Kaifung Jews

Doctrines The beliefs of the Kaifung Jews are consistent with those of mainstream Judaism: namely, the authority of the Torah, the belief in a Messiah who would establish the rule of God, a final judgement, and the special election of the people of Israel. However, certain practices reflected the influence of their Chinese context. Incense was burned in honour of both great biblical figures and Confucius, who was regarded by the Kaifung Jews as a great moral figure. On some Jewish holidays food sacrifices in the Chinese style were made.

History It is uncertain when Jews first settled in China. Some scholars have dated the transmission of Judaism into China as early as the 6th century of the Christian era. The earliest existing evidence of a Jewish presence is a letter written in the 8th century in Persian Hebrew by a Jewish merchant in China.
The 9th century was a turbulent period for outsiders in China. A rebellion in 878/9 in Canton led to the massacre of some 120,000 Jews, Christians, Muslims and other foreigners. This atrocity did not force the Jews out of China; they continued to trade with the Chinese and established a small Jewish community in Kaifung during the 9th and 10th centuries. The permanence of the Jewish presence was confirmed by the construction of a synagogue in Kaifung in 1163.
The Jews of Kaifung remained outside of mainstream Chinese society until the 15th century. In 1421 Jews were given permission to take the civil service examinations, which enabled some of them to acquire positions of importance within the government.
In the 17th century Roman Catholic missionaries in China tried unsuccessfully to convert the Kaifung Jews to Christianity. The expulsion of the missionaries in 1766 created a situation of isolation and gradual decline of the Jewish community. In the 19th century the last rabbi died, Hebrew ceased to be taught and the synagogue fell into disrepair. Today there is no longer a Jewish presence in Kaifung, although it is estimated that some 400 to 500 people claim to have a Jewish ancestry.

Symbols Too little is known about the Kaifung community to enable us to describe the place of Jewish symbolism within the life of the community. However, certain relics have been discovered from the Kaifung temple which shed light on the ritual life of the community. These include two large stone bowls for the purpose of ritual washing before worship and a wooden cylindrical case for the Torah.

Adherents The Kaifung community has no contemporary adherents.

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 Kaifung, northern Honan.