How the Talmud Came to South Korea

In South Korea, widespread admiration for Jews and especially for the Talmud has led some schools to include Talmud classes in their curricula. But the book being studied is a digest of selected passages compiled by an American rabbi for translation into Japanese in 1968. Unbeknownst to the compiler, Korean publishers then began producing their own translations—some abridged, some illustrated. Ross Arbes writes:

In 2011, the South Korean ambassador to Israel at the time, Young-sam Ma, was interviewed on the Israeli public-television show “Culture Today.” “I wanted to show you this,” he told the host, straying briefly from the topic at hand. . . . It was a white paperback book with “Talmud” written in Korean and English on the cover, along with a cartoon sketch of a biblical character with a robe and staff. “Each Korean family has at least one copy of the Talmud. Korean mothers want to know how so many Jewish people became geniuses.” Looking up at the surprised host, he added, “Twenty-three percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish people. Korean women want to know the secret. They found the secret in this book.” . . .

[One popular version] is organized thematically into seven chapters. It consists mostly of parables, but there is other content as well: first-person narratives, questions posed to the reader (“If you were the king in this story, which of these characters would you pick for your successor?”), and lists of one-sentence aphorisms (“Not increasing your knowledge is the same as decreasing it”). Topics run the gamut from business ethics to sex advice.

Most of the stories in the book had origins in the Talmud. Others came from derivative commentary that has since been absorbed into the talmudic canon. One story was a Jewish joke, first published in the 1930s, about the complicated and sometimes contradictory nature of rabbinical interpretation.

Read more at New Yorker

More about: Judaism, Philo-Semitism, Religion & Holidays, South Korea, Talmud

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem