5 June 2020 - 14 Sivan 5780 - י"ד סיון ה' אלפים תש"פ
Chinese silver-making has Jewish roots E-mail

Adrien von Ferscht is the only academic in the world who has been actively carrying out in-depth research into the 1,400-year tradition of Chinese silvermaking. He also happens to have dual Israeli and British citizenship, and is about to settle in Beijing in order to run the newly his newly opened Research Institute at Tsinghua University.

Although at first glance the subject area might appear somewhat niche, it is actually a highly complex subject that straddles many academic disciplines. Some three years ago it was Adrien who discovered that the reason Chinese silver in the early Sung Dynasty was overtly “Persian” in appearance was because the art of silver-making was introduced into China by the Sassanians [Sassania being modern-day Iran and where the city of Susa, of Purim fame, was located].

Many of the Sassanian silversmiths were Jews, but they were highly unusual, given that they were remnants of the first exile and as such were what we know as Pre-Hasmonean Jews – they had no knowledge of a second temple having been built and as a result did not celebrate the Festival of Chanukah. It is also for this reason that the first synagogue built in Kaifeng loosely followed to footprint of the first temple.

It was these Jews who eventually settled in the Chinese city of Kaifeng. Coinciding with that mass migration to China, the style of silver produced in China became what we would recognise as being “in the Chinese style”. Silversmiths still exist in China who can trace their roots back to Kaifeng; one single operating silversmith still lives there!

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The Chinese lady who joined the Ashkenazic people E-mail

In recent years, advances in genetics have enabled scientists to pinpoint our origins and relationships to specific geographic regions and ethnic groups with a fairly high degree of accuracy.

Geneticists nowadays examine mitochondrial DNA, which passes from mother to child, Y chromosomal DNA, which passes from father to son, and autosomal DNA, which derives from a multitude of ancestral lines and typically picks up portions of the genetics of all sixteen of an individual’s greatgreat-grandparents. By following the trails blazed by all three types of DNA, including patterns of mutations in the uniparental types, one can reconstruct a compelling narrative of migrations related to an individual or an ethnic group.

Jews of all kinds, but especially Eastern European Ashkenazic Jews, have been eager to take DNA tests to learn more about their deep ancestors and relatives, since the paper trail of vital records from the Russian and Austrian empires runs cold for most families before the early-to-mid 19th century and most surnames were adopted relatively recently.

Ashkenazim with ancestors from Eastern and Central Europe make up large portions of the testing pools of the top three American direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies – Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and AncestryDNA – and have been recruited for numerous genetic studies over the past two decades.

Much of this research has established that the vast majority of Ashkenazic lineages trace back to Europe and the Middle East 2,000 years ago, with a large portion coming from ancient Israel and its environs. But this research has also turned up traces of unexpected roots.

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A Hebrew lecturer from Indonesia E-mail

Indonesia may not have diplomatic relations with Israel, but in a wellknown state university in Jakarta, one Muslim woman teaches Hebrew language.

Her posture looks like average Indonesian women, slim and tiny sweet lady. When we met for this interview, she wore pale brown hijab to cover her head. Because of her hijab, I know she is Muslim. Awesome! Total surprise! I never thought I would meet with a Muslim lecturer who teaches Hebrew in the capital of Indonesia.

Indonesia is the largest muslim country in the world. For many Indonesians they only know the word “Jewish” from The Holy Quran or in the Bible. The Indonesian government only recognises six religions. They are Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confusius.

That is why I was surprised when I met Wiwin Triwinarti, Hebrew lecturer in Centre of Islamic Studies at University Indonesia (UI) in Jakarta, which is the most well-known state university in the country. Wiwin has been teaching Hebrew for 12 years. She learned and studied Hebrew in UI.

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