Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Haggadah of the Kaifeng Jews of China

Wong and Yasharpour have provided a unique piece of scholarship in their book The Haggadah of the Kaifeng Jews of China; despite widespread interest in the defunct Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, serious scholarship of their Chinese, Hebrew, and Judeo-Persian texts is lacking.  Therefore, this is a valuable work.

The Kaifeng Jews community left us two Haggadoth, one from the seventeenth and one from the eighteenth century.  The authors examine both, and shed light on the history of the community and its book.

This isolated group of Jews never number more than a few thousand people, has long been accused of inaccurate knowledge of Hebrew.  The authors examine the eighteenth century haggadah line by line, shedding light on possible errors, textual variations, and distinct Kaifeng written traditions.  Rather than issuing blanket proclamations of the community and their abilities as Jews, we get a more nuanced view.

The book is also beautifully produced.  There is a general history of the Jews of Kaifeng, and then a more detailed history of the texts examined.   The Hebrew and Judeo-Persian text is reproduced, translated, and analyzed line-by-line.  Photographs of the full eighteenth century Haggadah are provided at the back.

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