The History of the Yemeni Jews [Archives:1999/45/Culture]

November 8 1999
(Last in a Series)
By: Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi 
Mohammed Bin Sallam 
This is the last part of the story of the Yemeni Jews. In this article we will talk about the Jews’ access to education, technical training and getting jobs. 
When the number of the Yemeni Jews increased, they used to have a total independence in education and worshipping. They used to have special schools that existed in different parts of Yemen. Besides they used to have special places for performing their religious rituals. Furthermore, they studied Maths, astrology, literature, along with the handicraft activities which the Jews were famous for. They used to teach such jobs to their children so that these activities would never become extinct. This used to exist in the past when their numbers increased a lot in Yemeni society. 
However, after the migration of the Yemeni Jews in large numbers to Israel and other countries we find that all these educational centers that met the basic requirements of life have disappeared. 
The charge fund or the “Omah Fund,”, a fund that was established to receive donations for supporting the Jews’ schools and temples has also ceased to exist. And even if such funds are found, they have trivial sums of money that will do nothing. Hence, the Yemeni Jews lack the basic essentials of life in Yemen. The Yemeni government, on the other hand, do not pay them the attention they need. 
Therefore, some Jews were compelled to teach their kids in the governments’ schools, meaning that their kids would have to study Islamic subjects. Thus, whoever stayed in Yemen was saved the humiliation and oppression he would be exposed to in Israel, however, he came to face another humiliation here. 
Some Yemeni Jewish youth were fed up with their conditions here in Yemen. They traveled to Israel seeking a better place to work. However, they came back some months later as they could not find jobs. They said that their being unqualified made them unable to find jobs there. Furthermore they could not stay in Israel for it is beneath their dignity to work as sweepers. Some other Jews believe that migration is the only way to be qualified and to get a job. 
However, Yayish said that the Yemeni Jews in Israel face a lot of difficulties and troubles as the Western Jews are still holding themselves superior to the Yemeni ones. They consider them to be of a lower class. 
Job opportunities are also very rare in Yemen since they are not qualified, save for some of them who depend upon their own abilities. 
For example, Yahya bin Yayish, a Jewish rabbi, who studied in government schools until he completed his secondary study and then studied mechanics. He is now considered to be the best mechanic in the Raydah region. He is trusted by all the Muslims as well as the Jews. The Israeli organizations tried to persuade him to go to Israel. However, he refused. Finding that he was adamant not to leave Yemen, they plotted a plan and set his workshop on fire. However, he never lost hope and would never leave Yemen. He is married and has got six daughters. He said “I cannot leave Yemen and go to Israel for I am very much afraid to let my daughters live in a society of immorality.” This is an example of a person who lit both ends of the candle to find a place for himself in such miserable conditions. 
The Yemeni Jew, furthermore, feels that he is inferior to other people here in Yemen. They feel that they are suppressed and are not given their due rights, especially by the sheikhs. One of the Yemeni Jews said that they are not allowed to carry weapons like other Yemenis to defend themselves in case of danger. However, Arone, another Jew, said that they do not have to carry weapons as they are protected by the government. 
When we asked the rabbi Yayish, who is more than 70 years old, about the source of his living, he said that he and other Jews have nothing except their houses. He said that Raydah is not his origin. He said that he used to live in Arhab in Sa’adah but then he was forced to move to Raydah. He said he earns his living by treating people by using herbs. He said that he treats those who are possessed, affected by the evil eye, etc. This is his career, however, his sons have their own activities and interests; One sells clothes, the other repairs cars and the third one repairs shoes. His sons who are studying in America and Britain, do not provide him with any financial support. They are studying there at the expense of a Jewish organization. When we got into Yayish’s house, we noticed that all the walls were embellished with different Hebrew expressions. He told us that these expressions are for teaching Jewish children the Yemeni Hebrew letters which are the original letters of the Hebrew language. He said that the Hebrew language used in Israel is different from the Hebrew language used by them here. 
At the beginning, we tried to convince him that we came for the sake of treatment. While we were talking we noticed that he was well-informed of many Islamic sciences and the Holy Qura’an. He gave us some information of the Old Testament and said that on Saturdays they do not work at all. “It has been stated in the Old Testament that it is banned to work on Saturdays. God created the universe within 6 days and had rest on the 7th day which came to be Saturday. Thus, it is banned to work on Saturdays. Those who do not abide by these instructions may be even sentenced to the death penalty. We do not stop working only on Saturdays, the 7th day of the week, but also on the Seventh Saturday which is called “Sabt Al-Saboot”, the Saturday of Saturdays and also the Saturday of the months which is the 7th month and the Saturday of the years which is the 7th years. In this year we do not plant our lands.”Then he told us that he was very busy and that he hadmany guests. As we left him, we noticed that there was a long queue of people waiting for him to be treated. One told us that he is a famous doctor and that people come from different places to be treated and cured of their diseases. 
The Jews celebrate Easter which is on August 14 ; the Penance day; a day in the 7th month of the Hebrew year; and the cleaning day on December 25 of each year. All these celebrations, however, have become a matter of formality rather than sacred ones. This is very much different in Yemen where the Yemeni Jews highly appreciate and glorify them. 
The migration of the Jews happened throughout history and their inability to find a national home so long in the past was due to so many reasons including their books’ instructions which tend to raise their status above that of other people. Their rabbis tend to defend this and say, “we are a special race, our appearance, body shape, our nose shape which we are distinguished by from other people, are all sure evidences that prove that we are from another race. We have proved this throughout history and despite our dispersion, we are the most united nation and the most supportive for our special race.”The Yemeni Jews Very Much Distinguished for Growing Girdles 
Yemeni Jews were distinguished for maintaining their habit of growing their girdles. These girdles are two long threads of hair hanging from their heads. It is said that they were asked to grow them by Yussef Yassr who is well-known for Yussef Tho Nowass in the second decade of the sixth century AC. When some of the Jewish sects started breaking this habit, the Caliph Haroon Al-Rashid gave instructions to his ruler in Yemen to force them to grow girdles. He also asked him not to allow Christians to imitate Muslims in their appearance, nor to allow them to ride on their back saddles. They, furthermore, are not allowed to wear clogs. However, some books indicate that the Abbasid Caliph Al-Motawakel was the one who asked them to have specific clothes and signs that make them different from Muslims. 
From the view point of the Caliph whether he is Haroon or Al-Motawakel, it is important to keep the conventions that they are used to. Such conventions are approved by the Islamic authority and a sacred habit of the Jews. 
Al-Shabizi, a Great Rabbi 
Mori Shaloom Al-Shabizi is one of the most famous Jewish rabbi leaders in Yemen. He was born in 1619 in a village near Taiz. He studied the Jewish religion in Sana’a and stayed there for several years. Then, he traveled to different villages inspecting the Jews’ conditions. He loved Sana’a very much and this is distinctly depicted in his peotry verses. He suffered with the Jews when they were driven out of Sana’a to Moza’a during the reign of Al-Mahdi. He was very famous also for his beautiful and exquisite verses. He has written many poems about the beauty of Sana’a. In one of his poems he said: 
“Oh you who thirst for wisdom and knowledge, 
Go thee to Sana’a, the place of utmost happiness, 
Its sages will guide you in all respects.” 
He has got another beautiful poem that starts with the following line: 
“Oh, how deeply I gulp of the disasters” This line’s equivalence in Arabic is \Wa kam atagarra alajban\ 
We do not know for certain when he died exactly. However, it is said that he died after the crisis of Moza’a was over (1681-1686). The reason behind driving out the Yemeni Jews from Sana’a is due to their revolution and rebellion against the Yemeni authorities during that time. They felt they have become strong, therefore they started looking forward to build their own regime. They started creating many problems and chaos in Yemen, especially in Sana’a. As a result Al-Mahdi gathered his forces to end the rebellion. He suppressed their revolution. Consequently, most of them became homeless. He expelled all the rest to the Moza’a village near Al-Magha. 
Experiencing the miserable conditions of the Jews in Moza’a, Al-Shabazi tried to intercede with Al-Mahdi to forgive and allow the Jews to get back to Sana’a. Al-Mahdi was very considerate and accepted his mediation for he was loved and greatly admired by Yemenis. 
The name of Al-Shabazi is commonly repeated these days. Some Arab media have said that the government of Israel has requested the government of Yemen to transfer his grave from Taiz to his homeland, Israel. Sources state that there have been some agreements between Jewish figures including Mosaa Domti, Salem Kahyoot and Yemeni politicians to build a monument for him beside his grave in Taiz, after normalization between the two countries takes place. It is also reported that Israel is interested in some specific Yemeni places such as Ka’a Al-Yahood in Sana’a; Ka’a Al-Yahood in Al-Kana’a Rada’a; the Jewish cemeteries that are spread in different places in Yemen and in Yafruss district where the grave of Bin Al-Wan lies. Many people do wonder whether the subject of Al-Shabazi’s monument will be the beginning of the normalization course between the Yemen and Israel. 
The history of the Yemeni Jews is wide and multidimensional. Many books giving different information have been written about them. However, what it should be asserted is that they had a strong presence in the Yemeni society in the past. The only question that preoccupies many interested people is “What has remained of the Yemeni Jews?” But it is actually hard to find a satisfying answer except for that their number is roughly estimated around 250 and they are settled in different places of Yemen. The Yemeni Jews are still suffering in Yemen from some pressure of some Jewish groups which often come to Yemen to urge them to travel to Israel. If any Yemeni Jew is deceived by these Jewish groups, he will find himself a mere Eastern Jew belonging to “Al-Safardim” sect who suffers terribly and is oppressed by the Western Jews “Ashkenaz”. However, what a pity to realize the heinous actions exercised on the Yemeni Jews either here in Yemen or in Israel by Zionism and to do nothing to put an end to that.