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Posts tagged ‘Talmud’

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?



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:

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