Yiḥyah Qafiḥ (Hebrew: רבי יחיא בן שלמה קאפח also Yiḥyah ibn Shlomo el Qafiḥ) (1853–1932) served as the Chief Rabbi of Sana'a, Yemen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He founded the Dor Dai movement in Judaism, which intends to combat the influence of LurianicKabbalah and restore the rational approach to Judaism, such as is represented by the thought of Maimonides, Sa'adiah Gaon, et al., and to encourage strict adherence to the Halakha explicitly as formulated in the Mishneh Torah (Maimonides code of Jewish Law).
The work for which Rabbi Qafiḥ is most well known is Milḥamot HaShem (Wars of the Lord, which takes the same name as earlier books). In it he argues that the Zohar is not authentic and that attributing its authorship to the Tannaitic sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is to besmirch him. Perhaps more importantly, Milḥamot HaShem maintains that the theology of Lurianic Kabbalah which he believes advocates the worship of Zeir Anpin (the supposed creative demiurge of God) and the Sephirot, is entirely idolatrous and irreconcilable with the historically pure monotheism of Judaism. This stance met with much opposition, and led the Rabbi to become embroiled in a dispute with Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine, who was known for his emphasis on mysticism). This dispute is still very much alive in the modern Jewish world. Some contemporary Poskim of the Haredi camp, such as Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, have echoed condemnation of Rabbi Qafiḥ's work as heretical. Others, such as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, have expressed strong disagreement with Rabbi Yihyah Qafih's work, while maintaining that such views do not equate to heresy.
After Yemeni soldiers had retaken Sana’a from the Ottoman Turks, the government in Sana’a, under the leadership of the new monarch, Imām Yaḥyā Ḥamīd ad-Dīn (1904-1948), issued the following orders to the leaders of the Jewish community in Yemen during the spring of 1906:
Yemeni Government document outlining the obligations of the Jewish community toward the State and the Poll Tax assessed against every male 13 years of age and older
Insomuch that it has been, hereby, determined a duty incumbent upon all Jews, just as they have heretofore been commanded [so to do] concerning it and concerning its upkeep, along with what [protection] has been made contingent upon them [by their payment of the poll-tax ] so that they might not desist [in its practice]; Let this be a reminder unto them of what the viziers of the State have laid down, and whatever [laws existed] before its [implementation] when a close examination was then conducted into the matter throughout the periods of the Imāmate, and when he that had no knowledge of what the laws prescribe (i.e. the Turkish authority) gave instruction therein: Namely, that those Jews secured by virtue of their payment of the poll-tax, being for every adult-male that is well-to-do, forty-eight silver qaflahs, a sum equivalent to four riyals[a] minus one quarter-part; While the man of average income, [is to pay] twenty-four qaflahs [which are equivalent to] two riyals minus an eighth-part; while the poor man [must pay only] twelve qaflahs, [being equivalent to] one riyal minus half of an eighth-part. Hereby, their bloodshed has been prevented, and they have come under protection. They are not permitted to forego its payment. Each man, before the year's end, is to pay it unto him whom we have appointed to exact the same from that man; it being an injunction that has come down from G-d, explicitly set-forth in the book of GOD (i.e. the Qur’ān). [b]
They are, moreover, obliged [to pay] by their trade, annually, anything whose value has reached the minimum amount of capital which imposes the duty of paying the half of 1/10 (tithe). Yet, they are not obligated to pay aught for what is less than its minimal amount of capital; neither that [man] whose worth has not come [to the rank] of a man who rides upon a horse, or who wears gold jewellery. [Rather], they are to pay the said poll-tall in its full, as well as the half of 1/10 (tithe) [of their earnings] already mentioned. Moreover, it is prohibited unto them for a man to assist his [Jewish] neighbour against a Muslim, neither to raise their houses above the houses of Muslims, nor to disturb them in their way, or to covet their property. Let them not despise the religion of Islam, neither let them curse any prophet from amongst the prophets,[c] or abuse a Muslim over his religion; nor let them ride [firm] upon a saddle, but rather [ride only] the starboard side [of the horse]. [d] Let them not deride nor point at the nakedness of a Muslim. Neither let them openly show their [scrolls of the] Law, except within their synagogues, nor raise their voices during their reading, or make loud the blasts of the rams' horns, but rather, let them make do with their lower sounding pitch. Moreover, it is expressly forbidden unto them to engage in abominable acts which will warrant the wrath of heaven, while it is a duty of theirs to exalt the Muslim and to honour him. Wherefore, the Jews of Ṣan‘ā’ have already selected the protected wards of State, Harūn al-Cohen and Yiḥya al-Qāfiḥ and Yiḥya Yisḥāq [Halevi] and Yiḥya al-Abyadh, to amend their minds [in those things that need amending, as they should deem fit], and to enforce amongst them the ordinances prescribed in their Law (Torah), while the community of Jews are commanded to honour them and to obey their orders. Whereas these are, [likewise], enjoined to behave themselves blamelessly towards them, and not to transgress aught of their Law, nor to make it inaccessible unto them because of a greed for money, so that, by doing so, the weak would be disadvantaged on account of those that are strong. No one shall prevent that [Jewish] man who should seek after [justice based upon] the šari‘ah (Islamic law) of Muhammad.
Now we have already appointed over them Yiḥya Danokh to instruct them in those things which we have directed him, in those directives which we have given concerning Ṣan‘ā’.[e] Let him feed the Jews as a shepherd would his flock, and lead them to their place, while they are to abstain from whatsoever he shall enjoin them to abstain from. It being, [hereby], confirmed and made binding upon all those brought under the protection of Muhammad, [even] under our protection. Written this 25th day of the first Rabi‘a, in the year A.H. 1324. (25th of Ayar 5666 anno mundi[f] / 19 May 1906 CE)
ובעד פי הד'א וצ'עא יגב אן ילתזמה מעשר אליהוד כמא אומרו בה ובמלאזמתה ובמא שרט עליהם אן לא יכ'אלפונה יד'כרהם הד'א מא אבלתה אומרא אלדוול ומא כאן קבלהא מן אלפקה אללתי דפע די כל אמאם ותאמר מעהא מן לא כ'ברא" לה במא יגב מן אלאחכאם. והו אן הולאי אליהוד מאמנון עלא אדא אלגזיה מן כל רגל באלג' והי עלא אלג'ני מנהם 48 קפלה פצ'ה קודרת ארבעה ריאל אלא רבע ועלא אלמתוסט 24 קפלה ריאלין אלא ת'מן ועלא אלפקיר 12 קפלה ריאל יעגז נצף אלת'מן וחוקנת בהד'ה דמאהם ואדכ'לתהם אלד'מה פליס להם אן ימתנעו מנהא והי עלא כל ואחד קבל תמאם אלחול יסלמהא אלא יד מן אמרנאה בקבצ'הא מנהם. שריעה נזלת מן ענד אללה מצרחה פי כתאב אללה ועליהם פי מתגארתהם פי כל מא בלג' קימתה אלנצאב אלשרעי נצף אלעשר פי כל חול וליס עליהם פי מא דון אלנצאב שי ולא פימא לם יבלג' קדרה אלרכוב עלא אלכ'יל ותכ'תם אלד'הב פעליהם ופא באלגזיה אלמד'כורה ובנצף אלעשר אלמד'כור וליס להם אן יתעאונון עלא מוסלם ולא ירפעו ביותהם עלא ביות אלמוסלמי ולא יזאחמוהם פי טרקאתהם ולא ירדו מוארדהם ולא יבכ'סו דין אלאסלאם ולא יסבו נבייא" מן אלאנביא ולא יג'בנו מוסלמא" עלא דינה, ולא ירכבו עלא אלאכף אלא ערצ'א" ולא יג'מזו ולא ידלו עלא עורת מוסלם ולא יצ'הרו תוראתהם אלא פי כנאיסהם ולא ירפעו אצואתהם לקראתהם ולא ירפעו אצואת אלבוקאת בל יכפיהם אלצות אלכ'פי בהא והם ממנועין מן אלמעאמלאת אלכריהה אלתי תסתגלב אלמג'אצ'ב אלסמאויה וואגב עליהם תעצ'ים אלמוסלם ואכראמה. וקד אכ'תארו יהוד צנעא אלד'מיין הארון אלכיהון, ויחיא אלקאפח, ויחיא יצחק, ויחיא אלאביץ' יצלחון אפסאדהם ויגרון בינהם אחכאם שריעתהם ומעשר אליהוד מאמורין בטאעתהם ואמתת'אל אמרהם ועלא הולאי אן ימשו בהם פי ג'יר טריקת אלגור ואן לא יכ'אלפו שי מן שריעתהם ולא יבאעדוהא עליהם באלטמע חתא לא ינתלף אלצ'עיף מן אלקוי ולא יומנע אלמטאלב מנהם שריעת מוחמד.
וקד נצבנא עליהם עאקלא" יחיא דנוך יתאמר במא אמרנאה אן יאמרה מא אמרנאה עלא צנעא וירעא אליהוד מא יגב אן יורעא וינזלהם פי מנזלהם וימנעון כל מא ימתנעון מנה פליעתמד הד'א ויוגרא חוכמה עלא גמיע מן תחת ד'מת אלנבי תחת ד'מתנא וחרר 25 רביע אוול סנת 1324.
^The reference here is to the Austrian, Maria Theresa Taler, widely used in Yemen at the time and which had a total weight of 28.0668 grammes, but a fine silver weight of 23.3890 grammes, meaning, the Maria Theresa Taler (of the 1780 mint) had a 83% silver content, while the rest being an alloy.
^Meaning the said Yiḥya Danokh was not authorized to intervene on behalf of other Jewish communities.
^In R. Shalom Gamliels's book, an error had fallen in the calculation of the Hijri year 1324. They had wrongly inserted that that year corresponds with anno mundi 5665 in the Hebrew calendar. It should have rather been anno mundi 5666, or 1906 CE.
Rabbi Yiḥyah Qafiḥ's grandson was Rabbi Yosef Qafiḥ. He was a prominent leader of the Yemenite community in Israel and perpetuated part of his grandfather's life's work by publishing corrected versions of Maimonides’s works based on centuries-old manuscripts preserved by his grandfather's family. Rabbi Yiḥyah Qafiḥ is known to have "spent huge sums in order to recover manuscripts, even fragments of manuscripts of his [Maimonides] works."