As a proud and flag bearing “Alex,” I know there are many things Jews borrowed from the Ancient Greeks. My name “Alex,” short for Alexander, is, of course, in honor of Alexander the Great, ruler of Macedonia from 336-323 BCE. Legend has it that when the great king traveled through Jerusalem at the beginning of his reign, all the people of the city were so smitten with him they named their first born sons after him. Whether or not this is true, there are clearly elements of Ancient Greek society that are still with us today, “synagogue,” “Pentateuch,” and “Afikomen” just to name a few.
One concept sadly missing from the list is the concept of Democracy. We feel this acutely in this week’s Torah portion, Korach, where a group of two-hundred-and-fifty senior leaders demand to have their voices heard, and instead, end up buried in the earth, eradicated from existence to preserve Moses’ power. Interestingly, the formation of Athenian Democracy is likely parallel to the final redaction of the Torah, both in the late Sixth Century BCE. And, while Moses never moved much beyond the theocracy that governed much of Ancient Israelite life, the rabbis of the First and Second Century CE, adopted many of the Democratic values handed down to them from the Greeks.
Societal debate and the embracing of minority voices are central concepts embedded into rabbinic Judaism. And, while, Alexander the Great’s Greek Civilization disappeared thousands of years, I can’t help but think that he is smiling down upon us from the heavens at all the ways we continue to preserve his legacy.