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History of the Jews in Saudi Arabia

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Map of the territory and area covered by present-day Saudi Arabia.

Jewish history in the territory of modern Saudi Arabia begins in classical antiquity.

Judaism in pre-Islamic Arabia


By the 6th and 7th centuries there was a considerable Jewish population in Hejaz (largely around Medina) and in Yemen due to the embrace of Judaism by the Himyarite Kingdom in the fourth century. Jewish leadership in Yemen ended soon after Dhu Nuwas instigated a massacre of the Christian community of Najran.[1][2]

According to Al-Masudi the northern part of Hejaz was a dependency of the Kingdom of Judah,[3] and according to Butrus al-Bustani the Jews in Hejaz established a sovereign state.[4] The German orientalist Ferdinand Wüstenfeld believed that the Jews established a state in northern Hejaz.[5]

Jewish tribes


Tribes of Medina

Map showing the region of Hejaz outlined in red

There were three main Jewish tribes in Medina before the rise of Islam in Arabia: the Banu Nadir, the Banu Qainuqa, and the Banu Qurayza. Banu Nadir was hostile to Muhammad's new religion. They joined the Mekkan army against the İslamic army and were defeated.

Other Jewish tribes lived relatively peacefully under Muslim rule: Banu Nadir, the Banu Qainuqa, and the Banu Qurayza lived in northern Arabia, at the oasis of Yathrib until the 7th century. The men were executed and the women and children were enslaved after they betrayed the pact they made with the Muslims[6] following the Invasion of Banu Qurayza by Muslim armies led by Muhammad.[7][8]

Other tribes


The journey of Benjamin of Tudela

Map of the route.[11]

A historical journey to visit far-flung Jewish communities was undertaken by Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela from 1165 to 1173 that crossed and tracked some of the areas that are located in present-day Saudi Arabia. One map of his travels shows that he stopped at Jewish communities living in Tayma and Khaybar two places that are known to have a longer significant historic Jewish presence in them, the Battle of Khaybar was fought between Muhammad and his followers against the centuries-long established Jewish community of Khaybar in 629. Tudela's trek began as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.[12] He may have hoped to settle there, but there is controversy about the reasons for his travels. It has been suggested he may have had a commercial motive as well as a religious one. On the other hand, he may have intended to catalogue the Jewish communities on the route to the Holy Land so as to provide a guide to where hospitality may have been found for Jews travelling to the Holy Land.[13] He took the "long road" stopping frequently, meeting people, visiting places, describing occupations and giving a demographic count of Jews in every town and country.

One of the known towns that Benjamin of Tudela reported as having a Jewish community was "El Katif"[14] located in the area of the modern-day city of Hofuf in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Hofuf also Hofuf or Al-Hufuf (Arabic: الهفوف) is the major urban center in the huge al-Ahsa Oasis in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia. The city has a population of 287,841 (2004 census) and is part of a larger populated oasis area of towns and villages of around 600,000. It is located inland, southwest of Abqaiq and the Dhahran-Dammam-Al-Khobar metropolitan area on the road south to Haradh.

Najran community

Rabbi Salomon Halevi (Last Rabbi of Madras Synagogue) and his wife Rebecca Cohen (Najran Jew), Paradesi Jews of Madras

There was a small Jewish community, mostly members of Bnei Chorath, in one border city from 1934 until 1950. The city of Najran was liberated by Saudi forces in 1934 after it been conquered by Yemenis in 1933, thus absorbing its Jewish community, which dates to pre-Islamic times.[15] With increased persecution, the Jews of Najran made plans to evacuate. The local governor at the time, Amir Turki ben Mahdi, allowed the 600 Najrani Jews[16] a single day on which to either evacuate or never leave again. Saudi soldiers accompanied them to the Yemeni border. These Jews arrived in Saada,[17] and some 200 continued south to Aden between September and October 1949. The Saudi King Abdulaziz demanded their return, but the Yemeni king, Ahmad bin Yahya refused, because these refugees were Yemenite Jews. After settling in the Hashid Camp (also called Mahane Geula) they were airlifted to Israel as part of the larger Operation Magic Carpet.[18]

Some groups of Najran Jews escaped to Cochin, as they had very good relationship with the rulers of Cochin and maintained trade connections with Paradesi Jews.[19]

According to Yemenite Jewish tradition, the Jews of Najran traced their origin to the Ten Tribes.

Modern era


There has been virtually no Jewish activity in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the 21st century. Jewish (as well as Christian and other non-Muslim) religious services are prohibited from being held in Saudi Arabia.[20] When American military personnel were stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, permission for small Christian worship services was eventually granted, but Jewish services were only permitted on US warships.[20] Census data does not identify any Jews as residing within Saudi Arabian territory.[21]

Historically, persons with an Israeli stamp in their passport or who are openly religious (and not Islamic) were generally not permitted to enter the Kingdom. In the 1970s, foreigners wishing to work in the kingdom had to sign an affidavit stating that they were not Jewish[22] and official government forms granting foreigners permission to enter or exit the country do ask for religious affiliation.

During the Gulf War, there were allegations that some United States military authorities were encouraging Jewish military personnel to avoid listing their religions on their ID tags.[23] (It has been reported that Jewish personnel, along with others, were encouraged to "use discretion" when practicing their religion while deployed to Saudi Arabia).[24] American servicemen and women who were Jewish were allowed into the kingdom, but religious services had to be held discreetly on base. It has been affirmed that alternative "Protestant B" dog tags were created, in the event that a Jewish serviceman or woman was taken prisoner in Iraq.[25] The story was included in one civilian writer's anthology of military stories she had been told by others, and then that one story was reprinted or quoted in many other in-print or online locations including Hadassah Magazine). It has been the subject of much debate as to its veracity, with some military personnel stating that the story is "absolutely false."[24][26]

In late December 2014, the newspaper Al-Watan reported that the Saudi Labor ministry website permits foreign workers of a variety of different faiths, including Judaism, to live and work in Saudi Arabia. A source within the ministry said, in effect, that Israelis were not allowed to enter Saudi Arabia, but Jews of other nationalities would not have the entry ban applied to them.[27] In practice Christians and Jews may hold religious services but only in their homes and may not invite Muslims. However, as of May 2022, Israeli media outlets reported that dozens of Israelis were able to enter Saudi Arabia with Israeli passports using special visas.[28][29] According to some Jewish expatriates living in the Kingdom, there are around 3,000 Jews who currently reside in Saudi Arabia, mostly from the US, Canada, France, and South Africa.[30]

Since 2019, Rabbi Jacob Herzog, an American-born Israeli agribusiness entrepreneur, has been visiting Saudi Arabia[31] to establish connections with its Muslim religious leaders, and visiting Jewish tourists, business representatives, and American military personnel, with the goal of organizing a Jewish community.[32]

After the Abraham Accords, Saudi Arabia outlawed the disparagement of Jews and Christians in mosques, and also removed anti-semitic passages from school textbooks.[33]

On 3 October 2023, Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi participated in a Jewish morning prayer service in Riyadh on the Sukkot holiday that included a Torah scroll dedicated to "King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and all their ministers and advisers." Karhi's visit was part of an effort by Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize their diplomatic relations.[34]

See also



  1. ^ Ha-Redeye, O.: "Rescuing the Oppressed Doesn't Just Spoil War" Archived 2012-09-18 at the Wayback Machine, The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, (2009) 8(1).
  2. ^ Najran Jews at Beit Hatfutsot websites.
  3. ^ Ibn Khaldun, "Kitāb al-ʻIbar wa-Dīwān al-Mubtadaʼ wa-l-Khabar", Dar Al-Fikr publication. Beirut. 1988. volume 2 page 342
  4. ^ al-Bustani, Butrus. "Daerat Al-Maaref". Dar Al-Marifa Publication. Beirut. volume 11 page 672
  5. ^ Wolfensohn, Israel. "Tarikh Al-Yahood Fi Belad Al-Arab". Al-Nafezah Publication. Cairo. 2006. page 68
  6. ^ Ansary, Tamim (2009). Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. ISBN 9781586486068.
  7. ^ Kister, "The Massacre of the Banu Quraiza", p. 95f.
  8. ^ Rodinson, Muhammad: Prophet of Islam, p. 213.
  9. ^ "Medina Charter - Wikisource, the free online library". En.wikisource.org. Retrieved 2015-06-10.
  10. ^ "| بلاغ" (in Persian). Balagh.net. Archived from the original on 2012-05-24. Retrieved 2015-06-10.
  11. ^ "PDF: The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela trans. Nathan Marcus Adler. 1907: Includes map of route (p. 2) and commentary" (PDF). teachittome.com. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  12. ^ Shatzmiller, Joseph (1998). "Jews, Pilgrimage, and the Christian Cult of Saints: Benjamin of Tudela and His Contemporaries." After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 338.
  13. ^ Shatzmiller, Joseph (1998). "Jews, Pilgrimage, and the Christian Cult of Saints: Benjamin of Tudela and His Contemporaries." After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 347.
  14. ^ Josephine Bacon (2004). Martin Gilbert (ed.). "From Abraham to the Destruction of the Second Temple": The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilization. London: Quantum Books. pp. 30–31.
  15. ^ Gilbert, Martin, "In Ishmael's House", 2000, (p. 5)
  16. ^ Ahroni, Reuben "Jewish emigration from the Yemen, 1951-98", 2001 (p. 27)
  17. ^ Shulewitz, Malka Hillel "The Forgotten Millions", 2000 (p.86)
  18. ^ Gilbert, Martin, "In Ishmael's House", 2000, (p. 271)
  19. ^ "The last family of Pardesi Jews in Madras « Madras Musings | We Care for Madras that is Chennai". 9 February 2018.
  20. ^ a b The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Saudi Arabia. Alpha Books. December 21, 2007. ISBN 9781592571130. Retrieved 2010-10-09.
  21. ^ "CIA - The World Factbook - Saudi Arabia". The World Factbook. The Central Intelligence Agency. 21 December 2021.
  22. ^ "Saudi Arabia in the 1970s - part 1 - ARAMCO, Riyadh - visitor's impressions". May 2005. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
  23. ^ www.ajcarchives, pages 178–179. Retrieved May 30, 2011.
  24. ^ a b msgboard.snopes.com. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
  25. ^ Kornbluth, Doron. "The Dog Tag Dilemma - Stories - Chanukah - Hanukkah". Chabad.org. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
  26. ^ www.jewish-holiday.com Archived 2011-09-29 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
  27. ^ "Saudi Arabia says open to Jewish workers".
  28. ^ Ben-David, Ricky; staff, T. O. I. "Dozens of Israeli business and tech figures visit Saudi Arabia — report". www.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 2022-05-29.
  29. ^ זקן, דני (2022-05-26). "עשרות אנשי עסקים טסו לאחרונה לסעודיה עם דרכון ישראלי | בלעדי". Globes. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  30. ^ Lavie, Dan (2022-04-21). "Hundreds of pounds of matzah distributed to Jews across Saudi Arabia in 2022". Israel Hayom. Retrieved 2022-05-27. According to Herzog's assessment, some 3,000 Jews employed by international firms and with roots in places like the US, Canada, France, and South Africa currently reside in the kingdom
  31. ^ Klein, Zvika (2022-07-23). "Meet Jacob Herzog, Saudi Arabia's chief rabbi". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2022-07-23. His name is Rabbi Jacob Herzog, and he is a 46-year-old Israeli rabbi who made aliyah from the US as a child. In the past year, he has been splitting his time between Saudi Arabia and Israel, becoming the chief rabbi of the huge Saudi Kingdom in the Arabian Peninsula
  32. ^ Klein, David Ian (5 April 2021). "Meet the rabbi bringing Judaism to Saudi Arabia". Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  33. ^ "No deal with Israel, but Saudi Arabia pushes outreach to Jews". The Times of Israel.
  34. ^ "Israeli government delegation holds Jewish prayer service in Saudi Arabia". The Times of Israel.


  • Stillman, Norman. Jews of Arab Lands, Jewish Publications Society, 1979.
  • New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, 1992, Encyclopedia Publishing, "Aden", "Arabia", "Hadramaut"

History and travels of Benjamin of Tudela