Jews of Yemen - Orientation

Identification and Location. Jews have lived in Yemen, a large and rugged country in the southwest part of the Arabian Peninsula, for at least 1,500 years. They identify themselves and are identified by others, as part of the widespread Jewish people. They maintained their specifically Jewish culture, based on the books, practices, beliefs, worship, and lore of Judaism. This is what distinguished them as a separate people from their Muslim Arab neighbors for so many centuries.

Demography. At the end of the nineteenth century, there may have been 60,000 Jews living in Yemen, but as of 1881 a movement began among them to emigrate to Palestine (which they called the "Holy Land" and the "Land of Israel" or the "Land of Zion"). In 1949-1950 almost all the remaining Jews of Yemen, about 49,000, left Yemen for Israel, leaving only a few hundred. Today there may be more than 2,000 Jews in Yemen, but over 165,000 in Israel trace their roots to Yemen.

Linguistic Affiliation. In Yemen, Jews spoke Arabic, but Jewish men knew how to read and write Hebrew and used it primarily as a language for religious worship and study. Today, in Israel, they speak only Hebrew. (Both Arabic and Hebrew belong to the Semitic Group of languages, of the larger Afro-Asian Language Family.)

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