October 27, 2004

Hellenism and Jewish nationalism

Ethnic and Racial Studies 1 September 2002, vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 755-777(23)

Hellenism and Jewish nationalism: ambivalence and its ancient roots

Leoussi A. S.; Aberbach D.


This essay sketches the ambivalent relationship of Hebraism and Hellenism from ancient times to the foundation of modern Israel. It analyses classical Greek influence on the Jewish Enlightenment (the Haskalah) and modern Jewish nationalism, particularly as reflected in Hebrew literature. Greece's successful struggle for independence from Ottoman Turkey in the 1820s showed the early Zionists that an ancient nation could be resurrected. Also, the ancient Greek ideal of physical education, revived in nineteenth-century Europe, radically transformed both Christian and Jewish attitudes to the body, giving rise to two related movements, "muscular Christianity" and "muscular Judaism". As the assimilationist attempts of the Haskalah broke down in the late nineteenth century under the burden of anti-Semitism and European racial nationalism, "muscular Judaism" was incorporated into Zionism. Jewish nationalists largely rejected rabbinic spirituality, non-belligerence and the disdain for athleticism which had dominated Jewish life after Rome destroyed the Jewish state in 70 CE.

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