The Haggadah of the Kaifeng Jews of China


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The second tablet, dating from found in the synagogue Xuanzhang Daojing Si details their Jewish religious practices. The third, dated , commemorates the rebuilding of the Qingzhen si synagogue and repeats information that appears in the other two stelae. Father Joseph Brucker, a Roman Catholic researcher of the early 20th 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 16th to early 17th centuries, [11] 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. In fact, the stele mentions how the Jews "abandoned Bianliang" Kaifeng after the Jingkang Incident. Despite their isolation from the rest of the Jewish diaspora , the Jews of Kaifeng preserved Jewish traditions and customs for many centuries. In the 17th century, assimilation began to erode these traditions. The rate of intermarriage between Jews and other ethnic groups, such as the Han Chinese , and the Hui and Manchu minorities in China, increased.

The destruction of the synagogue in the s led to the community's demise. Liebermann, the first Western Jew to visit Kaifeng in , noted that "they still had a burial ground of their own". In it was reported that their liturgy consisted only of pieces from the Bible. Perlmann, the Shanghai businessman and scholar, wrote in 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".

In China, due to the political situation, research on the Kaifeng Jews and Judaism in China came to a standstill until the beginning of the s, when political and economic reforms were implemented. In the s, the Sino-Judaic Institute was founded by an international group of scholars 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.

It is difficult to estimate the number of Jews in China. Numbers may change simply because of a change in official attitudes. The last census revealed about official Jews in Kaifeng, now estimated at some families totalling approximately people. Some descendants of Kaifeng's Jewish community say their parents and grandparents told them that they were Jewish and would one day "return to their land", [12] others are only vaguely aware of their ancestry.

The Kaifeng Jews intermarried with local Chinese sufficiently to be 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, in Israel they are required to undergo conversion in order to receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

After contact with Jewish tourists, some of the Jews of Kaifeng have reconnected to mainstream Jewry. In the 21st century, both the Sino-Judaic Institute and Shavei Israel sent teachers to Kaifeng to help interested community members learn about their Jewish heritage, building on the pioneering work of the American Judeo-Christian Timothy Lerner. Difficulties with the authorities continued in the following years. Cultural suppression of the Kaifeng Jews, along with other religious and ethnic minorities in China, is ongoing. In much the same manner as the Chinese government suppresses other ethnoreligious minority groups such as the Uyghur, the government represses religious organizing and expression; however, it is also claimed that "the CCP seeks to dictate the terms in which the Kaifeng Jews understand their history and identity.

In contrast to the foreign Jewish groups, who worked to build bridges between the isolated Kaifeng Jews and a global Jewish community, the CCP aims for them to remain firmly as insulated Han Chinese, governed by the rules of the CCP rather than the religious priorities of international organizations or other countries.

Little of the written works of the Kaifeng Jews have survived. A significant portion, however, are kept in the library of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. The codex is notable 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 Modern Hebrew is generally written without vowels, a literate Hebrew speaker can disregard these markings, as the consonants are written correctly, with few scribal errors. Based on the new information gleaned from this translation, Weisz theorizes after the Babylonian exile of the 6th century BCE, disenchanted Levites and Kohanim parted with the Prophet Ezra and settled in Northwestern India.

Centuries later, the Jews were expelled from China proper during the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution —46 , where they lived in the region of Ningxia. Weisz believes they later returned to China during the Song Dynasty when its second emperor, Taizong , sent out a decree seeking the wisdom of foreign scholars. Visit Us. Current Exhibitions. Traveling Exhibitions. Exhibition Archive. Lamed Vav: Paintings by Peter Leventhal. Paint by Numbers. Hanan Harchol: Jewish Food for Thought. The Seventh Day: Revisiting Shabbat. The Sexuality Spectrum. Max Ferguson - Painting My Father.

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