History of the Jews in South Korea
The first sizable Jewish presence in Korea was during the Korean War, when hundreds of Jewish soldiers participated in the American-led effort to repel a communist attempt to control the whole peninsula. Among the participants was Chaim Potok, who served as a chaplain. His experiences in Korea led to the book, The Book of Lights and I am the Clay.
Most of the Jewish community in South Korea resides in Seoul. The community is mostly U.S. military personnel and their families, business people, English-language journalists and teachers, and tourists. The Jewish population is constantly in flux, due to the rotation of U.S. military personnel in the country. While the soldiers have a Jewish chaplain at the Yongsan Army Base, their services are restricted and off-limits to most civilians. At this time, there are no Jewish schools.
Israel has full diplomatic relations with South Korea, and the sizable Christian population in the country also keeps ties strong between the countries. In August 2005, the Jerusalem Summit promoting Christian support for Israel was held in Seoul. In contrast, neighboring North Korea has no known Jews within its borders, and is openly hostile towards Israel, and currently forbids Israeli tourists and visitors, however Jews of other nationalities (except American) are not banned to enter.
In April 2008, the first Chabad House was established in Seoul under direction of Rabbi Osher Litzman, accompanied by his wife, Mussia Litzman. As there were no synagogues in the country, Jews in Korea would have to go to the U.S. Army base for Shabbat meals and holiday services. Chabad.org news service reported that the Israeli ambassador to South Korea asked three visiting Lubavitch yeshiva students to help arrange for permanent Chabad emissaries.
While very few South Koreans are interested in Judaism as a religion, because of philo-Semitism they reportedly hope to emulate Jews' high academic standards by studying Jewish literature, and also identify with Judaism's arduous history and emphasis on family. Almost every household has a translated copy of the Talmud, which parents read to their children, and the book is part of the primary-school curriculum. The media often discusses the merits of "Jewish education".
- Scheib, Ariel "The Virtual Jewish History Tour- South Korea" Jewish Virtual Library http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/south_korea.html
- The Jerusalem Summit http://www.jerusalemsummit.org/eng/index_js_asia_seoul.php
- Hirschfield, Tzofia (2011-05-12). "Why Koreans study Talmud". Jewish World. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
- Alper, Tim (2011-05-12). "Why South Koreans are in love with Judaism". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 27 June 2014.