South Koreans Study The Talmud Because They Think It'll Make Them Rich And Successful
We're confident that if we asked you to name some of South Korea's top-selling books, you would never come up with the Talmud. And it's not because Seoul has a thriving Jewish community you've never heard of. A 2014 study published by the Anti-Defamation League found that 53 percent of South Korean adults agreed with statements like "Jews have too much power in the business world" and "Jews have too much control over global affairs." But unlike the average YouTube commenter, many South Koreans see the gross stereotype that Jewish people are power and money hungry as a positive attribute to emulate. It's like thinking all Italians are in the Mafia, but that's awesome because look at all the nice suits they wear and great food they eat.
Aleksandar Todorovic/Adobe StockWe assume you're supposed to stop before hitting the "centuries of persecution" stage.
Many South Koreans have never even met a Jewish person, but it's estimated that 80 percent of the country is at least somewhat familiar with the Talmud, or at least various accessible repackagings of the dense, challenging text which reinterpret it as self-help and life advice. There are even schools dedicated to giving South Korean students a "Jewish education," plus subgenres of study like "prenatal Talmud," whereby expectant mothers play audio versions of the holy book for their future business leaders and Nobel Prize winners.
None of them intend to convert to Judaism, but they see the success (or perceived dominance) of Jewish people in the world and want a piece of the kosher pie for themselves. Actual Jewish people are torn between seeing this as a compelling way to spread their culture and worrying that there's a fine line between "positive" stereotypes and a drift into angry antisemitism. And if this all sounds ridiculous to you, keep in mind that on any given day, there are thousands of Americans posting butchered quotes misattributed to Confucius on their Instagram feeds because old Asian people must be wise.
Jordan Breeding also writes for a whole mess of other people, the Twitter, and a weird amount of gas station bathrooms.
The Talmud is actually a pretty solid read, if you get the chance.
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For more, check out 7 Things From America That Are Insanely Popular Overseas and 7 Everyday Experiences Other Countries Do Waaay Differently.
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