China Judaic Studies Association
Promoting Judaic Studies in China
From the Rivers
of Babylon to the Whangpo: A Century of Sephardi Jewish
Life in Shanghai
Maisie J. Meyer (2003, University Press of America, Inc.,
4720 Boston Way, Lanham MD 20706, paperback, $68)
Reviewed by Beverly Friend
As so many of the books on Jewish
settlements in Shanghai tend to deal with recent history -- most especially
the escape of European Jewry during
World War II – it is a pleasure
to read a book which concentrates on a finely crafted overview of a less
publicized group: Sepharidic Jews, their
settlement, history and contribution
to China in general, and Shanghai in particular. In a series of finely
delineated, historically significant,
well-written chapters, Dr. Meyer
makes an important contribution to Sino/Judaic scholarship.
Chapter One covers the appeal
of the city to worldwide mercantile communities and settlements in foreign
Chapter Two examines socio-economic establisment and growth during the second half of the 19ith Century
by focusing on the lives of Elias
Sassoon, Benjamin David Benjamin
and Silas Aaron Hardoon.
Chapter Three concentrates
on the erosion of Baghdadi identity as these Jews preferred to be cited
Chapter Four looks towards
co-religionists in Kaifeng an attempt to halt their total assimilation.
Chapter Five (an especially
fascinating chapter) concentrates on the economic activities of the most
wealthy and influential – many of whom
flourished in the opium trade.
Chapter Six discusses real
Chapter Seven evaluates the
ways in which Baghdadi traditions, customs and rituals were preserved,
with emphasis on the differences between Sephardi
and Ashkenazi rituals.
Chapter Eight focuses on synagogues
and religious leaders.
Chapter Nine examines Jewish
institutions including the Shanghai Jewish Communal Association and the
Shanghai Jewish School.
Chapter Ten looks at leisure
activities noting the reasons there was no visible Sephardi Jewish Club
Chapter 11 highlights British
nationality and its importance.
And the final chapter takes note
of the critical value of foreign nationality because of the protection
it afforded merchants.
This historical work – covering an
era from the mid-19th Century to 1949 and the establishment of the People’s
Republic of China -- is filled with
salient details containing 242 pages
of text and nearly 60 pages of notes, written by a highly regarded expert
in the field.
After receiving her Ph.D. from London’s
school for Economics in 1994, Dr. Meyer – who is herself from the Calcutta
Baghdadi community -- lectured
widely on the Baghdadi Jews of Shanghai,
and published important articles in numerous journals. This book is the
superb culmination of her extensive