Capturing History - Yemen's Jewish Population

By Stevenson, Thomas B. | The World and I, January 2002 | Go to article overview
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Capturing History - Yemen's Jewish Population


Stevenson, Thomas B., The World and I


Jews have lived in Yemen since at least the second century of the Christian era. Their traditions state they arrived before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 b.c.e. Seemingly isolated, Yemeni Jews maintained contact with their coreligionists and so remained current on theological matters.

In Yemen's Islamic era, Jews have lived lives apart from, but comparable with, those of Muslims. Girls married early. Bridewealth was given and polygyny permitted. Jewish singing and dancing styles are similar to those of Muslims. Jewish graves are as simple as those of their neighbors. Jewish society was as stratified as that of Yemeni Muslims. Social position was reflected in occupations, with some considered so "unclean" that only the lowest groups undertook them. Of course, status determined marriage options. As with Muslims, Jewish weddings and other ritual celebrations were segregated by gender. In synagogue and home, men performed all rituals. Women were not taught to pray.

Despite these similarities, and although they held special status as protected people, Jews were not considered equal to Muslims. They enjoyed guarantees of personal security and property rights but obtained these by accepting a second-class status.

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