Peregrine over Torrey Pines

Friday, December 24, 2010

M.O.T., no M.S.G.

Like most of my tribe, tomorrow starts the annual pilgrimage to great chinese food. We wait until we see a certain star in the sky and then skip past the three wise men and head out for dim sum. Anyone that wants to join us at Jasmine in the early afternoon,  give me a call. And of course that invitation is open to all friends, faiths, tribe and absence of faith notwithstanding.

Jasmine Seafood Restaurant
4609 Convoy St.
San Diego, CA 92111
858.268.0888
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Plagiarized from various sources including Wiki:

Archaelogical evidence suggests that Jews were in China as early as the 8th Century, having arrived from Persia along the Silk Road. In 1163 the Emperor ordered the Jews to live in Kaifeng, where they built the first Chinese synagogue. Marco Polo recorded that Kublai Khan celebrated the festivals of the Muslims, Christians and Jews, indicating that there were a significant number of Jews in China in the 13th Century.



Jews traveled from West Asia over the Silk Road and by sea via India probably in Tang dynasty (618 – 907 CE).   Some scholars think they may have arrived even earlier, during the Later Han dynasty (25 – 220 CE), which would coincide with Roman persecution in Judea.

Jews were certainly established in Kaifeng by 960 CE, which was then called Bianliang, when it served as a capital of the Song dynasty.  China was then a world center of civilization and trade.   Jews also settled in major shipping cities, such as Guangzhou (a southern coast port with access to SE Asia and Persia), Quanzhou (in SE Fujian and a center for foreign trade), Ningpo (from which the Kaifeng Jews received Torah scrolls after the flood in 1461), Yangzhou (a Grand Canal port near the sea on the Yangzi River), and Hangzhou (also on Grand Canal, which is known to have had a synagogue).  There is also evidence of Jewish presence inland along the Silk Road in such locations as Dandan Uiliq, Dunhuang, and Ningxia.

In 1163, a synagogue was built in Kaifeng and the community lived close by the synagogue in two lanes called the North and the South ''Teaching Torah'' lanes.  The Jewish community prospered despite repeated disasters, such as fires or the flooding of the Yellow river, which frequently destroyed the synagogue.

Whenever disaster struck, the Jews worked together to rebuild their synagogue. A stele was erected each time to commemorate the rebuilding of the synagogue.   The Kaifeng Jews erected four steles in total, one each in 1489, 1512, 1663 and 1679.


A Ming Emperor conferred on the Jews seven surnames - Ai, Lao, Jin, Li, Shi, Zhang and Zhao. To this day Chinese Jews will only have one of these seven names. Christian missionaries also recorded meetings with Chinese Jews. At least one synagogue was constructed, and the community was active for about eight centuries. Currently, the Vatican holds letters from Jesuits in the 18th Century describing the daily life and religious practices of Jews in Kaifeng, and drawings of their synagogue.


Westerners lost touch with Kaifeng Jews in the mid-1700s. It was not until 1900 that an effort was made to re-establish contact.


In the late 19th century, Russian Jewish communities were founded in Harbin, Tianjin and elsewhere. The project to construct a Russian railway to East Asia was centered in Harbin. Anxious to populate the city, the Russian government provided incentives to minorities, including Jews and Karaites, to settle there. In the early years of the 20th century, Jews fleeing pogroms in the Pale of Settlement and demobilized soldiers from the Russo-Japanese War joined them, raising the Jewish population of Harbin to approximately 8,000 by 1908. The Russian Revolution of 1917 practically doubled the size of the community, and served as a stimulus to Zionist activism. Japanese annexation in 1931 brought increased restrictions on many facets of life, and many Jews left for free countries. Most of the Russian Jews remaining at the end of World War II emigrated to the West. Some were repatriated, both voluntarily and involuntarily, to the Soviet Union.


The development of the port city of Shanghai as a Jewish center parallels that of Hong Kong. Sephardi families from Baghdad, Bombay and Cairo, including the Kadoories, Sassons and Hardoons, established a communal structure in Shanghai in the 19th century. By 1903, there were three synagogues in the city, and the number of Jews totaled to 30,000. However, most of them fled when the Communists took over in 1949. 


The Chinese government now recognizes Jews as an official Chinese ethnic group.  On Sept. 29, 2000, Rosh Hashanah services were held at the Ohel Rachel Synagogue for the first time in nearly 50 years.


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The existence of Jews in China was unknown to Europeans until 1605, when Matteo Ricci, then established in Beijing, was visited by a Jew from Kaifeng, who had come to Beijing to take examinations for his jinshi degree. According to his account in De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas, his visitor, named Ai Tian (Ai T'ien) (艾田) explained that he worshipped one God. It is recorded that when he saw a Christian 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 (禮拜寺 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 (which were a comparatively late invention).

When Ricci wrote to the "ruler of the synagogue" in Kaifeng, telling him that the Messiah 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] or heathens."

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

The Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s led to the dispersal of the community, but it later returned to Kaifeng. Three stelae with inscriptions were found at Kaifeng. The oldest, dating from 1489, commemorates the construction of a synagogue in 1163 (bearing the name 清真寺, Qīngzhēn Sì, a term often used for mosques in Chinese). The inscription states that the Jews came to China from India during the Han Dynasty period (2nd century BCE-2nd century CE). It cites the names of 70 Jews with Chinese surnames, describes their audience with an unnamed Song Dynasty emperor, and lists the transmission of their religion from Abraham down to the prophet Ezra. 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 General Yue Fei. The tattoo, which reads "Boundless loyalty to the country" (simplified Chinese: 尽忠报国; traditional Chinese: 盡忠報國; pinyin: jìn zhōng bào guó), 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. This could be taken to suggest that loyal Jews fled south along with the soon-to-be crowned Emperor Gaozong to Hangzhou. In fact, the 1489 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 seventeenth 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 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.

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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", 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 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, 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.

In The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions: The Legacy of the Jewish Community in Ancient China, Tiberiu Weisz, a teacher of Hebrew 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 Ezra and settled in Northwestern India. 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 China. Centuries later, the Jews were expelled from China proper during the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution (845-46), where they lived in the region of Ningxia. 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, 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 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.

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.

During the Taiping rebellion of the 1850s, the Jews of Kaifeng apparently suffered a great deal and were dispersed. Following this dislocation, they returned to Kaifeng, yet continued to be small in number and to face hardships, as is recorded in the early 20th century.

Jews, Shanghai ghetto


Shanghai's first wave of Jews came in the second half of the 19th century, many being Mizrahi Jews from Iraq. The first Jew who arrived there was Elias David Sassoon, who, about the year 1850, opened a branch in connection with his father's Bombay house. Since that period Jews gradually migrated from India to Shanghai, most of them being engaged from Bombay as clerks by the firm of David Sassoon & Co. The community was composed mainly of "Asian," (Sephardi) German, and Russian Jews, though there were a few of Austrian, French, and Italian origin among them. Jews took a considerable part in developing trade in China, and several served on the municipal councils, among them being Silas Aaron Hardoon, partner in the firm of E. D. Sassoon & Co., who served on the French and English councils at the same time. During the early days of Jewish settlement in Shanghai the trade in opium and Bombay cotton yarn was mainly in Jewish hands.

In Henan, Guangdong, and Gansu, Jews converted to Islam and were assimilated into the Chinese Muslim community.

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A family of Kaifeng jews, circa 1910


The contemporary term for Jews in use among Chinese today is Youtairen (Chinese: 猶太人; pinyin: Yóutài Rén) in Mandarin Chinese. The term Youtai has similar phonetic sound of Jude or Judah, Greek terms for Jew.

It has been recorded that the Chinese historically called the Jews Tiao jin jiao (挑筋教), loosely, "the religion which removes the sinew," probably referring to the Jewish dietary prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve (from Genesis 32:32).

Jewish dietary law (kashruth), which forbids the eating of, among other foods, non-ruminant mammals, shellfish and reptiles, would have most likely caused Jewish communities to stand out from the surrounding mainstream Chinese population, as Chinese culture is typically very free in the range of items it deems suitable for food.

Jews have also been called the Blue-Hat Hui (Chinese: 藍帽回; pinyin: Lánmào Húi), in contrast to other populations of Hui people, who have identified with hats of other colors. The distinction between Muslim and Jewish Hui is not, and historically has not been, well recognised by the dominant Han population.

A modern translation of the "Kaifeng Steles" has shown the Jews referred to their synagogue as "The Pure and Truth", which is essentially the same as the term used in modern China to refer to Muslim mosques (清真寺).

According to an oral tradition dictated by Xu Xin, Director of the Center for Judaic Studies at Nanjing University, in his book Legends of the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, the Kaifeng Jews called Judaism Yīcìlèyè jiào (一賜樂業教), lit. the religion of Israel. Yīcìlèyè is a transliteration and partial translation of "Israel". Xu Xin translates this phrase as "Chosen people, endowed by God, and contented with their lives and work". Content, probably - kvetching, certainly.

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Of course, the real reason jews eat chinese food on Christmas is that it is usually the only thing open.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Buddha ate matzoh. No, really!

Happy Chanukah, babe.....

Chang Kai Shek

Lena said...

how do you say Oy Vey in chinese...

Anson Laytner said...

Readers who want to continue to learn more about the Jewish communities of China and about the intersection of all things Chinese and Jewish may visit the website of the Sino-Judaic Institute: www.sino-judaic.org

grumpy said...

...another Band song i really love is "Shootout in Chinatown"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLRTcoJMKBE

...happy Christmas, war is over.

Anonymous said...

So what's M.O.T. supposed to mean?

Anonymous said...

So what's M.O.T. supposed to mean?

Blue Heron said...

Sorry, I would tell you if I could but we have a little jewish omerta thing...

island guy said...

Interesting history, thanks. In learning about the history of Siam and the Malay Peninsula the extent of Chinese contacts with the Kingdom over many hundreds of years is something I learned about only since relocating here. Any connection you know of with Chinese Jewish trading houses and the Emperor's far flung influence in SE Asia in the CE 800 to 1600 period? In the last 300 years there were many foreign groups facilitating business along this crossroads of Asia, including some Sephardic traders. A common emphasis in both Chinese culture and Jewish culture (in my limited understanding, based on observation and reading) on financial and commerce (ial) literacy seems to make a good fit between these two seemingly disparate peoples more likely.

Alas, Hong Kong Style Dim Sum is very hard to find in this neck of the woods!