The Chinese Jews of Kaifeng: A Millennium of Adaptation and Endurance.


Laytner, Anson H., and Jordan Paper, eds. The Chinese Jews of Kaifeng: A Millennium of Adaptation and Endurance, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017.

This collection showcases the study of the Kaifeng Jews. The twelve articles appraise the history, contemporary situation, and ties with the outside world of Kaifeng's Jews. This book attests to the importance of international collaboration with the goal of bringing forth different opinions from diverse perspectives. The contributors thoroughly explore the 1,000-year history of the Kaifeng Jews. Although the existing scholarship on this topic is not scarce, this collection offers fresh information and in-depth analysis of that long history. While the quality of the chapters vary, the book adds new knowledge about this part of the Jewish diaspora.

In Part One, seven authors offer assessments of the historical evolution of the Kaifeng Jews. Nigel Thomas argues that these Jews entered China predominantly via the Silk Road, although some of them might have arrived by the sea route. Erik Zurcher analyzes the history of the Kaifeng Jews from their arrival to their recent past with a particular focus on their religious practices and communal life. Irene Eber explores their identity, highlights their patrilineal structure, and contends that Judeo-Confucian syncretism has prompted the Chinese Jews to absorb Confucian cultural elements. Andrew H. Plaks carefully examines the inscriptions on stelae the Kaifeng Jews left and maintains that this group became Sinicized as its members absorbed elements of the Confucian intellectual tradition. Donald Daniel Leslie claims that the Kaifeng Jews treasured the Torah but very little else of the Bible in their practice of Judaism. Jordan Paper avers that the priestly duties of Jewish magistrates of honoring heaven and respecting ancestors did not negate their Jewishness, as others have assumed. Moshe Y. Bernstein vividly illustrates the extraordinary life of Jewish magistrate Zhao Yingcheng (1619-1657), including his political career and his role in shaping Jewish life in Kaifeng.

In Part Two, five authors offer studies of Jewish descendants who still live in Kaifeng. Although the editors characterize these authors as amateur scholars because they are lawyers, teachers, writers, and...

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