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.
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. Though very few South Koreans are interested in Judaism as a religion, philo-Semitism is prevalent among the South Korean population as they reportedly hope to emulate Jews' high academic standards by studying Jewish literature such as the Torah and Talmud, where both books are bestsellers in the country and the Talmud is mandatory reading for South Korean schoolchildren. With South Korean society's passion for education, South Koreans hold a stereotypical view of Jews as the model of academic excellence as well as Jews being ultra intelligent. Conversely, such strong belief in these sterotypes has led to widespread anti-semitism in South (as well as North) Korea. In addition, South Koreans also laud Jews as a high achieving and accomplished group of people citing the disproportionate of successful Jewish businesspeople and Nobel Prize winners as evidence and use this as inspiration for the South Korean populace to emulate Jewish success. The South Korean media often discusses the merits of "Jewish education" to the South Korean populace. South Koreans also identify with Judaism's arduous history of being oppressed peoples, surviving adversity with nothing but intellect and ingenuity to socioeconomically succeed, as well as its strong emphasis on family.
- Scheib, Ariel "The Virtual Jewish History Tour- South Korea" Jewish Virtual Library https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/south_korea.html
- The Jerusalem Summit http://www.jerusalemsummit.org/eng/index_js_asia_seoul.php
- Arbes, Ross. "How the Talmud Became a Best-Seller in South Korea". The New Yorker. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
- Tim Alper (12 May 2011). "Why South Koreans are in love with Judaism". Retrieved 13 July 2015.
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- William Kremer (8 November 2013). "The Talmud: Why has a Jewish law book become so popular?". BBC. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
- Hirschfield, Tzofia (2011-05-12). "Why Koreans study Talmud". Jewish World. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
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- Euny Hong (June 25, 2015). "How I made the leap from being Korean to being Jewish". Quartz. Retrieved 27 June 2015.