Epistle to Yemen

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For the 19th century letter of the same name, see Jacob Saphir.

The Epistle to Yemen[1] or Yemen Epistle (Hebrew: אגרת תימן Iggeret Teman, Arabic: رسالة بولس الرسول اليمن‎) was an important communication written by Maimonides and sent to the Yemenite Jews. It is estimated to have been written in 1172.[2]

It arose because of religious persecution and heresy in 12th-century Yemen. The average Jewish population of Yemen for many centuries was very small. The Jews were scattered throughout the country, but they were successful in business and acquired books about the history of their faith.

There was a revolt against Saladin as sultan in the last quarter of the 12th century, and Shia Muslims began to persecute the Jewish faith in the Yemen at this time. At the same time, a man began preaching a syncretistic religion that combined Judaism and Islam, and claimed that the Bible had foretold his coming as a prophet.

The persecution[3] and increasing apostasy led one of Yemen's most respected Jewish scholars, Jacob ben Nathanael, to write for counsel to Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides.

Maimonides replied in an epistle written in Arabic that was later translated into Hebrew by Nahum Ma'arabi.[4] This letter made a tremendous impression on Yemenite Jewry, and effectively stopped the new religious movement. It also served as a source of strength, consolation and support for the faith in the continuing persecution.

Maimonides interceded with Saladin in Egypt, and shortly thereafter the persecution came to an end.

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References[edit]

  1. ^ Click to see full English translation of Maimonides' "Epistle to Yemen"
  2. ^ "Epistles of Maimonides: Crisis and Leadership," by Abraham Halkin and David Hartman
  3. ^ Nemoy, Leon. Maimonides' Epistle to Yemen. The Jewish Quarterly Review.
  4. ^ Jacob Israel Dienstag (1983). Eschatology in Maimonidean thought: Messianism, resurrection, and the world to come : selected studies, with an introduction and bibliography. Ktav Pub. House. p. xcii. ISBN 978-0-87068-706-8. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 

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