Bar-Ilan University

The Faculty of Jewish Studies

The Office of the Campus Rabbi


Daf Parashat Hashavua

(Study Sheet on the Weekly Torah Portion)

Basic Jewish Studies Unit


Parashat Bechukotay

The Expulsion of the Yemenite Jews to "Moza"

Dr. Aharon Gimani

Department of Jewish Studies Interdepartmental

Division of Judaic Studies

In our parashah we read: "veheiveiti otam be'eretz oyvehem o az yikana levavam ha-arel -- When I ...have removed them into the land of their enemies, then at last shall their obdurate heart humble itself" (Leviticus 26:41). Using the final letters of four words in the verse as a notarikon or mnemonic device, Yemenite Jews found therein a biblical reference to the most tragic event in their history - the expulsion to Moza.

Moza is located in southwestern Yemen on the coastal plain of the Red Sea and is known to be an arid area. The expulsion of the Jews form the various Yemenite communities to Moza began in 1679 and continued through 1680. What was the reason for this expulsion? Both Jewish and Moslem sources indicate that the excitement generated by the rumors about Shabbetai Zvi as the Messiah did much to raise the self-confidence of the Jews, and the Moslems reacted with a series of decrees designed to degrade the Jews. According to the chronicle of the Arab writer Ahmad ibn Nasser who lived in Yemen during the period of Shabbetai Zvi, Moslem religious functionaries claimed that the confident stance of the Jews constituted a breach of the treaty which governed the relationships between all Islamic peoples and their subjects. Consequently, the Moslems were no longer legally bound to protect the Jews and they could be punished (see Y. Sadan,"Hachronikah shel Ibn Nasser - Text Chadash al Tnu'ot Meshichiyot Yehudiot Beteman Bamachatzit Hashniah shel Hameah Ha-17- - Reka Vetargum", Pe'amim 43 (1990), p.123; pp. 127 -131).

The events of the period are described in passing by the writer Pinchas ben Gad Hakohen in his introduction to a prayer book (1680), who hints at the issue by citing the verse in Lamentations: "The punishment of your iniquity is completed (Hebrew tam), O' Daughter of Zion" (Lamentations 4:22). In gematria or the Hebrew letter-number equivalency code, the word tam adds up to 440. Adding to this the "thousands", we obtain the number 5440, the Hebrew calendar equivalent of 1680. Pinchas continues his account:

Now I will tell you, my brother, what has befallen us since the beginning of the year ... [5439-440=1679-1680]. The king issued a decree to destroy all the synagogues in all of Yemen. Many of the Torah scrolls and the holy writings were desecrated by the gentiles, May the Lord forgive our sins, and we could only pray individually, in secret, in our homes. After that the king decreed further that the Jews be exiled to the wilderness of Moza and all their homes destroyed. Some of us sold our homes which were worth one thousand gold talents for one hundred, and those worth one hundred were sold for ten. We were a mockery to the nations who sought to slander us falsely so that we would convert, God forbid. Rather than do this, all the Jewish communities deserted their possessions for the sanctity of the Name (al kiddush hashem) ... and with us the words "I will cast a faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies" (Leviticus 26:36) were fullfilled. But the Lord, Blessed be He, gives us strength to suffer these troubles and hardships each day.

. Prof. Yehudah Ratzhabi documented the stories of scores of communities from all over Yemen that went into exile in his extensive researches (Y. Ratzhabi, "Galut Moza", Sefunot 5 [1961], p. 376). The great synagogue of the Jews of San'a became a Mosque by order of the Imam, and from then until this very day it is called the Eljala Mosque (The Mosque of Exile, from the root galut) on account of the Exile to Moza.

The road to Moza was filled with obstacles and many of the exiles did not make it alive. The Maharitz, whose grandfather Rabbi Zalach was among the exiles, tells us: "And as they travelled on the road to exile several families perished completely and we were told that nearly eighty people died at one time during a single journey in the desert near the village of Moza (Megillat Teman, ed. Y. Toubi, p. 46). The governor of Moza received the exiles decently, but the damage that had already been done by others, he was unable to repair.

A moving acquiescence to the will of Heaven can be found can in the testimony brought by Rabbi Pinchas Megari in his commentary Zer Zahav to the Torah:

And when they entered the city of Moza they heard date-sellers screaming loudly "watamru, watamru" (dates, dates). The Jews then said, "We were exiled only because we defied (himrenu) the word of the Lord, as it is written: 'And you flouted (vatamru) the word of the Lord'" (Deut. 1:26).

The sources passed on by the sages of Yemenite Jewry tell the following experience of the first Shabbat in Moza:

And on that Shabbat when they arrived in the village of Moza it was the Shabbat of Bechukotay and the greatest man among them arose to read the "tocheichah" (admonitions). When they reached the verse "When I, in turn, have been hostile to them and have removed them into the land of their enemies, then at last shall their obdurate heart humble itself" (Leviticus 26:41) he began to expound, and the spirit moved within him and he said that obviously, this decree was ordained, hinted at, ready and waiting in the final letters of the words "oyveihem o az yikana" (which make up the name) Moza ... (Megillat Teman, p. 46; Zer Zahav, ibid).

Approximately two years after the expulsion the decree was annulled. We have no information from the period of the exile as to the reasons for its annulment, but later sources relate that it came to alleviate the hardships of the Arab population who needed the services of Jewish artisans and craftsmen.

The exile to Moza was traumatic for the Jews of Yemen. They had sold their homes at prices far below their true value and were forced to begin all over again to rebuild their communities. In one case, the few Jews who returned to San'a were not allowed to return to the site of their former homes. They were moved to the western part of the city outside the city walls, a location three kilometers away from the previous neighborhood.

The exile to Moza found expression in the poetry of those who experienced the events. Rabbi Shalom Ashari mourns in one of his poems:

"My tears fall like rain because of all the good people who have gone into exile... On the day Uzal (San'a) was expelled and suffered hardship, the sun and the moon faded as they went forth..." (Y. Ratzhabi, ibid., p. 349). Also Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, the greatest of the Yemenite poets, was among those expelled and he too described the suffering of the exile in several of his poems.

The Yemenite Diaspora is over and the last few Jews who remain are coming to Israel slowly but surely. Pinchas Ben Gad Hakohen, whom we quoted at the beginning of this article, found a hint to the events of his time in the words of the prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations 4:22: "The punishment of your iniquity is completed, (Tam Avoneich) Daughter of Zion". We can only pray for the complete redemption in line with the continuation of the verse: "He will exile you no more", and in the words of the prophet Nathan to David: "And I have appointed a place for My people, Israel, and planted them that they may dwell there, and be troubled no more..." (2 Samuel 7:7).

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