South Korea Embraces the Talmud

Jun 24, 2011
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South Koreans study the central text of Judaism, the Talmud, in the hope of cultivating genius.


Close to 50 million people live in South Korea, and almost everyone is taught the Talmud at home by their parents.

"We tried to understand why the Jews are geniuses, and we came to the conclusion that we think it is because they study the Talmud," said the Korean ambassador to Israel, Young Sam Ma. And this is how "Rav Papa" became a better known scholar in Korea than in Israel.

Almost every home in South Korea has a Talmud translated into Korean. 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 have a copy at home – more than in the Jewish state. Many more.

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.

"We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jewish people”, explained Young, who was hosted on the Channel 1 TV programme “Culture Today”.

"A high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields – literature, science and economics – are Jews. This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand the secret of the Jewish people. How they – more than other people – are able to reach those impressive accomplishments. We wanted to know why Jews are so intelligent. In our opinion, 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. We believe that if we teach our children the Talmud, they will also become geniuses. "

Ambassador Ma says that he himself studied the Talmud at a very young age and has copies of them at home: “I, for example, have two editions of the Talmud: one my wife bought and the other I got from my mother-in-law”.

Beyond valuing the Talmud because they see it as promoting genius, South Koreans also find values in it that are close to their hearts.

"In the Jewish tradition, family values are important," explained 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 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 lots of attention to it. For Korean parents, their children's education is a top priority.


This post was translated from Ynet and published on Jewish Issues Watchdog in March 2011.