大金 Great Jin Dynasty
The Great Jin Dynasty was founded by the descendants of Jurchen people (女真人) who lived in the region of Manchuria. Over the course of their rule, the Jurchens adapted Chinese customs and revived Confucianism. They married Han Chinese, studied Chinese classics and wrote Chinese poetry.
Around the end of the 11th century, Chinese peasants frequently produced counterfeit money. Naturally, in order to avert economic issues the Northern Song government introduced a currency that was difficult to forge – a task harder than it sounds – and they were very successful in doing so.
However, this solution was only as long-lasting as its enforcers – as Jin replaced the Northern Song, counterfeits skyrocketed at an unprecedented rate, resulting in hyperinflation and social unrest. The Jews were traditionally known for their financial expertise, the Jin government therefore sought their assistance in trying to combat the nation’s turmoil.
The Jews in Kaifeng were of major help, and the economic crisis soon came to an end.
Kaifeng Synagogue of 1163
As an act of gratitude, in 1163, the Jin government granted the Jews in Kaifeng a plot of land and subsidised the construction of the Kaifeng synagogue. The assigned land was bounded by the Teaching Torah Lane North (北教经胡同) and Teaching Torah Lane South (南教经胡同). The synagogue was accompanied by sukkah, study area, ritual bath, large kitchen and kosher butchering facility. Scholars believed the original congregation probably had 500 people, composed of 70 clans (or families).
While the Kaifeng Jews embraced many elements of Chinese culture, they guarded hard their own faith. The synagogue had a traditional Chinese architecture on the outside but it differed from other places of worship in China on the inside - there were no idols, of any form. Generations of Jewish children studied Hebrew and Torah here. The facility also allowed the Jews to follow a kosher diet. The Chinese called them “the Religion that Plucks Out the Sinews (挑筋教)” in reference to their custom of removing thigh muscle from Kosher meat.
Over the next 700 years, this synagogue was destroyed and rebuilt at least nine times. They had a rabbi until 1810.
The significance of the synagogue and Jin dynasty’s favourable policies could not be understated, for soon came the golden age for the Chinese-Jewish community, which saw their population risen above 5000.
Our founder, Nicholas Zhang, with a descendant of the Zhao family. Behind them stand the miniature replica of the destroyed Kaifeng synagogue (left) and Torah Ark (right). [Nicholas Zhang Archives]