The Influence Of Jews In Yemeni Traditional Crafts

National Yemen

Jew jewelry in Yemeni Hands

By Tamjid Alkohali

For thousands of years, Jews in Yemen excelled in the manufacture of silver, old wooden windows, doors and boxes, as well as in carving the walls of houses, mosques, and schools, which are considered today relics and historical places.

Jews were keen to sculpt the Star of David, a Jewish symbol, in all their works. At the same time, people were also keen to buy things that had the Star of David because it indicated quality Jewish work.

However, because of spreading sectarianism, racism, and hatred between peoples, non-Jews in general avoid things with the Star of David because of its association with Israel.

Whether people today love the Star of David or not, it is sculpted in many old doors, walls, and jewelry in old Sana’a. Tourists and businessmen pay thousands of riyals to buy jewelry and other works by the Jews.

Ahmed, 47 and a craftsman in old Sana’a, said that anything in a Jewish craftsperson’s hand was transformed into a masterpiece, especially silver and gold pieces, textiles, and architecture.

“In addition, Jews were responsible and accurate in their time with customers. Despite people at time considering craftsmen from the lower class, many preferred Jewish works and praised their performances. They were called Industry Men in Yemen,” he added.

According to Ahmed, until recently when most Jews left Yemen, craftsmen were sculpting the Star of David or any symbols in order to convince people their work was Jewish.

He explained that the traditional industries of Yemen’s Jews developed with time and place where they inherited their jobs for each other and watched modern industries that were brought from abroad through Aden and the Turks.

“All this creativity and magnificent sense came from the Jews under difficult circumstances faced by Yemen economically, politically, and socially before the revolution,” said Ahmed.

According to old families in Sana’a, any village or neighborhood inhabited by Jews was turned into workshops for industries and crafts of all kinds.

The emigration of Jews from Yemen led to the deterioration of the Yemeni economy and the extinction of many crafts.

There are many myths that narrate the story of the Yemenite Jews. Some think that the first coming of Jews to Yemen was in 900 BC after they received an order from King Solomon to search for gold and silver to build a structure.

In the tenth century, Islam had reached the judgment and granted the Jews freedom of religion for paying a tribute. Jews have been treated as second-class citizens and looked at as outcasts. In 1679 a large number of Jews were expelled from Yemen, but after one year they were asked to return in order to save the economy of Yemen from deterioration.

1882 was the first Jewish immigration to Palestine. The immigration continued increasing with the suffering of Jews in Yemen. In 2005, there were less than 200 Jews in Yemen.