Memorial Book; Prayers for Sabbath Eve
Ms. 926 (Chinese 4)
ink on paper
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.
The memorial book is a unique document, comprising a list of the deceased members of the community, organized by sex, with the men listed in the first part and women in the second, often with additional information in Chinese characters next to the names. Each section is followed by a memorial prayer (yizkor).