divisive rather than religious and uniting.

And I am sorry in that the word "Hellenism" can become so abased.

Ancient Hellenism, as well as the modern Hellenic spirit, reveres cosmopolitanism and liberality, openness, pluralism and tolerance. It is within the "Hellenistic" countries, such as Britain and the United States, where Jews flourish. The Nazis hated and attempted to destroy Hellenism. Ahmadinejad and the Taliban also hate Hellenism. That is why the Taliban destroyed the giant statue of the Buddha, and it is also why Ahmadinejad pushes for an increasingly theocratic state.

There were no truer Hellenists than Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and Ben Franklin, who created the greatest Hellenistic society in the world - within which thrives the largest Jewish Diaspora community on the planet. As a global minority, a Hellene world is necessary for the Jews' survival. When we attack Hellenism, we are attacking the only philosophy in which we are respected and able to live in dignity. The original Zionists were Hellenists, as were the Britain that approved the Balfour Resolution, the League of Nations that put it in the Mandate, and the original UN that partitioned Palestine and accepted Israel as a member.

Do we want the world we live in to be run by the world's fascists, Talibans, and Ahmadinejads? - or by its Hellenists? When Israel appeals for aid in the face of the Iranian threat, it is admitting it would risk destruction in an anti-Hellenic society. Israel is appealing to the Hellenic spirit that exists throughout the world.

We are Jews, but I hope that instead of Ayatollahs we are also Hellenists, as there seems to be no other third choice. Hellenists were the early and founding Zionists, who looked toward the English-speaking democracies when creating Israel's thriving mixture of the free practice of religion and a democratic way of life.

Happy Hannukah and Merry Christmas all Jews and Christians -- and happy holidays throughout the year to everyone of all religions and worldviews and traditions !

Another version of this currently appears in Ha'aretz.

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Harvard Square Commentary, December 25, 2006