Vol. I, No. 4
FROM THE JEWISH INTELLIGENCE.
The Jews in China.
Proceeding upon the good maxim of "et ab hoste discere fas est," (it is right to learn even of an enemy,) we extract a part of the article in the work of Mr. James Finn, called "The Jews in China—their Synagogue, their Scriptures, their History, &c., London, 1843," (which we have not yet received,) from the London organ of the Society for Converting the Jews. It is curious that several articles lately printed in the Intelligence prove, more than any arguments Jews can furnish, that our people need no amelioration such as the London Society, headed by the primate of all England, and the New York one, supported by many men of eminence, and equally many ladies of benevolence, can offer. But it is useless speculating; men will act unwisely, and at the same time wonder that their motives are not appreciated; and thus must we not be astonished that men will endeavour to break down Judaism, though it has preserved itself unharmed in the midst of heathen nations, where Christianity fell and left no wreck behind. But we must proceed with our extracts without more preface, especially as we shall have, much against our will, to recur to this painful subject more than once, owing to the efforts of societies and individuals to rob us of our faith. Ed. Oc.
China has hitherto been almost inaccessible to Christians and to Christian missionaries, and the opportunities which once presented themselves have been but sparingly improved. In the meantime, that which might have been known concerning the history, customs, and character of the "Jews in China," has, for the most part, been strangely neglected and overlooked.
Though, like their brethren, still in unbelief(!) still unacquainted with the import of the promises contained in those oracles of which they are the depositaries, they nevertheless fulfil the high vocation and stewardship to which their nation has been appointed. Amid surrounding darkness and idolatry, they have preserved that law which is given of God to be a schoolmaster to bring them and the heathens around them to Him, who is the end of the law, for righteousness.
We have long been accustomed to talk about the existence of Jews in China, but the most profound ignorance has, generally speaking, prevailed, especially in this country, concerning their real state and condition.
Mr. Finn's book is divided into five chapters, which treat on the following subjects:—
The following is the account which Mr. F. gives of the large synagogue in Kae-fung-foo:—
"The whole place of worship occupies a space of between three and four hundred feet in length, by about one hundred and fifty in breadth, comprising four successive courts, advancing from the east to the synagogue itself at the extreme west.
"The first court has in its centre 'a large, noble, and beautiful arch,' (Pae-fang,) bearing a golden inscription in Chinese, dedicating the locality to the Creator and Preserver of all things. There are also some trees interspersed."*
"The second court is entered from the first, by a large gate with two side doors, and two wickets beside them. Its walls are flanked to the north and south by dwellings for the keepers of the edifice.
"The third court has the same kinds of entrance from the second as that has from the first. In its centre stands an arch like that in the first court. Upon the walls, between the trees, are marble tablets (Pae-wan), with inscriptions in Chinese. Part of this court is flanked by commemorative chapels: that on the south,* in, memory of an Israelite mandarin named Chao, the judge of a city of second degree, who formerly rebuilt the synagogue after its destruction by fire: that on the north, in memory of him who erected all the present edifice. There are also some reception rooms for guests.
"The fourth court is parted in two by a row of trees. Half way along this line stands a great brazen vase for incense, at the sides of which are placed two figures of lions, upon marble pedestals; and at the westward sides of these lions are two large brazen vases, containing flowers. Adjoining the northern wall is a recess, in which the nerves and sinews are extracted from animals slain for food. The second division of this court is an empty space, with a 'hall of ancestors' (Tsoo-tang) at each of its sides to the north and south. In these they venerate, at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the worthies of the Old Testament history, after the Chinese manner, but having merely the name of the person upon each tablet, without his picture. The only furniture these contain are a great number of censers; the largest one in honour of Abraham, and the rest, of Isaac, Jacob, the twelve sons of Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Ezra, and others, both male and female. In the open space between these chapels, they erect their annual booths of boughs and flowers, at the Feast of Tabernacles.
"Then occurs the synagogue itself, a building of about sixty feet by forty, covered by a fourfold and handsome roof, having a portico with a double row of four columns, and a balustrade before it.
"Within this edifice the roofs (as usual in Chinese domestic architecture) are sustained by rows of pillars besides the walls. In the centre of all is 'the throne of Moses,' a magnificent and elevated chair, with an embroidered cushion, upon which they place the book of the law while it is read. Over this a dome is suspended: and near it is the Wan-suy-pae, or tablet, with the emperor's name in golden characters, enclosed within a double line of scrollwork This, however, is surmounted by the inscription in Hebrew letters of gold:—
HEAR, O ISRAEL:
After this, a triple arch bears the following inscription, likewise in Hebrew:
BLESSED BE THE LORD FOR EVER.
Then a large table, upon which are placed six candelabra in one line, with a great vase for incense, having handles, and a tripod standing, half way along the line. These candelabra are in three different forms; and bear three different kinds of lights. Those nearest the vase bear torches, the next on each side have candles, and those at the extremities, ornamental lanterns. Near this table is a laver for washing hands.
"Lastly, the Beth-el, or Teen-tang (house of heaven), square in outward shape, but rounded within. Into this none but the rabbi may enter during the time of prayer. Here, upon separate tables, stand twelve rolls of the law, corresponding to the tribes of Israel, besides one in the centre in honour, of Moses, each enclosed in a tent of silken curtains. On the extreme western wall are the tablets of the Ten Commandments, in golden letters of Hebrew. Beside each of these tablets is a closet containing manuscript books, and in front of each closet, a table, bearing a vase and two candelabra.
"The congregation, when assembled for devotion, are separated from the Beth-el by a balustrade, some standing in recesses along the walls. Against a column is suspended a calendar for the reading of the law." (Page 16 -20.)
It appears that the Jews in China have been most remarkable in their steadfast and silent opposition to the heathenish forms of religious worship which have prevailed around them.
"Their alienation from idolatry is particularly striking, after so long an exposure to the superstitions of the country, graded as these are by imperial influence. They refuse to take an oath in an idol temple; and the conspicuous inscriptions upon the walls and arches proclaim their steadfastness in this matter, even upon that delicate point of the emperor's name, which in the Synagogue the have surmounted by the most significant of possible warnings against confounding any reverence whatever with that due to the 'blessed and only Potentate.'
"Nor must we omit to remark their interesting practice of praying westwards, towards Jerusalem." (Page 25.)
They have also been faithful in preserving those oracles of God which have been committed to them.
"As we have already seen, the synagogue of Kae-fang-foo possesses thirteen copies of the law, kept within coverings of silk. These are denominated the Ta-king, or Temple-Scripture. The rolls measure about two feet in length; and are rather more than one foot in diameter.
"Besides these, there is in the Beth-el a large number of nearly square books (not rolls) of about seven inches by five, some new, others very old; but all much neglected, and lying in confusion. The people classified them nonally, as follows:—
"1. Ta-king in fifty-three books, each containing one section of the law, for the Sabbath-days.
"2. Tsin-soo, or supplementary books; called, also, Ha-foo-ta-la, or Haphtorah. These are portions of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and the Prophets.
"3. Historical books, viz:—Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, (four or five of the first chapters), and the two first books of Maccabees, called Mattathi, the latter whole, but not in good condition.
"4. Keang-chang, or the Expositors. These are much defaced, and have lost their titles. The brief leisure of the missionaries did not allow of a close examination into these books, their attention having been especially directed to the law of Moses.
"5. Le-pae, the ritual or ceremonial books, about fifty in number, and slightly differing in shape from the rest. One of these bears on its cover the title 'The Perpetual Afternoon-Service.'" (Pages 28, 29.)
An important question must naturally arise concerning the period when this colony of Hebrews first settled in China. Men greatly distinguished for their acquirements in Oriental literature have framed a theory from other sources that they derive their origin from the ten tribes of Israel. The accounts of the missionaries, however, and the popular summaries of the same, have, unreservedly, spoken of them as belonging to the tribe of Judah.
Mr. Finn adduces the following arguments in support of the latter supposition:
"But that the Hebrews in Honan are Jews of the restoration from Chaldea is evident from the following considerations:—
"1. The tablets speak of a tradition of the law from its origin to the time of Ezra, 'the second law-giver and reformer of the people;' a description which implies a knowledge of the re-establishment in Jerusalem.
"2. They possess, besides some portion of the prophetical books written after the captivity of the ten tribes by Shalmaneser, a few verses of Daniel, and the book of Esther, (whom they venerate under the title of 'the great mother'), in which the word Jew occurs many times, although the words Israel and Israelite are not found there at all.
"3. Their Haptorah (a selection dating only from the persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes, about a. c. 170) comprises portions out of prophets who lived in Jerusalem during the second temple, as Zechariah and Malachi.
"4. They have adopted the Seleucidan era of chronology.
"5. In the list of rabbis annexed to the section-book, Bereshith, are found the titles, 'our master, our rabbi,' &c., which give it quite a Talmudic complexion: and they have rabbinical rules for slaughtering.
"The synagogue inscription over the emperor's tablet, is a verse from Scripture, frequently repeated in Jewish liturgies to the present day.
"The force of all the above reasons might indeed be abated, by taking into account, that for several centuries their sacred books, and some of their teachers, have reached them from another country in the west, and concluding that thus only may have been imported the later Scriptures and Jewish peculiarities. But this conclusion is entirely gratuitous, without evidence of even the lowest degree.
"That this, however, is a very ancient off shoot from the Jerusalem Jews, anterior, probably, to the incarnation of Christ, seems plain, from their ignorance of his name Jesus,* that 'which is above every name,' until it was mentioned to them by the missionaries; perhaps, also, from their indifference towards the crucifix; from their freedom from rabbinical despotism; and, above all, from those religious usages in which they differ from all Jews known elsewhere, such as reading the law through a veil, erecting a throne for Moses, together with their diversity in the sections of the law, and in their ritual of worship. But these will not lead us to declare their descent from the ten tribes.† (Page 58-60.)
From the above it appears that though the Jews in China, as elsewhere, have adopted some forms borrowed from their neighbours, they have in the main remained true to the laws of Israel. If it be true that they emigrated before the destruction of the second temple, their custom of purifying meat by extracting sinews and arteries, as practised among modern Jews of the west, proves strongly that the conformity to rabbinical ordinances is based upon something more than human authority. How strangely and unwisely act they, therefore, who blindly reject all that we have received from our fathers.
We hope in a few months to receive Mr. Finn's work, and we shall then furnish to our readers all the interesting matters which we shall think sufficiently authenticated; for it must be observed, that all that has as yet been said concerning the Chinese Jews has come from missionaries, chiefly Catholic, and we do not, honestly speaking, place the utmost reliance in such testimony, unless borne out by internal evidence. We hope, however, that the new intercourse which has lately been opened with the Celestial Empire may soon enable some pious Israelite to penetrate to his brethren at Kae-fung-foo, and establish relations of friendship and brotherly love between them and their brothers in the land of the setting of the sun.