Rabbi Marvin Tokayer is a rabbi with long-held interest in Asia and now that interest includes teaching Talmud to Koreans – almost none of whom have ever met a Jew! Is this crazy or actually quite inspired?
If one assumes that Torah study, and I use the term in the traditional sense to refer to the study of all sacred texts, is actually good for people, then it makes good sense to share the wisdom of the Torah with anybody about whom one cares – not to convert them to Judaism, but to enhance their lives. And that is precisely what rabbi Tokayer is doing.
Having begun his love-affair with Asia when serving there as a member of the United States Air Force, the rabbi has lived in, and written about, Asia for years. But I also appreciate that some of the comments he made at a press conference in Seoul are the reason why many in Asia are deeply suspicious of organized religion of any kind.
“Forty years ago, Korea was very poor and just coming out of the war. Then I sensed the wonderful soul in Korean people and they respected their ancient history. Returning now to Korea, yet I worry that as Korea advances with technology and with the computer, Korea is losing its soul,”
I have no idea if Korea is “losing its soul”, but the move from poverty and powerlessness to prosperity and greater power seems pretty sacred to me. Too often religion is used to bemoan technological and economic progress because with such progress, religious leaders may lose some of their authority.
Instead of helping to create a new ethic for an upgraded reality, religious leaders often choose instead to tell people what they are doing wrong instead. Instead of helping with the move to new empowerment, they bemoan the loss of old structures – hardly a recipe for success.
“Losing its soul” sounds like one more religious type lamenting the quaintness one American enjoyed from the comfort of his air base. The real issue is can Jewish tradition, or any other spiritual tradition, help people to take new prosperity and power and use it well.
And you have to love the irony of a piece in Vos Iz Neias, a hareidi/daas torah news site, which was the source for this story, celebrating the asking of questions as central to religious growth! But that’s another story…