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Oko Returns with Complete Records of Jews in China During Ming Dynasty

March 8, 1924
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Adolph S. Oko, librarian of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, has returned to America with 59 Chinese Hebrew manuscripts, bound in the original Chinese silk, complete records of Hebraic community life and culture in China during the Ming Dynast (1368-1644), of which all trace had been believed lost.

The books which Mr. Oko brings to this country constitute all of the manuscripts known to have been written by the Jews living in China. Four additional manuscripts were stolen some years ago while on exhibition in London.

The manuscripts include hymnals and prayer books which were brought from China to London by the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews in China, and were purchased by missionaries of that organization in the village of Kae-Fung-foo.

The introduction to the history reads, in part, as follows:

“The money for the purchase of the books was made available by a group of Jews in the West, headed by Ben Selling of Portland, Ore. and Rabbi Jonah Wise, son of Isaac M. Wise, late founder of the Hebrew Union College. Accompanying the manuscripts is a history of the experiences of the missionaries of the village of Kac-fung-foo.

“Instead of being in the form of scrolls, as might be expected, the manuscripts are fan shaped. The oblong pages are folded one upon the other and the reader pulls the pages out fanwise.

“The history relates how in the middle of the nineteenth century the once powerful Jewish groups of China had fallen into poverty and were victims of persecution and starvation.

“Since the British/Treaty of Nanking in 1842 many Christians in Europe have directed their attention toward the Jews in China. It was at their request that the writer of these introductory remarks undertook to direct the general plan and management of the undertaking.

“Here in the midst of a surrounding population, two-thirds of the were professors of Mohammedanism, and close adjoining to a heather temple dedicated to the ‘god of fire’, a few Jewish families, sunk in the lowest poverty and destitution, their religion scarcely more than a name, and yet sufficient to separate them from the multitude around exposed to trial, reproach and the pain of long-deferred hope, remained the unconscious depositaries of the oracles of God and survived as the solitary witnesses of departed glory. Not a single individual could read the Hebrew books; they had been without a rabbi for fifty years.

“The expectation of a Messiah seems to have been entirely lost. The rite of circumeision, which appears to have been observed at the period of their discovery by the Jesuits two centuries ago, had been totally discontinued. Out of seventy family names or clans, only seven now remain, numbering about 200 individuals in all, dispersed over the neighborhood”.

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