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

(Joyce) #1

136 · Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman

a Muslim woman and thereafter became renowned professionals who
rendered their services to Jews and Muslims.^53
The Jews, on their part, internalized the beliefs of the tribal society
with regard to their capabilities. They wrote about themselves, quoting
the tribesmen as saying: “You are the people of the book and you have
wisdom; you can even control the demons.”^54 Folk tales collected in the
twentieth century tell of famous Yemeni Jewish scholars of the past, pre-
senting them as wondrous figures who greatly impressed the Muslims of
Yemen and even the imam. Similar folk tales can be traced in other Jewish
communities that cultivated tales about the wisdom of the Jews in com-
parison with the gentiles’ ignorance, thus compensating for the low social
status of the Jews in society. In Yemen, however, these stories can be inter-
preted in relation to the Jews’ unique magical knowledge. One example
relates to Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, the famous seventeenth-century poet.
It tells of the imam who came to Shabazi and asked him to save Yemen
from the terrible locust plague that befell the country. Rabbi Shabazi read
the Zohar, he invoked some Kabbalistic techniques of combining holy
names, and soon the locusts disappeared. Another Shabazi folk tale tells
of the imam who fell ill and the best Muslim physicians were unable to
cure him. All the Muslims went to the mosques and prayed for him, but
his health continued to deteriorate. A rumor then spread at the imam’s
court about “a Jew whose name is Shabazi, who lives in a small mod-
est house, who is knowledgeable in miracles and performs wonders.”
They immediately brought Shabazi to the imam, and he shouted: “Out
with the disease!” The imam opened his eyes and then rose healthy from
his bed.^55 Similar are the tales about Rabbi Zekharia Tabib (ha-Rofe—the
physician), the fifteenth-century author of the medical textbook al-wagij.
It was said that he could cure diseases that no Muslim physician could
treat and also that he alone had solved the murder of the imam’s son.^56
Jews sometimes exploited the perception of their “otherness” and
mystical knowledge to strengthen their positions against the Muslims by
applying cunning and manipulation. They would pretend, for example,
that they were forced to do an evil deed, i.e., steal crops, by a demon that
had possessed them, and thus they escaped punishment. On other occa-
sions, Jews would pretend to know how to write amulets or master the
demons in order to obtain material gains from the tribesmen.^57
These shared beliefs in magic and sorcery thus created a common Jew-
ish-Muslim society, based on an imagined corpus of hidden capabilities

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