China has a long and storied Jewish history dating back to at least the eighth century. Many Jews also came to China seeking refuge from Nazi Europe. Today, the Jewish population in China is approximately 2,500.
- Pien-Liang (Kiafeng)
- Hong Kong
- Jewish Community Today
- Community Contacts
The merchant economy of ancient China brought Jewish
traders to the region as early as the eighth century. Jewish merchants
travelling the Silk Route settled in the far western region of the country
in the city of Pien-Liang (today’s Kiafeng), capital of the Honan province.
Jews were officially allowed in Pien-Liang in 960 C.E. and built the
Purity and Truth Synagogue, the first in the region, in 1163. The community
thrived through eight centuries, reaching its height in the 17th century
at 5,000 members. But following generations of war, poverty, and religious
isolation, the Pien-Liang Jewish community significantly declined. The
poverty-stricken community lost many Jewish traditions, including the
knowledge of Hebrew, and by the mid-19th century, the community’s last
rabbi had died, long after the position of rabbi had become hereditary.
The synagogue, repeatedly
destroyed by floods, was finally demolished in around 1860.
Today, the community has begun to repair itself and
is trying to reconnect with the world Jewish community. In Keifeng,
an estimated 500 to 1,000 residents have ties to Jewish ancestry, though
only 40 to 50 individuals partake in Jewish activities. It is speculated
that this lack of religious affiliation is due to the strict police
surveillance of religion under the Chinese government, despite the emergence
of Capitalism. Citizens affirm their Jewish identity discreetly to avoid
incuring official displeasure. The community as a whole manages to maintain
only a few traditions, such as refraining from eating pork and mixing
milk and meat. As the Keifeng Jews try to reach out to the world Jewish
community and return to their Jewish roots, they face a number of obstacles,
including poverty and lack of knowledge about Judaism. By adopting the
Chinese patrilineal tradition, the Kiefeng Jews are no longer considered
Jewish according to Orthodox Judaism. Nevertheless, the community is
determined to reeducate its members and convert to revive Judaism in
Jews of Kaifeng, late 19th or early 20th c.
China’s growth as a leading economic power combined
with the remodeling of Kaifeng into a tourist destination has led to
a greater acceptance of Jewish expression in the city. Tours of the
city’s historical sites are given, which give foreign Jews access to
the remains of first synangogue and various synagogue relics, including
a massive stone water jar and a large stone stele, both dating to 1489.
These artifacts are located in the Kaifeng Municipal Museum, while other
Jewish relics are housed in various museums worldwide, such as the British
Musuem in London and
the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. The stele, originally
one of many that decorated the synagogue, is inscribed with the history
of the local Jewish population and how Jewish families recieved Chinese
patronymics. A Ming emperor gave the Jews the typical Chinese surnames
Ai, Gao, Jin, Li, Zhang, Shi and Zhau because he found Hebrew names
In the late nineteenth century, communities of Russian Jews settled
in Harbin and Tientsin, especially at the urging of the Russian government,
which aimed to construct a railway to eastern Asia and needed population
centers there. The Russian government, eager to populate the cities,
encouraged minorities such as Jews and Karaites to move to these cities. As the religious freedoms in Eastern Europe became more limited and as pogroms in the Pale
of Settlement increased, many Jews joined these Southeast Asian
communities, raising the Jewish population of Harbin to 8,000 by 1908.
Shanghai, a port city in the Kiangsu province in Eastern China, opened
to foreign trade in 1842. Subsequently, the city of Shanghai absorbed
many of the Ashkenazi émigrés fleeing repression in Eastern Europe. Russian
Jews fleeing persecution and massacres under the Tsar also emigrated
and built the Ohel Moishe Synagogue in Shanghai in 1907. But the majority
of the Shanghai Jewish population was Sephardim from Baghdad, Bombay, and Cairo, including the wealthy families Sassoon,
Kadoorie, Hardoon, Ezra, Shamoon, and Baroukh. These families raised
the Jewish population of Shanghai to approximately 700, including 400
Sephardim, 250 Europeans, and 50 Americans. Most of them were merchants,
although some were in medicine, teaching, and diplomatic service.
Jews fleeing the Russian Revolution of 1917 further increased the Jewish
population and raised awareness for the Zionist movement. Then in the 1930s and 40s, Jewish refugees from Germany and German-occupied areas fleeing the Nazi regime increased the Shanghai population to approximately 25,000. Lubavitch
Hasidim, as well as remnants of the Mir and Slobodka Lithuanian
yeshivot (Jewish religious schools), found refuge in Shanghai, which
became a frequent destination because the free port did not require
Between 1904 and 1939, three synagogues were built in Shanghai, and
12 Jewish magazines in English, German, and Russian were established
and published there. A Hebrew newspaper was also published as early
as 1904. The leading magazine, Israel’s Messenger, was a Zionist monthly
founded in 1904 by N. E. B. Ezra and published until his death in 1936.
Japan captured Shanghai in 1937 and
closed it to further immigration in December 1941. They deported
most of their Jews to the miserable Hongkew district of Shanghai
and kept them in unsanitary semi-internment camps under Japanese
occupation forces. The Shanghai Jews, including the transferred
Japanese Jews, suffered great economic and property loss
during the war, after which, most left to the United States, Britain, Israel, Australia, and other communities. Since
1948, 1,070 Jews from China have immigrated to Israel, with 504 leaving
between 1948 and 1951.
Today, there are about 2,000 Jews living in Beijing, a city of 17 million. A handful of Jewish communists came to this city decades ago but a growing number of secular and then Orthodox Jews have settled there recently, bringing along their families and their traditions. For the past 30 years, the world’s Jews have been coming to China to take part in the rapid transformation and surging economic development. A small group of North American Jews first came to Beijing in the late 1970s. A congregation was established, called Kehillat Beijing, as a part of the Reform movement. The first Passover Seder was held in 1980 and then High Holy Day services were held in a hotel conference room, starting Friday night Shabbat open houses soon after. Jews from Europe and the Soviet Union began arriving during the 1980s.
When China established diplomatic relations with Israel
in 1992, a joint Seder was held between Kehillat Beijing and the Israeli
Embassy. The congregation began holding regular Friday night services
in 1995, followed by the first brit
milah in 1997, along with a Kehillat Beijing Sunday school.
Today, the Ahavat Yitzhak school teaches 40 children. Although Kehillat
Beijing does not have a permanent rabbi, the congregation now boasts
approximately 50 families.
The Chabad House in Beijing is located at the end of a quiet street in an upscale gated community inside Fourth Ring road and down the block from the Israeli Embassy. Rabbi Shimon Freundlich serves as Beijing’s Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, arriving in Beijing in 2001. Chabad makes sure to work within the centralized Chinese system by allowing only holders of foreign passports to attend prayer services and cultural activities, and refrains from public advertising. The synagogue is technically in Rabbi Freundlich’s home, since free-standing religious buildings are forbidden.
In 2002, Rabbi Freundlich’s wife opened Ganeinu International School, an accredited Montessori school that educates about 50 children up to age 12 from a diverse range of Jewish backgrounds and various levels of observance. Chabad provides teachers for Kehillat Beijing’s Sunday school, which shares Ganeinu’s building, and the two communities come together for religious holidays.
The community has grown from 700 to 1,500 people in
the last seven years. Chabad has established a downtown location in
the city’s central business disctrict as well as a community center.
A womens-only mikveh, Mei Torah, was established, and a ritual
slaughterer flies in from South
Africa every three months to meet the kosher dietary needs of the community. In March 2007, Beijing’s first
(and only) kosher restaurant opened, called Dini’s, which was
open 24 hours, six days a week during the 2008
Summer Olympics Games, providing kosher food for athletes in the
Olympic village, as well as snack baskets for spectators.
An estimated 5,000 Jews live in Hong Kong at least part-time,
as the community is very transient. The Jewish Community Center, which
opened in 1995, is the main location for Jewish events in the city.
Right next door is the Ohel Leah Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox synagogue
that boasts a membership of 190 families. Rabbi Asher Oser has led the
congregation since 2010.
Rabbi Stanton Zamek leads the United Jewish Congregation
of Hong Kong, a Reform congregation of 170 families. The congregation
is approximately 60 percent American, relatively young and career-oriented.
Chabad Hong Kong is led by Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon and
his wife Goldie and has been in the area since 1987.
There are two Sephardic Orthodox congregations
in Hong Kong, both with mostly Israeli congregants, that were established
in the 1990s. Both have glatt kosher restaurants and are open to the
Jewish Community Today
During the past decade, Jewish and Chinese students
have met on academic exchange programs to Israel and elsewhere. A small
Jewish Museum exists in Kaifang, though most remnants of the Jewish
community lie in Shanghai. Israel and China established formal relations
Today, China’s Jewish community numbers around 2,500,
though nearly all live in Shanghai. Led by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shalom Greenberg,
efforts are underway to revive the Jewish community.
In September 2013, Tel Aviv University President, Professor Joseph Klafter, and Professor Zhang Zhi, President of the Jiao-Tong University in Shanghai, China, signed an agreement for the establishment of a special research center for Israel Studies at the Chinese college. The research center, which will address contemporary issues in the Middle East and Israel, is the first of its kind in China. The agreement was signed in the presence of the Israeli Ambassador to China, Matan Vilnai, Israeli consular officials and representatives from the business community as well as the Jewish community.
Kaifeng Tourist Administration
14 Yingbin Road
Kaifeng, Henan 475000, China
Kaifeng’s tourist bureau can arrange tours, guides,
traslators, and access to the Qingming park Jewish museum building and
jewihs section of the municpal museum to visitors.
Chabad Lubavitch of Beijing
Fang Yuan Xi Lu, next to the south gate of Si De Park
Phone: 86-10-8470-8238 ext. 210
Ganeinu International School & Menorah Academy of the Capital
(MAC) Middle School
Grand Hills 262
Phone: 86-10-8470-8238 ext. 200
Chabad Lunavitch of Guangzhou
31 He ping Lu, overseas village
Chabad of Hong Kong: Servicing Hong Kong, Kowloon and Lantau
11 Hart Ave. on the 2nd Floor, Tsim Sha Tsui
Ohel Leah Synagogue (Orthodox) - Hong Kong
70 Robinson Road
Hong Kong, China
United Jewish Congregation (Reform) - Hong Kong
Shuva Israel (Sephardic Orthodox) - Hong Kong
61 Connaught Road Central
Chabad Jewish Center of Pudong - Shanghai
Vila #69, 2255 Luoshan Road
Shanghai, 200235 China
Shanghai Jewish Center (Hongqiao area)
Shang Mira Garden, Villa #1
(entrance from) 89 South Shui Cheng Lu
Intown Jewish Center - Shanghai
233 Wuding Road (near Changhua Road)
200042 Shanghai China
Consulate General of Israel, Shanghai
7F, New Town Mansion
No. 55 Lou Shan Guan Road
Phone (Monday-Thursday, 10:30-3:30): 021-61264527
24-hour Fax: 86-21-5168-5099
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;
Sources: - Beker, Avi, ed. Jewish
Communities of the World. 1998-1999 edition. Jerusalem: Institute
of the World Jewish Congress, 1998.
Dan Fellner, "The Jewish Traveler: Hong Kong," Hadassah
Magazine, October/November 2011.
- Arutz Sheva (September 17, 2013)
Edinger, Bernard. “Chinese Jews: Reverence for
Magazine (December 2005).
Gruber, Samuel D. Synagogues.
New York: MetroBooks, 1999.
Leowenthal, Rudolf. Shanghai. Encyclopedia
Judaica. CD-ROM Edition: Judaica Multimedia, 1995.
Levin, Dan. “Amid Beijing’s Boom, a Jewish
Community Blooms.” Foward (August 8, 2008).
- “Jews of Kaifeng” image from Jewish