Several weeks ago a story starting flashing around the Jewish blogosphere about how Koreans learn the Talmud. In typical fashion and through the use of the time-honoured "broken telephone" method the story quickly morphed into "Koreans learn the Talmud and they all have a set in their homes, something two!" Some blogs were amazed that it was easier to find Koreans learning the Talmud than Jews!
Of course, this was a tempest in a teapot. The Koreans, in fact, do not learn actual Talmud. After the story broke I contact one of my Korean patients and asked them about "the Talmud". "Oh yes!" came the reply. "We have a copy. You want to see it?"
So a week later they brought it in. It was a slim paperback of medium size paper, all in Korean script of course, with a picture of a stereotypical religious Jew (wearing a black fez!) reaching up with both hands on the front. Leafing through the book I guess from the format that instead of actual Talmud what I was holding was a collection of stories, a sort of "greatest hits", something my Korean patient quickly confirmed.
Then, as a treat, I showed him a volume of Talmud that I have on my office bookshelf. There was a look of awe and reverence on his face as he opened "the real Talmud" only to change to disappointment as he realized he had as much chance of understanding my book as I had of reading him. "But it has all the stories, right?" he asked and of course, I nodded.
As this article from JIDaily notes, there is an obvious reason why a strong connection between Judaism and Oriental culture would exist. In short, Orientals strive to be everything the stereotypical Jew (many of them have never even met a real one!) supposedly is. There is a love of learning, a history of surviving under oppression, a respect for the elders and a respect for intelligence that links us to them. Halevi that we still valued those characteristics as much as we're rumoured to!
Ultimately what can we take away from stories such as this? As opposed to other places in the world where the stereotypical Jew is a repository of evil or undesirable traits, in the far East it seems we're legendary for the exact opposite reason. Perhaps we can take it upon ourselves as a people to once again rise to that challenge and become the nation that they believe we are.