Yemenite Jewry

Yemenite Jewry is deeply rooted in the southern part of Arabia. Some claim that Jewish traders reached this remote area as early as the time of King Solomon. Historical sources establish their presence there since the first centuries CE. Because of the relative geographic and political isolation, Yemenite Jewry strictly adhered to their traditions, religion and customs, while maintaining contact with other Jewish centers in Babylonia, the Land of Israel, Egypt, Spain and Ashkenaz.

With the onset of Islam in Southern Arabia the Jews became protégés ("Dhimmi") imposed with various prohibitions and laws, some of them humiliating. Despite this, Jews maintained their religion and a certain level of internal independence. The largest Jewish community, which influenced the entire Yemen, was in Sana'a, the capital, but most Jews lived in villages dispersed throughout the country.

The Jews living in villages usually enjoyed better relations with their Moslem neighbors than did city Jews. The Jews differed from their neighbors in their outward appearance. In villages, the difference was in small details, in cities in their general appearance. Jewish men had side-locks, and wore a Tallith (Prayer Shawl) and modest head covering. Jewish women in Sana'a wore characteristic attire which was very different from that of the Moslem women. For example, they wore a hat "Gargush" that covered all of the hair.

The Jews always lived in communities, and in Sana'a they even had their own separate quarter. They took measures not to be conspicuous with luxurious clothing and houses, but maintained an appearance of modesty. Most Jews were craftsmen, occupations not practiced by the Moslems, thus providing a necessary element to the country's economy. They especially excelled at silver working and in embroidery, in which they attained impressive achievements. Many Jews also practiced weaving, pottery, basketry, glaziery and construction work.

The largest wave of immigration of Yemenite Jewry to Israel was after the State gained its independence (Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50, see more details below). In the 1990's the last remnants of Yemenite Jewry has immigrated and there are only a few hundreds who remain living in Yemen today.

Their expert knowledge of the bible, and the young age at which children began to study, are well known. Their influence on the arts in Israel is very noticeable, especially in the fields of silversmith work, music and dance.

The above was written by Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper, Curator, Department of Jewish Ethnography, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

More on the mass immigration of Yemenite Jewry to Israel in 1949-50: Operation Magic Carpet is a widely known nickname for Operation On Wings of Eagles, an operation between June 1949 and September 1950 that brought 49,000 Yemenite Jews to the new state of Israel. During its course, the overwhelming majority of Yemenite Jews – some 47,000 Yemeni, 1,500 Aden as well as 500 Djiboutian and Eritrean Jews – were airlifted to Israel. British and American transport planes made some 380 flights from Aden, in a secret operation that was not made public until several months after it was over.

The stamp was issued in 1999. Designer: A. Vanooijen.