June 20, 2016
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observes, as have others previously, that while Classical Judaism developed primarily in response to what was heard, Greek culture was driven more by what was seen. Put more specifically, when it came to how you learned – and therefore how you thought – the Jews trusted the ear, while the Greeks trusted the eye. That’s a part of what the philosophers are getting at in discussing “Athens and Jerusalem”.
Of course, the world is not quite so black and white. “Jerusalem” and “Athens” often met and mingled – as they do to this day. Our best thinkers today know and name the world as did the Jews and the Greeks. What they share, in fact what has made both Greek and Jewish thought serious and enduring, is that they thought from the inside out. That is, they began not with what the larger crowd on the street was saying (almost always an echo of what was heard on the previous block) but rather with the inside: What they had learned the hard way, through reading, reflection and critical analysis. Only once that process was complete, would leading thinkers name the world, i.e., especially the world that mattered most, that of public affairs and politics.