22 December 2007

Seattle: Jews in China

Seattle's Northwest Asian Weekly is the source for this story about China's Jewish roots.

Rabbi Anson Laytner is executive director of the American Jewish Committee branch in Seattle, and board president of the California-based Sino-Judaic Institute. He's spent some 20 years researching the history of Kaifeng and its Jewish community, established as early as the 8th century by Jews from Persia and India.

Laytner says in the story:

"What’s most astonishing, scholars found, is not only that Jewish communities existed in Kaifeng for centuries, but also that, for the most part, they coexisted with the native people peacefully.

Laytner said the Chinese treated the Jewish immigrants with respect and showed tolerance toward their religion. They even — perhaps unknowingly — influenced their belief system.

“Kaifeng Jews came up with a kind of Judaism that was kind of a synthesis of Jewish thought and Chinese thought,” he said.

Over the centuries, additional waves of Jews made their way into China finding refuge in Harbin, Tianjin and Hong Kong, with some 18,000 arriving in Shanghai during the Holocaust.

Global scholars travel east to learn about Sino-Judaic relations, and study steles (stone tablets with religious and genealogical inscriptions), to find historical clues.

However, Laytner said, scholars have found difficulty in getting Kaifeng authorities to cooperate with their research. He said authorities often deny visitors access to museums and important artifacts for unknown reasons.

He emphasized that the Jewish experience in China is crucial to study because it demonstrates a rare case of peaceful assimilation.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to establish good working relationships in Kaifeng, both with authorities and with Kaifeng Jews. We just want them to cooperate with us in the spirit of friendship,” he said.

For more information, visit the Sino-Judaic Institute.

Read the story here

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