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Kaifeng Jews

Kaifeng Jews

Overview
The Kaifeng Jews are members of a small Jewish
History of the Jews in China
Jews and Judaism in China have had a long history. Jewish settlers are documented in China as early as the 7th or 8th century CE, but may have arrived during the mid Han Dynasty, or even as early as 231 BCE. Relatively isolated communities developed through the Tang and Song Dynasties Jews and...

 community that has existed in Kaifeng
Kaifeng
Kaifeng , known previously by several names , is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area...

, in the Henan
Henan
Henan , is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country. Its one-character abbreviation is "豫" , named after Yuzhou , a Han Dynasty state that included parts of Henan...

 province of China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, for hundreds of years. Jews in modern China have traditionally called themselves Youtai in Mandarin
Standard Mandarin
Standard Chinese or Modern Standard Chinese, also known as Mandarin or Putonghua, is the official language of the People's Republic of China and Republic of China , and is one of the four official languages of Singapore....

 Chinese which is also the predominant contemporary Chinese language term for Jews in general. However, the community was known by their Han Chinese
Han Chinese
Han Chinese are an ethnic group native to China and are the largest single ethnic group in the world.Han Chinese constitute about 92% of the population of the People's Republic of China , 98% of the population of the Republic of China , 78% of the population of Singapore, and about 20% of the...

 neighbors as adherents of Tiaojinjiao , meaning, loosely, the religion which removes the sinew (a reference to kashrut
Kashrut
Kashrut is the set of Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with halakha is termed kosher in English, from the Ashkenazi pronunciation of the Hebrew term kashér , meaning "fit" Kashrut (also kashruth or kashrus) is the set of Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with halakha (Jewish law) is termed...

).

According to historical records, a Jewish community lived in Kaifeng
Kaifeng
Kaifeng , known previously by several names , is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area...

 from at least the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127) until the late nineteenth century and Kaifeng was Northern Song's capital.
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Encyclopedia
The Kaifeng Jews are members of a small Jewish
History of the Jews in China
Jews and Judaism in China have had a long history. Jewish settlers are documented in China as early as the 7th or 8th century CE, but may have arrived during the mid Han Dynasty, or even as early as 231 BCE. Relatively isolated communities developed through the Tang and Song Dynasties Jews and...

 community that has existed in Kaifeng
Kaifeng
Kaifeng , known previously by several names , is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area...

, in the Henan
Henan
Henan , is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country. Its one-character abbreviation is "豫" , named after Yuzhou , a Han Dynasty state that included parts of Henan...

 province of China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, for hundreds of years. Jews in modern China have traditionally called themselves Youtai in Mandarin
Standard Mandarin
Standard Chinese or Modern Standard Chinese, also known as Mandarin or Putonghua, is the official language of the People's Republic of China and Republic of China , and is one of the four official languages of Singapore....

 Chinese which is also the predominant contemporary Chinese language term for Jews in general. However, the community was known by their Han Chinese
Han Chinese
Han Chinese are an ethnic group native to China and are the largest single ethnic group in the world.Han Chinese constitute about 92% of the population of the People's Republic of China , 98% of the population of the Republic of China , 78% of the population of Singapore, and about 20% of the...

 neighbors as adherents of Tiaojinjiao , meaning, loosely, the religion which removes the sinew (a reference to kashrut
Kashrut
Kashrut is the set of Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with halakha is termed kosher in English, from the Ashkenazi pronunciation of the Hebrew term kashér , meaning "fit" Kashrut (also kashruth or kashrus) is the set of Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with halakha (Jewish law) is termed...

).

History


According to historical records, a Jewish community lived in Kaifeng
Kaifeng
Kaifeng , known previously by several names , is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area...

 from at least the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127) until the late nineteenth century and Kaifeng was Northern Song's capital. It is surmised that the ancestors of the Kaifeng Jews came from Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

. It is also reported that in 1163 Ustad Leiwei was given charge of the religion (Ustad means teacher in Persian), and that they built a synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

 surrounded by a study hall, a ritual bath, a communal kitchen, a kosher butchering facility, and a sukkah.

During the Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

 (1368–1644), a Ming emperor conferred seven surnames upon the Jews, by which they are identifiable today: Ai, Shi, Gao, Jin, Li, Zhang, and Zhao. By the beginning of the 20th c. one of these Kaifeng clans, the Zhang, had largely converted to Islam.
Interestingly, two of these: Jin and Shi are the equivalent of common Jewish names in the west: Gold and Stone.
The Jews who managed the Kaifeng synagogue were called "Mullah
Mullah
Mullah is generally used to refer to a Muslim man, educated in Islamic theology and sacred law. The title, given to some Islamic clergy, is derived from the Arabic word مَوْلَى mawlā , meaning "vicar", "master" and "guardian"...

s". Floods and Fire repeatedly destroyed the books of the Kaifeng synagogue, they obtained some from Ningxia and Ningbo to replace them, another Hebrew roll of law was bought from a Muslim in Ning-keang-chow in Shen-se (Shanxi), who acquired it from a dying Jew at Canton.

The Chinese called Muslims, Jews, and Christians in ancient times by the same name, "Hui Hui" (Hwuy-hwuy). Christians were called "Hwuy who abstain from animals without the cloven foot", Muslims were called "Hwuy who abstain from pork", Jews were called "Hwuy who extract the sinews". Hwuy-tsze (Hui zi) or Hwuy-hwuy (Hui Hui) is presently used almost exclusively for Muslims, but Jews were still called Lan Maou Hwuy tsze (Lan mao Hui zi) which means "Blue cap Hui zi". At Kaifeng, Jews were called "Teaou kin keaou "extract sinew religion". Jews and Muslims in China shared the same name for synagogue and mosque, which were both called "Tsing-chin sze" (Qingzhen si) "Temple of Purity and Truth", the name dated to the thirteenth century. The synagogue and mosquers were also known as Le-pae sze (Libai si). A tablet indicated that Judaism was once known as "Yih-tsze-lo-nee-keaou" (israelitish religion) and synagogues known as Yih-tsze lo nee leen (Israelitish Temple), but it faded out of use.

The existence of Jews in China was unknown to Europeans until 1605, when Matteo Ricci
Matteo Ricci
Matteo Ricci, SJ was an Italian Jesuit priest, and one of the founding figures of the Jesuit China Mission, as it existed in the 17th-18th centuries. His current title is Servant of God....

, then established in Beijing, was visited by a Jew from Kaifeng
Kaifeng
Kaifeng , known previously by several names , is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area...

, who had come to Beijing to take examinations for his jinshi degree. According to his account in De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas
De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas
De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ab Societate Jesu is a book based on an Italian manuscript written by the most important founding figure of the Jesuit China mission, Matteo Ricci , expanded and translated into Latin by his colleague Nicolas Trigault...

, his visitor, named Ai Tian (Ai T'ien) explained that he worshipped one God. It is recorded that when he saw a Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 image of Mary with the child Jesus, he believed it to be a picture of Rebecca with Esau or Jacob, figures from Scripture. Ai said that many other Jews resided in Kaifeng; they had a splendid synagogue ( libai si) and possessed a great number of written materials and books.

About three years after Ai's visit, Ricci sent a Chinese Jesuit Lay Brother to visit Kaifeng; he copied the beginnings and ends of the holy books kept in the synagogue, which allowed Ricci to verify that they indeed were the same texts as the Pentateuch known to Europeans, except that they did not use Hebrew diacritics
Hebrew diacritics
Hebrew orthography includes several types of diacritics:* a set of mostly optional ancillary glyphs known as niqqud in Hebrew, which are used either to represent vowels or to distinguish between alternate pronunciations of several letters of the Hebrew alphabet ;* geresh and gershayim, two...

 (which were a comparatively late invention).

When Ricci wrote to the "ruler of the synagogue" in Kaifeng, telling him that the Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

 the Jews were waiting for had come already, the "Archsynagogus" wrote back, saying that the Messiah would not come for another ten thousand years. Nonetheless, apparently concerned with the lack of a trained successor, the old rabbi offered Ricci his position, if the Jesuit would join their faith and abstain from eating pork. Later, another three Jews from Kaifeng, including Ai's nephew, stopped by the Jesuits' house while visiting Beijing on business, and got themselves baptized. They told Ricci that the old rabbi had died, and (since Ricci had not taken up on his earlier offer), his position was inherited by his son, "quite unlearned in matters pertaining to his faith". Ricci's overall impression of the situation of China's Jewish community was that "they were well on the way to becoming Saracens [i.e., Muslims
Islam in China
Throughout the history of Islam in China, Chinese Muslims have influenced the course of Chinese history. Chinese Muslims have been in China for the last 1,400 years of continuous interaction with Chinese society...

] or heathens."

Later, a number of European Jesuits visited the Kaifeng community as well.

The Taiping Rebellion
Taiping Rebellion
The Taiping Rebellion was a widespread civil war in southern China from 1850 to 1864, led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan, who, having received visions, maintained that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, against the ruling Manchu-led Qing Dynasty...

 of the 1850s led to the dispersal of the community, but it later returned to Kaifeng
Kaifeng
Kaifeng , known previously by several names , is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area...

. Three stelae
Stele
A stele , also stela , is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief , or painted onto the slab...

 with inscriptions were found at Kaifeng. The oldest, dating from 1489, commemorates the construction of a synagogue in 1163 (bearing the name , Qīngzhēn
Qingzhen
Qingzhen is a county-level city under the administration of Guiyang in Guizhou province of the People's Republic of China.-External links:*...

 Sì
, a term often used for mosques in Chinese). The inscription states that the Jews came to China from India during the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 period (2nd century BCE-2nd century CE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

). It cites the names of 70 Jews with Chinese surnames, describes their audience with an unnamed Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

 emperor, and lists the transmission of their religion from Abraham
Abraham
Abraham , whose birth name was Abram, is the eponym of the Abrahamic religions, among which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam...

 down to the prophet Ezra
Ezra
Ezra , also called Ezra the Scribe and Ezra the Priest in the Book of Ezra. According to the Hebrew Bible he returned from the Babylonian exile and reintroduced the Torah in Jerusalem...

. The second tablet, dating from 1512 (found in the synagogue Xuanzhang Daojing Si) details their Jewish religious practices. The third, dated 1663, commemorates the rebuilding of the Qingzhen si synagogue and repeats information that appears in the other two steles.
Two of the stelae refer to a famous tattoo written on the back of Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

 General Yue Fei
Yue Fei
Yue Fei , style name Pengju, was a military general of the Southern Song Dynasty. His ancestral home was in Xiaoti, Yonghe Village, Tangyin, Xiangzhou, Henan...

. The tattoo, which reads "Boundless loyalty to the country" , first appeared in a section of the 1489 stele talking about the Jews’ “Boundless loyalty to the country and Prince”. The second appeared in a section of the 1512 stele talking about how Jewish soldiers and officers in the Chinese armies were “Boundlessly loyal to the country.”

Father Joseph Brucker, a Roman Catholic researcher of the early twentieth century, notes that Ricci's account of Chinese Jews indicates that there were only in the range of ten or twelve Jewish families in Kaifeng in the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries, and that they had reportedly resided there for five or six hundred years. It was also stated in the manuscripts that there was a greater number of Jews in Hangzhou
Hangzhou
Hangzhou , formerly transliterated as Hangchow, is the capital and largest city of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China. Governed as a sub-provincial city, and as of 2010, its entire administrative division or prefecture had a registered population of 8.7 million people...

. This could be taken to suggest that loyal Jews fled south along with the soon-to-be crowned Emperor Gaozong to Hangzhou
Hangzhou
Hangzhou , formerly transliterated as Hangchow, is the capital and largest city of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China. Governed as a sub-provincial city, and as of 2010, its entire administrative division or prefecture had a registered population of 8.7 million people...

. In fact, the 1489 stele mentions how the Jews "abandoned Bianliang" (Kaifeng
Kaifeng
Kaifeng , known previously by several names , is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area...

) after the Jingkang Incident
Jingkang Incident
The Jingkang Incident , the Humiliation of Jingkang , or The Disorders of the Jingkang Period took place in 1127 when invading Jurchen soldiers from the Jin Dynasty besieged and sacked Bianjing , the capital of the Song Dynasty of China...

.
Despite their isolation from the rest of the Jewish diaspora
Jewish diaspora
The Jewish diaspora is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות , or 'exile', of the Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Iudaea and later emigration from wider Eretz Israel....

, the Jews of Kaifeng preserved Jewish traditions and customs for many centuries. In the seventeenth century, assimilation began to erode these traditions. The rate of intermarriage between Jews and other ethnic groups, such as the Han Chinese
Han Chinese
Han Chinese are an ethnic group native to China and are the largest single ethnic group in the world.Han Chinese constitute about 92% of the population of the People's Republic of China , 98% of the population of the Republic of China , 78% of the population of Singapore, and about 20% of the...

, and the Hui
Hui people
The Hui people are an ethnic group in China, defined as Chinese speaking people descended from foreign Muslims. They are typically distinguished by their practice of Islam, however some also practice other religions, and many are direct descendants of Silk Road travelers.In modern People's...

 and Manchu
Manchu
The Manchu people or Man are an ethnic minority of China who originated in Manchuria . During their rise in the 17th century, with the help of the Ming dynasty rebels , they came to power in China and founded the Qing Dynasty, which ruled China until the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, which...

 minorities in China, increased. The destruction of the synagogue in the 1860s led to the community's demise. However, J.L. Liebermann, the first Western Jew to visit Kaifeng in 1867, noted that "they still had a burial ground of their own". S.M. Perlmann, the Shanghai businessman and scholar, wrote in 1912 that "they bury their dead in coffins, but of a different shape than those of the Chinese are made, and do not attire the dead in secular clothes as the Chinese do, but in linen".

Today, 600-1,000 residents of Kaifeng trace their lineage back to this community. After contact with Jewish tourists, the Jews of Kaifeng have reconnected to mainstream Jewry. With the help of Jewish organizations, some members of the community have emigrated to Israel. In 2009, Chinese Jews from Kaifeng arrived in Israel as immigrants.

Skepticism


One author, Xun Zhou, doubts the authenticity of the Kaifeng community, believing it to have been largely a Western cultural construct. Xun Zhou, a research fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, maintains that the community had no Torah scrolls until 1851, when they suddenly appeared to be sold to eager Western collectors. She also states that drawings of the synagogue were doctored in the West because the original did not look like one, and that the Kaifeng community claimed to have kept some Jewish practices since before they are known to have begun. Xun Zhou's conclusion is that the Kaifeng community was not Jewish in any meaningful sense.

Kaifeng Jews today


Due to the political situation, research on the Kaifeng Jews and Judaism in China came to a standstill until the beginning of the 1980s, when political and economic reforms were implemented. The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 in 1992 rekindled interest in Judaism and the Jewish experience, especially in light of the fact that 25,000 Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai during the Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 period.

The Kaifeng Jews intermarried with local Chinese, and are thus indistinguishable in appearance from their non-Jewish neighbors. Within the framework of contemporary rabbinical Judaism, matrilineal transmission of Jewishness is predominant, while Chinese Jews based their Jewishness on patrilineal descent. As a result, they are required to undergo conversion in order to receive Israeli citizenship
Citizenship
Citizenship is the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, national, or human resource community. Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities...

 under the Law of Return
Law of Return
The Law of Return is Israeli legislation, passed on 5 July 1950, that gives Jews the right of return and settlement in Israel and gain citizenship...

. Most descendants of Kaifeng's Jewish community are only vaguely aware of their ancestry. Some, however, say their parents and grandparents told them that they were Jewish and would one day "return to their land." The one trait that differentiated them from their neighbors was not eating pork. They also have celebrated Jewish events such as Chanukah.


The last census
Census
A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common...

 revealed about 400 official Jews in Kaifeng, now estimated at some 100 families totalling approximately 500 people, to 1,000 residents have ties to Jewish ancestry, though only 40 to 50 individuals partake in Jewish activities. It is difficult to estimate the number of Jews in any country, but in China it is nearly impossible. Numbers may change simply because of a change in official attitudes. For example, the number of ethnic Manchu
Manchu
The Manchu people or Man are an ethnic minority of China who originated in Manchuria . During their rise in the 17th century, with the help of the Ming dynasty rebels , they came to power in China and founded the Qing Dynasty, which ruled China until the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, which...

s during the reign of the last Manchu emperor
Manchu Empire
Manchu Empire may refer to:*Qing Dynasty , 1644–1912*Manchukuo , 1932–1945...

 was estimated at 2 million; after the fall of the Manchu Empire, Manchus, fearing persecution, virtually disappeared and only 500,000 were counted in the succeeding census. When official policies regarding minorities were changed, affording them protective privileges, the number of ethnic Manchus jumped to 8.5 million.

Although overseas Jewish communities have been indifferent toward the putative descendants of the Kaifeng Jews, a Sino-Judaic Institute has been established in California to further research the history of the Jewish communities in China, promote educational projects related to the history of the Jews in China and assist the extant Jews of Kaifeng.

Recently a family of Kaifeng Jewish descendants formally converted to Judaism
Conversion to Judaism
Conversion to Judaism is a formal act undertaken by a non-Jewish person who wishes to be recognised as a full member of the Jewish community. A Jewish conversion is both a religious act and an expression of association with the Jewish people...

 and accepted Israeli citizenship. Whether or not more Kaifeng Jewish descendants will follow in this family's path remains a matter of speculation. The upcoming documentary film, Kaifeng, Jerusalem, by Dr. Noam Urbach, describes the experiences of this family. On October 20, 2009, the first group of Kaifeng Jews arrived in Israel, in an aliyah
Aliyah
Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel . It is a basic tenet of Zionist ideology. The opposite action, emigration from Israel, is referred to as yerida . The return to the Holy Land has been a Jewish aspiration since the Babylonian exile...

 operation coordinated by Shavei Israel
Shavei Israel
Shavei Israel is an Israeli-based Jewish organization that reaches out to descendants of Jews around the world and aims to strengthen their connection with Israel and the Jewish people. Founded by Michael Freund, Shavei Israel locates lost Jews and hidden Jewish communities and assists them with...

.

Documentary films


In his 1992 documentary series Legacy, historian Michael Wood walked down a small lane in Kaifeng that he said is known as the "alley of the sect who teach the Scriptures
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

", that is, of the Jews. He mentioned that there are still Jews in Kaifeng today, but that they are reluctant to reveal themselves "in the current political climate." The documentary's companion book further states that one can still see a "mezuzah
Mezuzah
A mezuzah is usually a metal or wooden rectangular object that is fastened to a doorpost of a Jewish house. Inside it is a piece of parchment inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah...

 on the door frame, and the candelabrum in the living room." Similarly, in the documentary Quest for the Lost Tribes, by Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici
Simcha Jacobovici
Simcha Jacobovici is a Canadian film director, producer, free-lance journalist, and writer. He is a three-times Emmy winner for Outstanding Investigative Journalism....

, the film crew visits the home of an elderly Kaifeng Jew who explains the recent history of the Kaifeng Jews, shows some old photographs, and his identity papers that identify him as a member of the Jewish ethnic group. A recent documentary, Minyan in Kaifeng, documents and covers the present-day Kaifeng Jewish community in China during a trip to Kaifeng that was taken by some Jewish tourists.

Books about the Kaifeng Jews



In The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions: The Legacy of the Jewish Community in Ancient China, Tiberiu Weisz, a teacher of Hebrew
Hebrews
Hebrews is an ethnonym used in the Hebrew Bible...

 history and Chinese religion, presents his own translations of the 1489, 1512, and 1663 stone stelae left by the descendants of the Kaifeng Jews. Based on the new information gleaned from this translation, Weisz theorizes after the Babylonian exile  of the sixth century BCE, disenchanted Levites and Kohanim parted with the Prophet
Prophet
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

 Ezra
Ezra
Ezra , also called Ezra the Scribe and Ezra the Priest in the Book of Ezra. According to the Hebrew Bible he returned from the Babylonian exile and reintroduced the Torah in Jerusalem...

 and settled in Northwestern India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

. Sometime prior to 108 BCE, these Jews had migrated to Gansu province, China and were spotted by the Chinese general Li Guangli, who was sent to expand the borders of Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 China. Centuries later, the Jews were expelled from China proper during the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution
Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution
The Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution initiated by Tang Emperor Wuzong reached its height in the year 845 CE. Among its purposes were to appropriate war funds and to cleanse China of foreign influences. As such, the persecution was directed not only towards Buddhism but also towards other foreign...

 (845-46), where they lived in the region of Ningxia
Ningxia
Ningxia, formerly transliterated as Ningsia, is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China. Located in Northwest China, on the Loess Plateau, the Yellow River flows through this vast area of land. The Great Wall of China runs along its northeastern boundary...

. Weisz believes they later returned to China during the Song Dynasty when its second emperor, Song Taizong, sent out a decree seeking the wisdom of foreign scholars.

In a review of the book, Irwin M. Berg, a lawyer and friend of the Kaifeng Jewish community, claims Weisz never figured the many religious documents—Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

, Haggadah, prayer books, etc.—into his thesis and only relied on the stelae themselves. Such documents can be roughly dated from their physical and scribal characteristics. Even though he refers to Persian words utilized in the stelae, Weisz did not include a study on when the Judeo-Persian language of the liturgical documents first came into use in his thesis. Judeo-Persian first developed in Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

 during the eighth century, well after the author supposes the Jews first entered China. Berg questions the historical reliability of the three stone inscriptions themselves. He gives one anachronistic example where the Jews claim it was an emperor of the Ming Dynasty who bequeathed the land used to build their first synagogue in 1163 during the Song Dynasty.

Kaifeng manuscripts


Little of the written works of the Kaifeng have survived. A significant portion, however, are kept in the library of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Among the works in that collection are a siddur (a Jewish prayer book) in Chinese characters and a Hebrew codex of the bible. The codex is fascinating in that, while it ostensibly contains vowels, it was clearly copied by someone who did not understand them. While the symbols are accurate portrayals of Hebrew vowels, they appear to be placed randomly, thereby rendering the voweled text as gibberish. Since Hebrew is generally written without vowels, a literate Hebrew speaker can disregard these markings, as the consonants are written correctly, with few scribal errors. The British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

 also has a Torah Scroll from the Kaifeng Synagogue.

Literary references to Chinese Jews


Pulitzer-prize-winning American novelist Pearl S. Buck
Pearl S. Buck
Pearl Sydenstricker Buck also known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhu , was an American writer who spent most of her time until 1934 in China. Her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the U.S. in 1931 and 1932, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932...

, raised in China and fluent in Chinese, set one of her historical novels (Peony) in a Chinese Jewish community. The novel deals with the cultural forces gradually eroding the separate identity of the Jews, including intermarriage. The title character, the Chinese bondmaid Peony, loves her master's son, David ben Ezra, but cannot marry him due to her lowly station. He eventually marries a high-class Chinese woman, to some consternation of his mother, who is proud of her unmixed heritage. Descriptions of remnant names, such as a "Street of the Plucked Sinew", and of customs such as refraining from the eating of pork, are prevalent throughout the novel.

See also

  • History of the Jews in China
    History of the Jews in China
    Jews and Judaism in China have had a long history. Jewish settlers are documented in China as early as the 7th or 8th century CE, but may have arrived during the mid Han Dynasty, or even as early as 231 BCE. Relatively isolated communities developed through the Tang and Song Dynasties Jews and...

  • Zhao Yingcheng
    Zhao Yingcheng
    Zhao Yingcheng 赵映乘 was a mandarin in China during the Ming dynasty and a Jew. He and his brother Zhao Yingdou, also a mandarin, held important government posts in the 1660s.-Life and career:...

  • History of the Jews in Japan
    History of the Jews in Japan
    The history of the Jews in Japan is well documented in modern times with various traditions relating to much earlier eras.-Status of Jews in Japan:...


Further reading

  • Xu Xin, The Jews of Kaifeng, China, (Jersey City: KTAV, 2003).
  • Xu Xin, Legends of the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, (Hoboken: KTAV, 1995).
  • Sidney Shapiro, Jews in Old China, Studies by Chinese Scholars, (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1984).
  • William Charles White, Chinese Jews, 2nd edition (New York: Paragon, 1966).
  • Pollak, Michael, Mandarins, Jews, and Missionaries: the Jewish experience in the Chinese Empire, (New York: Weatherhill, 1998).
  • Shlomy Raiskin, "A Bibliography on Chinese Jewry", Moreshet Israel (Journal of Judaism, Zionism and Eretz-Israel), No. 3 (September 2006), pp. 60–85.

External links