Selling the Talmud as a Business GuideIndeed. The whole thing seems kind of creepy.
In China, notions of Jewish business acumen lead to a publishing boom—and stereotyping.
P Deliss / Godong-Corbis (Newsweek)
Jewish visitors to China often receive a snap greeting when they reveal their religion: “Very smart, very clever, and very good at business,” the Chinese person says. Last year’s Google Zeitgeist China rankings listed “why are Jews excellent?” in fourth place in the “why” questions category, just behind “why should I enter the party” and above “why should I get married?” (Google didn’t publish a "why" category in Mandarin this year.) And the apparent affection for Jewishness has led to a surprising trend in publishing over the last few years: books purporting to reveal the business secrets of the Talmud that capitalize on the widespread impression among Chinese that attributes of Judaism lead to success in the financial arts.
Titles 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 share the shelves with stories of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. There’s even a Talmud hotel in Taiwan inspired by “the Talmud’s concept of success” that features a copy of the book Talmud Business Success Bible in every room. With the increasing interest in business education in China, and a rise in sales of self-help literature, the production of business guides to the Talmud has exploded. The guides are like the Chinese equivalents of books such as Sun Tzu and the Art of Business.
Non-Chinese experts on Judaism are quick to point out that the Talmud is not a business manual. 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.”
UPDATE (27 January): More here, putting this story into a larger and less creepy context.