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.
The truth is, to do that well you had to rely more or less equally on what you absorbed from what you heard, as well as what you learned through what you saw. Athens and Jerusalem, both. Religious learning and worldly knowledge. Which is part of what drew the Jews of the ancient world – the leading rabbis very much included – to Greek philosophy and learning. They wanted to know more about the World and God and Man, as they sought to apply earned knowledge – now turned into wisdom – to the society and its affairs.
Which brings me to two of our best thinkers today. Two Israeli-Americans who, consciously or not, reflect both the classical Jews and Greeks; who think and then teach starting with significant interior lives honed by learning and reflection, by what they hear and see.
Like Paul Berman about whom I wrote last week (click here to read "Why Paul Berman is the Best"), David Hazony and Yossi Klein Halevi think and write with consistent depth and originality. To better know our world, you have to read virtually whatever they write – regardless of the topic.
David Hazony, author of The Ten Commandments, is editor of Tower Magazine out of DC. To understand what Barack Obama has sought and accomplished over the past seven and a half years, there's nothing better to read than David's recent piece, "The Mind of the President" (click here to read).
Yossi Klein Halevi, Sr. Fellow at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, is the author of Like Dreamers, among other books. His recent major speech, "A Jewish Centrist Manifesto" suggests a way forward in a time of intense conflict – a way forward both for the Jewish State as well as for the State of the Jews (Read here).