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Yemenite Jews

Updated on April 2, 2012

 Yemenite Kippot are made of a single piece of cloth shaped as a dome, usually embroidered around the edge. The designs are limited yet are unquestionably  elegant, respectful and refined. The question is asked, what is the story behind the Kippot of these Jewish brothers from the land of Yemen?

It is not known exactly how Jews came to settle in Yemen. The Yemenite tradition is that the community started when a group of wealthy Jews left Jerusalem after they heard Jeremiah predict the Temple's destruction in 629 BCE (forty-two years before the actual destruction). Early on Jewish presence in Yemen was very strong. In fact, the rulers of the time, the Himyarites, converted to Judaism which meant that Judaism became the ruling religion.

After Jewish rule ended in 525 CE, Christian Ethiopian rulers took over until the 7th century. Then the Muslims conquered the area and Yemenite Jewry changed forever. Jews became second-class citizens, had to pay special taxes and contact with other Jewish communities effectively stopped leading to the adoption of many parts of Arab culture.

Over the centuries the situation of Yemenite Jews changed. There were dark periods such as in 1679 when Jews were expelled to Mawza, only to be returned a year later to find their houses destroyed. The eighteenth century saw a resurgence in Jewish life under Imamic rule but by the nineteenth century the Jews were once again subject to harsh rule.

As early as 1882 Jewish immigration to Palestine (Israel of the time) began. Number of immigrants peaked in 1948 at the establishment of the State and by 1950 most Yemenite Jews had returned to Israel.

Yemenite Jews were culturally different in that they were, on the whole, cut off from world Jewry and eventually their culture paralleled that of Shuni Muslim rulers. Clothing and houses were simpler versions of what their Muslim neighbors had.

In Yemen the Jews led the field of arts and crafts and since the mass immigration to Israel in the mid-twentieth century Yemen has not had the same quality level of craftsmanship.

Quite unusually, the Jewish Yemenite community also produced their own ritual objects from beginning to end which was, on the whole, unheard of in other Jewish communities around the world. Much time and effort were put into producing beautiful ritual objects, partly due to the fact that synagogues and houses were kept simple to avoid jealousy of Muslim neighbors.

The clothing of Jews in Yemen was very distinctive, as in other Muslim countries. Bright colors were forbidden except on one's wedding day. Daggers and belts had to be simpler than those worn by Muslims. Thus the Yemenite Jewish style of plain clothing accented by a little jewelry evolved.


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    • Psalmist4M profile image

      Psalmist4M 6 years ago from the Shelter of His Wings

      Intriguing, and very well documented. The overview and video and links are great combined components. Well written and holds your attention encouraging you to read to the end. Thank you for sharing.