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Jews of Yemen - יהודי תימן

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The roots of the Jews in Yemen—Teman in Hebrew—go back to biblically times. Besides being mentioned in the Tanach (Job's friend Elifaz came from Teman, and many of the Prophets speak of Teman), the Queen of Sheba is said to have heard about King Solomon from Jews in Yemen, located next to the kingdom of Sheba. Even in Islamic tradition it is reported that the contact between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba was established through the Jews in Yemen, and there are reports of Jews in Yemen during Roman times.

In the old Jewish cemetery at Beth Shearim there are tombs of Jews whose remains were brought there from Yemen in the 2nd century C.E. Despite their isolation, the Yemenite Jews maintained contact with important Jewish centers, especially with Egypt and Babylonia. Their scholarship was of the highest standard throughout their history. Some important Midrashim, unknown elsewhere, were composed and preserved in Yemen, including the Midrash Hagadol, written in Aden in the 13th century, and Chemdat Ha-Yamim.

The Genizah in Cairo yielded many letters dated from the 11th century onward, exchanged between rabbis in Yemen with the heads of the Jewish community in Cairo. The Rambam, Maimonides, became their teacher "par excellence"—he taught them through special Epistles and sent them copies of his Code at an early date. No holy book, besides the Tanach, was copied so meticulously in Yemen as Rambam's Mishneh Torah.

The Yemenite Jews also maintained contact with Jewish scholarship in Europe. The writings of the great rabbis of Germany and France were known to them, and this is how it happened: In one of my Yemenite manuscripts I found a description of how the Yemenite Jews would line up in their harbor whenever a ship arrived bringing Jewish merchants from Germany on their way to India to buy silk. They would ask the merchants for their sacred books, which they then would hand-copy before the ships continued on their way.

The Yemenites are till this day exceptionally skilled scribes. There never was a Hebrew printing press in Yemen, with the exception of Aden, and all the thousands of holy books used by the Jews there were handwritten.

The Jews in Yemen clearly had very early contact with the Jews in Moorish Spain, the medieval center of Jewish poetry, for they soon adopted the style of the Spanish-Jewish paytanim. This contact led to a flowering of poetic genius which outlived and almost surpassed their Spanish masters. A book containing Yemenite songs and poems is called a diwan.

The Yemenite Jews were barely tolerated, treated as dhimmis (i.e. pariahs) by their Moslem rulers, as is legislated by Islam for all "infidels" under their rule. Their fortune fluctuated throughout the centuries depending on the benevolence or lack of it of the respective rulers. While the Moslems were mostly farmers, the Jews were in charge of crafts on which the Moslems often depended. This meant that even the most hateful Moslem ruler was loath to expel the Jews, unless they could teach their trades to their Moslem neighbors.

With the end of the First World War, a sudden desire for mass emigration to the Holy Land arose. Some Yemenite Jews had already begun to emigrate to the Land from 1882 on, and they had informed their brethren by a steady flow of letters of the situation there. The opening up of the doors to emigration, even in a very limited sense, brought electrifying results in Yemen.

During this time many Yemenite Jews started to move. They gave up their belongings and moved to Aden, a part of Yemen under British Colonial rule since 1839. There they camped for years-until the fabled "Operation on Wings of Eagles" or "Magic Carpet" fulfilled their dream. . . . continued

Yemenite Jews

Yemenite Jews יהודי תימן, תימנים Yehudei teiman, , اليهود اليمنيين‎ are those Jews who live, or lived, in Yemen. Between June 1949 and September 1950, the overwhelming majority of Yemen's Jewish population was transported to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet. Most Yemenite Jews now live in Israel, with some others in the United States and fewer elsewhere. Only a handful remain in Yemen, mostly elderly.

Yemenite Jews have a unique religious tradition that marks them out as separate from Ashkenazi, Sephardi and other Jewish groups. Yemeni Jews are generally described as belonging to "Mizrahi Jews", though they differ from the general trend of Mizrahi groups historically which have undergone a process of total or partial assimilation to Sephardic culture and liturgy. source

Yemen’s Last Jews

Yemenite Politicians, Jewish Community Leaders and Spiritual Leaders - in Yemen



Politicians, Community and Spiritual Leaders of Yemenite Descent - in Israel

Musicians, Singers and Performers

Singers of Yemenite descent predominate among Israeli performers of Oriental music.

Other famous singers and performers included:

and also:

Other Yemenite Jewish figures included:

, Daklon, , Inbar Bakal, Mosh Ben-Ari, Yosefa Dahari, Becky Griffin, Meir Yitzhak Halevi (the Mayor of Eilat), Saadia Kobashi, Yishai Levi, , Bo'az Ma'uda, Avraham Taviv, Shimi Tavori, Margalit Tzan'ani, Tomer Yosef of Balkan Beat Box and Shahar Tzuberi.


History of the Jews of Yemen

The origins of the Jews of Yemen remain obscure. One local Yemenite Jewish tradition dates the earliest settlement of Jews in the Arabian Peninsula to the time of King Solomon. Another legend places Jewish craftsmen in the region as requested by Bilqis, the Queen of Saba (Sheba). A more likely explanation is the spice trade: Yemen was a key point on the ancient trade route that brought spices and perfumes from India to Yemen and from there to Greater Syria through the Hijaz from the third century BC to the third century CE. Jewish merchants played an important part in this trade.

The immigration of the majority of Jews into Yemen appears to have taken place about the beginning of the second century. According to some sources, the Jews of Yemen enjoyed prosperity until the sixth century. The Himyarite King, Abu-Karib Asad Toban converted to Judaism at the end of the 5th century, while laying siege to Medina.

In 518 the kingdom was taken over by Zar'a Yusuf. He too converted to Judaism, and prosecuted wars to drive the Aksumite Ethiopians from Arabia. Zar'a Yusuf is chiefly known in history by his cognomen Dhu Nuwas, in reference to his "curly hair." Jewish rule lasted until 525 CE (some date it later, to 530), when Christians from the Aksumite Kingdom of Ethiopia defeated and killed Dhu Nuwas, and took power in Yemen.

Islam came to Yemen around 630, during the Prophet Muhammad's lifetime. As Ahl al-Kitab, protected Peoples of the Scriptures, the Jews were assured freedom of religion only in exchange for the jizya, payment of a poll tax imposed on all non-Muslims. Active Muslim persecution of the Jews did not gain full force until the Shiite Zaydi clan seized power from the more tolerant Sunni Muslims early in the 10th century.

The Zaydi enforced a statute known as the Orphan's Decree, anchored in their own eighth century legal interpretations and enforced at the end of that century. It obligated the Zaydi state to take under its protection and to educate in Islamic ways any dhimmi child whose parents had died when he or she was a minor. The Orphan's Decree was ignored during the Ottoman rule (1872-1918), but was renewed during the period of Imam Yahya (1918-1948).   The average Jewish population of Yemen for the first five centuries is said to have been about 3,000. The Jews were scattered throughout the country, but carried on an extensive commerce and thus succeeded in getting possession of many Jewish books. When Saladin became sultan in the last quarter of the twelfth century and the Shiite Muslims revolted against him, the trials of the Yemenite Jews began. There were few scholars among them at that time, and a putative prophet arose; he preached a syncretic religion that combined Judaism and Islam, and claimed that the Bible foretold his coming.

One of Yemen's most respected Jewish scholars, Jacob ben Nathanael al-Fayyumi, wrote for counsel to renowned Sephardic Jewish theologian, philosopher, and physician from Spain resident in Egypt, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides. Maimonides replied in an epistle entitled Iggeret Teman (The Yemen Epistle). This letter made a tremendous impression on Yemenite Jewry. It also served as a source of strength, consolation and support for the faith in the continuing persecution. Maimonides himself interceded with Saladin in Egypt, and shortly thereafter the persecution came to an end.  
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the condition of the Jews of Yemen was miserable. They were under the jurisdiction of the local Muslim Imam, and they were forbidden to wear new or good clothes, nor might they ride a donkey or a mule. They were compelled to make long journeys on foot when occasion required it. They were prohibited from engaging in monetary transactions, and were all craftsmen, being employed chiefly as carpenters, masons, and smiths.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, they are said to have numbered 30,000, and to have lived principally in Aden (200), Sana (10,000), Sada (1,000), Dhamar (1,000), and the desert of Beda (2,000). The chief occupations of the Yemenite Jews were as artisans, including gold-, silver- and blacksmiths in the San'a area, and coffee merchants in the south central highland areas.

There were two major centres of population for Jews in southern Arabia besides the Jews of Northern Yemen, one in Aden and the other in Hadramaut. The Jews of Aden lived in and around the city, and flourished during the British protectorate.

The Jews of Hadramaut lived a much more isolated life, and the community was not known to the outside world until the early 1900s. In the early 20th century they had numbered about 50,000; they currently number only a few hundred individuals and reside largely in Sa'dah and Rada'a.

Emigration from Yemen to Palestine began in 1881 and continued almost without interruption until 1914. It was during this time that about 10% of the Yemenite Jews left.

In 1947, after the partition vote of the British Mandate of Palestine, rioters engaged in a bloody pogrom in Aden that killed 82 Jews and destroyed hundreds of Jewish homes.  This increasingly perilous situation led to the emigration of virtually the entire Yemenite Jewish community between June 1949 and September 1950. During this period, over 50,000 Jews emigrated to Israel.

In Yemen itself, there exists today a small Jewish community in the town of Bayt Harash.  A small Jewish enclave also exists in the town of Raydah, which lies approximately 45 mile north of Sana'a. source