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.
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: https://raisingwings.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/tal-mu-duh-the-real-story/