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Geulei Teman synagogue of Yemenite Jews, Ramla, Israel, 2019
Nusach Baladi (Yemenite Baladi rite).
9 Hagai street, Ramla
Photo: Michael Strimban
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People

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21373642
Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)
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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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Would you like to help us improving the content? Send us your suggestions
Geulei Teman Synagogue, Ramla, Israel, 2019

Geulei Teman synagogue of Yemenite Jews, Ramla, Israel, 2019
Nusach Baladi (Yemenite Baladi rite).
9 Hagai street, Ramla
Photo: Michael Strimban
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People

Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)

Yemen

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.