Jews of Yemen - Community Organization and Religious Life

Although the Jews had no political or legal rights and were under the protection and control of local notables as well as the ruling imam, they had a degree of autonomy in their own community. Aside from local "headmen," who represented their communities before the authorities, most leadership came from religious leaders. In Sanʿa, the largest population and political center, there were some learned rabbis and wealthy men with political influence, but everywhere there were men with Jewish learning and the ability to teach, organize Jewish community life, build synagogues, and lead congregations. Above all, the life of the Jews centered around their religiously mandated practices ( mitsvot, in Hebrew), which included religious instruction for boys; public worship daily, on the Sabbath, and on holy days; the maintenance of a ritual bath; provision of properly slaughtered and butchered kosher meat; and arrangements for properly administered life-cycle rites (ritual circumcision, marriage, funerals, and mourning). Most leaders and teachers were volunteers, devoting their time, learning, and expertise to these purposes—usually without pay—as their religious duty, and for the esteem and honor that fulfilling these needs brought. Conflicts within the Jewish community usually arose from disagreement about practices or from rivalry among aspiring leaders.

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