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

Posts tagged ‘South Korea’


I would like to thank Tamar Yonah for the opportunity to be on her show. You can download or listen here:

My interview about the Korean Talmud is at 1:05:42.

Anyone else find it interesting how fascinated we are by people who are fascinated by us? Considering our history, it’s certainly an unusual experience.

Oh, and just in case you really can’t believe that Korean parents are looking to our people for a model of education, a friend of ours in South Korea sent us this link to his kids’ preschool, The International Art School in Seoul. This is a Korean school, and the link takes you to the English translation of the site. Click on the word “what” and you will find the following copy:

Perhaps the most multicultural group on the earth are the Jews. Centuries in exile from their homeland of Israel required them to adapt to the cultures and learn the languages of their resident countries while remaining true to the culture of their ancestors. This is one reason why the Jews have found success far beyond their numbers in fields as diverse as art, science, and information technology. At the INTERNATIONAL ART SCHOOL we attempt to mimic these conditions by immersing children in a multicultural, multilingual learning environment as part of a structured regimen of instruction.

When the kids become too successful in school, do the teachers steal their property, expel them, and then force them to wander the streets until another school takes them in?

I know, I know, they’re just being buzzword compliant. But that’s the amazing thing: Jewish success as a positive is now a buzzword outside of our community, too. Personally, I think that the Koreans are pretty darned smart themselves, and have made awesome strides in the past 60 years. In that short time they have built the 15th largest economy in terms of GDP in the world; I’m not sure they really need our help. it’s a huge compliment that they are looking to us for fresh ideas to take them into the future. A greater flow of ideas between South Korea and Israel can only strengthen us both.



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:


This is what six looks like:

Missing front tooth and all.



















Lyra wore her hanbok to celebrate. She calls it her Korean Princess Dress.

The height of Korean fashion, circa 1450 CE



















We invited some children we’ve befriended to a birthday party in our apartment. Moments before they arrived, so did housekeeping (yes, daily housekeeping. I can seriously get used to living like this).

Usually the housekeeping woman is very differential. She is friendly, but her preference is to act invisible. That is, until she saw Lyra in her hanbok. She got all excited, pulled out her cell phone (is this a good time to mention that her cell phone is light years more advanced than mine? Okay, so I’ve refused a new cell phone for years, but still. Koreans take their technology very seriously.) The housekeeping woman asked me if she could photograph Lyra! Of course I agreed. So if you frequent any Korean websites and you see a photo of Lyra dressed like this, now you know how it got there. What I’ve learned in the past week is this: show any interest or respect for Korean language or culture, and the people here adore you for it. “Kamsamnida” goes a long way, not just because you are saying thank you, but because you’ve bothered to learn the Korean word for it.

This is the same housekeeping woman who owns all our dishes, but that’s a different story.

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