Item description for The Road to Redemption: The Jews of the Yemen 1900-1950 (Brill's Series in Jewish Studies, Vol 17) by Tudor Parfitt...
Since the rise of Islam, Jews have been living in the Yemen as the only non-Muslim minority. Their status, never enviable, deteriorated in the twentieth century as the Imam Yahya sought to maintain the full force of Islamic law and local custom. The attempts to create a Jewish National Home in Palestine, Arab propaganda, new economic realities and local resentments had the effect of further undermining their position. While battling to maintain their rights, the Yemenite Jews started trying to emigrate. British immigration policies in Palestine, the Imam's efforts to prevent them from leaving, and British regulations in Aden often frustrated their efforts. This movement of people was to culminate in 1948-50 in what was then the largest human airlift the world had ever seen - Operation Magic Carpet - when the Yemenites were taken `on wings of eagles' to Israel.
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Tudor Parfitt's life's work has been tracking down the lost tribes of Israel in Africa and Asia. As professor of Jewish studies at London's prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies and Fellow of the Oxford Centre of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, he has written widely on the history of the Jews of Africa and Asia. In 2006, he was appointed Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. He has traveled widely through remote areas of Africa and Asia and divides his time between London and the Templar region of the South Aveyron.
Tudor Parfitt has an academic affiliation as follows - School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London Florida I.
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Brilliant May 20, 2005
With the rise of Islam, the powerful Jewish communities of Arabia were destroyed or subjugated and merged into the Arab Islamic population. Mohammed accused the three Jewish tribes of Medina (Banu I-Nadir, Banu Qurayza and Banu Qaynuqa) of corrupting the message he had revealed to them, and they were executed or expelled.
Jewish communities in Khaybar, Fadak and Wadi I-Qura were either subjugated or forced to pay tribute. In time, all remaining Jews were executed or expelled.
In Yemen, however, Jewish tribes remained past the time of Mohammed and into the modern age. They were, according to Parfitt, totally and completely subjugated and forced to pay the annual jizya (poll tax) first implemented by Caliph Omar ibn Abd al-Khattab (634-644).
While land remained in the hands of the conquered people, they were forced to pay a kharaj, or land tax, as well as the poll tax, and thus they supported the conquering armies. In exchange for these taxes, while the laws theoretically "protected" the dhimmis and allowed them to practice their own religion, they also institutionally discriminated against them.
Dhimmis could not strike a Muslim, block his path, could not assist one another to oppose a Muslim in any respect, could not build new places of worship or repair old ones, could not ride horses or camels (only donkeys, which they must ride side-saddle and dismount for Muslims to pass), could not hold religious processions or noisy celebrations of any kind, could not proselytize, could not bear arms, could not wink, and were forced to wear distinctive dress so as to be recognizable as dhull, or debased ones.
These laws remained in effect at least until the colonial period began in the 19th century. The Jews of Yemen remained then the only minority in Arabia, and they lived for centuries under these draconian laws of conquest.
Aside from covering these origins of the Yemenite Jewish community in the opening chapter, this magnificent piece of scholarship examines in close detail their situation from the beginning of the 20th century until their mass exodus from Yemen in the 1950s. In the 1920s, for example, the difficult situation imposed by the British on Jews wishing to emigrate to mandate Palestine applied equally to the Yemenite Jews.
At the same time, the ruling Imam, or Yahya, reimposed many of the ancient Islamic customs, including the forced conversion to Islam of orphaned Jewish children. In 1923, a letter to the Jewish community in London spoke of 42 children seized by the authorities and forcibly converted to Islam. Even a 70 year old man was forced to renounce his faith because he too was an orphan. Jewish leaders who tried to rescue them were imprisoned and beaten.
The 80 orphans spirited out of Yemen to Aden in 1929 were beset by British authorities with a tax that, if they could not pay, meant their deportation back to Yemen. Finally 250 orphans escaped to British territory. Eventually, help arrived, and some emigrated to Palestine legally, while others fled there illegally.
Jews in Yemen were forced to live in a separate Jewish quarter. When they accidentally brushed against a Muslim, they were forced to pay the Muslim for soap to clean themselves. Jews were required to remove human feces from Muslim areas in Sanaa and then elsewhere. These measures were introduced at the beginning of the 19th century and reintroduced in about 1913.
Jews figure til today in Yemeni proverbs as objects of contempt.
I once knew a lovely Yemenite Muslim woman, kind and gentle, who at the height of the suicide bombing wave in Israel condemned the perpetrators and their minders as "evil." She insisted that in her country, Jews and Muslims got along very well together. I have no doubt that was her personal experience.
Overall, however, this brilliant, 285-page book belies that notion, for the most part, as myth.