Need better treatmentYemeni Jews feel oppressed [Archives:2005/822/Last Page]

March 7 2005
Some of the younger members of Yemens Jewish community.
Some of the younger members of Yemens Jewish community.
Mohammed bin Sallam
Yemeni Jews are part of the Arab people of Yemen, and history shows they embraced Judaism 2500 years ago.

Jews are one branch of the Semitic peoples, which have a common language, Yemen's Jews are an integral part of the Yemeni people. They have the same characteristics as Yemenis including racial, facial, Arabic language with its various dialects. They have the same demographic distribution as other Yemenis over the Yemeni land.

The fact can easily be realized if we compare between a Muslim and a Jew from Hadhramout or a Muslim and Jew from Sana'a. Their physical characteristics are the same. Thus we say, “Nobody can find a difference between two citizens from Hadhramout or Sana'a (a Muslim and a Jew) but we can find a difference between two citizens one from Sana'a and the other from Hadhramout.”

This time, during my attendance of a Jewish wedding in Raydah district, Amran province, where hundreds of Yemeni Jews dwell, I tried to recognize any difference between the Jews and the Muslims native to the area who had been invited to the wedding. My attempt was in vain, save the facial whiskers. Then it is only the whiskers that makes Jews different from Muslims in Yemen, and nothing else.

During this invitation, I could acquaint myself with some aspects of Jews' life such as the living and cultural standards, their relations with their Muslim neighbors, their wedding and religious rituals, and other things. I do not claim that this article will cover everything. However, allow me to report as much as the article can contain.

Marriage traditions

There are no big differences between the Jewish marriage and the Muslim one. The only difference is in the length of the wedding: whereas Muslim weddings continue over three days, the Jews have a week long wedding (if it starts on Thursday, it ends on the next Wednesday). Suppose that Thursday is for engagement, the bride's father has to have a bull slaughtered to entertain the guests coming from different areas (Sa'adah for example) for two days (Thursday and Friday). Most of them are Jews except for Muslim cronies.

On Saturday, the wedding rituals are suspended completely till the evening. The rabbi then slaughters another bull presented by the bridegroom who entertained the guest on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday is the consummation day when the bride is taken to the bridegroom. On this day, the rabbi slaughters a third bull presented by the bull to entertain the guest all the day. Upon the bride's arrival in the bridegroom's house, guests dispersed, coming the next day to the house of the bride's father where they dine, drink, and chew qat at the expense of the bridegroom.

Thus, wedding is costly and represents a big burden for limited-income people. The average expense hits the mark of YR 1.2 million distributed as follows:

– YR 200,000 as a dowry.

– YR 200,000 for gold ornamentation.

– YR 210,000 for three bulls (70 thousand for each)

– YR 90 thousand for bride's mother, and maternal and paternal aunts.

There is also the expenditure on meals, drinks and other petty cash.

Living conditions

Unofficial statistics reveal that number of Jews in Yemen does not reach 1,000 people. Some Jews mention they are 450, excluding women.

Yet, living conditions of Jews do not differ from Muslims' in terms of poverty, privation, and destitution.

Muslims in this area are distinguished from Jews by possession of more lands and free movement facing no obstacles or restrictions and other prerogatives such as medical and educational services as well as recruitment for the army, governmental departments, and other establishments. We have not heard of a Jew being employed by the army or the government in general.

Jews are not equal to Muslims in rights and duties. They are prohibited from carrying arms both white and fire weapons. They face difficulties wherever they go due to the whisker (one of a pair of hair strings dangling on both sides of the head) which makes him stark among other citizens.

Jews have professional experience in handicrafts as well as trade, bricklaying, automobile engineering and other humble professions.

The house owned by a Jew does not differ from that of a Muslim in terms of furniture, fixtures, or other household articles.

Social security provided by the state for the poor does not cover only 15 Jews while the majority of the Jewish residents are very poor and deserve help. The total amount given to the social-security supported Jews is in the tune of $80 a month.


Jews in Raydah have a three-room school where four teachers work. There, you can find 60 male students with a minority of girls.

Students are instructed in this school the principles of literacy, religion, and other sciences according to a curriculum imported from abroad.

“President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised a few years ago to have a 12-room school built for us,” said a teacher. “However, this promise has not been fulfilled yet. Therefore, students are sent over to America to receive religious sciences. They are not accepted by universities due to their low performance and therefore their opportunities to get good jobs in the US or Israel are impossible.”

The school's resources are very limited: a blackboard, textbooks kept in the rabbi's closet or with students. There is also a computer set used by a teacher to type lessons in Hebrew. He keeps it at home in fear of burglary.

Teachers' salaries are contributed by US-based Jewish organizations, said a teacher.

The supporting organizations warn teachers of browsing the net in order to avoid surfing porno sites. They are prohibited and whoever is proved to have surfed them will get punished.

They shun traveling to Israel because they fear to commit wrongdoing. Traveling to Israel means mortification and bearing oppressive forms worse than what they face in Yemen. Once in Israel, they would either be recruited for the army or used in menial jobs. They would not be given the chance to join education or training programs appropriate for their ages which most often are over 18.

The youth who want to travel find the US the best choice. A rich Jew would cover all travel expenses (we met with one of the rich Jews who has come from the US, the interview is to be published next issue). There, they get enrolled in religious schools to learn the Modern Hebrew. Then, they are given the right to choose, either to stay in America and work over there or to leave for another country, as he likes. Those who prefer to return to Yemen are supported by wealthy Jews to get married, establish a home and get monthly pensions, sometimes irregular. However, this attention is not paid to aged people or women who do not enjoy similar insurance.

Concerning procedures of travelling to the US, a young Jew mentioned that they were easy before September 11, but now they are complicated. “If you get an invitation from there, things get easier. After all, we receive a better treatment by the US than Muslim do,” said he

Jews speak out

Allow me to claim that I am neutral in tackling the subject of our kinsmen who share us in life conditions. They are the ones who have been very tenacious of the religion of their Yemeni ancestors for 2500 years, since the time of Prophet Moses. Here I will report what I heard some of them say at the wedding's qat session. I will add nothing, but I may eliminate certain information for the sake of my and their safety.

“The remaining few Jewish families are leading a miserable and poor life. Their members are looking forward to a better life and to peace to overwhelm the earth,” said Sulaiman. “They are supplicating God, the Creator, to send them a fair savior to snatch them out of their formidable miserable condition. They are searching for justice and equality. Will there ever be any response?”

Yahya, on the other hand, said: “With bitterness and fatal sadness, we see our children having no future. Our children see their Muslim peers on foot or in cars going to their schools or colleges feel helpless and hopless that any change will occur in the short term.”

Another Sulaiman added: “Decades ago, our children were allowed to join public schools to learn different sciences as Muslim children. They were also exempted from studying the Islamic subjects. Some of them got the Secondary School Certificate. However, today, especially over the last decade, certain Muslim scholars, who claim to be Sunni, have controlled the bulk of schools in the area and have imposed on our children to memorize the Quraan and study Islamic sciences by force or incite their Muslim classmates to bully them. Therefore, our children have abandoned government's schools.”

Another attendant said: “Our being characterized by whiskers has made us outcast by many people. Moreover, we are not educated which considerably lessens job opportunities and complicates our search for bread. This condition has led us down below the most crushed classes in the society.”

Other Jewish citizens ask questions about the responsible for these difficulties. “Isn't the State responsible? Where are our rights as Yemenis? Where are our rights to education, health, security, and public liberties? Aren't we Yemenis like you? Don't we have rights and duties as you have?”