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26 August 2011

The Jews of Yemen

The history of the Jews of Yemen is a very interesting story, full of things that are very unique to them. The way they arrived in Yemen, the way they lived, and the relationship they had were all different from other communities, even those in the same region.
There has been a Jewish presence in Yemen for centuries. While we may not know exactly when they arrived, it most likely was in the 7th century BCE. The local tradition states that Jews left Jerusalem after they heard Jeremiah warn of the destruction of the Temple in 629 BCE. Historian's lean more toward the arrival of the Jews in 900 BCE. They believe these Jews were part of King Solomon's traders. Whichever is the correct time frame, it is a long history.
The early years of the Jews being in Yemen, was a time of of peace and strength. The rulers of the time had a large section of their people who converted to Judaism, then in the 3rd century, the ruling family also converted, which made Judaism the religion of those who governed. The Jewish rule ended in the early 6th century when the Ethiopians took power.
Ethiopian ruled ended in the seventh century, and because of it, life for the Jews would never be the same. At that time the Muslims took control which made the Jews now a lower class, no longer the equals of others.
They were now required to pay special taxes, and lost most all contact with other Jewish communities, they were isolated in many ways. The isolation from other communities had a lasting influence. Their culture and lives began to resemble those of the Arabs, the only people they had contact with. This period lasted till the 1200's when the Rasulides Tribe of Africa ruled the area. They were in control till the mid 1500's when the Turk's took over.
In 1630, the Zaydis tribe took control from the Turks and again the Jews were forced into a period of history that was most unkind to them. Restrictions were put back in place, they were no longer allowed to live in the cities, they also could not build any home that was taller than a Muslim home. In the late 1600's, part of the community was drive out to Mawza, on the Red Sea. There many starved and died. Later they were brought back to help the economy, because they were the skilled craftsmen and artisans. This pattern continue for the most part until 1948 when Israel became a state. By 1950 the majority of the Jews of Yemen had immigrated to Israel.
Today, the Jewish community of Yemen is very small and because of years of being subjected to unfair laws and rulers have lost most of their Jewish identity. There are now those within the community trying to restore the honor that was lost, may their work be blessed.

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