Is Korea Filled with Anti-Semites, or Philo-Semites?

November 5, 2014 | Dave Hazzan
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A recent survey conducted by the ADL ranked Korea the third most anti-Semitic country in Asia (after Malaysia and Armenia). The country has a tiny Jewish community, mostly consisting of American expatriates, that until recently was centered around a U.S. military base. Korea’s Jews claim that they have encountered minimal anti-Semitism and instead cite widespread admiration for, and interest in, Jews and Judaism. With this admiration come numerous stereotypes about Jewish success, which may explain the results of the ADL survey. These attitudes have produced some strange results, writes Dave Hazzan:

In fact, an interest in Judaism has made the Talmud a best-seller in Korea. [Korea’s only rabbi, Osher] Litzman runs regular Talmud and Torah classes for Koreans, most of whom have no interest in converting. . . . [T]here are Koreans who have been regulars at Friday-night services for 30 years and know the liturgy better than many American Jews do. A 2011 story from the [London] Jewish Chronicle, “Why South Koreans Are in Love with Judaism,” estimates there are more Talmuds in Korean homes than in Israeli ones. The story quotes a Korean mother who said, “The stereotype of Jews here is that they are ultra-intelligent people. Jews have come out of nowhere to become business chiefs, media bosses, Nobel Prize-winners—we want our children to do the same. If that means studying Talmud, Torah, whatever, so be it.”

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