Comparing: Classical / Rabbinic

Greco-Roman and Rabbinic Literature

According to Yakov Shavit, Baer, “motivated by his organic approach to the social and cultural history of the Jewish people, drew a startling comparison between Jewish society and the Greek polis ... What is more astonishing is that he compares Jewish society at the time of the Mishna with the fifth-century Greek polis: in each case one can find a natural and prerationalistic society, governed by laws and civic ethics that stem from the real experience of life and not from rationalistic or theoretical considerations. In other words, Jewish society and the polis were two organic societies, where ‘law’ and ‘life’ constituted a living whole.”

Each culture (e.g., the Apollonian culture of the Greeks) had its own organic form, which in due time degenerated into civilization—corrupt, rationalistic, and vulgar. The Greek polis gave way to the Roman Empire. It was easy for Baer to find organic culture and rotten civilization in Jewish history. The only obstacle was chronology: Philo (a civilized man) evidently preceded the rabbis (organic culture representatives). To overcome this difficulty, Baer introduced mysterious rabbinic academies into the early Second Temple period. Their members studied Plato (a product of the organic polis culture). Moreover, they incorporated Platonism into the foundation of Halakhah.