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

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134 · Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman

for rain (at times parallel to summoning the Muslim congregation for a
special prayer for rain).^39 These ceremonial prayers were usually con-
ducted in the Jewish cemetery, using Torah scrolls.^40 However, others
believed that Jews were capable of disrupting the climatic cycle and halt-
ing rainfall.^41
The belief in the Jews’ mysterious powers went hand in hand with
convictions that governed the daily life of Muslims and Jews in tradi-
tional Yemen: magic/sorcery (sihr), demons (jinns), the evil eye ( ̔ayn),
and the like.^42 Such beliefs (comparable to those which ruled the life of
believers in other societies in different times and places) relied on both
Muslim and Jewish sources.^43 Jewish demonology was thus intertwined
with Muslim demonology, creating a complex set of beliefs of a hidden
mysterious world. Because of the physical closeness and diverse coop-
eration of Jews and Muslims in the tribal sphere, which is the center of
our discussion, the assimilation of this syncretistic complex of ideas was
deeper there than in the urban arena, where the Jews lived in a special
quarter separated by walls from the Muslim city. Much like other societ-
ies, in order to somewhat manage the world, Yemeni society ascribed to
some gifted persons the ability to apply means that could protect them
from the harmful intentions of mysterious beings or, conversely, manipu-
late them to cause trouble.^44 Many such renowned experts were believed
to be Jews. Furthermore, as most of the Jewish men were literate (while
only a few of the tribesmen knew how to read and write), their literacy
was often interpreted as mastering sacred hidden knowledge. Gamli ̓eli
writes, “Yemen’s gentiles believed that the Jews, who know the book,
are great experts in this matter. Every Jewish peddler was perceived by
them as a ba ̔al ḥefeṣ, capable of mastering demons and spirits and forc-
ing them to do as he pleases.”^45 Consequently, the tribesmen often asked
their Jewish acquaintances, or even unknown Jewish passers-by, many of
them peddlers, to write amulets for them.^46
A number of Torah scrolls, ḥefeṣ (literally: object), were widely believed
in Yemen to cause miracles. These scrolls attracted not only Jews but also
Muslims who sought a blessing or a cure.^47 Distinct from the sacredness
of a holy Torah scroll, which is unrelated to time and space or to a spe-
cific personality, there were powers, recognized by Jews and Muslims,^48
as embodied in the combination of a specific man and a specific book.
Such a person was known as a ba ̔al ḥefeṣ, literally the owner of an object,
meaning a holy book. The book was believed to contain mystical and

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