XIAN is one of my favorite cities in China. It was one of the capitals of China, and is the place where first emperor, "Qin Shi Huangdi", located his Forbidden City
. Just outside of Xian is the location of emperor huangdi's tomb, and one day soon, I will elaborate on it, and on how it is one of the wonders of the world
My focus today is neither on the tomb nor the Forbidden City; today I wish to talk about the mosque of Xian. At the Beginning of the spice and silk trades in china, there arose a community of Jews. This community was documented to exist in the 12th century, but is estimated by some to be much older. The community consisted of Jewish traders and often they're local Chinese spouses, and as with many other Jewish communities around the world, they built a synagogue. This specific synagogue was built in the style of important Chinese buildings, incorporating the elements of feng shui. It was largely a rectangular garden with a series of gates beginning at the front that led through three courtyards, all beautifully staged, slopping downwards towards the back strewn with small structures, that one can walk through. Along both flanks, were the living quarters of the synagogue caretakers, places to wash ones hands (and probably mikva'ot), At the back, was the main hall in which, services were held. Unfortunately, the synagogue was located not far from a river that would overflow from time to time and several times during its history, the synagogue was destroyed.
The sketches of the synagogue, tell the fascinating story of their patron: Jesuit
Priest, Father Matteo Ricci who had met Ai Tian, the head of the Jewish community, Tian, had travelled to Beijing, upon hearing that there were others who practice reading the scriptures, and worshiping the one true G-d. but upon his arrival a misunderstanding occurred leading Ai Tian to belive that Father Ricci was Jewish and even going as far as asking Father Ricci to become the Rabbi of the congregation! Father Ricci traveled to Kaifeng
to visit the synagogue and was ultimately the one responsible for making the world aware of the Jewish community.
By the mid 19th century, the synagogue fell into disrepair and by then no rabbi was serving the community. Since none but the rabbi knew how to read the torah. The community sold their sifrei torah which can now be found in many places throughout the world.
So what does this have to do with a mosque in Xian? Simply put, The mosque was built as a near replica of the Kaifeng synagogue.
For this reason, a visit to the mosque is a “must” if one wants to understand the experience of the Jews who once lived in China. Here are some pictures of the mosque in Xian that was built in a similar manner to the synagogue in Kaifeng.The plaza outside of the main building where wedding ceremonies were held, where Sukkoth were built, and which was decorated with flowers on Shavuot.
There is much more to learn about this community and about Jews in China through the ages. You can do that when you join one of the JP Travel Club tours to China.