Monday, September 1, 2008

Conversion - Chinese descendants of Jews

YNET reports:

Descendants of centuries-old Jewish community in China's Kaifeng rediscover Jewish heritage after near complete assimilation in local community.

In Chinese terms, the city of Kaifeng, about 500 miles southwest of Beijing, is reminiscent of the Israeli city of Hadera: The number of its residents is 700,000 – as opposed to Beijing's 15 million or Shanghai's 20 million – and it doesn't even have its own airport.

However, a thousand years ago, Kaifeng was the capital of the Chinese empire, the largest, richest and most advanced in the world at the time, with 600,000 residents that made it the most populated city on earth.

Ancient Kaifeng had a Jewish community – a small but thriving one, whose story is unique in the history of the Jewish people. For the 800 years of its existence, Kaifeng's Jews never suffered from persecution or discrimination. The Chinese authorities, as well as the general population, welcomed their Jewish neighbors, viewed them as citizens in every respect and allowed them to observe their religion with complete freedo

In spite, or perhaps because of these freedoms, the community dwindled until about one hundred and fifty years ago, when the assimilation and integration proved complete. It is only in the past 20 years that the descendents of Kaifeng Jewry, who now number about 1,000 people, have rediscovered their Jewish tradition. Some of them have considered undergoing proper conversion and making aliyah, and a few of them have done so already

Thirty-year-old Shi Lei does not try to hide his excitement when he takes his guest, an Israeli journalist, to the central room in his parents' home. His family, which is of Jewish descent, has lived in this home for more than 100 years. After the death of his grandmother and grandfather, Shi, together with his father, turned this room into a mini-museum and a small Jewish center, where he gives classes on Jewish tradition to children and adults of Jewish descent.

Shi Lei, who graduated with a degree in English from the University of Kaifeng, spent close to three years in Israel studying at Jerusalem's Machon Meir and at Bar-Ilan University: "I was the first person from Kaifeng that studied in Israel. I was privileged to receive a wonderful welcome at the Machon Meir yeshiva, and I was treated as a Jew in every respect, although I am not technically a Jew according to Jewish law, and had not yet undergone conversion.

"I decided to return to Kaifeng and to develop my mini-museum, because if I would leave here then there would be no one to teach the younger generation. We feel connected to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel – it's in our blood"

3 comments :

  1. The story of China's tolerance for Jews is legendary but also instructive. Only one other country has been nearly as welcoming as the Chinese - the United States. In the disappearance of Chinese Jewry, are we seeing a prediction of the future of the American community?

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  2. While the story is quite interesting and replete with warnings for our time, we must keep in mind that we don't have a concept of "part Jewish." He's "all goy" and Jews are "all Jewish."

    Kaifeng said "I was privileged to receive a wonderful welcome at the Machon Meir yeshiva, and I was treated as a Jew in every respect, although I am not technically a Jew according to Jewish law, and had not yet undergone conversion."

    Why should he be treated this way? He is a gentile and should not be "treated as a Jew" at all.

    Is there a Halachic basis for treating the offspring of the intermarried in a more welcoming way that a goy with no Jewish ancestors?

    Kaifeng looks at becoming Jewish as a mere technicality because he hadn't yet undergone conversion! And why does he want to convert? Because of his "Jewish blood."

    His father or grandfather or whatever intermarries and we should reward this by welcoming Kaifeng "back" to the family?

    There is no basis for this. If there is, then we should offer the circumsized offspring of Abraham (you know, the Ishmaelites) a nice warm welcome, a free Jewish education, a conversion, and Israeli citizenship (with voting rights).

    I wonder who runs Machon Meir Yeshivah, and exactly where they get the idea that people like Kaifeng should be taught to be Jewish there.

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  3. Recipients and PublicitySeptember 7, 2008 at 2:18 PM

    Controversial actions by Shavei Israel in the name of Zionism and Judaism.

    The following article about "Children of Hidden Jews Come to Israel" in the latest Jewish Press is quite worrisome and puzzling. It seems it is just another hare-brained idea to bring olim to Israel without giving careful scrutiny to the Halachic issues of their REAL HALACHIC Jewish status and the obvious need for Halachicly valid conversions, none of which are even mentioned in the article, making it seem that a collection of doubtful people who may or not be Halachicly Jewish were collected in Poland and brought over to Israel as if they were some type of "Bnai Akiva" youth group who needed an Israel-experience boost, when it is far from it. Read the article and note some questions about it that follow the article:

    “The Jewish Press
    Friday, September 5, 2008.
    Page 22.

    Children of Hidden Jews Come to Israel

    (Photo of a group surrounding a Shavei Israel poster.)

    Twenty-two young Poles who recently discovered their Jewish roots completed a special seminar – the first of its kind – organized on their behalf by Shavei Israel in Jerusalem.

    The three-week program was held entirely in Polish, and participants traveled throughout Israel, studied Hebrew, and learned about Jewish history, culture and religion.

    According to Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, a number of the participants have decided to remain in Israel and continue their studies, while others are going back to Poland with the hope of playing a more active and central role in the Jewish community.

    “In light of the positive feedback that we received from the participants, we plan to continue organizing similar seminars next year as well, in the hope that it will lead to a strengthening of Jewish life in Poland and ensure that the younger generation of Polish Jews remains connected to their Jewish heritage,” Freund said.

    Currently, there are approximately 4,000 Jews registered as living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of other Jews in Poland who to this day are either hiding their identities or are simply unaware of their family heritage. In some instances, due to their experiences during the Holocaust and under Communism, some Polish Jews chose to sever all connection with Judaism and to hide it from their children and grandchildren, who are now beginning to discover the truth.

    In other cases involving Jewish children adopted by Catholic families or institutions during the Holocaust, the adoptees or their descendants have begun to uncover their Jewish roots. In recent years, a growing number of such people, known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland,” have started to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people, with many contemplating aliyah.

    Shavei Israel currently has two full-time emissaries in Poland: Rabbi Boaz Pash, who serves as chief rabbi of Krakow, and Rabbi Yitzhak Rapoport, who is the rabbi of Wroclaw (formerly Breslau). For more information visit: www.shavei.org”

    So much for the article.

    Here are a few troubling questions:

    Firstly, see the Shavei Israel website at http://www.shavei.org//en/Default.aspx and it becomes quite obvious that they have set themselves up to perform nothing less than the job of the Mashiach who Judaism teaches will gather up even Jews who are lost but not everyone will be brought out of the woodwork, (see the Rambam end of Hilchos Melachim)

    Indeed it is such a complex task that the Rambam is not kidding when he says that this will be one of the huge jobs fit for the Mashiach himself at the end of time before rebuilding the Bait HaMikkdash, so why is a modern-day Zionist organization getting involved in doing this? Maybe the answer is BECAUSE they are a modern-day Zionist organization and often times they do more harm than good in their zeal to bring "everyone" home to Zion.

    Secondly, perusing their website one sees types of people who probably converted to Judaism now acting in this task that they now foster of encouraging "hidden Jews" to come out of hiding. Who gave them this taks for doing Klal Yisroel's work? Should they be doing this at all and the way that they that they openly push and advertise to attract "hidden" people, meaning that it must be proseltysing to non-Halachik Jews (most of whom are HIDDEN by choice) to take them out of hiding? But the Halachik questions relating to giyur kehalacha are monumental.

    Thirdly who is the founder and leader of this organization? He is quite a moern fellow and not a rabbi or scholar of Judaism. His biography on the "Staff Page" at http://www.shavei.org//en/Pages.aspx?Name=The+Staff reads:

    "Michael Freund- Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel

    He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post, Israel's leading English-language daily, and he previously served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office under Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University."

    Much here that makes one wondewr about the the effort he is pushing, but in our times he will surely raise lots of money for a cause like this. He learned at the knee of Binyamin Netnayahu and has an MBA. He is obviously very idealistic but he skates on thin Halachic ice.

    Fourthly, it's very tricky, because Shavei Israel does have some very learned and talented rabbis, albeit mostly all Religious Zionist and modern, with connections to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, as they explain that they facilitate conversions for Anusim. See http://www.shavei.org//en/Pages.aspx?Name=Machon+Miriam

    "The program is approved by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and is under the supervision of the relevant government ministries. All of our graduates go before a Jerusalem Beit Din (rabbinical court) under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, where they undergo a formal conversion or return to Judaism. Since the institute started to work, before 8 years, more than 500 students have completed the program and cast their lot with the people of Israel. There is tremendous demand for such classes, and we hope to expand the program in the coming years.

    Machon Miriam is named after the late Dr. Miriam Freund-Rosenthal of blessed memory, who served as National President of Hadassah and strongly believed in reaching out and helping Jews wherever they might be. It was thanks in part to her inspiration that Michael Freund, her grandson, founded Shavei Israel."

    Now while this is all very grand and noble but this is NOT enough for agreen light to go on the campaigns they have launched so openly and broadly in EJF-Rabbi Leib Tropper/Dr. Tom Kaplan fashion!

    Having some success with few people should not become a license to go out and solicit wholesale conversions in a kind of "empire building of hidden Jews" way.

    Sure, genuine seekers of Halachic conversions should be treated with dignity and respect afforded to all geirei tzedek, but it is dangerous, foolish and ultimately self-defeating to do this en masse, in production-line wholsale fashion sending out emissaries, to seek our hidden Jews here-there-and-everywhere looking under every nook and cranny, doing what they call in Yiddish "climbing up smooth wall" routines ("kricht af glatte vent") and looking for jobs in an exertion of effort that could be better spent educating and reachinhg those who are 100% Halachic Jews who need Torah education, rather than doing things that have the potential of assisting people who may not have the staying power and long-term desire to be part of Klal Yisroel.

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