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The Jewish Community of Maqalih

Maqalih

A rural settlement south of Al-Saddeh, district of Bilad Amar, south Yemen.

 

History

The Jews of Maqalih received community services that were not available in their small community from the community of nearby Al-Saddeh. The Jews of the villages in that region were known for their tall and strong build. Most of them were potters and they marketed their wares at the weekly fairs at Al-Saddeh and Al-Nadra. Many others were masons, who exercised their trade also outside their village. The community was famous for the “Al-Maqalihi” scroll of the law of their synagogue, to which properties of causing miracles were attributed. In the 1940’s Yihya Al-Garshi and Joseph Mari were the ritual slaughterers and performers of marriages at the community.

Jews were living also in other small villages in the neighborhood. All of them were connected to the big community of Al-Saddeh.

As in the other Jewish communities of Yemen the relations with the authorities and the Muslim population were based on the payment of a tax in return for protection. In towns the protection of the Jews was granted by the local governor and in the villages by the heads of the tribes. The only tax paid by the protected Jews was the jiziya tax.

The Jews of the villages maintained good relations with their Muslim neighbors. Being under protection of the tribes, the Jews of the villages found their living in the Arab villages. Jewish craftsmen served the needs of the Muslims and were paid in wheat and barley. The Jews engaged in weaving, embroidering and spinning. Some families were saddlers and tanners. There were also traders and peddlers who went round the villages, as well as some owners of lands who engaged in farming. There were Jews who went on their business to distant big towns and were away from their homes for weeks at a time.
 

Postwar

All the Jews of the region went to Israel in 1949-1950 in the Magic Carpet Operation. Months before being flown to Israel they walked all the way to Aden, then under British rule, where the Aliyah emissaries operated.

On arrival in Aden they were temporarily accommodated in transit camps which had been prepared for them in advance at Sekh Uthman and other suburbs of Aden.

Place Type:
Village
ID Number:
206384
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:

Aden

In Arabic: عدن‎‎ 

A seaport city in Yemen. Aden was under British control from 1839 until 1967.

Aden had a prominent medieval community that peaked during the 12th century attested to the documents and letters found in the Cairo Genizah (discovered in 1896) that were by, or about, the Jews of Aden. Additionally, Aden was a point via which Yemenite Jewish communities communicated with other Jewish communities.

At the end of the 11th century the merchant Abu Ali Hasan (Hebrew: Japheth) ibn Bundar was leader of the Jewish community of Aden and Yemen and held the title "Sar HaKehillot" ("chief of the communities"). His son Madmur was "Nagid (leader; also spelled "magid") of the Land of Yemen." The jurisdiction of the rabbinical court of Aden extended to Jewish communities as far away as India and Ceylon; it, in turn, was under the authority of the rabbinical court in Fustat (now part of Old Cairo). During the 11th and 12th centuries there was frequent correspondence between Aden, Egypt, Babylon, and Eretz Yisrael regarding questions of halakha and religious principles; additionally, the Jews of Aden sent money and expensive gifts to yeshivahs in these areas. In spite of the connections between the Jews of Aden and inner Yemen, the rabbinic authorities of Aden did not have any authority over the communities in Yemen. Indeed, there were significant differences between the Yemenite Jewish community and the Jewish community of Aden and the communities were distinguished by the terms "Yemeni" and "Adani."

In 1835 a British traveler reported on a small Jewish community in Aden, writing that the Jews of Aden lived in huts and had one synagogue and two schools. When the British occupied Aden in 1839, 250 Jews were living in Aden. The colonization of the British brought economic developments to the area, particularly after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The Jews of Aden moved away from traditional handicrafts and began to engage in commerce; some members of the community became quite wealthy, particularly the Messa (Moses) family who for generations virtually controlled the community; for example, in the 1870s the Anglo-Jewish Association of Britain expressed interest in opening a school in Aden, but the Messa family and the rabbis of the community turned down the offer. The population grew as Yemenite Jews arrived, fleeing from a precarious political situation in Yemen. By 1860 there were 1,500 Jews in the city; this included about 300 Jews of the Bene Israel community of India who came with the British Army in military and administrative positions, and brought their families along.

Aden had 15 synagogues, among them Magen Abraham, which was founded in 1860 by Mehahem Messa, the private synagogue Moshe Hanokh, Al-Farhi, and Shemuel Nissim. There were also the Magen David synagogue of the Jews of Rada and the magnificent synagogue Sukkat Shalom (Salim), built in 1924 by Salim Mehahem Messa, the synagogue of the Yemenite refugees hospice, and the synagogue of the Havshush family. The community also had two cemeteries, one of them private.

After the British occupation Aden became a significant port city and Sephardi Jews from India, Egypt, Iraq, and Turkey settled in Aden and left their mark on the community. Prominent families included the family of Rabbi Moshe Hanokh Halevy, which arrived from Izmir in Turkey, and the Messa family. Menahem Messa Banin was the first president (leader of the Jewish community, formerly referred to as the "nagid") after the British occupation; he died in 1864. In addition to the president, a beit din also helped lead and organize the community. The head of the beit din controlled the donations to the community and its charity fund. Among the dayanim (judges of the beit din) were Rabbi Yeshua, Mari Itzhak Cohen, and Menahem Banin. Itzhak Hacohen was among the rabbis of Aden.

In 1891 a Hebrew printing press was founded by Menahem Awad. A school for boys, Jehuda Menahem Moshe, was opened in 1912. In 1914 the Messa family founded another school for boys, which was later named after King George V of Britain; the community's Jews called it "Al-Iskul." A school for girls, Shalom, was opened in 1928.

Shemuel Yavne'eli visited Aden in 1911 on behalf of the Zionist organization of Eretz Yisrael, with the purpose of investigating the possibility of bringing Jews from Aden to British-mandate Palestine. In spite of the objections of the still-powerful Messa family, significant Zionist activities began in Aden in 1923 with the establishment of local branches of Keren Hayesod and the Jewish National Fund. The Association of Hebrew Youth, was founded in 1928 and a year later the community sent a delegate to the 21st Zionist Congress. A Jewish Agency mission arrived at Aden in 1930 and organized the emigration of 585 Yemenite Jews to Eretz Yisrael via Aden. Later, in 1945, emissaries from Mandate Palestine organized the Hebrew clubs Hatikvah and the Jewish Club and began courses to train youth instructors. By 1947 HeHalutz and HeHalutz HaTzair had 300 members in Aden, in spite of opposition from the community's leaders. In 1949 four Jewish youth unions were active in Aden: HeHalutz, Hatikvah, The Jewish Club, and HaOved, in addition to two scout clubs, the Boy Scouts (founded in 1929) and Girl Guides (founded in 1932), and a women's society of mothers.

When the British originally colonized Aden, the Jews lost their status as a protected community (dhimmi). This, along with conflicts taking place with the Arabs in Mandate Palestine led to tensions between the Jewish community and the Muslim majority that occasionally led to outbreaks of violence. In May 1932 local Muslims rioted for days through the Jewish Quarter; shops were looted, the Farhi synagogue was vandalized, and 55 Jews were injured. Hostilities against the Jews further increased during the Arab riots in Palestine (1936-1939). Though many in Aden wanted to emigrate to Mandate Palestine and escape the pressures and violence in Aden, the British government issued only a limited number of certificates allowing Jews to emigrate to Palestine.

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, pogroms broke out against the Jews of Aden which the British did not attempt to stop; in the end, 82 Jews were killed in Aden and in the area, 76 were injured, two Jewish schools were burned down, and 170 Jewish businesses were vandalized and looted. The investigating judge ruled that the Jewish community was entitled to partial compensation, but the authorities evaded paying what was due. The school Sukkat Shalom, which had been burned down, was eventually reopened and functioned until the last Jews left Aden in 1967.

In 1945 there were 4,500 Jews livingin Aden. By 1946 that number had dropped to 1,100 and in the mid-fifties there were only 831 Jews remaining, most of whom were businesspeople and property owners. Jews continued to leave Aden, a result of the increasing precariousness of their situation due to the tensions between Israel and the Arab states, and the radicalism of the Islamic nationalist movement in Aden and its struggle against the British.There were further hostilities against the Jews in 1953, and tensions again reached a peak in 1958 when the federation of Egypt, Syria, and Yemen was declared; Jews were attacked in the synagogues, cars were destroyed, and someone attempted to burn down a Jewish school. In 1965 the number of Jews in the community dropped to about 450. The last 150 Jews left Aden after the Six Day War in June 1967, leaving behind all of their property. The British left in November 1967.

Al-Saddeh

A chief town in the district of Bilad Amar, south Yemen. Al-Saddeh is situated at the foot of Jabal Shuqeir.

 

The Jewish settlements of south Yemen and in the sultanates east of Yemen on the coast of the Indian ocean were remnants of ancient communities when the region was inhabited by the tribe of Himyar which established a kingdom in the 1st century and whose kings adopted the Jewish faith.

In the Middle Ages the Jews of these communities played a central role in the trade with India. In the 16th century the Jews served as intermediaries for the Portuguese, who penetrated into the region by way of the Red Sea.

The community of Al-Saddeh was one of the big communities in the district towns and in the big towns of Yemen which served also the Jews in the surrounding villages. Dar Sa’id was one of the communities served by Al-Saddeh.

In the years 1678-1679 most of the Jews in the Jewish settlements of Yemen were exiled to Mawza on the southern shore of the Red Sea (Tihamah) by a decree of the Imam Al-Mahdi, the ruler of Yemen. A year later the expellees were allowed to return to their places but most of them were obliged to build for themselves new quarters as their former homes were either ruined or occupied by Muslims. Some demographic changes followed the year of exile. There were exiles who returned to other than their original places, while other returnees came to their place.

The Jewish communities in Yemen had no real organizational structure. Until the second half of the 19th century, the organization of the bigger communities had been based on a limited number of institutions and functionaries . When the protection tax (jiziya) was abolished, the former system came apart and only certain officials remained, mainly in the bigger communities.

The relations with the authorities and the Muslim environment were based on the payment of tax in return for protection. In the towns protection was given by the local governor and in the villages by the heads of the tribes.

The head of the community was an appointment of the authorities. The bet-din (court of justice) in Yemen formed the spiritual leadership of the community and its authority was absolute also in secular matters, although without the sanction of the authorities.

According to the tradition of the Jews of Al-Saddeh, Jews had come to their town from the desert of Hijaz at the middle of the 7th century. They were called members of the “Sect of Wise Men” (or the Mourners of Zion) who arrived after Muhammad and his supporters killed the Jews of the Quritha tribe and conquered the Jews of Khaibar. When they arrived they went to the top of the mountain overlooking the town and formed a treaty with the tribes of the area. The mountain has been called since then Jabal Al-Amana (the Mountain of Testimony).

The community of Al-Saddeh was formed from the beginning as an independent community. It was directed by a group of ten scholars that acted also as a bet-din. Until the end of the 18th century the local Arabs, too, used to refer to that court of law and accept its verdicts. The family of presidents, Salem Jehuda, was permitted by the authorities to serve as judges and that permit was in force until the middle of the 19th century.

At the middle of the 18th century the president of the community of Al-Saddeh was Salem b. Sa’id Al-Sanjab, a big merchant whose title was “sheikh”. Families called Alsheikh attest that one of their ancestors had once been a sheikh, namely a president of a community. The president was in close touch with the authorities and was confirmed by them in his office. Among his duties was also the duty to collect the crop tax from the Muslims. The Akel was the president’s assistant. He was the head of 5-10 representatives of the different living quarters and synagogues whose task was to assist in collecting the taxes from the members of the community and carry out the orders of the president.

At the end of the 19th century and in the 20th century there were two synagogues at Al-Saddeh. One was the Al-Ulya (upper) synagogue of the Yussef Sa’id family, that was built in 1724 with funds donated by the benefactor Shalom Aharon Al-Usta. It was a stone building with a raised bamah, on which the “Mori” (rabbi and teacher) sat. Next to the synagogue was a bet-midrash, where the Mori taught the children. The other synagogue was the “Al-Sufla” (lower) synagogue, that was built by the families Yihya and Uzeiri. The other functionaries of the community were the rabbi, two slaughterers, one for poultry and one for cattle, and the performer of marriages. There were also Torah scholars, who enjoyed high regard for their learning, and the public preacher, whose task was to expose the sinners, admonish them and make them repent. Weddings were held at two diwans, them and make them repent, public halls, and the festivities lasted as long as seven days. Marriages at Al-Saddeh were all
arranged within the community, so that practically it consisted of one big family. The required witnesses at marriages had to be brought from other communities. At times of drought or other calamities the Jews of Al-Saddeh used to go up the mountain Jabal Al-Mashhad with scrolls of the law and shofars (ram’s horns) to pray, to bring salvation to Israel. Likewise they used to visit a cave in a mountain, where righteous rabbis had been buried, and pray for rain.

As in most of the Jewish communities of Yemen, the majority of the Jews of Al-Saddeh were craftsmen, silver and goldsmiths, blacksmiths, and weavers. Some of them were traders in grains, breeders of cattle and farmers. As in most of the big communities, there were at Al-Saddeh a number of scribes (copyists of scriptures).

In the 20th century the majority of the Jews were weavers or makers of iron tools for the Arab villagers. The members of 4 families were blacksmiths, one family specialized as scribes, 3-4 families engaged in spinning of yarn and one family in soldering. Among the merchants were the families of Yihya Shar’abi and Yihya Al-Sadeq.

During the years 1916-1926 the Jews of Al-Saddeh were victims of pogroms instigated by the governor of the town and his soldiers. The synagogue was broken into, scrolls of the torah were torn and furniture broken.

During the last years of the community the leading families were Mansur, Mahbub, Jarama, and Al’uzeiri. Mori Yihya Shar’abi, one of the notables of the community, was its link with the surrounding population. One synagogue functioned at that time. Ritual purification was done in the local river, an all year round stream.

All the Jews of Al-Saddeh went to Israel in the framework of the magic carpet operation in the years 1949-1950. Months before actually boarding the aircraft they walked to Aden, then a British colony, where they were accommodated in transit camps at the suburbs until their departure.

Yemen

In Arabic: اليَمَن‎ 

Official name: اَلْجُمْهُورِيَّةُ ٱلْيَمَنِيَّةُ / Al-Jumhūrīyah al-Yamanīyah - Republic of Yemen 

21st Century

As of 2018 it is estimated that probably only a very small number of Jews still live in Yemen, scattered among a few places with no community organizations.

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Yemen

1st Millennium BCE | Origin Story

The origin story of the Jewish settlement in Yemen has many versions. One of them draws upon the famous romance in the biblical Book of Kings between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who is believed to have ruled in ancient Yemen. According to this version, the Jewish community of Yemen existed as far back as the 10th century BCE. According to another tradition, the Jews of Yemen arrived from the Land of Israel before the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem, in the form of Jews who took the prophet Jeremiah's warning of doom to heart and fled south, until they reached the scorching hot mountain land at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

In 1970 an inscription was found on a column sunk into a mosque's floor, dating to the Second Temple times and detailing the 24 shifts of priests serving in the Temple of Jerusalem. This finding proved that Jewish settlement in Yemen dates back at least 2,000 years.
In 115 CE the Himyarite Kingdom was founded in Yemen, and would rule the area until the sixth century. The Jews of Yemen belonged to the upper class in this period, and the kingdom even adopted some central Jewish theological principles, including monotheism. The last ruler of the kingdom was a Jew, Yusuf Dhu Nuwas, who fell in battle against the Christian forces of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 525 CE.

The Islam spread from the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century. The Jews of Yemen feared that their fate would be like that of the four Jewish tribes that lived around the city of Medina, to the north of Yemen, and were slaughtered by the forces of Muhammad in the famous battle of Khaybar in the year 626, after they had refused to convert to Islam. But when the Muslim conquerors reached Yemen, they treated the Jews as they did most minorities in the lands they conquered – as protected “dhimmi” obligated to pay an annual poll tax and subject to humiliating regulations in exchange for religious and communal freedom.

1173 | The Yemen Epistle

The intolerant side of Islam, embodied in the “Dar al-Islam” principle which states that wherever Muslims are Muslim religious law should be enforced, never ceased to hover above the heads of the Jews in Yemen. In the year 1165, for instance, King Abd al-Nabi demanded that Yemen's Jews choose between conversion and death. Unlike many of the Jews of Ashkenaz in the same period, who preferred to martyr themselves during the crusades, the Jews of Yemen hoisted a sejara (prayer mat) on their shoulders and rushed to the mosque to hear the imam's weekly sermon. Many of them lived as anusim for many years, meaning as Jews in their homes and as Muslims elsewhere.
They received halachic imprimatur for their choice in the year 1173 from “The Great Eagle”, Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon), author of the famous “Yemen Epistle”. The epistle was sent in response to a letter by the leader of Yemen's Jews, Rabbi Yaqub Ben Natan'el Fayyumi, who laid the distress of his community before Maimonides and asked for his help. Maimonides replied that unlike Christianity, which is idolatrous due to the doctrine of the Trinity and the use of idols in worship, Islam is a monotheistic faith, and therefore Jews forced to convert to it are not compelled to idolatry, which is one of the three sins (along with incest and bloodshed) which Jews are required to die rather than commit. Therefore, Maimonides wrote, it is permissible for the Jews of Yemen to pretend to be Muslim and keep their true faith secret until the oppression shall pass.
Maimonides devoted a large part of his epistle to an attempt to uproot messianic beliefs that had spread in those times among Jewish communities in Yemen due to the emergence of a false messiah who persuaded many of them to convert to Islam in earnest.

1546 | The Silence of the Mawza

Between 1546-1629 Yemen was ruled by the Ottoman Empire and the Jews had times of prosperity and flourishing. In 1629 the Qasimid dynasty conquered Yemen from the Turks, and during its 200-year reign the situation of the Jews of the country went from bad to worse. The first ruler to see to that was Imam Ismail, who ruled from 1644-1676 and imposed various edicts upon the Jews, including a prohibition on wearing hats, as a symbol of their humiliation. His successor, Imam Ahmad (1676-1681) sought to realize the famous proclamation by the Caliph Umar: “There shall not be two faiths in the Hejaz” (using the name of the central region to indicate the entire Arabian Peninsula), and demanded that the Jews of Yemen choose once again between the Quran and the sword, but commuted the sentence to expulsion. And so, one day in 1679, all the Jews of Yemen were ordered to leave their homes and go into exile in a desolate desert region named “Mawza”, near the port city of Mocha on the Red Sea. The exile lasted for a year, but according to various sources approximately a third of the exiles died in Mawza, and many of the cultural possessions of the Jews of Yemen were lost, along with manuscripts and community records. When the Jews returned home they discovered that their property had been confiscated, and they were forced to rebuild their homes and communities from nothing.
The spiritual crisis caused by the Mawza exile left its mark for generations. The rift deepened following the disillusionment in false messiah Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676), who raised the yearnings of redemption to extraordinary heights throughout the Jewish world only to hurl the souls of the hopeful to even greater depths when news spread of his conversion to Islam.

1720 | And They Spread Throughout the Land

The history of the Jews of Yemen is tightly woven into the country's geography – a mountainous land carved by streams and deep wadis. The Jewish communities in Yemen were therefore spread over an immense area and over 1,00 different localities. Only four cities – Sanaa, Aden, Dhamar and Taiz in the district of Sharab.
The main Jewish community resided in the city of Sanaa, where the high rabbinical court operated, deciding religious matters, appointing community leaders, overseeing butchers and settling disputes. The Jews of Sanaa were known for marrying only amongst themselves and adhered to the saying “Kashem Sanaa wala mori al-balad”, meaning “better a radish vendor from Sanaa than a mori (rabbi, teacher) from the country”.
The second most important city was Dhamar, which produced many great religious scholars including Rabbi Yihya Greidi, Rabbi Shlomo Malachi and Rabbi Levi Keshet. The Jews of Dhamar were known throughout Yemen for their sharp wits and tongues, as attested by the saying “Zabtat hmar wala kilmet sahib Dhamar” (better a kick from a donkey than a word from a Dhamari).
Another large Jewish center existed in the city of Aden, on the Red Sea shore. Aden became a lodestone for Jews due to its strategic location on the trade route to India. Among its leaders and richest members were Rabbi Moshe Chanoch HaLevi and the Misa (Moses/Moshe) family. The free lifestyle of the Jews of Aden under British rule and their greater contact with European culture – particularly their command of the English language – made the city a separate territory from the rest of Yemen's Jewish community.
The south of Yemen was inhabited by the “Sharabis”, who resided in many villages centered around the metropolis of Taiz. Like Sanaa and Aden, the district of Sharab also gave birth to many yeshivas and great rabbis. The most famous of these were Rabbi Chaim Sinwani, Rabbi Mordechai Sharabi and of course the greatest poet of Yemen's Jews, Rabbi Shalom Shabbazi. Shabbazi's fame was so great that a legend sprung whereby each sabbath eve a miracle would occur to mystically transport him to the Land of Israel, returning him to Yemen when the sabbath was over.
This would be a good place to mention the small Jewish community in the city of Habban, which was located far from the large communities in the western part of Yemen, and practiced unique customs, from exclusive prayer melodies, to men growing their hair to the shoulders and a fierce contempt for the Muslim ban on Jews wearing swords on their belts. The Habbani Jews' own tradition holds that they are the original nucleus of the Jewish presence in the country, dating to 1st Temple times, and their customs do indeed indicate a much older culture than that of the other Yemeni Jews. The Habbani Jews made aliyah to Israel in 1949 in “Operation Magic Carpet” and have founded the moshav (farming cooperative) of Bareket, not far from Ben Gurion Airport.

1805 | A Heavenly Dispute

The Jewish community of Yemen was rather reclusive and its contacts with other Jewish communities throughout the diaspora were weak. However, it did receive ideas and rabbinical innovations from other places. For instance, during the Talmud period the Jews of Yemen were guided mostly by the thought of the sages of Israel, whereas during the Geonim period a communications channel was established with the sages of Babylon. In the Middle Ages, when the rabbinical centers moved from Babylon and North Africa to Spain, the Jews of Yemen adopted the Sephardi philosophy and poetry, and especially showed the influence of Maimonides and his work.
During the 17th century the star of Maimonides waned in favor of the occult teachings of the Kabbalah, especially those of the Ar”i of Safed (Rabbi Isaac Lurie), which dealt heavily in themes of exile and redemption, dear to the heart of diaspora Jews. This caused a fierce dispute between the head of the Jewish community in Yemen, Rabbi Shalom Araki (served from 1727-1762) and several of the prominent members of the Jewish community of Sanaa. The source of the conflict was Rabbi Araki's insistence on replacing “Mishne Torah” by Maimonides with the “Shulchan Aruch” by Rabbi Joseph Karo of Safed (a member of Lurie's Kabbalist circle) as the source of the community's halachic authority. Rabbi Araki, a scion of one the most famous Jewish families of Yemen and the official coin-maker for the ruler, did not hesitate to use his high connections and even employed the imam's soldiers to get his way. This last action, which threatened to tear the foundations of the Sanaa community asunder, was eventually averted by the spiritual leader of Yemen's Jews, Rabbi Yihya Salah, who reconciled the warring parties.
Salah, who passed away in 1805, was the most prolific writer among the Jews of Yemen in the modern age. His greatest contribution was the great work to unearth the ancient customs of Yemen's Jews from Mishna and Talmud times until the age of Maimonides. He also wrote a historical study attempting to establish the chain of succession among Yemeni Jews from the fall of the 1st Temple to his own time. Scholars say that if not for Rabbi Salah's work, many of the cultural treasures of Yemen's Jews would have been lost forever.

1863 | Scapegoat

The term “scapegoat” originates from the goat sent out in biblical times by the High Priest on Yom Kippur to die in the desert, after the High Priest had confessed the sins of the people and transferred them onto its head. Time went by, the Temple was destroyed, the Jews scattered all over the world – and ironically they themselves became the scapegoat to other nations, especially in times of political instability.
Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the emergence of the Wahabbis in the Arabian Peninsula led to political chaos in Yemen. At various times two or three imams held power simultaneously. As can be expected, the Jews were the first to pay the price.

On Passover eve 1819 the tribes of Bakil raided Sanaa to punish the imam who a year before refrained from paying them the customary annual tribute. During the riots, which lasted for 21 days, dozens of Jews were murdered, dozens of Jewish women were raped and thousands of books and manuscripts were destroyed or stolen. At the end of the riots there was nothing but ruins left of the Jewish quarter in Sanaa.

Another incident which shook the Jewish community of Yemen to its core took place in 1863, upon the execution of Rabbi Shalom Alsheikh, one of the leaders of the community. Rabbi Alsheikh, whose family held the concession to stamp coins for the imam, fell victim to a struggle between two imams. One ordered Alsheikh not to stamp coins for his rival. Alsheikh refused and was executed. News of his death and its circumstances made waves not only in Yemen, but throughout the Jewish world.

In 1872, upon the Turkish conquest of Sanaa, the fortunes of Yemen's Jews took a turn for the better. During this time ties began to tighten between the Jews of Yemen and communities throughout the diaspora, particularly in regard to Zionist ideas.

1904 | When Did The Zionist Revolution Begin?

The leaders of the Zionist movement were weaned on Haskala and Enlightenment values and therefore they knew that a revolution without documentation is like a play without an audience. This insight led them to conduct meticulous research which ruled that the Zionist revolution began in the “Pale of Settlement” in Russia in the mid 1880s. But reality was slightly different.
In 1881, before the 1st Aliyah from Europe, some 2,500 Jews made aliyah with far less fanfare from Yemen. This aliyah, dubbed “I Will Climb The Palm Tree” (after a verse in the Song of Songs. It sounds snappier in Hebrew...) arrived in the Land of Israel for both religious and Zionist reasons. The new immigrants did not shy away from hard work and did not rely on the “Haluka” alms, which were the main source of income for the veteran Jewish population of the Land of Israel at the time.
Despite their important part in building the country, the immigrants from Yemen received a cold shoulder both from the establishment of the old population, who doubted their Jewishness, and from the new Jewish pioneers from Europe, who viewed them only as a cheap source of labor. This attitude was reinforced in 1904, upon the start of the 2nd Aliyah, when the Zionist endeavor was desperate for working hands, and soon the Jews left in Yemen were suggested as “a replacement for the Arab peasants”. Arthur Rupin, one of the leaders of the Zionist movement, suggested that Jews from Yemen be enticed to come by exploiting their religious-messianic yearnings. To this end a representative was sent by the Zionist movement to Yemen, disguised as a rabbi, who falsely introduced himself as an emissary from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. The results of this deception came to be known as the “Yavneeli Aliyah”.
The manipulative, alienated treatment towards the immigrants from Yemen in the Promised Land caused the Yemeni Jews to turn inwards and do only for their own. Many neighborhoods were established for Yemeni Jews alone, including “Kerem HaTeimanim” north of Jaffa (several years before the establishment of Tel-Aviv, which now surrounds it), Marmorek and Sha'araim in Rehovot and also several rural settlements throughout the country. In 1918 Yemeni Jews were 8% of all Jews in the country.

And yet the Jews of Yemen and their heritage provided important inspiration for the re-emerging Hebrew culture in the Promised Land. The songs, the dance and the authentic look were seen as the embodiment of the original Jew, the closest thing to our forefathers from 2nd and even 1st Temple eras.

2010 | The Great Aliyahs

In 1948, just before the establishment of the State of Israel, there were 35,000 Yemeni Jews living in the Land of Israel. After the establishment of the state riots broke out against the Jews in Yemen, leading the newly-established Israeli government to embark on “Operation On Wings of Eagles” (also known as “Magic Carpet”), in which some 50,000 Jews were brought from Yemen to Israel. Another operation took place between 1952-1954, in which several thousand more Jews were brought over.
One of the most shameful episodes connected the Yemenite-Jewish immigration in the early years of the state is the abduction of the “Yemen Children”. In this dark chapter grave suspicions came to light that babies of Yemenite couples were abducted from hospitals and handed to Ashkenazi couples who were unable to conceive, while the true parents were told that their child had died. Following public pressure, an inquiry commission was formed to investigate these suspicions. The commission, which failed to find proof of the allegations, was also accused of conflict of interest and suppression of documents, and the commission's minutes were consigned to secrecy for 70 more years, which hardly inspired confidence in the official findings.

In 1992 and 1993 over 1,000 of the few remaining Jews in Yemen left the country, some to the United States and some to Israel. In 2010 there were 150 Jews living in Yemen, mostly in the cities of Sanaa and Reda. Over 80% of them are 60 or older.

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The Jewish Community of Maqalih

Maqalih

A rural settlement south of Al-Saddeh, district of Bilad Amar, south Yemen.

 

History

The Jews of Maqalih received community services that were not available in their small community from the community of nearby Al-Saddeh. The Jews of the villages in that region were known for their tall and strong build. Most of them were potters and they marketed their wares at the weekly fairs at Al-Saddeh and Al-Nadra. Many others were masons, who exercised their trade also outside their village. The community was famous for the “Al-Maqalihi” scroll of the law of their synagogue, to which properties of causing miracles were attributed. In the 1940’s Yihya Al-Garshi and Joseph Mari were the ritual slaughterers and performers of marriages at the community.

Jews were living also in other small villages in the neighborhood. All of them were connected to the big community of Al-Saddeh.

As in the other Jewish communities of Yemen the relations with the authorities and the Muslim population were based on the payment of a tax in return for protection. In towns the protection of the Jews was granted by the local governor and in the villages by the heads of the tribes. The only tax paid by the protected Jews was the jiziya tax.

The Jews of the villages maintained good relations with their Muslim neighbors. Being under protection of the tribes, the Jews of the villages found their living in the Arab villages. Jewish craftsmen served the needs of the Muslims and were paid in wheat and barley. The Jews engaged in weaving, embroidering and spinning. Some families were saddlers and tanners. There were also traders and peddlers who went round the villages, as well as some owners of lands who engaged in farming. There were Jews who went on their business to distant big towns and were away from their homes for weeks at a time.
 

Postwar

All the Jews of the region went to Israel in 1949-1950 in the Magic Carpet Operation. Months before being flown to Israel they walked all the way to Aden, then under British rule, where the Aliyah emissaries operated.

On arrival in Aden they were temporarily accommodated in transit camps which had been prepared for them in advance at Sekh Uthman and other suburbs of Aden.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

Yemen
Saddeh, Al-Saddeh
Aden

Yemen

In Arabic: اليَمَن‎ 

Official name: اَلْجُمْهُورِيَّةُ ٱلْيَمَنِيَّةُ / Al-Jumhūrīyah al-Yamanīyah - Republic of Yemen 

21st Century

As of 2018 it is estimated that probably only a very small number of Jews still live in Yemen, scattered among a few places with no community organizations.

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Yemen

1st Millennium BCE | Origin Story

The origin story of the Jewish settlement in Yemen has many versions. One of them draws upon the famous romance in the biblical Book of Kings between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who is believed to have ruled in ancient Yemen. According to this version, the Jewish community of Yemen existed as far back as the 10th century BCE. According to another tradition, the Jews of Yemen arrived from the Land of Israel before the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem, in the form of Jews who took the prophet Jeremiah's warning of doom to heart and fled south, until they reached the scorching hot mountain land at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

In 1970 an inscription was found on a column sunk into a mosque's floor, dating to the Second Temple times and detailing the 24 shifts of priests serving in the Temple of Jerusalem. This finding proved that Jewish settlement in Yemen dates back at least 2,000 years.
In 115 CE the Himyarite Kingdom was founded in Yemen, and would rule the area until the sixth century. The Jews of Yemen belonged to the upper class in this period, and the kingdom even adopted some central Jewish theological principles, including monotheism. The last ruler of the kingdom was a Jew, Yusuf Dhu Nuwas, who fell in battle against the Christian forces of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 525 CE.

The Islam spread from the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century. The Jews of Yemen feared that their fate would be like that of the four Jewish tribes that lived around the city of Medina, to the north of Yemen, and were slaughtered by the forces of Muhammad in the famous battle of Khaybar in the year 626, after they had refused to convert to Islam. But when the Muslim conquerors reached Yemen, they treated the Jews as they did most minorities in the lands they conquered – as protected “dhimmi” obligated to pay an annual poll tax and subject to humiliating regulations in exchange for religious and communal freedom.

1173 | The Yemen Epistle

The intolerant side of Islam, embodied in the “Dar al-Islam” principle which states that wherever Muslims are Muslim religious law should be enforced, never ceased to hover above the heads of the Jews in Yemen. In the year 1165, for instance, King Abd al-Nabi demanded that Yemen's Jews choose between conversion and death. Unlike many of the Jews of Ashkenaz in the same period, who preferred to martyr themselves during the crusades, the Jews of Yemen hoisted a sejara (prayer mat) on their shoulders and rushed to the mosque to hear the imam's weekly sermon. Many of them lived as anusim for many years, meaning as Jews in their homes and as Muslims elsewhere.
They received halachic imprimatur for their choice in the year 1173 from “The Great Eagle”, Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon), author of the famous “Yemen Epistle”. The epistle was sent in response to a letter by the leader of Yemen's Jews, Rabbi Yaqub Ben Natan'el Fayyumi, who laid the distress of his community before Maimonides and asked for his help. Maimonides replied that unlike Christianity, which is idolatrous due to the doctrine of the Trinity and the use of idols in worship, Islam is a monotheistic faith, and therefore Jews forced to convert to it are not compelled to idolatry, which is one of the three sins (along with incest and bloodshed) which Jews are required to die rather than commit. Therefore, Maimonides wrote, it is permissible for the Jews of Yemen to pretend to be Muslim and keep their true faith secret until the oppression shall pass.
Maimonides devoted a large part of his epistle to an attempt to uproot messianic beliefs that had spread in those times among Jewish communities in Yemen due to the emergence of a false messiah who persuaded many of them to convert to Islam in earnest.

1546 | The Silence of the Mawza

Between 1546-1629 Yemen was ruled by the Ottoman Empire and the Jews had times of prosperity and flourishing. In 1629 the Qasimid dynasty conquered Yemen from the Turks, and during its 200-year reign the situation of the Jews of the country went from bad to worse. The first ruler to see to that was Imam Ismail, who ruled from 1644-1676 and imposed various edicts upon the Jews, including a prohibition on wearing hats, as a symbol of their humiliation. His successor, Imam Ahmad (1676-1681) sought to realize the famous proclamation by the Caliph Umar: “There shall not be two faiths in the Hejaz” (using the name of the central region to indicate the entire Arabian Peninsula), and demanded that the Jews of Yemen choose once again between the Quran and the sword, but commuted the sentence to expulsion. And so, one day in 1679, all the Jews of Yemen were ordered to leave their homes and go into exile in a desolate desert region named “Mawza”, near the port city of Mocha on the Red Sea. The exile lasted for a year, but according to various sources approximately a third of the exiles died in Mawza, and many of the cultural possessions of the Jews of Yemen were lost, along with manuscripts and community records. When the Jews returned home they discovered that their property had been confiscated, and they were forced to rebuild their homes and communities from nothing.
The spiritual crisis caused by the Mawza exile left its mark for generations. The rift deepened following the disillusionment in false messiah Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676), who raised the yearnings of redemption to extraordinary heights throughout the Jewish world only to hurl the souls of the hopeful to even greater depths when news spread of his conversion to Islam.

1720 | And They Spread Throughout the Land

The history of the Jews of Yemen is tightly woven into the country's geography – a mountainous land carved by streams and deep wadis. The Jewish communities in Yemen were therefore spread over an immense area and over 1,00 different localities. Only four cities – Sanaa, Aden, Dhamar and Taiz in the district of Sharab.
The main Jewish community resided in the city of Sanaa, where the high rabbinical court operated, deciding religious matters, appointing community leaders, overseeing butchers and settling disputes. The Jews of Sanaa were known for marrying only amongst themselves and adhered to the saying “Kashem Sanaa wala mori al-balad”, meaning “better a radish vendor from Sanaa than a mori (rabbi, teacher) from the country”.
The second most important city was Dhamar, which produced many great religious scholars including Rabbi Yihya Greidi, Rabbi Shlomo Malachi and Rabbi Levi Keshet. The Jews of Dhamar were known throughout Yemen for their sharp wits and tongues, as attested by the saying “Zabtat hmar wala kilmet sahib Dhamar” (better a kick from a donkey than a word from a Dhamari).
Another large Jewish center existed in the city of Aden, on the Red Sea shore. Aden became a lodestone for Jews due to its strategic location on the trade route to India. Among its leaders and richest members were Rabbi Moshe Chanoch HaLevi and the Misa (Moses/Moshe) family. The free lifestyle of the Jews of Aden under British rule and their greater contact with European culture – particularly their command of the English language – made the city a separate territory from the rest of Yemen's Jewish community.
The south of Yemen was inhabited by the “Sharabis”, who resided in many villages centered around the metropolis of Taiz. Like Sanaa and Aden, the district of Sharab also gave birth to many yeshivas and great rabbis. The most famous of these were Rabbi Chaim Sinwani, Rabbi Mordechai Sharabi and of course the greatest poet of Yemen's Jews, Rabbi Shalom Shabbazi. Shabbazi's fame was so great that a legend sprung whereby each sabbath eve a miracle would occur to mystically transport him to the Land of Israel, returning him to Yemen when the sabbath was over.
This would be a good place to mention the small Jewish community in the city of Habban, which was located far from the large communities in the western part of Yemen, and practiced unique customs, from exclusive prayer melodies, to men growing their hair to the shoulders and a fierce contempt for the Muslim ban on Jews wearing swords on their belts. The Habbani Jews' own tradition holds that they are the original nucleus of the Jewish presence in the country, dating to 1st Temple times, and their customs do indeed indicate a much older culture than that of the other Yemeni Jews. The Habbani Jews made aliyah to Israel in 1949 in “Operation Magic Carpet” and have founded the moshav (farming cooperative) of Bareket, not far from Ben Gurion Airport.

1805 | A Heavenly Dispute

The Jewish community of Yemen was rather reclusive and its contacts with other Jewish communities throughout the diaspora were weak. However, it did receive ideas and rabbinical innovations from other places. For instance, during the Talmud period the Jews of Yemen were guided mostly by the thought of the sages of Israel, whereas during the Geonim period a communications channel was established with the sages of Babylon. In the Middle Ages, when the rabbinical centers moved from Babylon and North Africa to Spain, the Jews of Yemen adopted the Sephardi philosophy and poetry, and especially showed the influence of Maimonides and his work.
During the 17th century the star of Maimonides waned in favor of the occult teachings of the Kabbalah, especially those of the Ar”i of Safed (Rabbi Isaac Lurie), which dealt heavily in themes of exile and redemption, dear to the heart of diaspora Jews. This caused a fierce dispute between the head of the Jewish community in Yemen, Rabbi Shalom Araki (served from 1727-1762) and several of the prominent members of the Jewish community of Sanaa. The source of the conflict was Rabbi Araki's insistence on replacing “Mishne Torah” by Maimonides with the “Shulchan Aruch” by Rabbi Joseph Karo of Safed (a member of Lurie's Kabbalist circle) as the source of the community's halachic authority. Rabbi Araki, a scion of one the most famous Jewish families of Yemen and the official coin-maker for the ruler, did not hesitate to use his high connections and even employed the imam's soldiers to get his way. This last action, which threatened to tear the foundations of the Sanaa community asunder, was eventually averted by the spiritual leader of Yemen's Jews, Rabbi Yihya Salah, who reconciled the warring parties.
Salah, who passed away in 1805, was the most prolific writer among the Jews of Yemen in the modern age. His greatest contribution was the great work to unearth the ancient customs of Yemen's Jews from Mishna and Talmud times until the age of Maimonides. He also wrote a historical study attempting to establish the chain of succession among Yemeni Jews from the fall of the 1st Temple to his own time. Scholars say that if not for Rabbi Salah's work, many of the cultural treasures of Yemen's Jews would have been lost forever.

1863 | Scapegoat

The term “scapegoat” originates from the goat sent out in biblical times by the High Priest on Yom Kippur to die in the desert, after the High Priest had confessed the sins of the people and transferred them onto its head. Time went by, the Temple was destroyed, the Jews scattered all over the world – and ironically they themselves became the scapegoat to other nations, especially in times of political instability.
Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the emergence of the Wahabbis in the Arabian Peninsula led to political chaos in Yemen. At various times two or three imams held power simultaneously. As can be expected, the Jews were the first to pay the price.

On Passover eve 1819 the tribes of Bakil raided Sanaa to punish the imam who a year before refrained from paying them the customary annual tribute. During the riots, which lasted for 21 days, dozens of Jews were murdered, dozens of Jewish women were raped and thousands of books and manuscripts were destroyed or stolen. At the end of the riots there was nothing but ruins left of the Jewish quarter in Sanaa.

Another incident which shook the Jewish community of Yemen to its core took place in 1863, upon the execution of Rabbi Shalom Alsheikh, one of the leaders of the community. Rabbi Alsheikh, whose family held the concession to stamp coins for the imam, fell victim to a struggle between two imams. One ordered Alsheikh not to stamp coins for his rival. Alsheikh refused and was executed. News of his death and its circumstances made waves not only in Yemen, but throughout the Jewish world.

In 1872, upon the Turkish conquest of Sanaa, the fortunes of Yemen's Jews took a turn for the better. During this time ties began to tighten between the Jews of Yemen and communities throughout the diaspora, particularly in regard to Zionist ideas.

1904 | When Did The Zionist Revolution Begin?

The leaders of the Zionist movement were weaned on Haskala and Enlightenment values and therefore they knew that a revolution without documentation is like a play without an audience. This insight led them to conduct meticulous research which ruled that the Zionist revolution began in the “Pale of Settlement” in Russia in the mid 1880s. But reality was slightly different.
In 1881, before the 1st Aliyah from Europe, some 2,500 Jews made aliyah with far less fanfare from Yemen. This aliyah, dubbed “I Will Climb The Palm Tree” (after a verse in the Song of Songs. It sounds snappier in Hebrew...) arrived in the Land of Israel for both religious and Zionist reasons. The new immigrants did not shy away from hard work and did not rely on the “Haluka” alms, which were the main source of income for the veteran Jewish population of the Land of Israel at the time.
Despite their important part in building the country, the immigrants from Yemen received a cold shoulder both from the establishment of the old population, who doubted their Jewishness, and from the new Jewish pioneers from Europe, who viewed them only as a cheap source of labor. This attitude was reinforced in 1904, upon the start of the 2nd Aliyah, when the Zionist endeavor was desperate for working hands, and soon the Jews left in Yemen were suggested as “a replacement for the Arab peasants”. Arthur Rupin, one of the leaders of the Zionist movement, suggested that Jews from Yemen be enticed to come by exploiting their religious-messianic yearnings. To this end a representative was sent by the Zionist movement to Yemen, disguised as a rabbi, who falsely introduced himself as an emissary from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. The results of this deception came to be known as the “Yavneeli Aliyah”.
The manipulative, alienated treatment towards the immigrants from Yemen in the Promised Land caused the Yemeni Jews to turn inwards and do only for their own. Many neighborhoods were established for Yemeni Jews alone, including “Kerem HaTeimanim” north of Jaffa (several years before the establishment of Tel-Aviv, which now surrounds it), Marmorek and Sha'araim in Rehovot and also several rural settlements throughout the country. In 1918 Yemeni Jews were 8% of all Jews in the country.

And yet the Jews of Yemen and their heritage provided important inspiration for the re-emerging Hebrew culture in the Promised Land. The songs, the dance and the authentic look were seen as the embodiment of the original Jew, the closest thing to our forefathers from 2nd and even 1st Temple eras.

2010 | The Great Aliyahs

In 1948, just before the establishment of the State of Israel, there were 35,000 Yemeni Jews living in the Land of Israel. After the establishment of the state riots broke out against the Jews in Yemen, leading the newly-established Israeli government to embark on “Operation On Wings of Eagles” (also known as “Magic Carpet”), in which some 50,000 Jews were brought from Yemen to Israel. Another operation took place between 1952-1954, in which several thousand more Jews were brought over.
One of the most shameful episodes connected the Yemenite-Jewish immigration in the early years of the state is the abduction of the “Yemen Children”. In this dark chapter grave suspicions came to light that babies of Yemenite couples were abducted from hospitals and handed to Ashkenazi couples who were unable to conceive, while the true parents were told that their child had died. Following public pressure, an inquiry commission was formed to investigate these suspicions. The commission, which failed to find proof of the allegations, was also accused of conflict of interest and suppression of documents, and the commission's minutes were consigned to secrecy for 70 more years, which hardly inspired confidence in the official findings.

In 1992 and 1993 over 1,000 of the few remaining Jews in Yemen left the country, some to the United States and some to Israel. In 2010 there were 150 Jews living in Yemen, mostly in the cities of Sanaa and Reda. Over 80% of them are 60 or older.

Al-Saddeh

A chief town in the district of Bilad Amar, south Yemen. Al-Saddeh is situated at the foot of Jabal Shuqeir.

 

The Jewish settlements of south Yemen and in the sultanates east of Yemen on the coast of the Indian ocean were remnants of ancient communities when the region was inhabited by the tribe of Himyar which established a kingdom in the 1st century and whose kings adopted the Jewish faith.

In the Middle Ages the Jews of these communities played a central role in the trade with India. In the 16th century the Jews served as intermediaries for the Portuguese, who penetrated into the region by way of the Red Sea.

The community of Al-Saddeh was one of the big communities in the district towns and in the big towns of Yemen which served also the Jews in the surrounding villages. Dar Sa’id was one of the communities served by Al-Saddeh.

In the years 1678-1679 most of the Jews in the Jewish settlements of Yemen were exiled to Mawza on the southern shore of the Red Sea (Tihamah) by a decree of the Imam Al-Mahdi, the ruler of Yemen. A year later the expellees were allowed to return to their places but most of them were obliged to build for themselves new quarters as their former homes were either ruined or occupied by Muslims. Some demographic changes followed the year of exile. There were exiles who returned to other than their original places, while other returnees came to their place.

The Jewish communities in Yemen had no real organizational structure. Until the second half of the 19th century, the organization of the bigger communities had been based on a limited number of institutions and functionaries . When the protection tax (jiziya) was abolished, the former system came apart and only certain officials remained, mainly in the bigger communities.

The relations with the authorities and the Muslim environment were based on the payment of tax in return for protection. In the towns protection was given by the local governor and in the villages by the heads of the tribes.

The head of the community was an appointment of the authorities. The bet-din (court of justice) in Yemen formed the spiritual leadership of the community and its authority was absolute also in secular matters, although without the sanction of the authorities.

According to the tradition of the Jews of Al-Saddeh, Jews had come to their town from the desert of Hijaz at the middle of the 7th century. They were called members of the “Sect of Wise Men” (or the Mourners of Zion) who arrived after Muhammad and his supporters killed the Jews of the Quritha tribe and conquered the Jews of Khaibar. When they arrived they went to the top of the mountain overlooking the town and formed a treaty with the tribes of the area. The mountain has been called since then Jabal Al-Amana (the Mountain of Testimony).

The community of Al-Saddeh was formed from the beginning as an independent community. It was directed by a group of ten scholars that acted also as a bet-din. Until the end of the 18th century the local Arabs, too, used to refer to that court of law and accept its verdicts. The family of presidents, Salem Jehuda, was permitted by the authorities to serve as judges and that permit was in force until the middle of the 19th century.

At the middle of the 18th century the president of the community of Al-Saddeh was Salem b. Sa’id Al-Sanjab, a big merchant whose title was “sheikh”. Families called Alsheikh attest that one of their ancestors had once been a sheikh, namely a president of a community. The president was in close touch with the authorities and was confirmed by them in his office. Among his duties was also the duty to collect the crop tax from the Muslims. The Akel was the president’s assistant. He was the head of 5-10 representatives of the different living quarters and synagogues whose task was to assist in collecting the taxes from the members of the community and carry out the orders of the president.

At the end of the 19th century and in the 20th century there were two synagogues at Al-Saddeh. One was the Al-Ulya (upper) synagogue of the Yussef Sa’id family, that was built in 1724 with funds donated by the benefactor Shalom Aharon Al-Usta. It was a stone building with a raised bamah, on which the “Mori” (rabbi and teacher) sat. Next to the synagogue was a bet-midrash, where the Mori taught the children. The other synagogue was the “Al-Sufla” (lower) synagogue, that was built by the families Yihya and Uzeiri. The other functionaries of the community were the rabbi, two slaughterers, one for poultry and one for cattle, and the performer of marriages. There were also Torah scholars, who enjoyed high regard for their learning, and the public preacher, whose task was to expose the sinners, admonish them and make them repent. Weddings were held at two diwans, them and make them repent, public halls, and the festivities lasted as long as seven days. Marriages at Al-Saddeh were all
arranged within the community, so that practically it consisted of one big family. The required witnesses at marriages had to be brought from other communities. At times of drought or other calamities the Jews of Al-Saddeh used to go up the mountain Jabal Al-Mashhad with scrolls of the law and shofars (ram’s horns) to pray, to bring salvation to Israel. Likewise they used to visit a cave in a mountain, where righteous rabbis had been buried, and pray for rain.

As in most of the Jewish communities of Yemen, the majority of the Jews of Al-Saddeh were craftsmen, silver and goldsmiths, blacksmiths, and weavers. Some of them were traders in grains, breeders of cattle and farmers. As in most of the big communities, there were at Al-Saddeh a number of scribes (copyists of scriptures).

In the 20th century the majority of the Jews were weavers or makers of iron tools for the Arab villagers. The members of 4 families were blacksmiths, one family specialized as scribes, 3-4 families engaged in spinning of yarn and one family in soldering. Among the merchants were the families of Yihya Shar’abi and Yihya Al-Sadeq.

During the years 1916-1926 the Jews of Al-Saddeh were victims of pogroms instigated by the governor of the town and his soldiers. The synagogue was broken into, scrolls of the torah were torn and furniture broken.

During the last years of the community the leading families were Mansur, Mahbub, Jarama, and Al’uzeiri. Mori Yihya Shar’abi, one of the notables of the community, was its link with the surrounding population. One synagogue functioned at that time. Ritual purification was done in the local river, an all year round stream.

All the Jews of Al-Saddeh went to Israel in the framework of the magic carpet operation in the years 1949-1950. Months before actually boarding the aircraft they walked to Aden, then a British colony, where they were accommodated in transit camps at the suburbs until their departure.

Aden

In Arabic: عدن‎‎ 

A seaport city in Yemen. Aden was under British control from 1839 until 1967.

Aden had a prominent medieval community that peaked during the 12th century attested to the documents and letters found in the Cairo Genizah (discovered in 1896) that were by, or about, the Jews of Aden. Additionally, Aden was a point via which Yemenite Jewish communities communicated with other Jewish communities.

At the end of the 11th century the merchant Abu Ali Hasan (Hebrew: Japheth) ibn Bundar was leader of the Jewish community of Aden and Yemen and held the title "Sar HaKehillot" ("chief of the communities"). His son Madmur was "Nagid (leader; also spelled "magid") of the Land of Yemen." The jurisdiction of the rabbinical court of Aden extended to Jewish communities as far away as India and Ceylon; it, in turn, was under the authority of the rabbinical court in Fustat (now part of Old Cairo). During the 11th and 12th centuries there was frequent correspondence between Aden, Egypt, Babylon, and Eretz Yisrael regarding questions of halakha and religious principles; additionally, the Jews of Aden sent money and expensive gifts to yeshivahs in these areas. In spite of the connections between the Jews of Aden and inner Yemen, the rabbinic authorities of Aden did not have any authority over the communities in Yemen. Indeed, there were significant differences between the Yemenite Jewish community and the Jewish community of Aden and the communities were distinguished by the terms "Yemeni" and "Adani."

In 1835 a British traveler reported on a small Jewish community in Aden, writing that the Jews of Aden lived in huts and had one synagogue and two schools. When the British occupied Aden in 1839, 250 Jews were living in Aden. The colonization of the British brought economic developments to the area, particularly after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The Jews of Aden moved away from traditional handicrafts and began to engage in commerce; some members of the community became quite wealthy, particularly the Messa (Moses) family who for generations virtually controlled the community; for example, in the 1870s the Anglo-Jewish Association of Britain expressed interest in opening a school in Aden, but the Messa family and the rabbis of the community turned down the offer. The population grew as Yemenite Jews arrived, fleeing from a precarious political situation in Yemen. By 1860 there were 1,500 Jews in the city; this included about 300 Jews of the Bene Israel community of India who came with the British Army in military and administrative positions, and brought their families along.

Aden had 15 synagogues, among them Magen Abraham, which was founded in 1860 by Mehahem Messa, the private synagogue Moshe Hanokh, Al-Farhi, and Shemuel Nissim. There were also the Magen David synagogue of the Jews of Rada and the magnificent synagogue Sukkat Shalom (Salim), built in 1924 by Salim Mehahem Messa, the synagogue of the Yemenite refugees hospice, and the synagogue of the Havshush family. The community also had two cemeteries, one of them private.

After the British occupation Aden became a significant port city and Sephardi Jews from India, Egypt, Iraq, and Turkey settled in Aden and left their mark on the community. Prominent families included the family of Rabbi Moshe Hanokh Halevy, which arrived from Izmir in Turkey, and the Messa family. Menahem Messa Banin was the first president (leader of the Jewish community, formerly referred to as the "nagid") after the British occupation; he died in 1864. In addition to the president, a beit din also helped lead and organize the community. The head of the beit din controlled the donations to the community and its charity fund. Among the dayanim (judges of the beit din) were Rabbi Yeshua, Mari Itzhak Cohen, and Menahem Banin. Itzhak Hacohen was among the rabbis of Aden.

In 1891 a Hebrew printing press was founded by Menahem Awad. A school for boys, Jehuda Menahem Moshe, was opened in 1912. In 1914 the Messa family founded another school for boys, which was later named after King George V of Britain; the community's Jews called it "Al-Iskul." A school for girls, Shalom, was opened in 1928.

Shemuel Yavne'eli visited Aden in 1911 on behalf of the Zionist organization of Eretz Yisrael, with the purpose of investigating the possibility of bringing Jews from Aden to British-mandate Palestine. In spite of the objections of the still-powerful Messa family, significant Zionist activities began in Aden in 1923 with the establishment of local branches of Keren Hayesod and the Jewish National Fund. The Association of Hebrew Youth, was founded in 1928 and a year later the community sent a delegate to the 21st Zionist Congress. A Jewish Agency mission arrived at Aden in 1930 and organized the emigration of 585 Yemenite Jews to Eretz Yisrael via Aden. Later, in 1945, emissaries from Mandate Palestine organized the Hebrew clubs Hatikvah and the Jewish Club and began courses to train youth instructors. By 1947 HeHalutz and HeHalutz HaTzair had 300 members in Aden, in spite of opposition from the community's leaders. In 1949 four Jewish youth unions were active in Aden: HeHalutz, Hatikvah, The Jewish Club, and HaOved, in addition to two scout clubs, the Boy Scouts (founded in 1929) and Girl Guides (founded in 1932), and a women's society of mothers.

When the British originally colonized Aden, the Jews lost their status as a protected community (dhimmi). This, along with conflicts taking place with the Arabs in Mandate Palestine led to tensions between the Jewish community and the Muslim majority that occasionally led to outbreaks of violence. In May 1932 local Muslims rioted for days through the Jewish Quarter; shops were looted, the Farhi synagogue was vandalized, and 55 Jews were injured. Hostilities against the Jews further increased during the Arab riots in Palestine (1936-1939). Though many in Aden wanted to emigrate to Mandate Palestine and escape the pressures and violence in Aden, the British government issued only a limited number of certificates allowing Jews to emigrate to Palestine.

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, pogroms broke out against the Jews of Aden which the British did not attempt to stop; in the end, 82 Jews were killed in Aden and in the area, 76 were injured, two Jewish schools were burned down, and 170 Jewish businesses were vandalized and looted. The investigating judge ruled that the Jewish community was entitled to partial compensation, but the authorities evaded paying what was due. The school Sukkat Shalom, which had been burned down, was eventually reopened and functioned until the last Jews left Aden in 1967.

In 1945 there were 4,500 Jews livingin Aden. By 1946 that number had dropped to 1,100 and in the mid-fifties there were only 831 Jews remaining, most of whom were businesspeople and property owners. Jews continued to leave Aden, a result of the increasing precariousness of their situation due to the tensions between Israel and the Arab states, and the radicalism of the Islamic nationalist movement in Aden and its struggle against the British.There were further hostilities against the Jews in 1953, and tensions again reached a peak in 1958 when the federation of Egypt, Syria, and Yemen was declared; Jews were attacked in the synagogues, cars were destroyed, and someone attempted to burn down a Jewish school. In 1965 the number of Jews in the community dropped to about 450. The last 150 Jews left Aden after the Six Day War in June 1967, leaving behind all of their property. The British left in November 1967.

Saddeh, Al-Saddeh

Al-Saddeh

A chief town in the district of Bilad Amar, south Yemen. Al-Saddeh is situated at the foot of Jabal Shuqeir.

 

The Jewish settlements of south Yemen and in the sultanates east of Yemen on the coast of the Indian ocean were remnants of ancient communities when the region was inhabited by the tribe of Himyar which established a kingdom in the 1st century and whose kings adopted the Jewish faith.

In the Middle Ages the Jews of these communities played a central role in the trade with India. In the 16th century the Jews served as intermediaries for the Portuguese, who penetrated into the region by way of the Red Sea.

The community of Al-Saddeh was one of the big communities in the district towns and in the big towns of Yemen which served also the Jews in the surrounding villages. Dar Sa’id was one of the communities served by Al-Saddeh.

In the years 1678-1679 most of the Jews in the Jewish settlements of Yemen were exiled to Mawza on the southern shore of the Red Sea (Tihamah) by a decree of the Imam Al-Mahdi, the ruler of Yemen. A year later the expellees were allowed to return to their places but most of them were obliged to build for themselves new quarters as their former homes were either ruined or occupied by Muslims. Some demographic changes followed the year of exile. There were exiles who returned to other than their original places, while other returnees came to their place.

The Jewish communities in Yemen had no real organizational structure. Until the second half of the 19th century, the organization of the bigger communities had been based on a limited number of institutions and functionaries . When the protection tax (jiziya) was abolished, the former system came apart and only certain officials remained, mainly in the bigger communities.

The relations with the authorities and the Muslim environment were based on the payment of tax in return for protection. In the towns protection was given by the local governor and in the villages by the heads of the tribes.

The head of the community was an appointment of the authorities. The bet-din (court of justice) in Yemen formed the spiritual leadership of the community and its authority was absolute also in secular matters, although without the sanction of the authorities.

According to the tradition of the Jews of Al-Saddeh, Jews had come to their town from the desert of Hijaz at the middle of the 7th century. They were called members of the “Sect of Wise Men” (or the Mourners of Zion) who arrived after Muhammad and his supporters killed the Jews of the Quritha tribe and conquered the Jews of Khaibar. When they arrived they went to the top of the mountain overlooking the town and formed a treaty with the tribes of the area. The mountain has been called since then Jabal Al-Amana (the Mountain of Testimony).

The community of Al-Saddeh was formed from the beginning as an independent community. It was directed by a group of ten scholars that acted also as a bet-din. Until the end of the 18th century the local Arabs, too, used to refer to that court of law and accept its verdicts. The family of presidents, Salem Jehuda, was permitted by the authorities to serve as judges and that permit was in force until the middle of the 19th century.

At the middle of the 18th century the president of the community of Al-Saddeh was Salem b. Sa’id Al-Sanjab, a big merchant whose title was “sheikh”. Families called Alsheikh attest that one of their ancestors had once been a sheikh, namely a president of a community. The president was in close touch with the authorities and was confirmed by them in his office. Among his duties was also the duty to collect the crop tax from the Muslims. The Akel was the president’s assistant. He was the head of 5-10 representatives of the different living quarters and synagogues whose task was to assist in collecting the taxes from the members of the community and carry out the orders of the president.

At the end of the 19th century and in the 20th century there were two synagogues at Al-Saddeh. One was the Al-Ulya (upper) synagogue of the Yussef Sa’id family, that was built in 1724 with funds donated by the benefactor Shalom Aharon Al-Usta. It was a stone building with a raised bamah, on which the “Mori” (rabbi and teacher) sat. Next to the synagogue was a bet-midrash, where the Mori taught the children. The other synagogue was the “Al-Sufla” (lower) synagogue, that was built by the families Yihya and Uzeiri. The other functionaries of the community were the rabbi, two slaughterers, one for poultry and one for cattle, and the performer of marriages. There were also Torah scholars, who enjoyed high regard for their learning, and the public preacher, whose task was to expose the sinners, admonish them and make them repent. Weddings were held at two diwans, them and make them repent, public halls, and the festivities lasted as long as seven days. Marriages at Al-Saddeh were all
arranged within the community, so that practically it consisted of one big family. The required witnesses at marriages had to be brought from other communities. At times of drought or other calamities the Jews of Al-Saddeh used to go up the mountain Jabal Al-Mashhad with scrolls of the law and shofars (ram’s horns) to pray, to bring salvation to Israel. Likewise they used to visit a cave in a mountain, where righteous rabbis had been buried, and pray for rain.

As in most of the Jewish communities of Yemen, the majority of the Jews of Al-Saddeh were craftsmen, silver and goldsmiths, blacksmiths, and weavers. Some of them were traders in grains, breeders of cattle and farmers. As in most of the big communities, there were at Al-Saddeh a number of scribes (copyists of scriptures).

In the 20th century the majority of the Jews were weavers or makers of iron tools for the Arab villagers. The members of 4 families were blacksmiths, one family specialized as scribes, 3-4 families engaged in spinning of yarn and one family in soldering. Among the merchants were the families of Yihya Shar’abi and Yihya Al-Sadeq.

During the years 1916-1926 the Jews of Al-Saddeh were victims of pogroms instigated by the governor of the town and his soldiers. The synagogue was broken into, scrolls of the torah were torn and furniture broken.

During the last years of the community the leading families were Mansur, Mahbub, Jarama, and Al’uzeiri. Mori Yihya Shar’abi, one of the notables of the community, was its link with the surrounding population. One synagogue functioned at that time. Ritual purification was done in the local river, an all year round stream.

All the Jews of Al-Saddeh went to Israel in the framework of the magic carpet operation in the years 1949-1950. Months before actually boarding the aircraft they walked to Aden, then a British colony, where they were accommodated in transit camps at the suburbs until their departure.