The photo above is of a Talmud translated into Korean
Courtesy of the South Korean Embassy to Israel.
Koreans Learn Talmud?
By Larry Fine
It started simply enough when I got the following email from my brother-in-law which seemed to be some sort of email that was being passed on from reader to friends:
I thought you would find this interesting
Talmud Study now Mandatory in South Korea
Close to 50 million people live in South Korea and everyone learns Gemara (Talmud) in school. "We tried to understand why the Jews are geniuses and we came to the conclusion that it is because they study Talmud" said the Korean ambassador to Israel. And this is how "Rav Papa" became a more well known scholar in Korea than in Israel.
But unlike in Israel, the Korean mothers teach the Talmud to their children.
"We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews" explains Israel's ambassador to South Korea, Young Sam Mahthat, who was a host on the program "culture today."
Jews have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields: literature, science and economics. This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand what is the secret of the Jewish people? 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.
"Jews study the Talmud at a young age and it helps them in our opinion to develop mental capabilities. This understanding led us to teach our children as well. We believe that if we teach our children Talmud they will also become geniuses. This is what stands behind the rationale of introducing Talmud Study to our school curriculum."
Young says that he himself studied the Talmud at a very young age:
"It is considered very significant study" he emphasized. The result is that more Koreans have Talmud sets in their homes than Jews in Israel.
I believe that the above email was actually part of an internet news item that had been copied and circulated freely via personal email. After reading the above email I responded to my brother-in-law:
Above was the email I sent to my brother-in-law.
After sending out this email, I began to think about Koreans learning the gemora. To read the Talmud, one must be proficient in both Hebrew and ancient Aramaic. It takes about four to five years to develop skills needed to understand what is going on. In addition, to just reading the page and understanding the page, one must read Rashi's (1040-1105) commentary; that is the starting point of understanding. Rashi, in the original Hebrew/Aramaic is full of subtle points that take a trained eye to see. Afterwards there is on the opposite side of the page the commentary of the Toshphos, a school of Talmudic learning that was started by the grandsons of Rashi. The study of the Toshphos is very difficult and requires much though and probing than that needed for understanding Rashi; Toshphos seems to bring down problems in the current topic from other places in the Talmud.
Learning the gemora with Rashi and Tosphos is not the end. One must include seeing the commentaries of the Rabbi Yitzhak Alfazi, ( Rif) or Rabbenu Yona, or the various other commentators who are known by their initials more than by their names. Each one of these great rabbinic commentators adds a different perspective to the analysis of the gemora. Then there is the coming to earth with the relevant halacha (Jewish law).
The Talmud has long been translated into English (as well as other languages). The first English translation of the Talmud was done perhaps fifty years ago by the Soncino Publishing Company. I remember trying to learn from it some forty years ago. I gave it up as an impossibility and a futile waste of time and instead put my energies into mastering Hebrew and Aramaic.
In recent years the Talmud has been translated again into English by another group. It is known as the Art-Scroll Talmud. Still, no Jew has ever really achieved much more than a superficial understanding of the Talmud from these English language editions.
I wonder how the Koreans who have no prior knowledge of the intricacies of the Talmud and perhaps little knowledge of the Jewish Torah or Jewish halacha can hope to achieve much from reading a Korean translation. Couple this with the fact that the outcome of the arguments concerning Jewish law has nothing to do with them personally. Does a Korean keep Shabbat or the Festivals that he is going to care what side of the egg came out first? Can a Korean student argue with the same passion and intensity about a subject that really does not concern him?
If the Koreans are smart enough to gain a serious understanding of the problems raised by the Talmudic sages, then they are so intelligent, they probably do not need the Talmud.
I came to the conclusion that the original story about the Koreans studying Talmud has been blown out of proportion. Perhaps there is a Korean translation, but the mothers' teaching their children Talmud? Who taught them? That everyone in Korea learns Talmud? I kind of doubt that. I guess it is my Talmud training that makes me skeptical of the above email as a near hoax.
from the August 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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