From the 1512 Stele of the Kaifeng Jewish Community (Song)

Rabbi Josh Snyder
December 6, 2013
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We have very little left from the Kaifeng Jewish Community that apparently flourished for centuries.  The synagogue was destroyed in 1860, and the Communist revolution stifled religious expression and openness to the West until the 1980’s.  There are between 400 and 1000 Jews in Kaifeng today, though only 40 to 50 partake in Jewish activities, most often now brought from the West.  What remains are stone tablets, inscriptions that testify to the practices of a particular group Chinese Jews.  Like Jews in other places, they expressed Judaism through surrounding cultural idioms, including Confucianism and ancestor worship, but also set themselves apart, primarily through the primacy of Torah, or Scripture.

This song takes a selection of text from the community’s 1512 stele, which is in dedication of the Daojing Temple.  It gives a snapshot of what really mattered to the community in terms of its core values.  I think and hope that this text feels relevant to American Jews today.

From the 1512 Stele of the Kaifeng Jewish Community*

Without things, there is nothing

Without time, nothing happens

This is what dao* contains

Though Dao without the Scriptures, Cannot exist

 

Alas, it meant that (they) were afraid of the heaven’s commands

Submitted to the laws of the King

Emphasized the Five Relationships,

Honored the Five Constant Virtues

Respected the ancestors’ customs

Were filial to father and mother

Submitted to the superior

Were in harmony with the village

Cordial with teachers and friends

Taught the sons and grandsons

Engaged in basic occupations

Accumulated virtues in secret

Tolerated small resentments

Instructed encouragement

All were contained in this

 

 

 

As to the Scriptures,

“If recited with respect

With honor and with esteem

Then blessing from Heaven

Will be brought forth in abundance

(His) principles and grace will be without transgressions

Everybody will be virtuous

And good (deeds) will be praised.

Every family will proceed with kindness

Nourishing it with joy

When this will be (attained) then many (will accord)

with the meaning of the patriarchs of the religion.

Nothing will be discarded

And in honor of the rituals

Nothing will be made in excess.”

Chords:  C G F C/F G C F/C G C

*As translated by Tiberiu Weisz in The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions: The Legacy of the Jewish Community in Ancient China. Dao meaning literally ‘way’, referring to the underlying natural order of the universe.

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Rabbi Josh Snyder is the Executive Director of Goucher College Hillel in Baltimore, MD. He attended List College's Joint Program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he earned degrees in Talmud and Biology. After a brief adventure as a veterinary student, Josh was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2008. In addition to immersing himself in Hillel, Josh finds balance through his wife Neely and three daughters, distance running, rock music, the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Orioles.

1 Comment

  1. ||Be yourself. If i’m not like you it doesn’t mean i’m supposed to be. Even posting this is because i FEEL like it. That’s Dao. Western religionists need more Dao in their Derekh and Deen. The Dalai Lama doesn’t need to stop throwing snow balls.||
    ~ מיכה בן דוד נזירי

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