The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
The Expulsion of the Yemenite Jews
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
. 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 , 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
The weekly Torah portion is distributed with the assistance of
the President's Fund for Torah and Science.
The weekly Torah portion is distributed with the assistance of the President's Fund for Torah and Science.