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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

Greek Wisdom and Language

There are two possible attitudes towards the Greek culture. We also make an endeavor to explain our relationship with the Greek Empire in our Sages' writings.


Rabbi Elchanan Ben Nun

Kislev 5750
1. Greece and the Torah
2. Greece against the Torah
3. The World's Nations and the Nation of Israel
4. The Stealing of the Torah
5. Different Periods
6. Light and Darkness Together

Introduction: Maimonides writes: 'During The Second Mikdash (Temple) when the Greek Empire ruled the world, they laid decree's upon the Jews, and did not allow them to learn Torah or keep the commandments. They also entered the Mikdash, caused damages and defiled it... God saw the suffering of the Jews and saved them in the hands of the sons of Hashmonai. They conquered the Greeks and returned the ruling to Jewish hands...for more than two hundred years when the Mikdash was destroyed' (68 A.D.) Maimonodies. The Greek ruler of the Land of Israel at the time was Antiyochus who ruled the Syrian Province. In memory of this great miracle we celebrate the eight days of Chanukah.

Greece and the Torah
The Talmud (Megilla 9) teaches that one may translate the Torah (only) into Greek. The Talmud learns this fact from the words 'Yaft God to Yefet and he shall dwell in Shem's tent' - the splendor of Yefet will reside in Shem's tent (Greece being a nation to come from Yefet and Israel a nation to come from Shem). Yefet's finest language is Greek.
Maimonides as well, asserts, that the Torah may be translated into Greek. He adds, though, that the original Greek has long since been forgotten.
We find several other quotes in the Talmud and in other sources describing Greece in a positive context.
It seems there is some connection between the Jewish and Greek ways of looking at life.

Greece against the Torah
On the other hand, our Rabbis teach us in other sources that 'Darkness - is Greece - that darkened Jewish eyes with its decree's. In the special prayer said on Chanukah ('Al Hanissim') one says, 'They who made an endeavor to cause the Jews to forget the Torah'. Harav Kook explains this prayer by saying that Greece tried harder than any other nation in order that the Jews should forget the Torah.
If so how does one explain these contradicting sources?

The World's Nations and the Nation of Israel
Maimonides (in Igeret Teiman - The Letter to Yemen) divides the relationship between Israel and the world's nations into three main periods: The era of Force, the era of Claims, The era of Similarity and Pretence. After the nations realized physical force (first era) would not beat the Jews, nor would the spiritual or philosophical claims (such as used by the Greeks) persuade them, they chose to use the Judaism itself against the Jews. The Christens and the Muslims pretended to be the ones to continue the Jewish belief.

The Stealing of the Torah
Our sages tell us about the Egyptian-Greek king Talmai. Talmai ruled the Egyptian Province of the Greek Empire. This king made a point of stealing the treasures of other cultures and to translate them into Greek so as to enrich the Greek Culture. This included stealing the Torah. Our sages tell us that the day the Torah was translated was a terrible day for the Jewish nation.
The world's nations recognize the importance of the Torah, but refuse to admit that the Torah is Israel's Torah. Therefore, they adjust the Torah to their needs and desires. Translating the Torah was part of the Greek Plan of imposing the Greek Culture - worldwide. If so, the actions taken by Talmai, king of the Egyptian Province, were similar to the actions taken by Antiyochus, the king of the Syrian Province.

Different Periods
The Talmud tells us a story of how them knowledge of the Greek Culture caused great trouble to the Jewish nation and from then on it was forbidden to teach or study the Greek Culture. We learn from this story there was a time when studying the Greek culture was allowed, only when it became clear the damage it can cause - was it forbidden.
If such was the case the historical explanation given by Maimonides is also understandable; The translation itself is allowed - but the language has been forgotten, had it not been forgotten it would have been forbidden.

Light and Darkness - Together
As previously mentioned, Greece belongs to the second era, the era of claims. These claims are ones that try to darken Jewish eyes. The translation of the Torah, though, moved Greece closer to being part of the similarity era. This Translation was in fact one of the main weapons used by the nation in their combat with the Jewish nation.
On the other hand, Harav Kook explains that we won two victories on Chanukah: We succeeded in stopping the Hellinism and we also managed to instill the Torah into the Greek culture. As a result of the translation the Greek philosophers - caused a revolution in the Greek Empire and preached about ethics and morals to the whole world.
Both of these victories bring us closer to the age when "All around will God's name be known".
If that is the case then we have light and darkness together, explaining the contradiction in the different quotes.
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