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

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?


Comments on: "Tal-Mu-Duh, the real story." (29)

  1. It gets weirder and weirder…

  2. Actually, now it’s making sense. The way the ynet story had it … not so much.

    There are worse things than stories of King Solomon from the Midrash.

  3. so, I’m a member of the Yutayne Clan? πŸ™‚

    • Yes, Avraham, you are. Though I prefer the term “tribe”, myself.
      And just to clear up some confusion, yutayne rhymes with butane. The gas.

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

    WHAT?! Are you insinuating that YNET made something up?!

    (Yes, they blew this one, big time. I guess their “Yahadut” reporters need a refresher course in fact-checking).

    Found your post thoroughly insightful and amusing — and I hope to start following your blog as well πŸ™‚

    Regards from the Rolling Hills of the Shomron,


    • A story for you: I was born in the USSR, and my family emigrated to the USA in 1979. Fresh off the airplane, we were invited to have shabbat lunch with a warm and kind family that took us under their wing, even though we didn’t really have a way to communicate. During the meal, our hostess asked my dad if he would like some gefilte fish, and he readily agreed to such a treat. Some unappetizing lump with translucent yellow goop on it was placed on his plate, and he ignored it, waiting for the gefilte fish to be served. That was Dad’s first experience with Manishevitz jarred fish. So if two Jews from different parts of the world will think of two different things even though they use the same word, it’s only fair that two different cultures will, too. So yes, Ynet dropped the ball, but I’m willing to cut them some slack on this one.

      I look forward to seeing you around!

      • Actually, your father was correct. My father has lived in the US for over 85 years now, and about a year ago i offered him some gefilte fish. He said i didn’t have any. I insisted that i did. So said, fine give me some. I gave him some, he looked at the plate with his failing eyesight, and proclaimed, this is NOT gefilte fish. I insisted that was, figuring it was his eyesight, and that he should tried it. He then, in no uncertain terms, told me it was NOT gefilte fish, it was gehockte (chopped) fish, but disappointed as he was he’d eat it anyway.

        I understood what he meant since i did have the real thing many years ago as a snack served to a visiting guest (me). My host (in Israel) just called it “Dag”… i enjoyed it while not realizing that it was the real gefilte fish until that little exchange with my father 20 years later, and i remembered that fish… it was really good.

        Rabbi Abraham Twerski has a book, A Taste of Nostalgia, where a version of the real thing is described:

        isbn 978-1-4226-0105-6

  5. Rabbi Tokayer was the Rabbi of Tokyo and earlier was the military Jewish Chaplain at Camp Hakata (aka Brady Air Force Base) in Kyushu. He wrote an interesting book about the Japanese and Jews during WWII: The Fugu Plan: the Untold Story of the Japanese and the Jews in World War Two..

    • Doc Rock, have you read it? I heard about it maybe a year ago and keep meaning to get my hands on a copy. BTW, your poetry translations are beautiful, do you plan to do anymore?
      If anyone is interested in reading Korean poetry translated into English, click on Doc Rock’s name. He’s got some great stuff.

  6. What’s the ‘egg born on a holiday’?
    I’m loosing sleep over it.

  7. It’s a Jewish legal concept from the Oral Tradition, called “nolad”. A nolad is something that came into existence on the Sabbath or a holiday, like an egg that was hatched on the day. Such an object is not permitted for use on the Sabbath or a holiday. It is one of the few laws that is stricter on a holiday than on the sabbath.

    Now go get some rest. πŸ™‚

    P.S. I always check out commenter’s blogs and yours appears to be down. Please repost in the comments when it’s up again, ok?

  8. […] that Korean children learn Talmud to be smart like Jews. What’s the low down?Β  Malkie from tells us the real story.Β  A fascinating look at how some of the world sees […]

  9. I guess even a diluted Talmud is better than no Talmud at all. Good for the Koreans for trying. What will it take to get Jews to study the Talmud?

  10. My mother gave me a Korean children’s version of the Talmud about 30 years ago in Korea. I had no idea that most Korean mothers did that! She certainly didn’t say anything about getting smarter from it; it was more for the values gleaned from the work, much of which are in line with traditional Korean ethics.

    The author is correct, the work was morphed into something like Aesop’s fables or children’s version of bible stories and parables – many with some kind of morals or lessons.

    I stumbled across this post while searching for a children’s version of the Talmud for my young daughter (an English version). Anyone have a good recommendation? I’m thinking maybe it’s also time for me to revisit the Talmud, in English and not Korean this time!

  11. Dulcy Freeman said: has The Fugu Plan, free shipping, for anyone interested.

  12. So, the South Korean have a water downed version of the Talmud! I hope that they learn how to be humble .Perhaps they get better Humans?

  13. Jenny, the best edition I have seen is the now out of print “Our Sages Showed the Way”. I say we all storm Feldheim (the publisher) and ask them to reprint it. The cartoony dumbed-down stuff being published now doesn’t compare.

    Shosh– I can say from what I saw in South Korea, they already have humility and don’t need any additional help there. Definitely not from Israel. πŸ™‚

  14. is this not an april fool joke? i notice on the bottom right of the cover image the acronym, LOL!

  15. Dan, this is for real. The LOL you see among the characters in the lower right of the photo is Korean writing, and the characters that appear to say LOL are part of the word in that corner. The word is μ‹œκ°„κ³Όκ³΅κ°„μ‚¬. If you look carefully, you can see that the characters for “n”, “ng”, and “n” in Korean do sort of form an LOL, so you’re not seeing things. Google translate didn’t do a great job with this word– anyone here know what that word means? My guess is that it’s the name of the publisher.

  16. Thanks for that raisingwings, thats great!

  17. Omg. Really?!

    Great post, got a real good laugh out of it when talking to my family and co-workers.

    Nice Blog!

  18. Posted it up on our twitter feed…hope you don’t mind!

  19. HiExpat, of course I don’t mind! BTW, your site was invaluable while we were staying in Seoul. Thank you.

  20. KoreanJew said:

    As a normally upbrought Korean, and also a Jew, I’d like to say that the ‘Talmud Syndrom or Trend’ is not new one but at least since 1980, because I was reading them when I was a child. And all the numerous versions are not the complete talmud but a kind of ‘Midrash for children’.

    Where were they from? I can say they ‘were’ the direct translations from the japanese books, many of which are of Rabbi Marvin tokayer who resided in Japan, the japanese has been fascinated by the rumor ‘the jews rules the world’ or the fact of success of jewish people in many fields. The latter also captivated the Korean who would anything if their children would be successful.

    Now the former Rabbi would visit Korea for teaching ‘Traditional jewish way of learning’ so the indigested ‘trend’ is matured to the publishing of ‘Torah digest, explained by Rabbis’ which contains exact references of Mishna and Guemara. So my impression of the news about Koreans is like I’m watching the news of 1980’s

    And the quotation of ‘To be genious, we learn talmud’ is totally wrong. It’s from the words of Korean ambassador in Israel, very embarassing, but guessed a kind of diplomatic rhetoric. Because Koreans are not so stupid to think if they read talmud, they will become genious. In fact they already mark the 2nd of the nations list by the order of I.Q and they know well of the fact(except the dimplomat)

    Anyway as a Korean-Jew I’ll start studying talmud. I’m also busy with translating the great works like ‘Pirkei Avot’ to Korean, the main purpose is for the existing Korean Jews whose majority lives in America. Thank you for reminding me of my one family, the Korean.

  21. David Margolis said:

    This article straightened out the story of what is really happening. I found the Ynet article and the Arutz Hasheva reporting rather fantastic. I would say unbelievable when I first read those internet briefs. I have a brother in Korea now teaching English as a second language there. G-d willing I will get the report from what he finds out there. I especially appreciate the commentary by “KoreanJew” who gave important insights and experience to further describe the situation. I wish much Hatlsacha for KoreanJew to do the translating work so necessary as it would seem.

  22. I’d like to purchase a Korean Children’s talmud? Anyone have a link to a book on Amazon?

  23. Hi, I’m a Korean and a jew. I garantee there doesn’t exist the ‘real talmud’ in Korean. The books titled ‘talmud’ are the ones of many educational books for children, and the contents might be extracted from ‘Aggadot’. Most of all, amazon doesn’t sell books in Korean(and searching in Korean isn’t possible either). I will give you a link to the page which will have the list and thumbnail images of the books called ‘talmud’. Some for children, some for adults.

  24. David Z said:

    So here’s my follow up question. The Koreans are supposed to be visiting Israeli y’shivot with television crews (I’ve seen a few articles on this in the past few years). Here’s the latest:

    So aren’t peopel tellign them what Talmud study is so they realize, hey, this kids book isn’t Talmud study. I mean I’m guessing they realize this book isn’t Talmud study because otherwise why are they investigating further in Israel?

    • As the ‘Korean jew’, sorry but irresistible to reveal it, I might be the one knows the situation. There has been two categories of people who ‘love’ talmud.

      As I commented before, the kids talmud book is a descendent of Japanese imperialism. The japanese from the age of industrilazation started studying on western countries, especially Germany and United kingdom because the former is a model as a late starter of modernisation, the latter is of course the geographic similarity, for sure.

      So their samurai spirit and plus japanese zen philosophie as a negative aspect, and rumors of anti-semitism as a positive aspect(sorry for the expression) have met each other. So they desired to learn to be jews ‘who rule the world'(hooray, even the mighty Hitler recognised the power, yes it’s the good for some of them).

      So as all the aspects of Japan have been always inspiration to her rival, Korea, who started later the modernisation, also found the talmud. As the same reason, it’s undoutful that chinese who have followed the model of Korea, also have found it. For their kids, that’s all. It’s a kind of desire for overcome the western civilisation by the way of the ‘selected people’s wisdom’, i guess.

      Second categorie is of christianity. What japan doesn’t have. The clergymen of korean churches are very serious and conscious of jewish people, without anti semitism, and in their boundary. They are fascinated of Nobel prize stories of the people. In Korea, yes, they believe in G-d, half of the population, but if church doesn’t serve for the improvement of selves, and the gaining of wealth, if they aren’t promised in church, well, how long it will take to the end of christianity in the country?

      And well I was a bit surprised, that Samsung is interested in our heritage. So they’re very interested in the thesis of Peter drucker who articulated on the education in company.

      It seems inevitable, the spread of knowledge. But as a jew, day by day becoming more conservative at least for protecting the value of judaism, I believe the knowledge without wisdom just function as a source of misunderstanding. It needs to be accompanied by true heart for pursuing the truth, like torah is based on both written and oral ones. They don’t understand the moral of pesakh, independency of human being described in the book of Esther, the meaning of freedom flowing through torah… As a slave of something, even one is a jew. So the holidays and traditions are there for teach us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud