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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Yemenite Jews

The Yemenites Two Thousand Years of Jewish CultureThe Yemenites Two Thousand Years of Jewish Culture by Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Should have went to Amazon first. I paid six bucks at a used book store for this. Oh well, in any case this book is a picture book/ book on Yemenite Jewish life in Yemen. The book starts off with a historical outline of the Genesis of Yemenite Jewish culture in Yemen. Then it goes into their housewares, costumes, Jewelry and ceremonial objects. With in each section there are pictures of objects with a page worth of discussion on them.

Starting with the history of the Yemenite Jews it is not entirely certain when exactly they arrived there. Some believe that when King Solomon coupled with Queen Sheba that he sent down high born Jews and that began the nucleus of the Jewish community. Other contend that Jeremiah predicted the fall of Judah 42 years before it happened and that a group of Jews up and left traversing the Arabian deserts until they got to Yemen. Roman sources do document a Jewish community and an establishment of a Jewish Brigade down in Yemen.

Since the advent of Islam Jews have been considered a protected people and given the status of Al Dhimmi. As Dhimmis they were not allowed to carry weapons, banned from serving in the military. Their houses could not be taller then a Muslims house and their synagogues could not be higher then the mosques. As a result the houses of Jews tended to be more modest boing up maybe two stories at the most, while Muslims houses could be as high as 5 stories and were ornately decorated from the outside. Jews tended to build beneath the ground so as to create more room while satisfying Muslims requirements. In their cellars and basements they stored food, animals and valuables. Thee interiors were simple yet elegant. There were no cupboards but carved out spaces in the wall. There were no pictures on the wall or fancy artwork. Around their rooms would be cushions surrounding a central table. They did have a main dining room for festivities and their was even a sukka room with an opening to the sky for meeting religious requirements. Many houses were connected by a courtyard which allowed everyone to meet. Sometimes it was on the upper level and sometimes it was on the lower level. Yemenite Jews had gardens for herbs.

By and large Yemenite Jews lived in settlement just outside of the Muslim town. Their celebrations were kept on the low end. Their style of dress differed from Muslims as well. Jews had to wear sidelocks and their head gear could not be as fancy as that of Muslims. Women wore the gargoush until menses while Muslim women would wear a scarf. Muslim women went about completely covered while Jewish women showed part of their faces. The ritual Tzittzit.were made goat hairs. Men and women did wear trousers beneath their skirt like clothing.

Silversmithing was career that was dominated by Jews. In fact when they left for Israel they had to teach their craft to a Muslim before leaving. Of course after the Jews left the quality went down for a variety of reasons and one of those was imported good from India, turkey and the far east. The Yemenite filigree was famous. THe Jews also embroidered their clothes with cowrie shells and coins.

Some of the ceremonial object included a torah pointer. Their ark called the Hiekal was used to house the Torah. It seems to be more portable. Their stand for reading the Torah was also more portable. Their menorah for Channukah was a soapstone square with the required niches for loading oil and lightings.

Many of these items are housed at the Israel museum. Viewing material artifacts is a great way to access information about a culture. Enjoy.

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One blond hair blue eyed Calfornian who totally digs the Middle East.
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