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
"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
"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
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
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
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