The Lost Jewish Tribe of China


On the southern bank of the Yellow River lies Kaifeng, the former capital of the Northern Song Dynasty and an important pit stop along the Silk Road. From the 10th to 12th centuries, innumerable merchants trod its city streets, among them a small cohort of Sephardic Jews who settled down and set up shop.

For at least 700 years, the Jews of Kaifeng prospered, building the first known synagogue in 1163. However, isolation, assimilation, and the eventual destruction of the synagogue following the 1642 Yellow River Flood led to the community’s disappearance.

Today, those looking to explore the Jewish history of Kaifeng will find only vague traces of what once was. Judaism is not one of China’s five approved religions, nor do Jews account for one of the country’s 55 minorities. Although three or four Jewish heritage groups visit Kaifeng a year, they won’t find too much in the way of state-sanctioned Jewish history lessons.

Kaifeng Jews are so unheard of these days that those who immigrated to Israel and applied for citizenship were forced to convert, simply to remove any doubt.

Watch Chinese Jews arriving to Israel:

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