Fragments of Prayers
Ms. 950 (Chinese 30)
mid-17 th century
ink on paper; 20.6 x 16.1 cm.
London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews
Lasting Jewish communal activity in China dates to the 10th century, with its longest-lived
community in Kaifeng, on the Yellow River. The community originally spoke Judeo-Persian,
and manuscript evidence suggests some use of that language into the 17th century.
The known manuscript codices from the Jewish community of Kaifeng were brought from
Kaifeng to Shanghai in 1850 where they were acquired in 1851 by representatives of the London
Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. The Society preserved the collection in
London until 1924 when Hebrew Union College Librarian, Adolph S. Oko, purchased a
collection of 59 texts, the large majority of extant manuscripts.
The condition of the texts varies greatly from nearly pristine to severely water-damaged. Written
on thin rice paper the leaves were either pasted together or later pasted onto thicker stock to
stabilize the texts. The text is written in Chinese square Hebrew letters, and the Hebrew is
inconsistently pointed, with numerous misspellings, attesting to an attenuated knowledge of
Hebrew orthography. In addition to the Hebrew there are a few instances of Chinese characters
in the text as well as numerous examples of Judeo-Persian, used for titles, headings, colophons,
and for liturgical directions.