A team of six Korean Jewish Studies scholars is currently engaged in an ambitious project to translate all six Mishnah volumes into their language, Makor Rishon reported. The project is led by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Konkuk University. It is supported by the government of South Korea through National Fund for the Promotion of Research of and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.
In 2011, then South Korean ambassador to Israel Yang Sam Meh said in a media interview that studying the Talmud was a popular phenomenon in his country.
“A high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields – literature, science, economics – are Jewish, which is an amazing achievement,” the ambassador explained, and asked, “How can Jews be such geniuses?”
“Our conclusion is that one of your secrets is learning the Talmud,” he said. “Jews learn Talmud from an early age and it helps them to develop high abilities. This conclusion has led us to teach our children Talmud. We believe that if we do so from early childhood, we too can be smart. That’s what’s behind the decision to bring this book into almost every home in the country.”
It was a wonderful story that made headlines at the time, but, of course, was a complete fabrication, borne almost entirely by the creative mind of the honorable ambassador.
“The South Korean ambassador said a few years ago in the Israeli news that almost every Korean has a Talmud at home, but that’s just not true,” Dr Song Dion, who lives in a suburb of the capital Seoul and is part of the Mishna project, told Makor Rishon. “There is one book in Korean with beautiful stories and legends from the Talmud, […] but it can’t be said that it constitutes ‘learning the Talmud,’ but rather it offers a little taste of what is written there.
“There is a big difference between the image of the Koreans in this regard and the knowledge they actually possess about Jewish tradition,” Dr. Song said. “Which is why we decided to translate the entire text of the Mishnah into Korean, to show them what Jewish tradition is – in a real and complete way.”
“The Koreans have developed a great affection for the Jewish people and for Jewish culture, partly because the State of Israel was established in the same year the Republic of Korea was established,” explained Dr. Song.
“The fact that Jewish academics are routinely awarded Nobel prizes and many of the leaders of large companies or of world economies are Jews impresses makes Koreans deeply interested in Jewish tradition. Many believe that the Jews have a special power or energy that helps them live as a unique nation,” he said.
“I started the work exactly a year ago,” Song told Makor Rishon. “I am in charge of translating the volume of Taharot (purification), and I have completed about 20 percent of the mishnayot so far. I hope to finish the translation by next summer, and in the final year before publication all of us will all go over the materials, make comments and corrections, so that we can publish the six volumes in 2020.”