The world is a wonderful, if very wacky, place to be.

Archive for March, 2011

Tal-Mu-Duh, the real story.

So in all this hubbub, Cloud Man went downstairs to the giant bookstore in the Coex mall and got a Korean edition of the Talmud, just so that I can share it will all of you.

It's a lousy shot, but the best his cell phone can do in those light conditions.

That’s it. That book is the entire Talmud in Korean.

A close-up is warranted here:

You just can't make this stuff up. Not even if you're Ynet.


For the sake of comparison, here’s our personal copy of the Babylonian Talmud:

This edition is set in an 8 point font, and it still takes up most of a shelf.

Just to drive the point home, here’s what the inside of our Talmud looks like:

Vilna edition, natch.

And here’s a scan of what the inside of the Korean Talmud looks like:

That chapter is titled, "Solomon's Judgment".


Clearly, the Koreans did not not somehow translate Shteinzalz or the Artscroll, like the Ynet article would lead us to believe. Don’t expect to be arguing over the ox that gores or the halachic dimensions of a sukkah with our friends in the East anytime soon.

So here’s the scoop on what’s really happening: once upon a time, Rabbi Marvin Tokayer wrote a compilation of stories from the Tanach and the Talmud for the Japanese audience. Now this is fascinating in and of itself, because what the Japanese want with Agaddic tales is a probably a great story. But then this Japanese compilation was translated into Korean, where it’s really taken off. In the bookstore, Cloud Man saw about twenty different editions of this work; there was a variety of different publishers with different illustrations. Some are aimed at younger children, some are aimed at teens. There’s even a five volume set.

Cloud Man was able to ask an English-speaking young Korean woman what the book in his hand was.

“The Talmudeh. It’s famous”, she said.

Cloud Man asked her, what is in this book?

“It’s children’s stories”.

He asked her, who reads this book?

“Parents buy it for their children, so that they can have the knowledge of the Yutayne”, she answered.

He asked her to translate the words on the cover. She told him it said, “Talmudeh, the Wisdom of the Yutayne”.

“Who are the Yutayne?”, Cloud Man asked.

She did not know. She had to google, and it was clearly not a translation issue. The Wisdom of the Yutayne may as well have been the Wisdom of the Undersea Dwellers of Atlantis. Yutayne is the Korean for Yehudim. You know, Jews.

So there we have it. The Talmud, in the Korean mind, is a series of stories much like Aesop’s Fables. The notion of it being a giant body of Oral Tradition and Law spanning multiple generations is completely absent. Yet the belief that the study of this work makes the Yutayne smart has remained, which somehow led to the belief that the study of stories about noble behavior is going to lead to a Nobel prize. It’s a misconception on top of a half truth sandwich with a side of fallacy, but as I tell my kids, being smart is all nice and good, but it’s not enough. First you have to be a mentsch. If that’s what the Korean people want their children learning, who am I to argue?


While we were out

I’m sorry I didn’t blog at all while Cloud Man was home. He’s since returned to Seoul, because that’s where all the really happening gemara classes are. So let me bring you up to speed on what happened while he was home.

First, there was Purim.

I wanted the girls to dress in their hanboks, because that was easy.

But my girls see Purim as a time for their own self-expression, not my inertia.

I made this mermaid costume by hand, in two days, when I realized that resistance is futile.


Lyra unleashed her inner clown bride.

The dress matching the nose was just luck.


And Sagitta is still little enough that I can pick her costume.

Though she doesn't have to be happy about it.

Yes, I am dressed up. That’s the best I can do for “gypsy”, my go-to last minute costume, because I couldn’t get my hanbok on time. The best part of how I was dressed was being out on the street, where I could just see the faces wondering if I was dressed up, or whether that was my usual attire. Around here, it can really go either way.

Cloud Man read Megilla for us on Purim day. He was dressed up as an international consultant.

That's the megilla we had commissioned to celebrate our first year of aliyah.

I don’t mean to psychoanalyze my spouse, but I think that this may have been an expression on how suddenly our lives changed over the past year. It’s taking some getting used to.

I didn’t get a photo of Volucris in costume, but you can see him (along with Cloud Man and Lyra) in this video:

And that was our Purim. Fortunately, though, Cloud Man was home for the rest of the week, as well.

Remember I told you how I was going to get the kids rollerblades out of sheer guilt?

She's really fast now.

Done. Though Volucris got a split skateboard. They are already doing tricks.

Volucris got second place in a Judo competition. We are very, very proud.

His teammates got first and third places, too.

And Bismarck has left us. Remember Bismarck?

He wasn't really a pet. He was more of a house guest.

He was with us for over a week. He crawled out the window on Purim, and was gone two days later. I miss him. It was nice to have someone keep me company while I washed the dinner dishes late at night. We had some lovely chats, though he mostly listened.

Yes, this new life is definitely taking some getting used to.


First I’d like to thank all of you who sent me the link to this article both in Hebrew and in English. I have mentioned South Korea’s fascination with Israel and the Jewish people before, so the fact that South Korea has decided to teach its young to shteig over a gemara does not surprise me.

That really does say "Talmud" in Korean.


More than anything, this news brings to mind the quote from tehillim, “shomer petaim HaShem”, HaShem protects the fools. On reading this article, I hope that HaShem extends this to all his creations, not just our people, because the Koreans clearly need a little extra help here.

I cannot fault their logic entirely. Jews are said to be statistically smarter than other populations. Now we all know that this is an arguable assertion based on the data. I think, however, that the Jewish idiot is kind of like the Jewish drunk of Hasidic lore. Because most Jews don’t drink, one good Jew takes it upon himself to drink enough not just for himself, but for the entire shtetl. It’ a matter of civic duty. I think Jewish intelligence runs the same way. In general Jews are smart, even brilliant. But the village (or kibbutz) idiot takes it upon him or herself to be more dense than even basic survival would allow as a way of maintaining the balance of the universe. It’s the only explanation I can think of, because it must be hard work to be that dumb. This is also why, when I tell anyone here in Israel how the South Koreans are trying to learn from us how to be smart, they laugh, and not in a nice way.

Regardless, perhaps our national intelligence can be attributed to our study of the oral tradition since Mount Sinai. Maybe there is a connection. On the other hand, I’m not sure that studying Korean case law of the Three Kingdoms period would do much to teach Israelis how to stand in line or say please and thank you, so I’m not clear on how studying our ancient case law is going to win South Korea any Nobel Prizes.

What stands out for me, however, is how the West, through Christianity, has rejected and vilified our Oral Tradition for millennia and now Koreans, many of whom are Christian themselves, have suddenly decided that gemara, instead of being the source of evil and falsehood, is actually Jewish sudoku. And they want in. The thing is, there is absolutely, positively no way in the world that they can possibly get this right. First, in order to study gemara you need to have at least an understanding of the written Torah. And it helps to know some halacha– or that it exists. And honestly, you already need to know how to think that way, something that our kids learn at the breast, or at least at the shabbat table. Divorce Talmud from Jewish life, and it’s going to be nonsense. Not even sudoku, just plain nonsense. And this alarms me. Because right now, there isn’t anti-Semitism in Korea. But force kids to learn our laws outside of any context or depth or even knowledge, and I am concerned that there will be.

Meanwhile, I wish Koreans the best of luck in their quest for the elusive Nobel Prize. I can only honor their desire to become more than they are right now, to stretch and to grow and to raise children who cure disease and invent technologies to make our world a better place. In turn, I am also honored that they are looking to my people for guidance on how to do just that. In a world where we are constantly reviled as oppressors and land-thieves, it is heartening that there is at least one country out there with an eye on what we do right.

There’s an update to this post here:


Cloud Man

Do you know how many miles one has to fly to qualify for diamond status?

is coming home

125,000. That's how many.


The best things come…

A little more than six years ago, my friend Mel decided to knit a baby gift for Lyra. Lyra had not yet been born, but Mel found delicious mohair yarn and the knitting needles and began to knit the same blanket that she had made for her youngest daughter, who is now sixteen.

Mel has MS. It was slow going. Sometimes she can move her hands, and sometimes she can’t.

Every few years, she’d show me the progress, and curse the illness that slows her down. Regardless, she persevered…

and now Lyra has the softest, fuzziest, most delicious blanket ever hand knitted, every stitch full of love.

I don’t know who I’m happier for.

Family Pet

On Friday night, just after candle lighting, Volucris spotted a giant locust on our windowsill. By giant, I mean 10 centimeters long. And he* was not on the outside, mind you, but on the inside. We do not know how he got in, but in keeping with my usual custom that any living creature large enough to need its own zip code and manages to get into our home deserves a name, I optimistically christened him “Bismarck”. Not after the chancellor, but after the ship. The giant ship that was sunk on its maiden voyage. I had hopes that he’d quickly get out the same way he got in, and I would not have to deal with him. The girls freaked out, but Bismarck isn’t the first giant insect I have found here, and I figured that he would be gone by the time we returned from synagogue.

My hopes have been dashed. He was no longer on the windowsill when we returned. No, he has taken up residence on a ladle in the pasta drainer on the kitchen counter. Volucris won’t let me take Bismarck out the the door (the balcony door) as he is sure Bizzy is molting, and he wants to watch.


In my pasta drainer.

On my ladle.

I’m pretty sure that Volucris is also responsible for the lettuce that has appeared on the bottom of the drainer.

I am *way* too patient.

And here I was concerned about not getting to see any nature now that we’ve moved to the city.

*I’m just guessing it’s a he. I haven’t actually asked.

P.S. Don’t tell the girls. They don’t know that he’s there.

Aquila, age 8.

Today we celebrated Aquila’s 8th birthday.

Why yes, that is her Korean Princess dress.

There was much discussion about what sort of party Aquila wanted. She knows what sorts of parties her friends have, but that wasn’t quite what she was looking for. She wanted fun, but she also wanted a sense of equilibrium more than a sense of excitement. Aquila decided that the best way to achieve her goal was to only invite her two closest friends (she’s known them both since they were all in utero) and her sister.

It was a good call. There are things you can do at a small party that you can’t do at a large party. I took the girls to Salta, a restaurant in our neighborhood, where the ambiance is great and the waitstaff are very patient.

I had the baby with me, too. I could not tip the waitstaff enough after the havoc she wreaked.

Honestly, it was an absolute delight to take these girls out to eat. They discussed all sorts of topics such as odd things they believed when they were little, the importance of siblings, and the place of dolls in our lives. It was enlightening just sitting and listening to them, even though I spent much of the time keeping Sagitta from stabbing our guests with her fork, dipping lettuce into my water glass, and planting herself face first in my cannelloni.

After lunch we stopped in a the toy store and picked up nine balloons. One for each year, and one for good luck. It’s a lot of fun to walk down the street with a giant balloon bouquet. Aquila was wished many a mazel tov.

We had to add weights to Aquila's legs to keep her from flying away.

We returned home, called up Cloud Man on Skype so he could participate, and brought out the cake.

HaYom Yom Huledet...

Here is the cake recipe. I made two changes; I add coffee instead of boiling water and I always freeze the cake before serving. I don’t know why freezing coalesces all the flavors into a more pleasing whole, but it makes a huge difference. Try it, you’ll see. And if you happen to know any food scientists, perhaps you can ask them why this is. Let me know what you find out.

After the cake, one of the girls had to go home, but the other remained and Savta read some books. Then the girls painted on glitter tattoos (Purim is coming!) while I had some Pungryu music playing in the background to maintain the relaxed atmosphere (follow that link; it’s worth a listen). Then when night fell we went outside and lit sparklers. The kids used them to paint designs on the darkness.

It was a very low-key birthday party, but it was exactly what was right for Aquila.

And then we hopped over to Beit HaGvinot to pick up some dinner. Nothing like a little brie to end a wonderful day.

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