Update: See below for a video about a Korean news team who came to Israel to observe a yeshiva first hand, and to hopefully learn how the students study, and why “Jews are so smart”.
This is easily the most fascinating story of my day.
Almost every home in South Korea now contains a Korean-translated Talmud. Their reason for mandatory Talmud study may be a little off-putting - “So we too will become geniuses” - but hey, maybe they know something far too many Jews have forgotten.
More South Korean kids are now studying Talmud than Israelis, and considering the population of South Korea (over 45 million), probably more than all Jews in the world combined.
Well, sounds like a great idea to me. It’s undeniable that Talmud study sharpens critical thinking and the ability to reason, and it also emphasizes asking penetrating questions, the latter of which a rabbi who has lived in Korea says has been missing from Korean education.
But another, even more interesting link is to a 2005 Catholic message board, ‘Fish Eaters Traditional Catholic Forum‘, where an expat, someone called, ‘Brogan’, who is apparently a foreigner teaching in South Korea, tries to figure out why all Korean kids are learning Talmud.
If you read the messages at that forum you’ll be fascinated by a couple of things. First, the conversation is started by ‘Brogan’ and he is absolutely dumbfounded to learn that Talmud is being taught at his school. Neither he nor the others on the board can get over it.
Their amazement, however, isn’t one of wonderment and curiosity. They are dismayed, disgusted even, as in WTF!
And when ‘Brogan’ returns the next day to update the chat room on what else he learned about this Talmud business after speaking to some kids and teachers, he has some very bad news for his fellow ‘Fish Eaters’ – the crazy Korean kids love it! They are nuts about Talmud!
“I tell you what they way they acted was more fanatical then american kids about Harry Potter. I mean they LOVED the Talmud!” [un-edited]
All the posters seem to be very devout Catholics, and sadly it doesn’t take long before they all begin to express their anti-Semitism. First hesitantly, and then once the coast is clear and no one comes down on them, they are sure the teaching of Talmud in South Korea is part of a grand Jewish conspiracy. They all find it very “creepy!”.
Almost as horrifying to the chat room as the Korean study of Talmud, is that the Korean kids also read – ready for it? – “The Diary of Anne Frank”. Noooo!
“Also to clarify once and for all. They are reading the actual Jewish Talmud in all the schools here along with things like the Diary of Anne Frank. I can’t believe I used to regually scoof at people if they ever said anything about Jewish power. Before this forum I was so horribly brainwashed!” [un-edited]
They are appalled indeed. It’s very weird, but check it out for an interesting glimpse into both South Korea and some ‘Fish Eaters’.
* See here for an update on this story.
Close to 50 million people live in South Korea, and everyone learns Gemara (Talmud) in school. “We tried to understand why the Jews are geniuses, and we came to the conclusion that it is because they study Talmud,” said the Korean ambassador to Israel. And this is how “Rav Papa” became a more well known scholar in Korea than in Israel.
It is doubtful if the Amoraic scholars, Abbaye and Rava imagined their discussions of Jewish law in the Beit Midrash in Babylon would be taught hundreds of years later in East Asia. Yet it turns out that the laws of an “egg born on a holiday” (“ביצה שנולדה ביום טוב”) is actually very interesting to the South Koreans who have required that Talmud study be part of their compulsory school curriculum.
Almost every home in South Korea now contains a Korean-translated Talmud. But unlike in Israel, the Korean mothers teach the Talmud to their children. In a country of close to 49 million people who believe in Buddhism and Christianity, there are more people who read the Talmud – or at least own their own copy at home – more than in the Jewish state. Much more.
“So we too will become geniuses”
“We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews,” explains Israel’s ambassador to South Korea, Young Sam Mah, that was a host on the program “culture today.”
“Jews have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields: literature, science and economics. This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand what is the secret of the Jewish people? How they – more than other people – are able to reach those impressive accomplishments? Why are Jews so intelligent? The conclusion we arrived at is that one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud.”
“Jews study the Talmud at a young age, and it helps them, in our opinion, to develop mental capabilities. This understanding led us to teach our children as well. We believe that if we teach our children Talmud, they will also become geniuses. This is what stands behind the rationale of introducing Talmud Study to our school curriculum.”
Young says that he himself studied the Talmud at a very young age: “It is considered very significant study,” he emphasized. The result is that more Koreans have Talmud sets in their homes than Jews in Israel.
“I, for example, have two sets of the Talmud: the one my wife bought me, and the second was a gift from my mother.”
Groupies of Jews
Koreans don’t only like the Talmud because they see it as promoting genius, but because they found values that are close to their hearts.
“In the Jewish tradition, family values are important,” explains the South Korean Ambassador.
“You see it even today, your practice of the Friday evening family meal. In my country we also focus on family values. The respect for adults, respect and appreciation for the elderly parallels the high esteem in my country for the elderly.”
Another very significant issue is the respect for education. In the Jewish tradition parents have a duty to teach their children, and they devote to it lots of attention. For Korean parents, their children’s education is a top priority. (YNET)
video h/t Israel Matzav