Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

22 Adar II 5760 - March 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The Last Jews in Yemen

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The 3,000-year-old Jewish presence on the southern tip of Arabia is in real danger of extinction today, with just 300 Jews scattered across the north of Yemen.

"Jews who emigrated to Yemen after the Roman Emperor Titus besieged Jerusalem numbered tens of thousands," said Rabbi Yaish ben Yahia.

"They were everywhere," said the rabbi of Raydah, a town some 70 kilometers (40 miles) from the capital Sanaa. The town has a total of around 60 Jews in eight families.

"Today there are only 300 left, scattered north of Sanaa," he said, half as many as there were just three years ago.

The main exodus took place between June 1949 and June 1950, shortly after the creation of the state of Israel. Some 43,000 Jews left in an air lift from the Red Sea city of Aden that was dubbed "Flying Carpet."

"Between 1950 and 1989, almost 2,000 more Jews left the country, followed by almost 700 more between 1992 and 1994," said Rabbi Yaish, who saw off his sons, Chaim, Sulaiman and Yahia, and two grand- daughters, Hamama and Dhabia.

Like many other Yemeni Jews, Yaish fears for the future of his diminishing community and the dispersion of families. He hopes Sulaiman, who is now 30 and studies at an Ashkenazi yeshiva in New York, will one day return to Raydah to take over.

The Rabbi himself visited Israel two years ago.

"But I couldn't stand life over there. Here I feel I am in my element," admitted the 73-year- old, as he prescribed some herbal medicine to a Muslim patient.

The Rabbi is consulted by both Jews and Muslims, who refer to him by the title of Al-Aylum, wise one. But he always advises patients to also see a doctor to avoid being called a quack.

He said that Yemen's Jews had equal rights, including the vote. A giant portrait of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, for whom the Jews voted in September elections, hangs in a corner of his room, which is decorated with Hebrew religious inscriptions.

Although the Jews of Raydah remain faithful to their religion and traditions, they do not have a synagogue and instead gather in a simple stone house. The Rabbi is present for every Jewish marriage and circumcision.

Unlike other Yemeni men, however, Jews do not have the right to wear the "jambiya" curved dagger or carry guns. Jewish men also stand out with their peyos. Ironically, it is the country's Jews who have long been reputed as craftsmen for making the most precious jambiyas as well as traditional Yemeni jewellery in silver and gold.

The shrinking community lives under the protection of the Hashed and Bakil tribal confederations, in a land where the tribal system is still strong.

Yemen has said Jews are allowed to travel to Yemen so long as they do not carry an Israeli passport.

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