When Shanghai Was an Intellectual Capital of Sephardi Jewry https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/history-ideas/2023/05/when-shanghai-was-an-intellectual-capital-of-sephardi-jewry/

May 9, 2023 | Aryeh Tepper
About the author: Aryeh Tepper teaches at Ben-Gurion University and is a senior research fellow at its Center for Israel Studies. He is also the director of publications for the American Sephardi Federation.

In the second half of the 19th century Shanghai became a major center of international commerce, and also home to a sizeable Jewish population—consisting mostly of Iraqi Jews who came there either from Bombay or directly from the Middle East. Aryeh Tepper describes this community’s contribution to the world of Jewish ideas:

Free to pursue their business, political, and spiritual interests in Shanghai’s British-run “International Settlement,” the Baghdadi Jewish community of Shanghai published local news and big ideas in Israel’s Messenger (IM), an English-language newspaper that was edited for many years by N.E.B. Ezra, a religious Jew and energetic Zionist from a well-known and well-connected Baghdadi Jewish family. . . . IM was . . . established in 1904, and under Ezra’s editorship the newspaper’s masthead declared it to be  a “fearless exponent of traditional Judaism and Jewish nationalism.” IM accordingly included discussions of local Jewish concerns together with long-form essays that probed the depths of Judaism and the progress of the Zionist movement.

IM’s horizon, however, was not limited to the Jewish world. Ezra advocated for Zionism in an Asian context, and he published entries on the Zionist movement by Japanese, Chinese, and Hindu intellectuals and public figures. The feather in IM’s cap was a letter in support of Zionism from the founder of modern Chinese nationalism, Sun Yat-sen, who wrote “to assure you of my sympathy for this movement which is one of the greatest movements of the present time.”

IM’s openness and receptivity to other cultures, religions, and peoples transcended purely diplomatic concerns. Together with local and general Jewish items, the Shanghai Jewish newspaper gave a platform to the Sanskrit scholar and historian of Bengali literature, H.P. Shastri, to offer his Hindu perspectives on Israel’s role in the revival of Asia, and to the Lahore-based Muslim author Muhammad Manzur Illahi to offer an Ahmadi view of Jewish-Muslim relations. IM also published essays on Christianity and theosophy and incorporated features on international figures like Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali Nobel Prize-winning poet.

Read more on Tel Aviv Review of Books: https://www.tarb.co.il/classic-sephardic-judaism-made-in-china/