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

(Joyce) #1
Yemen: Muslim and Jewish Interactions in the Tribal Sphere · 135

magical knowledge. Only the right person could “open the book” and
apply its knowledge to perform wonders.
Also, some Jews were famous for possessing specialized magic skills
such as the ability to converse with demons. Demons known in the Mus-
lim surrounding were also active in Jewish society. Some were demons
of the house—they were neighbors of the family, lived at home, and
were active mainly at night. If not disturbed, they lived peacefully with
the people of the house. Others were demons of the outside—they were
found in the open landscape, on the roads, and near water resources.
These demons often attacked humans by surprise, intending to harm
them. A most famous demonic figure was Um al-Ṣubyan (mother of the
youth), who impersonated a woman or an animal. She scared the people
and sometimes harmed them. Often demons entered the body of a certain
individual and dominated him. In this mystic reality, Jews were known
to possess the powers to control the demons and to exorcise them from
humans, both Jews and Muslims.^49
Occasionally the Jews’ magical powers were interpreted by the tribes-
men as sorcery intended to cause damage. Our sources speak of Jews
who performed sorcery and also of Jews whose actions were incorrectly
inferred by the tribesmen as sorcery. When their evil action was “discov-
ered,” these Jews were punished. For example, ba ̔al ḥefeṣ Busi Shalom
of the village Hamd Sulayman in the Shar ̔ab district (who was active at
the beginning of the twentieth century) aroused the concern and fear of
the area’s tribesmen: “They sensed that something was wrong about this
Jew. They suspected that he was causing trouble with their women, that
he instigated wives to dislike their husbands and created hatred between
them. Therefore, they ambushed him on the road, tied him in a sack, and
threw him into a reservoir.”^50
The transmitting of magical knowledge from Muslim to Jew is known
in the medieval Muslim world.^51 Similarly, as Yemeni Jews also sought
the services of Muslim tribal medical experts, bodies of knowledge origi-
nating in Yemeni Muslim society in matters of magic, medicine, methods
of treatment, medical herbs, and the like were embraced by the Jews and
implemented in their practice.^52 This two-way transmission of magical
knowledge was not confined to men, but also existed between Muslim
and Jewish women. Thus the sisters Ghazal and Ḥamama of al-Jawf in
the first half of the twentieth century practiced Darb al-Fal, foretelling
the future by means of mixing stones. They learned this vocation from

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