The Jewish Kingdoms of Arabia 390-626 CE
Decimated by the rise of Islam

Jews of Hadramaut celebrating the Seder

The Arabian Peninsula is in South West Asia. The settlement of Jews in this region back to biblical times and even to the era of the First Temple. Immigration on a larger scale (from Palestine and also from Mesoptamia-modern day Iraq, etc.) does not appear to have preceded the 2nd cent. CE. Inscriptions discovered in the Bet Shearim catacombs evidence the existence of Jewish communities in Yemen in the early 3rd cent., and Byzantine sources testify to them from the 4th cent. At first, the number of Jews was small (the figure for the Yemen in the first centuries CE is estimated at 3,000, scattered all over the country), but it rapidly increased through conversion of Arabs to Judaism, especially in the south where even some rulers, e.g. Dhu Nuwas, embraced Judaism. In the 6th and early 7th cents, there was a considerable Jewish population in Hejaz, and particularly in Medina and its vicinity. Judaism spread from Medina to the South. Smaller Jewish communities also existed in Bahrein, at Makna on the Gulf of Akaba, at Adhruh between Maan and Petra, and further North at Jarba.

According to Moslem tradition, conversion to Judaism started under Abu Karib Asad (ruled 390-420), who became a Jew himself and propagated his new faith among his subjects. Arabic sources expressly state that Judaism became widely spread among Bedoun tribes of Southern Arabia and that Jewish converts also found with the Hamdan, a North Yemenite tribe. This time, many of the upper strata of society embraced the Jewish faith. The position of Judism in Yemen reached its zenith under DHu NuwAs.

DHu NuwAs (d. 525) was Arabian king; the last ruler of the independent Himyarite kingdom. He embraced Judaism under the name Yusuf (Joseph) after ascending the throne (c. 518). An Arabic tradition holds that his subjects also became converts. According to legend, in retaliation for the persecution of Jews in the Christian Byzantine empire, he put to death some Byzantine merchants who came to his kingdom. On the surrender to his forces of the Christian city of Najran (probably in 523), he invited the inhabitants to embrace Judaism and when they refused, executed many of them. He was killed and his kingdom destroyed in a combined attack by Abyssinia and Byzantium.  After his death and the downfall of his kingdom, Christianity rapidly gained ground in Southern Arabia, especially among the former converts to Judaism; but even then, some Yemenite rulers were of the Jewish faith.

Even as late as 1665, when the Shabbetai Zvi had returned to Turkey, rumors were current of a Jewish Army which would advance from the Arabian desert to conquer Palestine.

HEJAZ : Coastal province in North West Arabia. now part of Saudia Arabia. The origin of permanent Jewish settlement is obscure, but there is evidence of the presence of Jews between the 1st and 4th cents. CE. In ancient poetry of the region, the Jews are depicted chiefly as traders and wine-merchants. The most important Jewish community was that of Medina.

MEDINA (formerly Yathrib): Town in ARABIA. At the time that the Prophet Mohammed settled there in 622, Medina. and its immediate neighborhood harbored the largest Jewish community of North Arabia. The origin and previous history of these Jews is unclear, but they may have arrived shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple. They formed three main communities, Banu-Lnadir, Banu Kainuka, and Banu Kuraiza, who occupied themselves mainly with the cultivation of palm-groves but also exercised other callings. Numerous quarrels and feuds forced them to erect forts for protection. A few years after the arrival of Mohammed, who at first was friendly to them, all the Jews were either expelled or massacred. No Jews have since been allowed there.

BANU-L-NADIR: One of the three Jewish tribes in Medina, in the vicinity of which they owned landed estates and strongholds. Through cultivation of the soil, moneylending, and trading in weapons and jewels they accumulated considerable wealth. They were besieged in their forts by Mohammed and surrendered after about two weeks (c. 626); their immovable property was confiscated, but they themselves were permitted to depart. They left for the North and founded new settlements, partly in Khaibar and partly in Syria.

BANU KAINUKA: One of the three Jewish tribes in MEDINA. Possessing no land, they lived from commerce and as goldsmiths. They were the first to suffer from the hostile attitude adopted by MOHAMMED after his failure to win the Jews over to Islam. They were attacked and besieged in their strongholds, probably in 624, and were forced to surrender after 15 days. Mohammed first wished to have all the men executed but spared them on condition that they quit the town, leaving all their property in the hands of the Moslems. They first migrated to the Jewish centers in Wadi-l-Kura and later further N to Adhriat.

BANU KURAIZA: One of the three Jewish tribes in MEDINA. They inhabited several villages to the S of the town, and their main occupation was agriculture. At the rise of Islam, they numbered 750 fighting-men and held some fortified positions in the neighborhood. The B.K. were the last Jews to be attacked by Mohammed who charged them with treason. When forced to surrender, they were treated more cruelly than their two fellow-tribes, the men being executed and the women and children sold into slavery. Raihana, a woman of the tribe, was married to Mohammed. Among the B.K. were several poets, some of whose Arabic verses are extant.

Several Jewish colonies were also found North of Medina including a) Khaibar, b) Fadak, c) Wadi 'I-Qura, and d) Taima. The Jewish population increased through the conversion of Arabs to Judaism. Some Jews lived in Mecca, at least temporarily, before the rise of Islam.  Mohammed subdued the Jewish colonies North of the city but permitted the inhabitants to stay. Under the reign of Omar, the Jews were expelled from Khaibar and Fadak and possibly from Wadi 'I-Qura. In Wadi 'I-Qura they were able to reestablish themselves in the 10th cent, but after that there are no subsequent traces of Jews in Hejaz (Saudia Arabia).

In 628 Khaibar, an oasis north of Medina was subdued by the Prophet Mohammed. The origins of its Jewish community, as of others in HEJAZ, are obscure. The Jews were allowed to stay and retain their lands, giving half their  produce to the Moslem conquerors. Mohammed adopted this policy because there were then no other trained agriculturalists in the region. When skilled slave labor from conquered countries be came available, the Jews of Khaibar. were expelled by Omar (641).

HADRAMAUT: Country of Southern Arabian peninsula, East of Aden. Its very ancient Jewish settlement, with distinctive traditions and strongly marked physical type became known to the outside world only in the 1940's. The community emmigrated to Israel after the foundation of the state.

MOHAMMED (c. 570-632): The prophet of ISLAM. In his early days, be accompanied the Meccan trade caravans, and often met Jews and Christians who probably first turned his interest to religious questions. At the age of about 40, his mind became strongly occupied by meditations on God, the hereafter, and the Day of judgment which be believed to be close at hand. Knowing that God had revealed Himself to other peoples through His prophets, he became convinced that he had been chosen as the Arab prophet, and publicly proclaimed the revelations which he claimed to experience through the intermediation of the angel GABRIEL; these eventually constituted the KORAN. He therefore repeatedly emphasized that his mission was only to confirm what had been revealed to former prophets and to correct the distortions. Consequently, he referred with respect to the Hebrew Scriptures and 'the Jewish prophets, quoting extensively from the Bible and other Jewish sources as far as his scanty and sometimes erroneous knowledge reached. His early conviction that there existed no essential difference between Judaism and Islam led him to the hope that the Jews would welcome his mission and accept the new faith. In his attempt to win over the Jews he adapted, in MEDINA, the ritual of his community to theirs in some points, adding, e.g., a third daily prayer, introducing a day of fast corresponding to the Day of Atonement, fixing a day of public prayer after the model of the Jewish Sabbath, and directing his followers to turn to Jerusalem during prayer. When he realized that his hopes would not be fulfilled, he changed some of the new rites and adopted a hostile attitude toward the Jews of Medina who, gradually, were either annihilated or expelled. The other Jews of ARABIA, however, were treated more leniently, possibly from political and economic considerations. One of his wives (Safia) was of Jewish origin.

Omar, the second caliph after the Prophet Mohammed ruled from 634 to 644. During his reign, several regions with ancient Jewish communities were conquered, including Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia (Iraq). On his orders, most of the Jews were expelled from North Arabia. To Omar is attributed a "covenant" with Jews and Christians which assured them protection in return for the payment of a special tax.  He also stipulated certain restrictions and disabilities, e.g. exclusion from public office, the wearing of distinctive clothes, prohibition against erecting any new houses of worship, etc.

After the rise of Islam, these Jews and those of Yemen were allowed to survive on the payment of special taxes, but most of the Hejazi Jews were either expelled or annihilated. Henceforth, the Jewish settlement in Arabia was almost wholly concentrated in the Yemen, Hadramaut, and Aden. The former Jews of North Arabia in particular, though living in isolated communities, had become strongly assimilated to their Arab neighbors not only in language and culture but also in manners and customs, social organization, and mentality. The Arabic verses composed by their poets hardly differed in any respect from other Arabic poetry, and they expressed the contemporary notions, views, and feelings of Arabic  society. The overwhelming majority of the Jews of Arabia. have now emigrated to Israel.


ARABS: Semitic people~ From earliest historical times they inhabited the Arabian peninsula and certain adjacent regions but shortly after the advent Of ISLAM, burst forth from their homeland to conquer the greater part of the then civilized world. Their language (ARABIC) is cognate to Hebrew and forms a branch of the SEMITIC LANGUAGES. Commercial relations between Palestine and Southern Arabia existed from very ancient times. The Arabs and their homeland are mentioned repeatedly both in biblical and talmudic literature, though it is doubtful whether in all cases the term "Arabs" refers to the inhabitants of ARABIA or to members of Arabic stock. It is possible that some Arabs were already settled in Palestine in the time of the Second Temple. The affinity between Hebrews and Arabs found its expression in the genealogical traditions of both peoples. According to Gen. 10, Eber was the forefather of Abraham as well as of Joktan, the ancestor of the southern Arabs., and several Arab tribes are enumerated'among the descendants of Abraham. The Arabs, themselves trace their origin to Ishmael. Jews were found in Arabia by the 1st cent. CE. Expelled from Northern Arabia shortly after the rise of Islam, they continued to live in the South in considerable numbers until recent times. Jewish-Arab symbiosis, thus initiated at the earliest period of Arab history and Jewish diaspora, continued for many centuries in several countries and under various and changing conditions. The Islamic conquests extended to a number of countries with ancient Jewish communities, where the Arabs were generally welcomed by the Jews who even assisted in the conquest and occupation of the respective areas. This fact is expressly admitted by Arab historians of Spain, Palestine, and Syria. The conquerors usually treated the Jews well and assured them protection and freedom of religion against payment of the poll tax, as prescribed by the Pact Of OMAR. The Jews - like all non-Moslems - were subjected to certain restrictions. Outright persecutions occurred not infrequently, especially in countries under sectarian rule, but in general, their position in the Arab world during the Middle Ages tended to be somewhat better than in Christian Europe. Notwithstanding the provisions of Islamic law, Jews sometimes filled high governmental office, e.g. in Spain and Fatimid Egypt. In Spain, Jewish life under Arab rule reached a hitherto unrivaled climax, especially in the cultural field. On the other hand, medieval conditions continued to dominate the Arab world after the age of Enlightenment began in W Europe. Under western European influence, conditions greatly improved in most areas (though not in the Yemen, etc.) in the 19tb-20th cents. The position of the Jews was, however, adversely affected by the anti-European tendency and rising nationalism of the past generation, the reaction against Zionism being a pretext rather than the sole cause of the deterioration of the Jewish status. The emigration partly resulting from this, since the creation of the Jewish state, has virtually ended the Jewish settlement in many parts of the Arab world. An Arab minority numbering c. 200,000 lives in ISRAEL.

OMAR, MOSQUE OF: Moslem mosque (also called the Dome of the Rock) built in the center of the Temple area (al-,Uarim ash-Sherif) in Jerusalem by Caliph Abd al-Malik c. 738 to replace the temporary structure set up by Caliph Omar a century earlier. It is situated on the traditional Site Of Mt. MORIAH,

POLL TAX: The first p. t. on the Hebrews was the levy of half a SHEKHEL imposed on all adult males (Exod. 30:12-16) after the Exodus. In the time of the Second Temple, this became an annual levy. The imposition of a p. t. by the Romans in 6 CE led to the rebellion under Judah the GaIflean. On the destruction of Jerusalem, the former voluntary levy of half a shekel for the upkeep of the Temple was converted by the Romans into the Ftscus JUDAICUS. This continued to be levied at least until the 4th cent., at first with great harshness In the Middle Ages, the levy was renewed the Holy Roman Emperors in Germany, as '3s to the emperors of Rome, under the name OPFERPFENNIG. In other countries, the p. t. was levied only occasionally: thus it was instituted in England, Spain, France, etc. In Turkey (and Moslem states generally), a p. t. (kharal) was payable  bY all non-Moslems as a condition of toleration.

YEMEN: Arabic name of SW ARABIA; today an independent state.  After the rise of ISLAM, the Jews of Yemen were spared the fate of their coreligionists in Hejaz (Saudia Arabia). Against payment of the taxes imposed on all non-Moslems, MOHAMMED assured them protection and freedom of religion. No information is extant on Yemenite Jews for the subsequent centuries but their position must have been precarious, especially after the establishment of Shi'ite rule in the country (early 10th cent.). The men only were educated in Jewish traditional studies, knowing Hebrew and Aramaic well. The Kabbalah was popular among them. They produced several liturgical poets, the most celebrated being SHALOM SHABBAZI. The sectarian rulers of Yemen proved more oppressive to their Jewish subjects than orthodox sovereigns in other Moslem countries.  The restrictions imposed by Mohammedan law non-Moslems were always rigidly enforced in Yemen and up to modern times, its Jews were strictly forbidden, e.g., to ride on animals or wear the same clothes as Moslems. They were deprived of their property on the pretext that any semblance of wealth was incompatible with the status assigned to the Jews by God. They constantly suffered insults and abuses, since religious law was interpreted to the effect that unbelievers should be disgraced. Orphans were converted by force. The Jews usually lived in villages or quarters of their own, but in the late 17th cent., after they had been expelled and on their recall not allowed to re-enter their former homes inside the walls, Jewish suburbs sprang up outside the Moslem cities. Down to the 19th cent. Yemenite Jewry experienced a number of messianic movements, the best-known of which occurred in the late 12th  cent., when a false prophet proclaimed the amalgamation of Judaism and Mohammedanism; to counter him, Maimonides wrote his Epistle to Yemen (1172) in which he exhorted the Jews to abide by the faith of their fathers despite compulsion and persecutions. The late history of Yemenite Jews consists mainly of a series of persecutions. The Jews of Y. achieved renown as excellent artisans, chiefly silversmiths. In the early 19th cent., Yemenite Jews are said to have numbered 30,000, about one third living in SANAA. Systematic Yemenite Jewish immigration to Palestine began c. 1910 and attained fairly large proportions despite constant difficulties. This continued until 1948 by which time there were 18,000 Yemenite Jews in Palestine. Practically the whole Jewish community, numbering about 46,000, was transferred to lsrael in 1949-50 in OPERATION MAGIC CARPET; only a few hundred Jews remain in Yemen.

ADEN: Port in Southern Arabia, Jews have been resident there from remote times. After the British annexation in 1838, their numbers rose rapidly through immigration - mainly from Yemen - and at one time there were some 5,000 Jews in trhe town and perhaps 2,000 more in the remainder of the protectorate.  There were serious attacks by the local Arab population in 1947.  After the establishment of the state of Israel (when Aden served as the base for Operation Magic Carpet), most of its piopulation emigrated and only some 800 remain (1957).

The earliest mass-migration of the Jewish people was the wholesale deportation to Babylonia (Iraq) at the close of the First Temple Period, followed by the voluntary return from exile. In Second Temple times, there was a considerable movement of Jewish population, partly compulsory and partly voluntary from Mesopotamia (Iraq) into Asia Minor (Turkey) and from Palestine to Egypt, where a great Jewish settlement was built up. Later, when Palestine came under Roman rule, the deportation of Jewish prisoners of war and the voluntary migration of merchants resulted in the establishment of an important Jewish center in Italy. The Jews were to some extent affected by the general movement of population in the Dark Ages. There seem to have been three main lines of migration from the Middle East into Europe

Between c. 500 and c. 1000, the balance of the Jewish population was gradually driven out of the Middle East to Western Europe.

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