Januray 31, 1998
The New York Post
To the Editor of The New York Post:
"Understanding the Meaning of Chanukah" (12/16/97), the Special New York Post Chanukah Advertising Supplement presented by the Jewish Post of New York and Talkline Communications Network, brings shame to its sponsors as well as to the Post. This full-page advertisement, which looks and reads far more like a featured article, declares:
. . . Israel knew that the goal of the Second Temple era was the kingdom of Torah and the Commandments -- and the kindling of a small Menorah that could banish the darkness of Greek culture. When that happened, it was time to celebrate . . . one must see the flame, remember what it represents, and know that we are grateful for the triumph of Torah’s light over Greece’s darkness.
Whether directed against Greeks, Puerto Ricans, Chinese or Jews, such bias, intolerance and disinformation has no place in a mainstream and widely disseminated newspaper such as the Post. The full extent of the bigoted and hurtful nature of its message can best be appreciated if the words "Greek culture" and "Greece" are replaced with "Jewish culture" and "Israel", or with similar designations involving other ethnic or religious groups.
Associating Greece and Greek culture with "darkness" presents a nonsensical revision of history to be summarily dismissed by any thinking person. Plato’s "Republic", Sophocles’ "Oedipus Rex" and Aristophanes’ "Lysistrata"; Hippocrates’ and Alexander’s oaths, the former creating the foundations for medical ethics, the latter (taken at Opis by Alexander and his followers) proclaiming a revolutionary manifesto of world brotherhood, equality and universal love; Homer’s "Odyssey" and Herodotus’ "History"; Euclidean geometry and Pythagoras’ theorem; the Alexandrian library and the Athenian Parthenon are but a fraction of the thousand points of Greece’s light to the world.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Chanukah ad is that it evinces its sponsors’ ignorance of their own culture’s rich and multifaceted past, and further inhibits a genuine understanding not only of Hellenic but of Jewish history as well.
The defining fact of Hellenistic Jewry is that from the time Alexander liberated Judea from the Persian Empire in 334 B.C. through Ptolemaic and then Seleucid rule, the Jews were allowed to freely practice their own religion and conduct their own affairs. This nearly two-centuries-long Jewish Golden Age had profound effects on the, until then, provincial nature of Hebrew society, and the power of its momentum continued to shape Jewish life, thought, economics, politics, culture, art and theology through Roman rule until the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.
Antiochus Epiphanes’ military campaign in 168 BC against the Maccabees was an aberration, a marked departure from this age of unprecedented religious tolerance and egalitarian ideals which characterized Hellenistic rule in general--and Hellenistic Israel in particular--in a continent which until then knew nothing but ruthless tyrannies. It is during this Hellenistic period that Jewish art, theology, law and culture flourished in a renaissance it would not see again until almost a millennium later. Many believe that it is this spirit of enlightenment that led to the teachings of great Jewish scholars such as Hillel and of Jesus himself. The great Israeli statesman, Abba Eban, proudly declared that it was the Greeks who imbued the Jews with a love of learning and with the quest for excellence.
Despite the narrow-minded parochialism expressed in the Post’s Chanukah ad, the fact remains that the evolution of Jewish civilization owes a huge debt to Greece, primarily through its exposure to Hellenistic culture during this Jewish Renaissance. Jews today need only look to the Corinthian columns and Doric friezes in their synagogues to appreciate the profound impact Hellenic civilization has had on their own. Countless words so intimately revered by Judaism, such as Pentateuch, phylactery, Deuteronomy, Septuagint and synagogue, are all Greek. This powerful evidence of the survival, continuity, richness and multifaceted nature of the Jewish heritage should evoke pride rather than scorn and denial.
Further, a more genuine understanding of the actual history underlying Chanukah would reveal that the conflict was the culmination of an internal struggle between warring Jewish factions rather than a unilateral desire by Antiochus to destroy Judaism. As summarized by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, Professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the festival of Chanukah "commemorates the end of a civil war in which the Syrians were induced to enter on the side of the Hellenistic Jews who had gained control of Jerusalem and the Temple".
Rather than deny and distort the common heritage, character and experiences both Jews and Greeks continue to share on so many levels as highly accomplished peoples who have managed to survive centuries of horrific oppression, why not celebrate the common ground between them. The sponsors of the Chanukah Advertising Supplement should realize that Hebrew tradition and ideals are not preserved but betrayed by the kind of hurtful disinformation found in their ad. Wouldn’t it be far more fitting to celebrate the Jewish holy day of Chanukah by emphasizing truth and tolerance rather than ignorance and hate?
Very truly yours,
P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq.
cc: Anti-Defamation League, Marc H. Tanenbaum Foundation for the Advancement of Interreligious Understanding, World Jewish Congress, HateWatch, Alfonse D’Amato, Carolyn B. Maloney, Brad Sherman, Olympia Snowe, George Gekas, Jewish Education Service of North America, American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, Council of Jewish Federations, The Forward, American Hellenic Institute, The Speros Basil Vryonis Center for the Study of Hellenism, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, Foundation for Hellenic Culture, Center for Jewish History, Federation of Hellenic Societies Committee on National Issues, Pan-Macedonian Association, Alexander S. Onasis Center for Hellenic Studies, American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus, Armenian National Committee of America, Hellenic Literature Society, Hellenic American Educators Association United Federation of Teachers, Cyprus Embassy, Cyprus Consulate, Greek Consulate, Greek Press & Information Office, Greek-America, Greek Orthodox News, Hellenic Calendar, National Herald, Hellenic News of America, Greek-American Review, The GreekAmerican, Argonaut Magazine, The Jewish Post of New York, Talkline Communications Network