Parashat “Shoftim” from Kaifeng, China

Parashat “Shoftim” from Kaifeng, China

Collection ID

MS.000666

Type

Manuscript

Date

ca. 1642–1699

Geography

China

Language

Hebrew

Medium

Ink on paper

Dimensions

4.5 × 4 × 0.5 in. (11.3 × 10.3 × 1.2 cm)

Exhibit Location

On view in The History of the Bible, The Bible Spreads Globally


Medieval Jewish communities’ manuscripts reflect their unique time and place. As a result, writing styles often provide clues to a manuscript’s origin. Today, scholars categorize Hebrew writing by styles—Ashkenazic, Italian, Sephardic, Oriental, and Byzantine—but the writing style of the Kaifeng community does not fit neatly into any of these. Jewish scribes in China were influenced by the aesthetic appeal of the surrounding Chinese culture, and this is evident in their writing style. Notice the unique left “legs” of the Hebrew letters Alef (א) and Tov (ת). Their style perhaps developed because they wrote with a brush, a writing utensil not used in other Jewish manuscripts.

Created ca. 1642–1699 in Kaifeng, China; Purchased 1850–1851 by the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews;[1][2] Purchased at auction in 2010 by Green Collection, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma;[3] Donated in 2016 to National Christian Foundation (later The Signatry) under the curatorial care of Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC.

Notes: [1] The society is now called the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People (CMJ UK). [2] A quote from the 2010 Sotheby’s sale: “Acquired through the aid of Bishop George Smith of Hong Kong, who sent two Chinese Protestant converts, K'hew T'heen-sang and Tseang Yung-che, to Kaifeng in winter 1850 and summer 1851, to purchase the community's Torah scrolls and 63 books. These manuscripts were taken to Shanghai and described in the North China Herald and the journal Chinese Repository in 1851, and formed the basis of their publication on rice paper, Fac-Similes of the Hebrew Manuscripts, Obtained at the Jewish Synagogue in K'ae-Fung-Foo (Shanghai 1851). The manuscripts were then sent to the Society's headquarters in London (and more extensively studied and discussed in Jewish Intelligence in 1853, later reprinted in the Jewish Chronicle). They remained there until 1924, when 59 of the volumes were sold to the Library of the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati. Pollak (pp. 95–7) suggested that the remaining 4 were lost while on loan to the 1907 Palestine Exhibition in London. In fact they had been mislaid and remained in the holdings of the Society, until their recent rediscovery. They are offered here by the same society.” [3] Western Manuscripts and Miniatures, Sotheby’s London, 7 December 2010, Lot 36.

Published References:

Chaim Simons, Jewish Religious Observance by the Jews of Kaifeng China (Seattle, WA: Sino-Judaic Institute, 2014).

Michael Pollak, The Jews of Kaifeng: Chinese Jews on the Banks of the Yellow River (Tel Aviv: Bet Hatefutsoth, the Nahum Goldman Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, 1984).

Donald Leslie, The Survival of the Chinese Jews: The Jewish Community of Kaifeng (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972).

Fac-similes of the Hebrew Manuscripts, Obtained at the Jewish Synagogue in Kʻae-fung-foo (Shanghae: Printed at the London Missionary Society Press, 1851).

Description

Medieval Jewish communities’ manuscripts reflect their unique time and place. As a result, writing styles often provide clues to a manuscript’s origin. Today, scholars categorize Hebrew writing by styles—Ashkenazic, Italian, Sephardic, Oriental, and Byzantine—but the writing style of the Kaifeng community does not fit neatly into any of these. Jewish scribes in China were influenced by the aesthetic appeal of the surrounding Chinese culture, and this is evident in their writing style. Notice the unique left “legs” of the Hebrew letters Alef (א) and Tov (ת). Their style perhaps developed because they wrote with a brush, a writing utensil not used in other Jewish manuscripts.


Provenance

Created ca. 1642–1699 in Kaifeng, China; Purchased 1850–1851 by the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews;[1][2] Purchased at auction in 2010 by Green Collection, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma;[3] Donated in 2016 to National Christian Foundation (later The Signatry) under the curatorial care of Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC.

Notes: [1] The society is now called the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People (CMJ UK). [2] A quote from the 2010 Sotheby’s sale: “Acquired through the aid of Bishop George Smith of Hong Kong, who sent two Chinese Protestant converts, K'hew T'heen-sang and Tseang Yung-che, to Kaifeng in winter 1850 and summer 1851, to purchase the community's Torah scrolls and 63 books. These manuscripts were taken to Shanghai and described in the North China Herald and the journal Chinese Repository in 1851, and formed the basis of their publication on rice paper, Fac-Similes of the Hebrew Manuscripts, Obtained at the Jewish Synagogue in K'ae-Fung-Foo (Shanghai 1851). The manuscripts were then sent to the Society's headquarters in London (and more extensively studied and discussed in Jewish Intelligence in 1853, later reprinted in the Jewish Chronicle). They remained there until 1924, when 59 of the volumes were sold to the Library of the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati. Pollak (pp. 95–7) suggested that the remaining 4 were lost while on loan to the 1907 Palestine Exhibition in London. In fact they had been mislaid and remained in the holdings of the Society, until their recent rediscovery. They are offered here by the same society.” [3] Western Manuscripts and Miniatures, Sotheby’s London, 7 December 2010, Lot 36.

Published References:

Chaim Simons, Jewish Religious Observance by the Jews of Kaifeng China (Seattle, WA: Sino-Judaic Institute, 2014).

Michael Pollak, The Jews of Kaifeng: Chinese Jews on the Banks of the Yellow River (Tel Aviv: Bet Hatefutsoth, the Nahum Goldman Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, 1984).

Donald Leslie, The Survival of the Chinese Jews: The Jewish Community of Kaifeng (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972).

Fac-similes of the Hebrew Manuscripts, Obtained at the Jewish Synagogue in Kʻae-fung-foo (Shanghae: Printed at the London Missionary Society Press, 1851).


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