Babylonian Talmud / South Korea

“The Korean Talmud and its outsized popularity can thus also be understood as a form of Occidentalism”

The turn to the Talmud as a book of Western wisdom in Japan, Korea, and China is reminiscent of a similar interest in and fetishizing of Eastern wisdom in the West. On a visit to any major bookstore in the United States, one is struck by how many “self-help” books appeal to popular notions of Buddhist meditation and fêng shui, for example, not to mention Marie Kondo’s bestsellers. Yoga in the West likewise departs from the practice of yoga in India, and is sometimes regarded as inauthentic by traditional practitioners. The Korean Talmud and its outsized popularity can thus also be understood as a form of Occidentalism. This dimension of the Talmud’s reception is in part ironic, because the Babylonian Talmud is situated between East and West, and often regarded as “Eastern” from the perspective of Western scholars. Nonetheless, as a central Jewish text, it is categorized in Korea with other Western classics, and the Korean Talmud promises to impart Judaism’s exotic Western wisdom to its readers.

Sarit Kattan Gribetz and Claire Kim, “The Talmud in Korea: A Study in the Reception of Rabbinic Literature”, Association for Jewish Studies Review vol. 42, no. 2 (November 2018), 349.