The Divergence of Judaism and Islam. Interdependence, Modernity, and Political Turmoil

(Joyce) #1
Yemen: Muslim and Jewish Interactions in the Tribal Sphere · 133

for the Sabbath, and there is no doubt that you have desecrated the
Sabbath! You should have arrived earlier!”^30

In some places, the tribesmen were careful not to disturb the Jews during
the Sabbath and even refrained from conversing with them.^31 At times,
Muslim tribesmen even used to gather during the Sabbath and the High
Holidays near the synagogue and listen attentively to the prayers, while
encouraging the Jews to pray wholeheartedly.^32 In the town of Dhamar,
for example, Muslims used to come on Thursdays to the place where
children were taught Torah and listen to their reading of the Tafsir (Rabbi
Saadia Gaon’s Arabic translation of the Torah), “and at the end would
kiss the book like we did.”^33

The Jews’ “Otherness”

In many societies, the minority “other” is perceived as mysterious, hav-
ing extraordinary powers, sometimes demonic and vicious, sometimes
possessing heavenly and benevolent capabilities. Much like the Freudian
concept of the “uncanny,” this “other” arouses fear and horror, but is also
attractive and tempting.^34 Similar perceptions were held by the Muslims
of Yemen regarding the Jews, both as individuals and as a community.
The Jews were regarded as possessing mystical-magical knowledge that
can do good but also magical knowledge that performs sorcery.^35 The
tribesmen of northern Yemen, wrote Abraham Tabib in 1932, “perceive
the Jews as a representation of godliness... and therefore treat them
with concealed reverence... , saying that whoever mistreats the Jews
will not prosper.”^36 The phenomenon of Muslim supporters of Jewish
messianic pretenders, mainly in the nineteenth century, can be under-
stood in this context. The Jewish messiahs Shukr Kuḥayl I (1861–65) and
Shukr Kuḥayl II (1868–75) were both viewed as performing wonders, as
messengers sent to announce the End of Time, and as apocalyptical anti-
messiahs whose appearance was a sign of the imminent messianic days
and the coming of the mahdi.^37
Similarly, it was widely believed that Jewish prayer, communal but
also individual, can affect rainfall (an idea known also in Jewish com-
munities in North Africa).^38 In time of drought, Muslim neighbors in
the tribal areas, even the imams of San ̔a ̓, used to ask the Jews to pray

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