China Asks: 'Why Are Jews Excellent?'

The Talmud has become a popular guide to financial success in China

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Chinese readers have apparently found a new use for the Talmud: a guide to the secrets of Jewish financial success. Isaac Stone Fish at Newsweek reports from China that the past few years have seen a rise in popularity there of books such as "Crack the Talmud: 101 Jewish Business Rules," "The Illustrated Jewish Wisdom Book," and "Know All of the Money-Making Stories of the Talmud."

Online, "why are Jews excellent," was the fourth most-searched "why" question in China last year, according to Google Zeitgeist's rankings. Fish contends that "the Chinese perception of Jews as expert moneymakers does not have the religion-based antagonism that often accompanies the same stereotype elsewhere in the world," and that the Chinese fascination with Jewish success is more an expression admiration than, say, envy.

But "non-Chinese experts on Judaism are quick to point out that the Talmud is not a business manual," writes Fish.

While the Talmud mentions contract law, zoning, and problems involved with charging interest, it’s not a get-rich-quick guide, says Rabbi Eliezer Diamond, associate professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. “I’ve heard a couple of [Chinese] people say that Jews are smart because of the Talmud. But they don’t seem to know what it is. I think they see it as some sort of secret intelligence book,” added Rabbi Nussin Rodin, a Beijing-based emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. “I once got a letter from someone in China saying, I’m very interested in making money so I’d like to know what you teach at your courses about how to make money,” says Diamond. “Of course, there aren’t too many people in the Jewish Theological Seminary pulling in the big bucks.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.