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    Why did they fear the Greeks?

    The light of Torah, painting by Alex Levin

    The light of Torah, painting by Alex Levin

    It’s strange that the Talmud asks, “What is Chanukah?” (Shab. 21b) but doesn’t ask, “What is Pesach?” or “What is Purim?” Chanukah must have had a special quality for the sages.

    It isn’t, as Rashi points out, that they were unaware of the rules of the festival, but they felt that an ideological explanation of the occasion was called for.

    Two things required emphasis – the miracle of the light, and the danger of Hellenism. The Hellenists had to be overcome because they were regarded as enemies of the light, the light of Torah. No-one denied the existence of Greek wisdom, but Judaism regarded it with considerable apprehension and compared it to the “darkness on the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2).

    The problem of Hellenism was that it concentrated on externalities, material expressions of culture, art, philosophy, government, literature, science and bodily prowess.

    Jewish teachers – notably Maimonides – quoted the Greeks, but wondered where the inner soul of the human being was to find its spark and source if not in the spirituality of the Torah. Greek culture was full but empty. Chanukah stood for the light of HaShem.

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