TORA TORA TORA was one of my mother's favorite films. The infamy of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor burned bright in her memory. Her friends from Jamaica Plain enlisted in the Marines, Army, and Navy by the scores. Many of them failed to return to Boston. Their bodies rest on islands across the Pacific.
The 1970 film flopped at the box office. Hippies didn't want to see a war movie, but I went with my mother and father. She cried at the sinking of the Arizona. My father had joined the Army Air Force that January much like many young Americans volunteered for the armed forces after the 9/11 attacks.
The producers of MAGNUM PI and NYPD BLUE manipulated the Japanese Navy's radio command TORA TORA TORA into TORAH TORAH TORAH for episodes about stolen Torahs. It has never been used by the IDF, who have been trying to draft Yeshiva students into the army without any success, for they consider the Torah trumps any secular laws.
Last Friday I was on West 47th Street and ran into Rondell, a religious diamond dealer.
"So nu?"The heavy-set Hassidic diamond broker was happy that I had a new job. We boasted about the health of our families and after a few minutes I asked his opinion about the power of the Torah over the laws of man.
"The Torah was dictated to Moses over the forty years in the desert. The words come from a divine source." The Torah was the law for Rondell.
"What about the last eight lines? Some scholars considered that these were composed after the Death of Moses."
"They are all sacred." The youngish father of six was a true believer from a schul on Eastern Parkway and said proudly, "You know that the Torah is one of the most important school books in Korea. Its truth is taught to many of the young."
"The Torah?" I understood how the five books of Moses formed the backbone of Hassidic tradition and the Christian accepting the Pentateuch into their Old Testament as well as the Muslims regarding the ancient text to be the words of Allah, but Korea was on the other side of the world and while 22% of its people claimed to be Buddhists and almost a third profess to be Christian, almost half the country adhere to no religion. "What's the Torah have to do with Korea?"
"The Korean ambassador told Israeli TV that Talmud study is a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum and almost every home in South Korea boasts a Korean version of the Talmud, and mothers commonly teach it to their children, who call it the "Light of Knowledge."
"I know many Koreans are Christian. I had several baptized in my youth."
My old boss shook his head. Manny had heard this schtick before.
"You were a missionary?" Rondell knew of my devotion to atheism.
"No, but as a child in Boston the nuns offered us a chance to support Korean infant orphans. $15 took care of them for the first month of their life and you got to name them." Somewhere in Korea were four men in their late-40s with my name. "Koreans are also prone to Evangelism."
"Evangelism?" Rondell was unfamiliar with Christian subsects.
"Born-Again Christians." Manny was listening to my every word.
At the mention of these words my Brazilian co-worker turned her head. Ava believed in the God of the Only Faith and she prayed for my abandoned soul, so I won't burn in Hell. I looked at her, as I said, "Yes, Born-Agains back Israel 100%, for without Israel there can be no Apocalypse and the Apocalypse bring back the Messiah to battle the forces of Satan. Ava, do you have a Torah in your house?"
"Yes, it's called the Book of Light." Ava's was guided by the Bible. To her every word was true, especially the Apocalypse. She noticed her boss glaring at her. He hated my bullshitting.
"Thanks." I respected her faith. This country the Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion and from religion. "The Talmud gets around and so does the Koran."
"Not according to the Korean Ambassador. He says no Koreans read it, because it's a book of Islam." Rondell hated the Arabs; Christians as well as Muslims.
"That's not true. I have traveled through Korea's main airport on my many trips to Thailand and seen a few Muslim Korean in Inchon Airport, but no Hassidim. They prefer to fly through Tokyo or Beijing on the way back from the Hong Kong diamond shows Jews either, but then you don't have to like pastrami to be Jewish."
"What does pastrami have to do with the Torah?"
"Nothing other than it isn't tref."
"Goyim." Rondell was ecstatic to have stumped me on this issue and said, "Call me if you get a deal we can steal."
"Will do." We had made money in the past and I hoped that we made money in the future. We hugged as men equal in love of the world and I walked him outside the exchange. I wasn't making any money on the Street today and shouted, "TORAH TORAH TORAH."
"Say the word." Rondell pumped his fist in the air. He was a good family man and loved the Torah as should any rebbi.
That evening back home in Fort Greene I searched for 'Korea, torah' and found the following;
Nearly ten years ago, the Korea Times reported: “Interestingly, there are at least two different books currently sitting on Korean best-seller shelves that purport to explain the Jewish Talmud. The popularity of these books initially came as a surprise. But Koreans aren’t converting to Judaism. They read those books because Jews have gained a reputation for hard work and success, two things Koreans relate to well.”
Reports of Korean schoolchildren reading the Talmud – or at least stories thereof – have also been known for several years. One American teacher in South Korea related that in 2005, his elementary school students told him that as children, they had all read the Talmud, which they called the "Light of Knowledge." When asked if they had also read the Koran, they burst into laughter, saying, "Of course not, that’s the Muslim book.”
TORAH TORAH TORAH, but I prefer a good pastrami sandwich from Katz' Deli.
Throw in a cream soda and I'm in heaven on earth.