Format and Style
ALL THE KAIFENG SIFREI TORAH were written in black ink on sheets of sheepskin or goatskin that were strongly sewn together with silk threading rather than, as is ordinarily the case, with animal tendons. The Kaifeng scrolls I have seen are com- posed of skins that are approximately twenty-three inches high and contain from one to six columns of text, each column being approximately twenty inches in height. The widths of individual columns vary from somewhat more than three inches to eight inches. The number of lines per column is generally (but not always) forty-nine. Originally, a wooden rod, somewhat more than half an inch in diameter and about twenty-seven inches long, was attached to each end of each scroll. These rods could have been used for rolling and unrolling only, since they are too short and thin to be used for lifting the heavy scrolls. A knob has been carved at one end of each rod.
Of the seven Kaifeng scrolls I have succeeded in locating, six were prepared by scribes whose calligraphic styles are quite similar. The seventh, that at the American Bible Society, is pieced together of skins written in several hands and in a different calligraphic style from that employed in the other six copies. All seven texts are worded identically, except for minor discrepancies that were obviously caused by scribal carelessness, ineptness or ignorance. Some of these scribal defects, moreover, are traceable from one exemplar to another, a fact that suggests (as will be indicated later in this study) that the claim which is met with in the literature dealing with the Chinese Jews that all the copies were made directly from the Scroll of Moses should not be taken literally.
The ink with which the six surviving seventeenth-century Kaifeng scrolls were written has not been as drastically affected by the passage of time as one might suppose. Although there has been a considerable amount of fading in portions of the lettering of these Torahs, the browned characters are generally very legible. How- ever, because the oldest of the seven scrolls, that held at the American Bible Society, was put together of sheets salvaged from the flood waters which destroyed most of Kaifeng in 1642, its condition leaves much to be desired. The exemplar itself, moreover, is not complete.
Certain Masoretic traditions for the writing of Torah scrolls are adhered to in all the Kaifeng scrolls I have seen; others are totally ignored, presumably because the Kaifeng scribes were not familiar with them; and still others are observed in some copies but not in others. The more we learn about the scribal practices of the Kaifeng Jews the more, therefore, we may hope to discover about when and from where their ancestors came to China. This, as has previously been noted, is one of the principal reasons behind the need for a thoroughly detailed study of the stylistic and physical characteristics of the Kaifeng Torahs.
A numbering system running from one to twelve was used by the Kaifeng Jews to distinguish their individual Sifrei Torah, though the Scroll of Moses, one may surmise, was left unnumbered. Each Torah's number was written in black ink, in the appropriate Hebrew character(s), on the lower portion of the reverse side of the last skin of Deuteronomy. Since all the text of the ABS scroll following Lev.18:19 is lacking, it is not possible to determine what this Torah's number was or, indeed, whether it ever had a number. The six other scrolls I have seen bear the following numbers: British Library), 2; Cambridge University Library, 4; Bodleian Library, 5; Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, 6; Jewish Theological Semi- nary; and Bridwell Library, 12. I have been unable to find any references in the literature listing the particular numbers of any of the missing exemplars, except in the instance of the scroll that was sent to Hong Kong, and which was numbered 9. The scroll that was formerly at the London Society and is now missing is reported to have had no number; but it is known to have been incomplete and, like the American Bible Society scroll, may have lacked the final skins of Deuteronomy.
With occasional exceptions, there are also Hebrew numbers written on the reverse sides of the individual skins comprising each of the scrolls I have seen (except, that is, the American Bible Society scroll, which has no numbers whatsoever). These numbers appear at the very top of the individual skins, and represent pagination which may run sequentially from the first or second skin of the scroll to its very end, or may start over again with the first skin of each of the five books of the scroll. When the latter style of pagination is utilized, the skin numbering of the individual book does not necessarily begin with that book's opening verse. Thus, the final skin of Genesis may include a number of the initial verses of Exodus. Skin 1 of Exodus would then start with the text coming immediately after the last verse of Exodus already appearing in the previous, and final, skin of Genesis.