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March 28, 2011 8:06 PM   Subscribe

The Babylonian Talmud was composed in the historical region of Palestine and in (not surprisingly) Babylonia (modern-day Iraq) between ~70 C.E. and ~700 C.E. Many centuries later, it turns out that "there are more South Koreans with Talmud sets in their homes than Jews in Israel." (Hebrew original)

Despite the original prohibition against writing down the Oral Law, the need to preserve Rabbinic Judaism in the face of destruction and diaspora took precedence. That's not the only attitude toward the Oral Law that's changed. "A non-Jew who studies the Torah deserves death", yet this rabbi is teaching Talmud to South Koreans. Catholics have been wondering for quite some time why South Koreans love Talmud.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 (38 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Catholics have been wondering for quite some time why South Koreans love Talmud.

Wonder no more, for I say again, Koreans are awesome.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:25 PM on March 28, 2011


How they - more than other people - are able to reach those impressive accomplishments? Why are Jews so intelligent? The conclusion we arrived at is that one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud."


Should we tell them its just the gefilte fish?
posted by milestogo at 8:26 PM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is truly bizarre though. In what context are Koreans learning about the nuances of purity rituals of the temple, or the laws of carrying food on the sabbath? Granted, there is enough to confused any modern day reader of the Talmud, but seems to me that there is so much cultural baggage that comes with the talmud, it is crazy to try to study it's logic (which, of course, is a rigorous learning experience) without sufficient familiarity with the backdrop of content. Or are koreans actually learning about the ritualistic norms of Rabbinic Judaism?

Also, are they using Tosafos?
posted by milestogo at 8:31 PM on March 28, 2011


Ok...so I understand why they ended up writing down the oral law. But a few things:
1. Why was it prohibited...was it because it was evolving with society?
2. Who decided it was ok? Individuals...or top dawg individuals...or everyone?

thanks in advance to anyone who can help out.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:31 PM on March 28, 2011


...
posted by phrontist at 8:36 PM on March 28, 2011


Should we tell them its just the gefilte fish?

Shut up shut up shut up

EVERYONE IGNORE THIS MAN HE IS JUST CRAZY HE KNOWS NOTHING MOVE ALONG
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:36 PM on March 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


Thanks for repeating that out-of-context, non-halakhic quotation from the Talmud. If Jews followed every quote from the Talmud, it would also be permitted to light the candles of the Hanukha candles backward, etc. It is a fact that the Talmud presents contradictory and often bizarre viewpoints, most of which are not binding. From the same blatt, we see: "Whence do we know that even a heathen who studies the Torah is as a High Priest?" This is no doubt referring to the abstract version of the common saying that "a gentile who studies the Torah is greater than the high priest." In Medieval Europe especially committed Bible scholars would seek out Rabbis to instruct them in Hebrew, the better to understand the Old Testament— and many extra-literal teachings (e.g., the identification of Shem and Melchizedek as the same person) are common at least in certain sectors of the Catholic Church. I doubt that the two are unrelated.
posted by Electrius at 8:37 PM on March 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


This is fascinating but a) I think "mandatory" is an overstatement. I can't find a quotation from somebody within the South Korean ministry of education, which has a highly standardized curriculum. "Popular" maybe, but definitely not "mandatory." (Happy to stand corrected, however.) b) There are deep cultural similarities between the respect for teachers and elders, and education in general, between Judaism and Korean culture. The difference is that Jews base it on theological beliefs and the Koreans base it on secular, Confucian ideals coming in through ancient China.

Pretty cool in any case.
posted by bardic at 8:39 PM on March 28, 2011


hmm. Basic Googling produced this Korean's children book with Talmudic stories in it. The description says that the book "explains the values from children's point of view and lead their philosophical thinking. The stories are told by various styles of illustrations and they raise children's ability to think through question and answer as Jew claims to support." It could be that the talmud is being "exported" as more of a literary compilation rather than as a logical text.
posted by milestogo at 8:47 PM on March 28, 2011


Based on one of the translated pages, it seems as though there is a particular interest in the Talmud's logic puzzles. Briefly looking over the Google Books tables of content, it also seems that what's being read are vignettes of Talmud, not full "sugyot."

I suspect that the Talmud in Korea is as to Vedic Upaniá¹£ads in the West: Quoted in snippets as some kind of foreign secret wisdom, removed from the original context of the works and often (though not always) from the original meaning.
posted by dzkalman at 8:47 PM on March 28, 2011


Yeah, pretty much debunked already.

I've lived in Korea for seven of the past ten years, and the "Talmud" they're talking about is basically a one- or two-hundred page collection of little anecdotes plucked from the more accessible parts of the Talmud. No one but the local Chabad rabbi is going to have even a single tractate of Talmud Bavli or Yerushalmi. The "talmud" they're talking about is on the same level as Aesop's Fables.

And the Catholic forum is full of shock and dismay at this, because the Talmud is a nefarious Jew plot. According to the OP on the fisheaters site, it is "... anti-Christian and said to kill Christians."
posted by holterbarbour at 8:49 PM on March 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


Eh, I still think it's kind of cool. I doubt Koreans will start going to shul any time soon but there are definitely some cultural affinities I'd never thought about too much before -- respect for elders and teachers, a deference to high textual authority and expertise, a "Type A" approach to problems through direct application of hard work and brain power.

Given a few generations I could see Jews and Koreans inter-marrying to form our new nerdly overlords, no problem.
posted by bardic at 8:58 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bardic: isn't the cute jewish guy with the hot asian girlfriend already a cliche?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:00 PM on March 28, 2011


According to the OP on the fisheaters site

All kinds of bad in that thread. Click on to the second page if you want to read some real shockers.
posted by topynate at 9:04 PM on March 28, 2011


There's the deference to elders in Korea, to be sure, but it's pretty much just mandatory, regardless of how deserving the (male) elder is. The Jewish tradition of asking questions is comparatively non-existent; here you're expected just take things on authority. Old men get away with all sorts of shit because no one feels comfortable punishing them the first time (in this case, attempted arson on a national treasure yields a fine and suspended sentence).
posted by holterbarbour at 9:09 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please, do we have to give "Come and Hear" any Metafilter link juice? It's a cherry-picked collection of the most provocative bits of Talmus amassed by a dedicated anti-Semite.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:12 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Korea-Jewish relations thing might not be a total dead end though; perhaps Rabbi Kimchi is one of the Chosun People.
posted by holterbarbour at 9:13 PM on March 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Intellectual curiosity is certainly an ideal for both cultures, although the reality doesn't always bear this out. And it was that dude Jesus who got into a lot of trouble going into synagogues and actually asking questions of the other rabbis, rather than just defering to their authority at all times.

Yeah, in a totally pop-psychology/junior sociology way a comparison between Hebrew and Jewish cultures remains interesting, exceptions and all.
posted by bardic at 9:18 PM on March 28, 2011


err, Hebew and Korean
posted by bardic at 9:20 PM on March 28, 2011


@hal_c_on
1. Why was it prohibited...was it because it was evolving with society?

It's not entirely clear why it was prohibited, but it has much to do with a) the constantly evolving nature of an oral complement to a written law and b) the need to safeguard a tradition from unwanted influence. When the only way to learn something is by training with your local authority, control over the information is much more controlled than if there are manuscripts all over for anyone to read. There are also theological assertions about the specialness and exclusivity of the Jewish people's relationship with God, symbolized by and corresponding to the mandate to keep this Oral Law the exclusive province of the Jewish people.

Note, also, the extreme Talmudic anxiety about the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (the Septuagint). So the concern with maintaining control over religious documents and traditions extended beyond the oral into the written, as well.

2. Who decided it was ok? Individuals...or top dawg individuals...or everyone?

The Talmud presents it as a decision of Rabbi Judah the Prince in the mid-to-late 2nd Century. So yeah, pretty much only the top dawg individuals, who btw were really the only ones with access to or knowledge of much these traditions and laws anyway.

@ Electrius
I agree with everything that you said. I didn't mean to imply that Pharisees were stoning Romans who studied Jewish law, only that the statement reflects a definite attitude. You, btw, failed to mention that even further down the "blatt," the Gemara concludes that non-Jews can only study the 7 Noachide laws, which pertain to them, not the rest of the Jewish law corpus.

As I said above to hal_c_on, the question of protecting the traditions from outsiders is very much related to the question of orality. And, again, it's a matter of shifting rabbinic and cultural attitudes.

@i_am_joe's_spleen
The vast majority of "Come and Hear" is simply the Soncino translation of the Talmud. The bit I quoted was from Sanhedrin, very much not cherry-picked and fully in context, what with links to the entire tractate there on the page. If R. Hertz didn't have a problem with the translation, I'm not quite sure why you do.

apologies for the length
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 9:20 PM on March 28, 2011


Joe's spleen, you sure? I dont know anything about the site, but it looks like it has entire tractates online, not just cherry-picked selections.
posted by milestogo at 9:20 PM on March 28, 2011


Come and Hear is notoriously antisemitic. It's run by Carol Valentine, a Holocaust denier who collects and republishes antisemitic texts. If you want to know more, just do a little Googling.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:28 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


For my part, I've lived in Korea 12 of the last 15 years, and I've got to chime in and say this is the first time I've heard anything like this.

I also have very strong doubts that the way this is being presented
Almost every home in South Korea now contains a Korean-translated Talmud. But unlike in Israel, the Korean mothers teach the Talmud to their children.
approaches the reality of the situation in any way.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:38 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, that Catholic site is deeply nasty. Further down the page the Original Poster adds, in a tone of outrage
I asked them what other books you read in that class and do you know what the first thing they answered?Huh?Huh?Huh? THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK!!!!!!!! [...] This is tooo creepy.
Another poster chimes in and says
"That is too creepy, Brogan. Do you want me to send you some scapulars and holy water? I'm serious. Or anything else you feel you need.
This sort of thing just makes my head spin. You know, like Linda Blair.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:47 PM on March 28, 2011


-->NMN.80.418: I don't have any problem with texts presented on that site from the Talmud -- I have problems with the surrounding matter, and the publisher. I suggest you have a bit more of a nose around, and as Astro Zombie says, do some digging via Google on Carol Valentine, and then see how you feel about it.

The site mostly contains texts cherry-picked tp suit its message about Jews and Judaism, designed for anti-semites to read between the lines. However, this is made explicit in places. Note for example this prominently linked page. Scroll down here and see what it says under the section "New America."

I guess I should have made this more clear but I didn't want to make an even bigger derail.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:54 PM on March 28, 2011


hal_c_on wrote: Ok...so I understand why they ended up writing down the oral law. But a few things:
1. Why was it prohibited...was it because it was evolving with society?
2. Who decided it was ok? Individuals...or top dawg individuals...or everyone?


The fundamental reason was that they distinguished between scripture (i.e., Biblical texts) and everything else. There were a number of other religious movements around - the Essenes, the proto-Christians, probably some others we don't know about. There were also many extra-Biblical books that didn't make the Jewish canon but were accepted by these heterodox movements. A book of religious law is effectively scripture, which makes it heterodox.

As -->NMN.80.418 says, the decision to write it down is ascribed to Rabbi Judah the Prince, who was responsible for the proto-Talmud, the Mishna. But in fact what he did was start editing a collection of previously existing notes on the oral tradition. We know this because some of the notes he left out of the Mishna survived and are cited in the Talmud, or exist independently in the Tosefta. And then you have a whole distinct strand of Jewish legal thought based on exegesis instead of tradition, the Midrash. Was that under the same prohibition as the Mishna? Maybe, but Rabbi Judah didn't have much to do with the works of legal Midrash so it's hard to see how or why Rabbi Judah he could have had anything to do with it. Like many things, the closer you look the more complicated it gets.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:03 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Debunked eh, oh well, at least I got to find out the laws of an egg born on a holiday.
posted by unliteral at 10:04 PM on March 28, 2011


The secret is not the Talmud. The secret is not what you study. The secret is that you study. Education is the secret.

Or maybe it's the fish.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:22 PM on March 28, 2011


It's the fish

Some guy asks his Jewish neighbour, "Hey, Moshe! How come you Jews are so smart?"
Moshe answers "Well.... I don't know if I should tell you this, but it's actually the pickled herring we eat. I'll share mine with you for half a ruble."
The neighbour agrees and this goes on for a few days. Then the neighbour comes and bangs on Moshe's door again. "Hey, Moshe! You've been selling me herrings for half a ruble each, and I just found out you can get a jar of them for twenty kopecks!"
"See?" Moshe says, "You're smarter already!"
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:32 PM on March 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


Should we tell them its just the gefilte fish?

Fox's U-Bet, milk, and seltzer.
posted by zippy at 1:18 AM on March 29, 2011


Diluted Talmud is a staple of Jewish "Hebrew School" education as well. If you are not put off by singing "Dreydl, dreydl, dreydl, I made it out of Clay" after your Bar Mitzvah, you usually can choose to take a class in Talmud. If you are Orthodox you definately study Talmud in your teens, and if you are a Hasidic kid you are busy memorizing it.

Talmud was - and remains - a starting point for debate and interpretation. And it gets pretty weird when you get deep into it, which is not surprising since it really is about preserving our - even then - outdated tribal laws and customs. Hasidic kids are usually absolute experts in the passges which debate the issue of what constitutes a "mamzer" (child born out of wedlock or a birth not sanctioned by Judaism) which passes for the "racey stuff" in Ortho Yeshivas.

The writer and Yiddish scholar Michael Wex told me about a Gay Jewish congregation that was forming in New York. They came to him and asked if he could find a Jewish justification for a Gay Kehilla (community) in the Talmud. Wex answered that, yes, he knew of passages that would justify Gay life in a Jewish context, but the point was that if they wanted to form a real congregation they would have to learn enough gemora to find those passages, not him.
posted by zaelic at 3:12 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


That Catholic forum is, in several ways, basically indistinguishable from a neo-Nazi one. They all talk about how they used to be "brainwashed" to the extent of "Jewish power". One guy even puts Holocaust in scare quotes, and hey Stalin killed more people than Hitler anyways amirite? Too bad some useful information on the subject of the post has to be buried in so much gross crap.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:22 AM on March 29, 2011


DecemberBoy: I'm not sure the link even contained arguably useful information. Looks like it could have been left out of the FPP entirely without much lost (and much gained, as I now need to go wash my brain out with soap).
posted by Inkoate at 7:09 AM on March 29, 2011


I suspect the reason is Stalin. The Koryo-Saram, during Stalin's purges of the '30's, were deported from the Russian Far East to the far-flung reaches of the Soviet Union, especially the Central Asian republics, and often found themselves alongside similarly deported Jews. The Koreans have been re-immigrating to Korea since the fall of communism and the rise of Korean prosperity, and they took with them the fascination with their neighbors.

They also had a presence in the area that became the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, before it was dismantled in the purges of the '30s and the aftermath of WWII, both Koreans and Jews deported, the emerging society all but destroyed.

I wonder if it's a nostalgic remembrance of "pioneer" days, where families fled Japanese rule for the wild frontier and relative freedom and prosperity of Russia, and the Jews and their culture were far more palatable than the grim authoritarianism and racism of Soviet rule, and so became the face of that exotic time and place.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:27 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bardic: isn't the cute jewish guy with the hot asian girlfriend already a cliche?

It's certainly a known trope.
posted by acb at 8:25 AM on March 29, 2011


Should we tell them its just the gefilte fish?

Some practical jokes are just too cruel to play on people, sorry.
posted by elizardbits at 10:11 AM on March 29, 2011


Nu, if you don't like stam gefilte fish, try baking it, it's so tasty.
posted by holterbarbour at 4:09 PM on March 29, 2011


"I wonder if it's a nostalgic remembrance of "pioneer" days, where families fled Japanese rule for the wild frontier and relative freedom and prosperity of Russia, and the Jews and their culture were far more palatable than the grim authoritarianism and racism of Soviet rule"

So, basically, they rejected the grim authoritarianism and racism of the Japanese, when they felt like they had the right to dominate Korea... and rejected the grim authoritarianism and racism of the Russians, when they felt like they had the right to culturally dominate so many people in parts of East Asia...

Well... it's a good thing they never made it as far as Israel then, isn't it?! They might've gotten the wrong idea.

Hatred starts at home. Especially if it's a home taken from someone else.
posted by markkraft at 10:40 PM on March 30, 2011


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