Rabbi Berel WeinRabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history.
Greece has constantly been in the news headlines the past few months due to the near bankrupt state of its prolifigate economy. It borrowed too much too often and spent it all on social programs and other populist ideas that it could not afford - and now the bill has come due. So Athens witnesses protests, strikes and demonstrations as the government is forced into adopting very unpopular stringent austerity economic policies.
In my opinion there is another aspect to the Greek problem that has seeped into Western and Jewish society over the past few decades. And that is that all of the negative facets of ancient Greek culture and lifestyle have returned with a vengeance after having lain dormant for millennia.
Hedonism, uninhibited sexual activity, pornography, child abuse, glorification of the body, sanctioned euthanasia for the “misfits” of society, terrible intolerance of “others,” rampant public glorification of homosexuality, and a hatred of Judaism and Jews with their “quaint” rituals, are all recognizable and even dominant aspects of current society.
And, these are the characteristics of Greek society of long ago. Greek society also gave civilization philosophy, theater, music, a form of very limited democracy, poetry and prose masterpieces and advances in science, astronomy and mathematics. The world would have been wise to retain the wheat and discard the chaff. But in our current world and the chaff dominates.
All of the moral and spiritual weaknesses that ancient Greek society represented have somehow now been totally embraced and enshrined as untouchable progressive values and human lifestyles. Just as the bill for Greece’s economic errors has come due so too will the repetition of the ills of ancient Greek societal behavior also have its day of reckoning and payment.
One of the tenets of Judaism that the Greeks most opposed was that of circumcision. When the Greeks ruled in Judea just prior to the Maccabean revolt they banned circumcision. Many Jews were executed by the Greeks for having fulfilled this commandment of the Torah and for upholding the covenant of our father Abraham.
Hellenist Jews underwent painful surgeries to restore their foreskins in order to fit in with Greek society. The Greeks decried the “mutilation” of the body inherent in the ritual of circumcision. In the Soviet Union under the great progressives of Lenin, Stalin, etc. circumcision was also forbidden. How enlightened of those murderers of millions of innocents to be so caring of the infants’ alleged pain!
The failed proposition on the ballot in San Francisco, California to ban circumcision for anyone under eighteen years old is another step in the adoption of ancient Greek culture and values into modern society.
Since the proponents of this measure – like all of their progressive do-gooder compatriots – know what is best for us poor unwashed citizens they feel fully justified in enforcing their ideas on the population as a whole. And since there is obviously more than a tinge of anti-Semitism attached to this whole sorry spectacle - and there will also always be Hellenist Jews that support such anti-Jewish initiatives - the entire issue of circumcision is now a matter of public debate and controversy. A hatred that has lain dormant for twenty-five hundred years has now arisen, cloaked in compassion for infants and other pseudo-scientific claims and myths.
Every Jewish generation has been challenged by forces, both external and internal, that wish to destroy Judaism and the Jewish people. Our current generation is no different. One prays and hopes that these challenges to our faith and rituals will not become the life and death issues that they have been in past generations.
There is no doubt that Jews will not give in to this hateful, pagan, oppressive culture and demands. The strength of purpose and tenacity of faith that marked our Maccabean ancestors is part of the DNA of the current Jewish world as well.
Ancient Greece is no longer with us and modern Greece also looks pretty wobbly. But the foolish tragedy of our times is that all of the ills of ancient Greece and its society have resurfaced in our time and have become acceptable norms. And, once again, it is the lonely and unpopular task of Judaism and Jews to stand firm against these norms and values.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this stand of ours against Greek culture may be our finest hour.