Jews in Yemen

Jews in Yemen | Free Essay Example

Jun 11, 2019 at Superb Free History Essays Online


One of the main reasons for Jews migration to Yemen is a trade. They faced some challenges during their stay in Yemen, including opposition from the local Muslims. However, they had some aspirations that they set out as they migrated to Yemen. The aim of this paper is to look at the various goals set out by the Jews in Yemen as well as the means they used to tackle them. Overall, they were successful in achieving their objectives when they first moved to Yemen. However, the oppression they faced has made them move to Israel.

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Some theories have been formulated as to where the Jews in Yemen originated from. The most popular theory, however, is that they came there to trade spices and perfumes. Their products originated from India, and the Jewish merchants played a crucial role in this trade. The immigration of the Jews into Yemen mainly occurred during the second century. They were the most prosperous groups in Yemen until the sixth century. When Zara Yusuf took over the kingdom in 518, he converted to Judaism and took it upon himself to push the Ethiopians in Arabia out of the kingdom. Islam was introduced to Yemen around 630. During this period, Jews were given assurance over their freedom of religion in exchange for them to pay the poll tax imposed on all the non-Muslims in Yemen (Ariel, 2014).

When Shiite Zaydi clan took over, the Muslims started to persecute the Jews in Yemen. It happened around the 10th century. During this time, the Jews were considered to be impure, and as such, could not touch a Muslim or even touch their food. They were obligated to be humble to the Muslims at all times, walk on the left side, as well as greeting the Muslims first. Also, the Jews could not construct houses that were higher than those of the Muslims, as well as riding the camels and horses. They could only ride a donkey or a mule, and when they rode on them, they had to sit sideways (Mahler, 2011). When Jews entered the quarters of Muslims, they had to take off their shoes and walk barefoot. They were not allowed to defend themselves when the Muslim youths attacked them. The Jews could only flee or hope for the intervention of Muslim, who was against such acts.

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The Jews engaged in many trades that were not practiced by the Zaydi Muslims. Some of these trades include blacksmiths, pottery, masonry, carpentry, shoe making, weapons repair, weaving, and tailoring (Montville, 2011). The Jews solely undertook occupations in Yemen. Due to this division of labor, the two groups became interdependent because the Muslims could produce the food while the Jews produced all the manufactured products and services that the Muslim farmers needed to provide the food.

Jews were scattered all over Yemen and aspired to be involved in commerce extensively. During this time, they wrote many books. There rose a prophet from the Jews who advocated for the combining of Judaism and Islam. A respected Jewish scholar, Jacob Ben Nathanael ibn al-Fayyumi, wrote to Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon seeking counsel. The latter wrote back to Jacob in an epistle known as “The Yemenite Epistle” which acted as a source of strength and support for the Jews as the persecution was taking place (Klorman, 2014). Shortly after this, the persecution of the Jews came to an end.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Jews again suffered greatly under the rule of local Muslim Imam. They were not allowed to wear new or good clothes or even to ride a donkey or a mule. Moreover, they were supposed to travel very long distances on foot on certain occasions. At this time, they were not expected to engage in monetary transactions. They had to be craftsmen who were mainly employed as carpenters, masons, and smiths. By the 19th century, the number of the Jews had risen to about 30,000 as compared to the 3000 Jews during the first five centuries. When the Hebrew newspapers started to arrive, they began to receive new ideas. As a result, the Yemen Jews started making ties with the Sephardic Jews who came from the Ottoman provinces (Wagner, 2015). The Sephardic Jews came to Yemen to trade with the government officials as well as the army. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Yemen Jews had also grown in number to around 50,000 people.

The Jews in Yemen had a very different culture from other Jews. The difference in culture was mainly contributed by the fact that the Muslim rulers in Yemen tried to isolate Yemen from the rest of the world. Due to this isolation, the Jews adopted a culture that was almost in line with the culture of the Muslim rulers. They made their clothing and their homes as a simpler version of what the Muslim neighbors had. Jews were the craftsmen of Yemen. Most of the objects found in Yemen, either for the Jews or the Muslims, were made by the Jewish masters. Every house in Yemen had rose water flasks that were used to store perfume. The Jews made almost all of the jewelry. It was mainly made of silver and gold (Klorman, 2014).


Both the Muslim and the Jewish women wore a lot of jewelry mostly around their necks but in the same case as for the clothing. Also, there were certain things that the Jewish women could not wear at all. However, the jewelry made for the Jewish women by the Jewish craftsmen was more elaborate as compared to that of the Muslim women, especially the jewelry worn by the brides (Wagner, 2015). Also, certain things were made for the Muslim men exclusively, such as the silver daggers that had very decorated handles. Such daggers were often made from silver. Another object that the Jewish men could not possess was the seal rings used in place of a signature. If a Jewish man were caught in possession of a seal ring, they could be put to death.

They made their ritual objects. The craftsmen would not purchase the materials to make these objects. However, they would mine the materials used to make them. Also, the synagogues, just like the Jewish homes, were not allowed to be higher in height than the Mosques. The Jews had to construct their synagogues at a lower height than the lowest mosque in the area. In some cases, Jews would gather in their homes for their religious meetings rather than construct new synagogues (Klorman, 2014). Because the Jews were not allowed to wear new or good clothes, they reserved their artwork for their homes and the synagogues.

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The traditional narratives usually identify the Jews as a peace loving community. The Jews were depicted as fighting huge and well equipped Arab adversaries with their backs up against the wall. The partitioning of Palestine to form Israel was seen as a victory for the Jews as they were portrayed as being very determined and united as compared to the disunity on the Arab side. Israeli children are taught this version of history as they undertake studies in their schools. The teaching of this very version has led to the public having a notion that can be summed up as the few against the many (Klorman, 2014).

In 1947, the Arabs lacked common aims for their war and as such could not easily coordinate their diplomatic and military moves. At this time, the Jews had a military advantage over the Arabs. The Jewish military leaders were well aware of the division between the Arabs. Therefore, they exploited these divisions and waged war against the Arabs and consequently extended their boundaries (Ariel, 2014). By the mid-1948, the Jews had already outnumbered the Arabs, and the pendulum of numbers swung in the direction of the Jews. When the two groups met for combat, the Jews overcame the Arabs.

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However, the Jews aspired to move away from the oppression faced in Yemen. They migrated from Yemen to Palestine from 1881 to 1914. 10 % of the Yemen Jews migrated during this time. The period between June 1949 and September 1950 saw about 50,000 Jews move to Israel. The reason for the Jews migrating was the riots experienced in Palestine in 1947 after the Partition vote of the British mandate of Palestine (Ariel, 2014). The riots were directed towards the Jews because of the Creation of Israel in 1948. During these disturbances, the Jewish community was economically destroyed because their stores and businesses were destroyed. Over the next few years, they were flown to Israel through a joint effort by the Israel and American government. In the 1990s, another group of Jews who were about 1200 relocated to Israel. The few Jews who remained in Yemen were mainly in the northern province of Sa’ada. The Houthi rebels during current fighting have significantly reduced the government’s influence in Yemen. Such rebels have increased the threat posed by the Jews. Some groups, such as the Jewish-American, Israeli groups, and the American diplomats are looking to establish a refugee status for the Jews in Yemen. After the Jews had been accorded the refugee status, the groups paid for their resettlement in either Israel or America (Mahler, 2011). In 2009, the United Jewish Communities, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and the U.S State Department worked together to make sure that half of the remaining population in Yemen were evacuated. Today, there exists only a small number of Jews in Bayt Harash and Raydah.


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In Raydah, the only thing that remains to show the presence of a Jewish community in the town in the past are cemeteries, ghetto villages, and the few people inhabiting the town. The structures in this region are quite old, and local Jews face a lot of hostility from the Muslims in the area. Most of the Jewish populations live in this town, which is deep in the territory controlled by the Houthi militants. The leaders of these militants are against the Jews. The rest of the Jews live in the capital of Sana where they live in what appears like house arrest by the Houthi militants. The former Yemen president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, over the past 30 years was the main protector of the Jews (Ariel, 2014). The president was pushed out of power and now is out of favor with the Houthi.

Presently, there are about 200 Jews in Yemen or even less according to population estimates carried out in 2015. On October 2015, the government handed them an ultimatum: convert to Islam or leave Yemen (Wagner, 2015). The reason for this demand was that they could not protect the Yemen Jews if they remained as Jews.


In conclusion, the Jews in Yemen mainly aspired to have a land where they could have peace and a good home to live in. It could only be achieved through the migration of the Jews from Yemen where Muslims greatly oppressed them. The majority of the Yemen Jews relocated to Israel, and now only a handful of the Jews remain in Yemen.

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