A fascination with the Jewish Talmud by Buddhists and Christians in South Korea is evidence of a growing thirst for Jewish wisdom. In addition, through the online school Root Source, Israeli Jews are now teaching Jewish wisdom to Christians from all over the world. Intriguingly, both in South Korean homes and online with Root Source, these students of Jewish wisdom have no intention of converting to Judaism.
According to a recent article in the New Yorker magazine, the phenomenon of South Koreans owning and reading the Talmud began with Korean mothers who wanted to give their children the same education that makes it possible for 23 percent of Nobel Prize winners to be Jews. They believe that the secret to this intellectual success is found in studying the Talmud.
Although it is widely reported that there is a copy of the Talmud in nearly every home in South Korea, that isn’t really the case. The actual Talmud is Judaism’s compendium of oral law, so named because for hundreds of years it was transmitted orally from teacher to student. A standard printed Jewish Talmud is a multi-volume work over 6,000 pages long.
What is in almost every home in South Korea is a copy of one of hundreds of versions of the book 5,000 Years of Jewish Wisdom: Secrets of the Talmud Scriptures by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer. Reprinted and revised many times since its first publication in Japanese in 1971, the South Korean edition is entitled simply, “The Talmud”. It’s definitely not the full Talmud, but rather a book of Talmudic stories that is wildly popular in South Korea.
Additional evidence of the desire of South Koreans to learn from the Jewish wisdom is the Shema Education Institute in Los Angeles, CA. Taking its name from the Shema, a foundational Jewish prayer, Shema is a modest non-profit organization founded in 1996 by a Korean minister.
Christians from South Korea come to Shema to learn more about daily Jewish practice, directly from the large Jewish community in LA. Those who study at the Shema Education Institute research ways that Jews educate their children and try to apply these lessons to enhance South Korean culture.
Perhaps the most compelling example of non-Jews interested in absorbing Jewish wisdom is found at Root Source, an online school for Christians worldwide who want to learn Bible through the eyes of Jewish teachers.
Speaking to Breaking Israel News, Gidon Ariel, an Israel-based Orthodox Jew and co-founder of Root Source, made the case that we are seeing a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of Amos 8:11 in our days. “There is a wave of thirst of non-Jews, especially Christians, for Jewish wisdom. The advent of the Internet and its opening of the wellsprings of Torah to anyone with a browser has accelerated this,” Ariel stated.
Expanding on Ariel’s observation, Bob O’Dell, devout Christian and Ariel’s partner at Root Source offered Breaking Israel News four reasons why committed Christians are interested in learning Jewish wisdom.
“First for context. Jewish context allows Christians to understand the Bible more deeply, because it was and is a Jewish book, and it is the Jewish practices create that context,” he explained. “Second for deeper insight. Many Christians are amazed to discover the insights of great Jewish scholars of the past two thousand years, who make valuable observations in Jewish writings such as the Talmud, that have been completely overlooked in Christian history.”
“Third for relationship. Many Christians, while not having Jewish heritage, find within themselves a longing to connect with Jews, especially to those in Israel, because there is something mysteriously drawing them to the land and to the people.”
“And fourth, to be a blessing. Some Christians want to help repair the sins of the past by showing Jews today honor, respect and friendship without any agenda. They realize that being willing to sit and learn and ask meaningful questions is exactly the way to be a tangible blessing to Israel, to walk differently than their Christian forefathers who often approached Jews with haughty superiority.”
O’Dell elaborated on the special role that the Land of Israel plays in strengthening the relationship between Christians and Jews. “Now that Israel has been reborn, God is providing a new way for Jews to start closing that gap between us, to begin reaching out to Christians in ways Jews find comfortable and appropriate,” O’Dell told Breaking Israel News. “This is exactly why I wanted to help Gidon Ariel found Root Source, to bring to life his idea to create a way for Israeli Jews to teach Christians over the internet. Our students cannot believe how wonderful and loving it is to be taught by these Jews, almost nothing like what they expected.”