Jews of Yemen: countdown to extinction

With the 3,000-year-old Yemenite Jewish community nearing extinction, here is a useful timeline of events in the last 100 years. At the turn of the 20th century North Yemen was under the Ottomans/ Zaydi Shi’a Muslims where a strict form of sharia law was rigorously enforced. In the south, Aden became a British protectorate.

1881: Jews from Yemen begin leaving for the land of Israel.
Jews forcibly converted by Shaifis prefer to live under Zaydi rule in northern mountains.
1849 – 72: Ottoman-Zaydi struggle for power
1904: Zaydi ruler Imam Yahya becomes ruler
7,000 (80 percent) of Jews and 10,000 Muslims die from famine in Sana’a. Many Jews convert to Islam to obtain food. Jews flee to Aden. Many robbed en route.
1911 : Sharia law declared: Jews are inferior dhimmis, slightly above blacks in pecking order, equivalent to Untouchables in India. Jews must pay a special tax; amount depends on their profession. Children throw stones at them, murder victims’ families get modest blood money but no real justice if the murderer is Muslim. Jews can own property, but interiors must be very simple so as not to arouse Muslim envy.
1913 Group of Jews assigned sewage collection from Muslim areas. These form an ‘Untouchable’ sub-group within the community. No intermarriage allowed with them.
1920 Zaydis declare independence.
1922 Orphans’ decree: children who have lost their fathers abducted and converted to Islam
1922 British ban emigration to Palestine
1923: 42 orphans converted to Islam
1928: 27 orphans converted on pain of torture
1929: 50 children aged 5 – 13 smuggled out to Aden in the hope that they would reach Palestine.
Palestinians in Yemen spread anti-Jewish libels. Jews flee to Aden, but are forced to leave their property. Desperate Yemeni Jews flee wherever they can – 2,000 move to Egypt; 2000 to Eritrea, 7,000 to India.
1934 Mufti of Jerusalem passes through Yemen. Jews banned from leaving for Palestine lest they end up fighting Arabs.
1935 Jews oppressed further after rumour that mosques in Jerusalem under threat. After 23,000 Jews pour into Aden, the port is closed to Jews.
1947: riots erupt in Aden. 82 Jews killed.
1948 Imam Yahyia is assassinated. Civil war and anarchy follow.
1949. Emigration ban lifted.
1949 -50 : 50,000 Jews are ransomed by Israel and airlifted on ‘Operation Eagles’ Wings’. Those with special skills detained until they could pass them on to Muslims.
2009 Over 100 Jews flee Yemen civil war and radicalisation. Just over 100 remain.

With acknowledgements to La fin du Judaisme en terres d’Islam, edited by S. Trigano


  • As of August/September 2020
    Of an estimated 100 Jews in Yemen:
    42 left for UAE
    58 planning to leave

  • Bataween, this a helpful survey of history. I consider myself well-informed but only knew part of the data. I did know about the Yemenite Jewish immigration in the 1880s and about other Yemenites who came to Israel before 1948. I know some of the descendants through family connections and friends.

    While living in a large American city, I knew a woman whose father had come from Aden to the US long ago.

    Our own ignorance about Jewish history is one of our great weaknesses.


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