Daily Israel Report

The Korean-Talmud Love Affair

Reports of the Talmud being a national classic in S. Korea have been floating around for years, but it’s now official: Students must study Talmud.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 3/28/2011, 6:01 PM / Last Update: 3/28/2011, 7:50 PM

Israel news photo

Reports of the Talmud being a national classic in South Korea have been floating around for several years, but it’s now official: The country’s ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-Sam, told the “Culture Today” TV show that Talmud study is now a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum. 

In addition, it is said, almost every home in South Korea boasts a Korean version of the Talmud, and mothers commonly teach it to their children, who call it the "Light of Knowledge."
 
Why? "We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews," Young-Sam explained, according to a Ynet report. "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 are they, more than other people, 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… 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."
 
"I, for example, have two sets of the Talmud,” the ambassador said. “The one my wife bought me, and the second was a gift from my mother."
 
He also praised the Talmud and the Jewish tradition it represents for its family values, respect for adults, and respect for education in general. 
 
Korean Times, Ten Years Ago
Nearly ten years ago, the Korea Times reported: “Interestingly, there are at least two different books currently sitting on Korean best-seller shelves that purport to explain the Jewish Talmud. The popularity of these books initially came as a surprise. But Koreans aren’t converting to Judaism. They read those books because Jews have gained a reputation for hard work and success, two things Koreans relate to well.”
 
Reports of Korean schoolchildren reading the Talmud – or at least stories thereof – have also been known for several years. One American teacher in South Korea related that in 2005, his elementary school students told him that as children, they had all read the Talmud, which they called the "Light of Knowledge."  When asked if they had also read the Koran, they burst into laughter, saying, "Of course not, that’s the Muslim book.”