Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The 1,500 Year Old Jewish Community In China

Tiberiu Weisz writes in Covenant about this Jewish community and how they dealt with the assimilation of their community:
...after living in China for over fifteen hundred years devoid of any contact with other Jewish communities, the Chinese Jews felt that their community was on the verge of extinction. They were determined to record their existence in China and remind future generations that at one time some Jews played an important role in Chinese society: some acquired an education and competed in the examination system to become scholars; others earned the highest academic degrees to become officials and gained respect in the society. There were also prominent shopkeepers, artisans, traders and military officers.

But acceptance into Chinese society came at the expense of Judaism. Though the Chinese had never exerted any pressure on the Jews, or on any other minorities to convert, the social structure of Chinese society put enormous demands on the Jews and required them to accept and act according to local customs. The Confucian ethical code may have seemed to be compatible with many tenets of the Torah, but it was so inflexible as to accept nothing less than complete compliance. In addition, the rigid administrative system caused further erosion of the Jewish lifestyle. To climb the administrative and social ladder, Jews needed to devote considerable time and effort to the study of the Chinese classics. All this came at the expense of study of the Torah. When the Jews felt that the end was near, they pooled their resources and inscribed their religious beliefs on a stele that was erected in the second year of the Hongzhi period, the equivalent of 1489.
There is more to Jews in China than the Mir Yeshiva in Shanghai fleeing the Holocaust.

See also: The Jews of Panama and The Forgotten Jewish Community of Greece

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1 comment:

Esser Agaroth said...

B"H When I lived in Ofra, one of the communities where B'nei Menashe have settled, it was explained to me by a B'nei Menashe neighbor that before settling in East India, they were part of the Shang Hai community. I'm not sure when, nor if they were a peripheral sub-community. I do know that they do not claim the status of Jews al pi halacha. (Of course, they were from Yisrael, not Yehudah anyway) The Ethiopians also did, until the R. "Movement" came to Ethiopia to convince them to fight the giyur requirement.

Unfortunately, the old Shinui Interior Minister Avraham Poraz YSh"W imposed a ban on Immigration from India. This ban has been continued by the current Int. Min. Me'ir Shitrit. The B'nei Menashe live in towns like Ofra, Beth El, Qiriyath Arba, Shavei Shomron, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Qiriyth Moshe, and until the expulsion, Newe Deqalim. You do the math as to why there's a ban.