Epistle to Yemen

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The Epistle to Yemen or Yemen Letter (Hebrew: אגרת תימן Iggeret Teman, Arabic: الرسالة اليمنية‎) was an important communication written by Maimonides and sent to the Yemenite Jews. The epistle was written in 1173/4.[1]

It arose because of religious persecution and heresy in 12th century Yemen. The average Jewish population in Yemen for many centuries was very small. The Jews were scattered throughout the country, but 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[2] 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 a Letter written in Judeo-Arabic that was later translated into Hebrew by Nahum Ma'arabi.[3] 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.

Epistle's introduction[edit]

Maimonides, in his Epistle to Yemen, heaps lavish praises upon the Jews of Yemen in his day, and uses hyperbolic speech to describe the condition in which he found them. Evidently, Maimonides had knowledge of the Jews of Yemen, and avouched that they maintained a strict adherence to Jewish law and custom, long before his writings became widespread throughout Yemen. Unfortunately, the rhyme employed in his verse has been lost in the translation. The Epistle was sent from Egypt to Aden in anno 1173/4 CE.

Excerpt from Maimonides "Iggeret Teman" (Epistle to Yemen)

“...In what concerns the [existence of some subterranean] root of truth, its own trunk shall bear witness [of the same]; whereas, in what concerns the goodness of a [hidden] wellspring, its own current shall give testimony [to the same]. For, verily, from the root of truth and righteousness has blossomed a faithful offshoot, and from the wellspring of loving kindness, a large ravine has stretched itself out in the land of Yemen, to water therewith all gardens, [and] to cause the flowering of [all] buds. Behold! It conducts itself in a slow pace, for all who are exhausted and thirsty in the wilderness, and by it have the wayfarers and isles of the sea supplied their want until, at length, they were completely made satisfied thereby! Therefore, they have published in Spain and in Sepharvaim,[a] from one end of the heavens unto the other, [saying], 'Lo! All those that be thirsty, let them go to the waters!'[b] And the traders and all the merchants, all of them together, have answered those that inquired of them, [saying] that they have found a bountiful [and] comely orchard, and a good pasture, where anyone who is lean becomes fat, and where their shepherd is a faithful shepherd – [even] those who dwell in the land of Yemen! For they are a refuge for the poor, supplying him with bread, [and are become] the stay for the rich, [even] those who take the first steps to salute him! The traversing caravans of Sheba have put their [hope and] expectation in them, while their hand to all travelers was outstretched. And their home was opened widely [for all], and with them, all [men] have found rest, whilst anguish and sighing fled away! And all day long, they utter the Law of Moses, walking in the way that Rav Ashi instructed. [They are] those who pursue [diligently] after righteousness, and strengthen the places that have fallen; those who establish the principles of the [divine] Law upon their razed places, [and] who gather the dispersed of God's people by their words; who, in their assemblies, perform all of the commandments in a most scrupulous manner! There is no unruly conduct [to be found among them], neither she who departs [from the path], nor [any] crying in their streets. Blessed be God who has brought no end to those who observe the [divine] Law, [even] those who keep [His] precepts in the distant isles! ...Now when your letter reached us in Egypt, our friend [and] our beloved, all ears were pleased to hear it, as was it desirable [also] to the sight. It bore witness before us concerning you, that you are of the servants of the Lord who dwell in His quarter, who are encamped beside His banner, and who are of those who pursue [diligently] the [divine] Law, and those who love its commissions, [even] those who attend fervently at its doors...”


על שרשי האמת יעידו גזעיהם, ועל טוּב המעינות יסהידו נובעיהם, אמנם כי משורש האמת והצדקה פרח נצר נאמן, וממעין החסד נחל גדול נמשך בארץ תימן, להשקות בו כל גנים, להפריח הנצנים. והנה הוא לאִטוֹ נִדְבַּר, לכל עיף וצמא במדבר, ובו מצאו ספקם ודים, כל עוברי דרך ואיי הים. לכן העבירו קול בספרד ובִסְפַרְוָיִם, מקצה השמים ועד קצה השמים, הוי כל צמא לכו למים. והסוחרים וכל הכנענים כולם יחד לשואליהם עונים כי מצאו מטע יפה נעמן, ומרעה טוב. כל רזה בו ישמן, ורועיהם בו רועה נאמן, יושבי ארץ תימן. וכי הם מעוז לדל, נותני לחמו, מסעד לעשיר, מקדימי שלומו. הליכות שבא קוו למו, וידם לכל עוברי דרך מתוחה, וביתם פתוח לרוחה, ועמם מצאו הכל מנוחה, ונָסוּ יגון ואנחה. וכל היום הוגים בתורת משה, הולכים בדרך הורה רב אשֵׁי, רודפי הצדק, מחזקי הבדק, מעמידי עקרי התורה על תִּלָּם, מקבצים לפזורי עם ה' במלולם, מקימי כל המצוות בדקדוקיהן במקהלותם, אין פרץ ואין יוצאת ואין צוחה ברחובותם. ברוך ה' אשר לא השבית מקימי תורה שומרי חוקים באיים הרחוקים. ...וכאשר הגיע אלינו כתבך ידידנו יקירנו, למצרים, נעמו לשמעו כל אזנים, ותאוה הוא לעינים, והוא העיד בפנינו עליך כי ממשרתי ה' אתה היושבים בחבלו, החונים על דגלו, מרודפי התורה ואוהבי דתותיה, השוקדים על דלתותיה


  1. ^ Cf. II Kings 18: 34
  2. ^ Isaiah 55:1

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Letters of Maimonides: Crisis and Leadership," by Abraham Halkin and David Hartman
  2. ^ Nemoy, Leon. Maimonides' Letters to Yemen. The Jewish Quarterly Review.
  3. ^ 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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