Changing Health and Changing Culture: The Yemenite Jews in Israel

By Michael A. Weingarten | Go to book overview

2
Identity

Ethnicity is often viewed as only a genetic category, but to avoid making oversimplified or crude assumptions about ethnic groups and their socio-economic status, we must analyse carefully what we are talking about when we use ethnicity as the sociologists do-to depict a culturally distinct group ( Wilkinson and King 1987).

Many epidemiological studies, adopting a classification used in the Israel Statistical Abstracts, do not differentiate between Yemenite and other Oriental or Asian Jews, including Adeni, Iraqi, Turkish, Syrian, Iranian, Pakistani, and Indian. They put them all in one group, comparing them with the two other large groups of Europeans (Ashkenazim) and Africans (Sephardim - see, for example, Blondheim and Kallner 1956, Yodfat 1972, and Medalie et al. 1974). Goitein ( 1951), the major modern observer of Yemenite Jewish culture, explains: "The common heritage of mediaeval Middle Eastern civilization, with its particular brand of Judaism, compels us to think of the Yemenites as a sub-group of Oriental Jewry." But the historical experience of each community makes it essential in many cases to distinguish more accurately than this; this is especially true for the Yemenites, who were so isolated from other Jews for so long ( Medalie 1962).

The status of the Yemenite Jews as a special cultural group is examined in the first part of this chapter, and the special features of their genetic identity is the subject of second part.


CHANGING CULTURE

We now turn to ethnicity in its cultural sense in relation to the Yemenites, their behaviour, cultural beliefs, and values. Ethnicity, even in its purely sociological context, can be expressed at two different levels: behavioural and ideological ( Harwood 1981). Behavioural ethnicity refers to those distinctive patterns of

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