Yemenite Jews in Israel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Yemenite Jews in Israel
אשה צעירה תימניה בתלבושת מסורתית-ZKlugerPhotos-00132px-0907170685137fb2.jpg
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and many other places.
Hebrew (main language of all generations);
Arabic (alongside among the older generation)
Orthodox Judaism

Yemenite Jews in Israel are immigrants and descendants of the immigrants of the Yemenite Jewish communities, who now reside within the state of Israel. They number around 400,000 in the wider definition. Between June 1949 and September 1950, the overwhelming majority of Yemen and Aden's Jewish population was transported to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet.


First wave of modern emigration: 1881 to 1914[edit]

Due to the changes in the Ottoman Empire, citizens could move more freely, and in 1869, travel was improved with the opening of the Suez Canal, which reduced the travel time from Yemen to Ottoman Syria. Certain Yemenite Jews interpreted these changes and the new developments in the "Holy Land" as heavenly signs that the time of redemption was near. By settling in Ottoman Syria, they would play a part in what they believed could precipitate the anticipated messianic era. Emigration from Yemen to the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem (Ottoman Syria) began in early 1881 and continued almost without interruption until 1914. It was during this time that about 10% of the Yemenite Jews left. From 1881 to 1882, a few hundred Jews left Sanaa and several nearby settlements. This wave was followed by other Jews from central Yemen who continued to move into Ottoman Syrian provinces until 1914. The majority of these groups moved into Jerusalem and Jaffa. In 1884, some families settled into a new-built neighborhood called Yemenite Village Kfar Hashiloach (Hebrew: כפר השילוח‎) in the Jerusalem district of Silwan, and built the Old Yemenite Synagogue.[1][2]

Before World War I, there was another wave that began in 1906 and continued until 1914. Hundreds of Yemenite Jews made their way to Ottoman Syria and chose to settle in the agricultural settlements. It was after these movements that the World Zionist Organization sent Shmuel Yavne'eli to Yemen to encourage Jews to emigrate to the Land of Israel. Yavne'eli reached Yemen at the beginning of 1911 and returned to Ottoman Syria in April 1912. Due to Yavne'eli's efforts, about 1,000 Jews left central and southern Yemen, with several hundred more arriving before 1914.[3]

1920 to 1940s[edit]

Yemenite Jews en route from Aden to Israel.

In 1922, the government of Yemen, under Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din (Imam Yahya), re-introduced an ancient Islamic law entitled the "orphans decree". The law dictated that, if Jewish boys or girls under the age of twelve were orphaned, they were to be forcibly converted to Islam, their connections to their families and communities were to be severed, and they had to be handed over to Muslim foster families. The rule was based on the law that the prophet Mohammed is "the father of the orphans", and on the fact that the Jews in Yemen were considered "under protection", and the ruler was obligated to care for them.[4]

A prominent example is Abdul Rahman al-Iryani, the former president of the Yemen Arab Republic, who was alleged to be of Jewish descent by Dorit Mizrahi, a writer in the Israeli ultra-Orthodox weekly Mishpaha. She claimed to be his niece due to his being her mother's brother. According to her recollection of events, he was born Zekharia Hadad in 1910 to a Yemenite Jewish family in Ibb. He lost his parents in a major disease epidemic at the age of eight, and, together with his 5-year-old sister, he was forcibly converted to Islam, and they were put under the care of separate foster families. He was raised in the powerful al-Iryani family, and adopted an Islamic name. al-Iryani would later serve as minister of religious endowments under northern Yemen's first national government, and he became the only civilian to have led northern Yemen.[4][5]

However, YemenOnline, an online newspaper, claimed to have conducted several interviews with several members of the al-Iryani family and residents of Iryan, and alleges that this claim of Jewish descent is merely a "fantasy" started in 1967 by Haolam Hazeh, an Israeli tabloid. It states that Zekharia Haddad is, in fact, Abdul Raheem al-Haddad, Al-Iryani's foster brother and bodyguard who died in 1980. Abdul Raheem is survived by tens of sons and grandsons.[6]


Yemenite Haganah member on guard duty at moshav Elyashiv

In 1947, after the partition vote of the British Mandate of Palestine, Arab Muslim rioters, assisted by the local police force, engaged in a pogrom in Aden that killed 82 Jews and destroyed hundreds of Jewish homes. Aden's Jewish community was economically paralyzed, as most of the Jewish stores and businesses were destroyed. Early in 1948, the unfounded rumour of the ritual murder of two girls led to looting.[7]

This increasingly perilous situation led to the emigration of virtually the entire Yemenite and Adenese Jewish communities. During this period, over 50,000 Jews emigrated to Israel. Operation Magic Carpet (Yemen) began in June 1949, and ended in September 1950.[8] Part of the operation took place during the hostilities of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (May 15, 1948 – March 10, 1949).

The operation was planned by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.[citation needed] The plan was for the Jews from all over Yemen to make their way to the Aden area. Specifically, the Jews were to arrive in Hashed Camp and live there until they could be airlifted to Israel. Hashed was an old British military camp in the desert, about a mile away from the city of Sheikh Othman.[9] The operation took longer than was originally planned. Over the course of the operation, hundreds of migrants died in Hashed Camp, as well as on the plane rides to Israel.[8] By September 1950, almost 50,000 Jews had been successfully airlifted to the newly formed state of Israel.[10]

According to an official statement by Alaska Airlines:

When Alaska Airlines sent them on "Operation Magic Carpet" 50 years ago, Warren and Marian Metzger didn't realize that they were embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. Warren Metzger, a DC-4 captain, and Marian Metzger, a flight attendant, were part of what turned out to be one of the greatest feats in Alaska Airlines' 67-year history: airlifting thousands of Yemenite Jews to the newly created nation of Israel. The logistics of it all made the task daunting. Fuel was hard to come by. Flight and maintenance crews had to be positioned through the Middle East. And the desert sand wreaked havoc on engines.
It took a whole lot of resourcefulness throughout the better part of 1949 to do it. But in the end, despite being shot at and even bombed upon, the mission was accomplished – and without a single loss of life. "One of the things that really got to me was when we were unloading a plane at Tel Aviv", said Marian, who assisted Israeli nurses on a number of flights. "A little old lady came up to me and took the hem of my jacket and kissed it. She was giving me a blessing for getting them home. We were the wings of eagles."
For both Marian and Warren, the assignment came on the heels of flying the airline's other great adventure of the late 1940s: the Berlin Airlift. "I had no idea what I was getting into, absolutely none", remembered Warren, who retired in 1979 as Alaska's chief pilot and vice president of flight operations. "It was pretty much seat-of-the-pants flying in those days. Navigation was by dead reckoning and eyesight. Planes were getting shot at. The airport in Tel Aviv was getting bombed all the time. We had to put extra fuel tanks in the planes so we had the range to avoid landing in Arab territory."[11]

Many Yemenite Jews became irreligious through the re-education program of the Jewish Agency.[12][13]

Later emigration[edit]

A smaller, continuous migration was allowed to continue into 1962, when a civil war put an abrupt halt to any further Jewish exodus.

In February 2009, 10 Yemeni Jews immigrated to Israel, and in July 2009, three families, or 16 people in total, followed suit.[14][15]

In January 2013, it was reported that a group of 60 Yemenite Jews had immigrated to Israel in a secret operation, arriving in Israel via a flight from Qatar. This was reported to be part of a larger operation which was being carried out in order to bring the approximately 400 Jews left in Yemen to Israel in the coming months.[16]

In March 2016, it was reported that the Jewish Agency brought 19 of the last remaining Yemenite Jews to Israel in a covert operation. 14 came from the town of Raydah, while one family of five hailed from the capital, Sanaa. The group from Raydah included the community's rabbi, who brought a Torah scroll believed to be between 500 and 600 years old.[17][18] It was reported that in 2018 there were around 50 Jews remaining in Yemen.[19]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jaskow, Rahel (May 6, 2015). "Jewish activists move into building in Arab Jerusalem neighborhood Structure in Silwan was once the synagogue of a village built there for Yemenite immigrants in the 1880s, NGO claims". The Times of Israel. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  2. ^ Ben-Gedalyahu, Tzvi (May 7, 2015). "Jews Move into Former Yemenite Synagogue in Silwan Valley The building is one of many where the British Mandate evicted Jews and let Arabs take over". The Jewish Press. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  3. ^ The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times, by Reeva Spector Simon, Michael Menachem Laskier, Sara Reguer editors, Columbia University Press, 2003, page 406
  4. ^ a b Our man in Sanaa: Ex-Yemen president was once trainee rabbi Haaretz
  5. ^ Abdul-Rahman al-Iryani, Ex-Yemen President, 89 – The New York Times, March 17, 1998.
  6. ^ "Haaretz Dreams". Retrieved October 28, 2014.
  7. ^ Howard Sachar, A History of Israel, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), (pp. 397–98.)
  8. ^ a b Tudor Parfitt The Road to Redemption: The Jews of the Yemen, 1900–1950, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996), pages 229–245
  9. ^ Tudor Parfitt The Road to Redemption: The Jews of the Yemen, 1900–1950, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996), pages 203–227
  10. ^ "Immigration since the 1930s – Israel Record". Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  11. ^ Operation Magic Carpet, Golden Anniversary: Alaska Airlines helped roll out a Magic Carpet to Israel, Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air web-site, [1]
  12. ^ Laura Zittrain Eisenberg; Neil Caplan (February 1, 2012). Review Essays in Israel Studies: Books on Israel, Volume V. SUNY Press. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-7914-9331-1. Many Yemenite Jews have also sacrificed their cultural heritage on this Zionist-Israeli altar. The Yemenites' religious traditions and their very distinct customs were initially perceived as an obstacle to their integration into the evolving Israeli society. They were led to believe that by adopting the ideologies and identity of the Zionist enterprise (which bore the imprint of the secular, Labor-dominated leadership), they would facilitate their entry into the mainstream. […] Many Yemenite Jews assimilated themselves gradually into the newly formed secular Zionist culture, while others resisted the pressures for such "Israeli" acculturation.
  13. ^ Bernard Maza (January 1, 1989). With Fury Poured Out: The Power of the Powerless During the Holocaust. SP Books. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-944007-13-6. The Jewish Agency welcomed the great Aliya of the Yemenite Jews with open arms. They set up transit camps for them to care for all their needs with warmth and concern. But there in the transit camps, the joy of the immigrant settling foot on the Promised Land was mixed with pain and confusion. The Jewish Agency considered it a duty to absorb the immigrants into Israel and to integrate them into the economic and social life of their new land. It therefore included education in its programme. As a strongly secular Zionist organisation, it believed that religion was a hindrance to proper integration. The educational program they set up for the adults and children of the Yemenite families was, for the most part, not religious. Very often the supervisors and madrichim carried out their mission of education with a zealousness that caused great pain to the immigrants. Word of the treatment of the Yemenite Jews filtered out of the camps: non-religious madrichim, denial of religious education, discrimination in providing facilities for religious practice, religious visitors and teachers being denied entry to the camps, assignment of families to non-religious settlements, and cutting off of the traditional peos, or earlocks, of the Yemenite Jews. Cries of shock and protest poured in from every corner of the Jewish world.
  14. ^ "16 Yemenite immigrants arrive in Israel – Israel News, Ynetnews". Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  15. ^ "Yemeni Jews airlifted to Israel". BBC News. February 20, 2009.
  16. ^ "Qatar Helping Yemenite Jews Reach Israel? – Jewish World – News – Arutz Sheva". Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  17. ^ Ben Zion, Ilan (March 21, 2016). "17 Yemenite Jews secretly airlifted to Israel in end to 'historic mission'". Times of Israel. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  18. ^ "Yemeni Jews brought to Israel in secret mission". BBC News (21 March 2016). Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  19. ^ Jewish Virtual Library - Jews of Yemen