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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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Province comprising the southwestern part of Arabia. Various traditions trace the earliest settlement of Jews in this region back to the time of Solomon, and the Sanaite Jews have a legend to the effect that their forefathers settled there forty-two years before the destruction of the First Temple. Under the prophet Jeremiah 75,000 Jews, including priests and Levites, are said to have gone to Yemen and when Ezra commanded the Jews to return to Jerusalem they disobeyed, whereupon he pronounced an everlasting ban upon them. Tradition states, however, that as a punishment for this hasty action Ezra was denied burial in Palestine. As a result of this tradition, which is devoid of historicity, no Jew of Yemen gives the name of Ezra to a child, although all other Biblical appellatives are found there.

First Settlements.
The actual immigration of Jews into Yemen appears to have taken place about the beginning of the second century C.E. , although the province is mentioned neither by Josephus nor by the Mishnah or Talmud. According to Winckler, the Jews of Yemen enjoyed prosperity until the sixth century C.E. , and the fourth sovereign before Dhu Nuwas was a convert to Judaism. The kingdoms of Sheba, Raidan, Ḥ aḍ ramaut, and Yamanat (Yemen) were united under the hegemony of the Yemenite kings, who were as follows:V12p592001.jpgUntil recently Dhu Nuwas was regarded as the first king who was zealous for Judaism, but a chronicle of saints in the British Museum gives the name of the martyr Arḳ ir, who was condemned to death by Shuraḥ bil Yakkuf at the instigation of his counselors, the rabbis. Although all these legends are extremely biased and are chiefly devoted to the portrayal of the persecution of Christians by the Jews, it is evident that Judaism had in the fourth century taken a firm hold upon the royal house. In this legend, as in others, the city of Najran is important. Two Jewish youths are said to have been killed there, whereupon Dhu Nuwas conquered the city and executed the king after offering him his choice between Judaism and death. The effect of these traditions was a bitter oppression of the Jews, first by the Christians and later by the Arabs.

Yemen and Maimonides.
The average Jewish population of Yemen for the first five centuries C.E. is said to have been about 3,000. The Jews were scattered throughout the country, but carried on an extensive commerce and thus succeeded in getting possession of many Jewish books. When Saladin became sultan in the last quarter of the twelfth century and the Shiites revolted against him, the trials of the Yemenite Jews began. There were few scholars among them at that time, and a false prophet arose, proclaiming the amalgamation of Judaism and Mohammedanism, and pretending to be able to prove the truth of his teachings from the Bible. In this hour of need the greatest Jewish scholar of Yemen, Jacob ben Nathanael al-Fayyumi, wrote for counsel to Maimonides, who replied in a consolatory epistle entitled "Iggeret Teman." This letter made such an impression on the Jews of Yemen that, according to Saphir, they included the name of Maimonides in the Ḳ addish prayer. The false prophet was condemned to death and died in his illusion. Although Benjamin of Tudela did not personally visit Yemen, he gives certain data concerning the Yemenite Jews. Their capital was Teima and they called themselves Rechabites, while at their head stood the nasi Ḥ anan. They were in constant strife with their Ismaelitic neighbors, from whom they won many victories and took much booty.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the condition of the Jews of Yemen was miserable. They were under the jurisdiction of the Imam, and were forbidden to wear new or good clothes, nor might they ride an ass or a mule, being compelled tó make the longest journeys on foot when occasion required it. They were prohibited, moreover, from engaging in money transactions, and were all mechanics, being employed chiefly as carpenters, masons, and smiths. At the beginning of the nineteenth century they are said to have numbered 30,000, and to have lived principally in Aden (200), Sana (10,000), Sada (1,000), Dhamar (1,000), and the desert of Beda (2,000). In recent times there have been no Jews in the Tahama (the low coast-land) nor in Hodeida, but they now reside in the interior of the plateau. Settlements of considerable size are found in the vicinity of Sana, and are divided between Manakhah, with 3,000 Jews, and Sana, which has a separate quarter containing about 8,000. The Jews have also special sections of the city in Kaukaban, Weilan, and Dhamar. Special mention should likewise be made of the Jewish village of Al-Gharaba, two kilometers from Reda' . The chief industry of the Jews of Yemen is the making of pottery, which is found in all their settlements and which has rendered them famous throughout the East. They engage very little in commerce. An important personage among the Yemenite Jews in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was Aaron Chehip, known as the "Coffee King." He came to a violent end, however, being murderously assaulted and robbed by the natives.

According to the most recent investigations, there is no longer any doubt that the Jews of Yemen, whatever the date of their settlement, brought with them the Bible and a large part of the traditional Haggadah, which also had an influence on the Koran. The Talmud, or at least a part of it, was likewise known in Yemen, and the fact that it was less widely distributed there than in Europe was due solely to the poverty of the people, which made it impossible to buy more copies. The Jews of Yemen must have been in close touch with Babylonia, since they reckoned time according to the Seleucidan era, and this chronology is found on tombstones as early as the ninth century. All the Hebrew manuscripts of Yemen, moreover, show the superlinear, or Babylonian, system of punctuation. It is clear from the "Iggeret Teman" that though the Yemenite Jews were not Talmudists, they acted according to the decisions of Rab Ashi in traditional law, at least after they had come under the influence of Maimonides. The "Yad," which they called "Ḥ ibbur," and the Shulḥ an ' Aruk of Joseph Caro were regarded by them as the highest authorities in Jewish law.

The oldest Yemenite manuscripts are those of the Bible, which the Yemenite Jews call "Taj" (= "crown"). They date from the ninth century, and each of them has a short Masoretic introduction, while many contain Arabic commentaries. The Masorah was highly valued by the Jews of Yemen, and a special compilation, made by Yaḥ ya Saliḥ , was called by Ginsburg the "Masorah of Teman." They were acquainted with Saadia, Rashi, Ḳ imḥ i, Naḥ manides, and Isaac Arama, besides producing a number of exegetes from among themselves. In the fourteenth century Nathanael b. Isaiah wrote an Arabic commentary on the Bible, full of haggadot and almost wholly destitute of any real Biblical hermeneutics, while in the second half of the fifteenth century Saadia b. David al-' Adani was the author of a commentary on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and Abraham b. Solomon wrote on the Prophets (British Museum). Of the Talmud the following treatises are now known to exist in manuscript: Beẓ ah, Pesaḥ im, Mo' ed Ḳ aṭ an, Megillah, and Zebaḥ im. The Yemenite Abner b. Ker ha-Shoshani wrote a double commentary in Hebrew on the "' En Ya' aḳ ob" of Jacob Ḥ abib, and between 1478,1483 Saadia b. David al-' Adani composed a gloss on the "Yad" of Maimonides. Among the midrashim compiled in Yemen mention should be made of the "Midrash ha-Gadol" of David bar Amram al-' Adani (vol. i., ed. Schechter, 1902). Between 1413 and 1430 the physician Yaḥ ya Zechariah b. Solomon wrote a compilation entitled "Midrash ha-Ḥ efeẓ ," which included the Pentateuch, Lamentations, Esther, and the hafṭ arot, while between 1484 and 1493 David al-Lawani composed his "Midrash al-Wajiz al-Mughni." In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries supercommentaries on the "Yad" were written by Saliḥ Musa al-Ḥ adhari, Isaac b. Abraham, and David b. Solomon.

The Cabala was and is very popular among the Yemenite Jews, who are familiar with the Zohar and with the work of all the European cabalists. One of them, Solomon b. Dawid ha-Kohen, has written a cabalistic treatise in thirteen chapters, entitled "Leḥ em Shelomoh."

Among the Yemenite poets who wrote Hebrew and Arabic hymns modeled after the Spanish school, mention may be made of Yaḥ ya al-Dhahri and the members of the Al-Shabbezi family. A single non-religious work, inspired by Ḥ ariri, was written in 1573 by Zechariah b. Saadia (identical with the Yaḥ ya al-Dhahri mentioned above), under the title "Sefer ha-Musar." The philosophical writers include: Saadia b. Jabeẓ and Saadia b. Mas' ud, both at the beginning of the fourteenth century Ibn al-Ḥ awas, the author of a treatise in the form of a dialogue written in rimed prose, and termed by its author the "Flower of Yemen" Ḥ asan al-Dhamari and Joseph ha-Levi b. Jefes, who wrote the philosophical treatises "Ner Yisrael" (1420) and "Kitab al-Masaḥ ah."

Manuscripts of the Yemen Siddur are in the British Museum. The prayers agree in part with the Sephardic and in part with the Ashkenazic liturgy, and their language is partly Hebrew and partly Aramaic and Arabic, while the daily so-called "Ma' amadot" prayers are written in Aramaic. The Yemenite Siddur appeared in Jerusalem 1892 (2d ed. 1898), and in Vienna 1896.

Bibliography : Benjamin of Tudela, ed. Asher, p. 70, London, 1840 Burchard, in Ost und West , 2:337-341 Deinard, Or Meï r , pp. 20-28, New York, 1896 Greenburg, The Hagadah According to the Rite of Yemen , i.-iv., London, 1896 Grä tz, Gesch. iv.-vi. (Index) Harkavy, Studien und Mittheilungen , pp. 202, 217, Berlin, 1887 Neubauer, in J. Q. R. 3:22 idem , in R. E. J. 23:122 et seq. idem, in Monatsschrift , 3:42-44 Saphir, Eben Safir , 1:99-116 Steinschneider, Verzeichniss der Hebrä ischen Handschriften der Kö niglichen Bibliothek zu Berlin , 2:71 et seq. idem, in Israelitische Monatsschrift , 1891, No. 2 idem , in Monatsschrift , 1894, pp. 79 et seq. Winckler, Altorientalische Forschungen , 4:329-337 W. Bacher, Der Sü d-Arabische Siddur , in J. Q. R. 14:581-621 idem, Ein Hebrä isch-Arabisches Liederbuch aus Jemen , in Berliner-Festschrift , 1903, pp. 10-32 S. Poznanski, Zum Schrifthum der Sü d-Arabischen Juden , in J. Q. R. 14:752-757 P. Heinrich, Fragment eines Gebetsbuches aus Jemen , Vienna, 1902 idem , in J. Q. R. 15:330-333.

Group of Yemen Jews .
(From a photograph by Elkan N. Adler.)
J. S. O.

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Yemen'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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