South Koreans Love Judaism

Sometimes I think we study religions just for the weirdness of the passing parade. Consider this article on South Koreans’ fascination with Judaism: Stories from the Talmud as a required school text? Jewish books in vending machines?

A few South Koreans have converted, but they have to go elsewhere to do so, since there is not much formal Jewish life in the country.

Jewish observance in Seoul is almost entirely centred on Friday night services in the back of a Christian chapel on a US Army base. Every week, the tiny congregation of ex-pats and locals flip pews containing hymns books and New Testaments to face a pokey little ark for prayers. At the end of the night, everything gets put back in place for Friday night Mass. If there was not a small Ner Tamid hanging above the ark, you really would mistake it for a cupboard.

Most of the regular and long-serving members of the congregation are non-Jewish Koreans – civil servants, doctors and a politician from the ruling party, who is currently squeezing in his attendance between bouts of campaigning for local elections. They have no wish to convert but they take their interest in Judaism seriously. Most boast impressive collections of Judaica and read Hebrew fluently.

Yet I wonder, will some convert en masse as did the aristocracy of the Khazars?

5 thoughts on “South Koreans Love Judaism

  1. Hmmmm. They are not actually Jewish, but they are fascinated by Judaism, own extensive libraries of “Judaica” and “read Hebrew fluently.” Obviously these people are Kabbalists.

    Either that or they are whack-job right-wing Zionist Evangelicals. Sadly that is the far more likely explanation. Christianity in Korea tends toward the extreme fringes. They had their first big Pentecostalist revival in 1907, just two years after the Azusa street revival.

  2. Apuleius is right about the extremism of Korean Christians, or at least those I met in Japan – I used to mainly knock around with Koreans when I lived in Tokyo. Actually, I don’t think even extremism sums it up – there’s a lot of simple weirdness. Many Koreans know their ancestries, along the male line, off by heart for hundreds or even thousands of years, and I knew one man who could recite all his male-line ancestors back to Adam.

    Having said that, Japan is one of the least Christian countries on earth, and its religion is generally tolerant and non-fanatical, yet a lot of Japanese seem fascinated by Judaism. There have been a few converts, but there’s more of a tendency towards claiming that Japanese are a lost tribe of Israel, and that sort of thing. Up in the north there’s a burial mound, which is supposed to be Jesus’ grave, him having escaped death on the cross, and fled here to be with his Jewish followers, who kept the secret until 1920 (oh well!)

    • a lot of Japanese seem fascinated by Judaism

      There is a very interesting book on this topic, Jews in the Japanese Mind (Free Press, 1995); I read it probably a decade ago. Used copies appear to be floating around quite inexpensively on the Net.

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