Jews from Iraq and Persia traveled to India, probably during the late era of the Chinese Han dynasty (25-220 CE). Then their Indo-Iraqi/Persian Jewish descendants sailed to China sometime early in the Tang dynasty (618-907). Like Jews in Buddhist India, the Jews in Kaifeng, China were free of persecution from their Han majority neighbors. Kaifeng was originally the capital city and the Jews lived in a minority enclave along with other foreigners. Very few early records and relics of Jewish life in this era survived.
The local Han majority did not distinguish between Muslim and Jewish minorities, using the same word to refer to a synagogue or a mosque. Religious persecution was minimal and not state sanctioned policy. Kosher and halal practices made Jewish and Muslim Chinese stick out, and Kaifeng Jews, the largest ancient Jewish Chinese community, gained the name “the sect that removes the sinews” for their Kosher butcher practices.
Kaifeng Jews incorporated some elements of Chinese culture into their Judaism, offering Kosher sacrifices on traditional Confucian holidays and burning incense in their synagogue. Confucian Chinese held Judaism in high regard, as a culture that shared values and virtues with their own: a sense of tradition, honor for ancestors, the primacy of family, and the importance of academic study. At the start of the Middle Ages (500-1500 CE), the two cultures with the highest rates of general literacy were the Chinese (20-30%) and Jews (variable across the Diaspora, but about a quarter to half of all males).
And that’s the way the world stood as we wrap up the introduction to the world map before the 8th century. Christianity had started in Jewish Jerusalem, and spread down into Africa, up into Britain, and across the Mediterranean and Europe. Islam had been founded in what would become Saudi Arabia, and since conquered the whole of Persia, most of Central Asia, North Africa, and even Spain.
Germanic tribes like the Franks and Lombards had taken over most of western Europe and settled on the island of Britain as well. The Russians and Slavs had come down from the north and conquered the Khazars. Christians were infighting and breaking up their universal world church. The Silk Road was getting too dangerous and war torn for Rhadanites to traverse, and the old empires were breaking apart into tiny feudal kingdoms. What was next for the Jews of the world?
Leslie, Donald Daniel (1972). “The Survival of the Chinese Jews: The Jewish Community of Kaifeng”
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