The Jewish people have been present in Algeria since the destruction of the First Temple nearly 2,600 years ago. The first major transition in the Algerian Jewish population resulted from Jewish refugees fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. This made for a considerable increase in the Jewish population in Algeria. Jews thrived as merchants and formed communities in port towns like Oran and Algiers. They were mostly able to conserve their Ladino language and flourished financially throughout the Ottoman period.
In 1830 the French attacked Algeria and began colonizing the region, eventually reconstructing the Ottoman Empire and putting an end to the mistreatment of Jews. By 1841 Algeria Jewish courts were abolished and French Jews were appointed as chief Rabbis and told to teach obedience to French laws and loyalty to France. Under pressure from the French Jewish community, in 1870 the French government granted Algerian Jews citizenship under the décrets Crémieux of 1870. Algerian Jews began to learn the French language, customs, and culture, primarily by enrolling in the French school system.
Prior to WWII in the late 1930’s, there were roughly 120,000 Jews living in Algeria. Provoked by events occurring in Nazi Germany, a group of Algerian Muslims rioted in 1934, killing 25 Jews and injuring many more. As a colony of France, the Jews of Algeria were subjected to the same Anti-Semitic Vichy policies as French Jews. During WWII, the French Vichy government cancelled the citizenship of Algerian Jews, forbade them from working in numerous professions, and confiscated Jewish property.
In 1962 when Algeria gained independence, the government only granted citizenship to residents whose father or paternal grandfather were Muslims. Additionally, Algeria’s Supreme Court Justice announced that Jews were not protected under the law. No longer feeling safe and protected in their country, nearly 140,000 Algerian Jews immigrated to France, while smaller numbers fled to Israel, and to North and South America.
Between 1948 and present times, roughly 26,000 Algerian Jews immigrated to Israel. Although substantially diminished in size, the Jews in Algeria were again threatened in 1994 when the terrorist Armed Islamic Group stated its objective to eliminate the Jewish community from Algeria altogether. Even though no attacks were reported, the announcement caused many Jews to leave, abandoning the only remaining synagogue in the country. Today no Jews remain living in Algeria.
The Jewish presence in Egypt extends back to biblical times. Egypt was a place of refuge following the destruction of the kingdom of Judah in 597 BCE and a safe haven from persecution for the Jewish people. During this time, Jewish communities developed Talmudic schools and prospered intellectually.
From 1805-1956 Jews played a dominant role in Egyptian society, contributing significantly to the development of finance, industry, urban development, and culture. The British, who colonized Egypt from 1882 to 1956, treated the Jews well and as a result, many European Jews who were suffering persecution in their own countries immigrated to Egypt, bringing the number of Jews in Egypt from 25,000 in 1900 to over 80,000 by 1948. Despite their contributions, Jews in Egypt, under the British rule, were denied citizenship.
With the rise of Nazi Germany and Arab Nationalism in the 1930’s attitudes toward the Jews began to change. In 1938 massive anti-Jewish demonstrations commenced, prompting the ensuing annihilation of Egyptian Jews. With the establishment of Israel, in 1948, the Egyptian government began enforcing aggressive and repressive measures against Jews including; confiscation of property, imprisonments, torture and institutionalized discrimination. Riots against Jews were common leaving many injured and some dead. Black Saturday, on January 26, 1952 started as a demonstration against the British and resulted in riots against Jews which left 500 businesses destroyed and many Jews injured or dead.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was appointed the second President of Egypt, from 1956 until his death in 1970, and with his rule began widespread pan-Arabism and worsening conditions for the Jews. The Suez Crisis, in 1956 was an attack on Egypt by the French, British and Israelis. As a result, Nasser declared that the Jews were enemies of the state and the massive expulsion of the Jews continued with 25,000 Jews fleeing. Jews were given 2 days to evacuate their property, which was later confiscated by the government, and were forced to leave with one bag and no more than twenty dollars in hand. Nearly 1,000 of those who remained in Egypt were imprisoned or tortured. Jewish refugees who had once prospered in Egypt were left with nearly nothing.
The Six-Day war occurred in 1967 in Israel. Again, there was an insurgence of violence toward Jews in Egypt based on ethnic cleansing ideology. During the war, all Jewish males over the age of 16 were imprisoned in interment camps or tortured and only 2,500 Jews remained in Egypt. In the 1970’s, as a result of international pressure, Jews were given permission to leave the country. The Jews in Egypt were among the wealthiest Jews in all of the Middle East. In 1971 it was estimated that Jews lost $500 million in personal property, $300 million in communal religious property, and $200 million in religious artifacts. As more and more Jews were forced out of Egypt the numbers continued to rise.
As of 2005, only 100 Jews were left in Egypt. Today there are estimates that only 5 remain.
The Jewish diaspora into Babylonian and Persian lands began in the 6th century BCE, during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar following the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem. Forced into exile from Judea into Babylon, Jews were not allowed to return to Judea until Cyrus the Great took control of the Babylonian Empire in the 5th century BCE. In the famous “Cyrus Declaration”, he permitted Jews to return to Judea and rebuild their homes. Although many returned, those that remained in Babylon and Persia formed the nucleus of the ancient Persian-Jewish society that still exists today.
In 642 AD, after the Battle of Nehavend, Arab Muslims established Islamic rule over Persian land and its people. Jews, along with all other non-Muslims, found themselves reduced to second-class citizens. They soon found themselves deficient in social and political equality, with the state imposing a special poll tax which applied only to non-Muslims. Jews also had to wear a gold patch at all times, signifying their religion and distinguishing them from all other citizens. This gold patch became a permanent symbol for Judaism, reappearing several times throughout Persian history as recently as the early 20th century.
During the rule of the Safavid Dynasty in the 17th century, Jews were forced by the government to proclaim themselves “New Muslims.” After this, the poll tax and gold patch were no longer required. However, they were left with no choice but to practice Judaism in secret under the threat of persecution if they were discovered. During the rule of the Qajar Dynasty, from the 18th to early 20th centuries, Jews were given a greater degree of religious freedom. The Persian government granted constitutional rights and equality to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. These minorities could also each elect one member to participate in Persian parliament.
Jewish life further improved under the reign of Reza Shah in the Pahlavi dynasty of the 20th century. Hebrew was taught in Jewish schools and Jewish newspapers were established. Reza Shah prohibited the mass conversion of Jews to Islam, and disagreed with the idea that non-Muslims were unclean. However, Reza Shah’s pro-Nazi sympathies and the rise of Hitler brought persecution to the Jews of Iran once again. Jewish schools were closed, and anti-Semitic propaganda became widespread throughout Iran. After the war, Reza Shah’s son Mohammad Reza Shah took over, and Iran soon saw an economic boom that did not escape Jewish citizens. Persian-Jewish society flourished, and the vast majority of Jews entered the middle-upper class.
This lasted until 1979, with the Iranian Revolution when Ayatollah Khomeini took over and established the Islamic Republic in Iran. While this made daily life much more difficult and dangerous, there were also advantages to Khomeini’s rule. Because Jews were considered a people of the book, they were granted religious freedom in Iran, although a clear distinction was made between the Jews living in Iran and those living in Israel. Although religious freedom was a big step forward, persecution of Jews in Iran has not disappeared and many Jews have been executed or forced into exile due to allegations of being collaborators with the State of Israel. There have also been several seemingly arbitrary crackdowns on the wealthy Jews of Iran in recent years.
Since the foundation of Israel in 1948, over 80% of the Jews in Iran have emigrated to Israel and other parts of the world. In the last 20 years, the Jewish population has dropped from 80,000 to what had been believed to be 25,000.
The first Jews arrived in Iraq in the 6th century BCE after being exiled to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar. By 220 CE Iraq had become the center of Jewish scholarship and development and remained that way for the next 500 years. When the Arabs conquered the region in 638, Islam became the official religion and Arabic the official language. In 720, Jews experienced persecution forbidding them to build synagogues, which caused some to flee.
During the period from 1058-1900, Iraq was conquered, in succession, by the Turkish, the Mongols, the Turkish and then the Persians. During this period Jews were often treated as “dhimmis” and were subjected to poll taxes and other discriminatory laws. At this time the Jewish population ranged between 40,000-80,000.
The British Mandate of Iraq began in 1918 and the Jews played a central role by helping to develop the judicial system and postal service. In addition, Jews held positions in Parliament, which led to some resentment by non-Jewish Iraqi citizens.
However, the situation changed drastically when Iraq gained its independence from the British and Rasheed Ali became Prime Minister. In 1932, Ali welcomed Nazi propagandists into Iraq which led to hatred against Iraqi Jews. Jews faced discrimination, harsh laws and quotas for employment which were set to exclude Jews from government positions. On June 1-2, 1941 the Farhood, “violent dispossession,” broke out killing nearly 300 Jews, injuring more than 2,000 and leaving $3 million in damaged property. During the next 10 years, Jews endured random outbreaks of rioting and violence. More than 15,000 Jews fled Iraq from 1941-1951.
In 1948, Iraq participated in a war against Israel. With 130,000 Jews living in Iraq at the time, Zionism was added to the Iraqi criminal code, punishable by death. As a result, 1,500 Jews were imprisoned, tortured and stripped of their property. Between the years 1949-1951, Jews were given permission to leave Iraq under the condition that they renounced their citizenship. 104,000 Jews were evacuated in Operation Ezra and Nechemia. Another 20,000 Jews were smuggled out through Iran.
Emigration was banned in 1952 with 6,000 Jews remaining in Iraq. Jews continued to experience severe persecution, arbitrary arrests, and economic isolation. In 1969, 9 Jewish men were publicly hanged in Baghdad and Basra after the government discovered an alleged “spy ring.” Following these events, Jews no longer felt safe in Iraq and in the 1970’s Jews were allowed to quietly leave the country.
Today less than 10 Jews remain in Iraq.
The history of the Jewish people in Libya dates back to the 3rd century BCE. In 1911 under Italian rule, Jews were treated relatively well. Approximately 21,000 Jews were living in Libya, with the majority residing in Tripoli. However, in the 1930’s the Fascist Italian regime initiated anti-Semitic laws which barred Jews from government jobs, government schools and required them to stamp “Jewish race” into their passports. However, this was not enough to deter Jews from Libya, as 25% of the population in Tripoli was Jewish with over 44 synagogues in existence.
In 1942, the Jewish Quarter of Benghazi was occupied by the Nazi’s and more than 2,000 Jews were deported and sent to Nazi labor camps. By the end of WWII, about one-fifth of those who were sent away had perished. Even with the end of WWII, the situation for the Jews in Libya did not improve. In 1945, more than 140 Jews were killed and even more injured in a pogrom in Tripoli. The rioters not only destroyed and looted the city’s synagogues, but they also ruined hundreds of homes and businesses as well. Again in 1948, coinciding with the declaration of the State of Israel, anti-Semitism escalated and rioters killed 12 Jews and destroyed 280 homes. This time, though, the Jews fought back and prevented even more deaths and injury. As a result of the rampant anti-Semitism, 30,972 Jews immigrated to Israel.
A new law in 1961 required a special permit to prove Libyan citizenship. Virtually all Jews were denied this permit. By 1967 the Jewish population decreased to 7,000. When anti-Semitic riots commenced following Israel’s Six Day War, King Idris and other Jewish leaders urged Jews living in Libya to emigrate. An Italian airlift saved 6,000 Jews and relocated them to Rome. Evacuees were forced to leave behind homes, businesses and possessions. When Muammar al-Gaddafi came to power in1969, there were only 100 Jews remaining in Libya. His government confiscated all Jewish property, cancelled Jewish debt and made emigration for Jews legally prohibited. Some Jews still managed to get out. By 2004 there were no Jews left in Libya.
The history of the Jews in Lebanon is different from the story of Jews in other Middle East and North African countries in that in ancient times, territory in what is today Lebanon was part of the Jewish Kingdom.
Beginning in biblical times, Jewish communities established themselves in Lebanon, primarily near what is today Beirut. According to the Torah, two tribes of King David settled in Lebanon as far north as Sidon. There are passages from the torah which also state that wood from cedar trees in southern Lebanon was used for construction of King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.
According to the Lebanese Jewish Community Council a historian has traced Jewish settlement in Baalbeck back to 922 AD, Tyr to 1170 and Saida to 1522.
By 1911, the Jewish community had expanded and exerted a significant amount of influence in Lebanon and later played an instrumental role in the successful movement for Lebanese Independence. Lebanon gained independence from France on November 22, 1943. The Lebanese Jews who participated in the struggle for independence strongly identified with their Lebanese identity.
During both the French Mandate and the aftermath of Lebanese independence there were two Jewish Community newspapers “Al-Alam Israeli” (The Israelite World) and “Le Commerce du Levant” (Business News of the Levantine region).
After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the population of the Lebanese Jewish Community increased due to the immigration of Iraqi and Syrian Jews to Lebanon. By 1958 the community that was 5,000 strong in 1948 had increased to 6,000. However that same year, Lebanon’s first civil war broke out beginning the first exodus of Jews from the country.
The community endured until 1975 when conditions in Lebanon significantly deteriorated with the outbreak of the Muslim-Christian Civil War which would last 15 years. Jewish infrastructure in Beirut was destroyed and Syria’s growing presence and influence in the country, compelled most of Lebanon’s remaining 1,800 Jews to flee.
In 1982, following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, eleven Jewish leaders were captured and killed by Islamist radicals. In the 1990’s the political climate changed making it more difficult for Jews to practice their religion freely many Lebanese Jews hid their identity of left the country. Despite this, a few Lebanese Jews remain in the country today and as of late 2010 a construction project to restore Beirut’s Maghen Avraham Synagoge is nearing completion.
The roots of Morocco’s Jewish communities date back to 587BCE, when Jewish refugees, fleeing the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple, crossed over to North Africa and settled in Morocco’s Anti-Atlas region. There, they lived among the local Berber tribes, some of whom, it is believed, adopted Judaism and later fought against the Arab conquest. During the Roman Empire, the Jewish Diaspora of Israel spread throughout North Africa’s Mediterranean coast. In 70 CE, following the Roman destruction of the of the Temple of Jerusalem, additional Jewish refugees settled in Morocco.
At the end of the 7th century the Islamic Conquest reached Morocco, and, once again, Morocco experienced an influx of Jews. Under Islam, Jews were now forced to live as subordinate, second class “dhimmis“. The situation of Jews and Christians in Morocco worsened in 1146, when the Almohades dynasty came to power and dropped the jizha (tax demanded of dhimmis), but demanded that Jews convert to Islam or be killed. Those who converted were required to identify themselves by wearing a specific yellow head garment, and lived as branded unbelievers who were subjected to severe anti-Jewish oppression and violence. By the 13th century, when the berber Marinid dynasty gained power and eased religious restrictions, Jews were once again allowed to live openly.
As Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492, thousands more fled to the the Moroccan Jewish “mellahs”, or urban Jewish districts and quarters designated by the Sultan. Jewish refugees of the Spanish Inquisition were unwelcome by local Muslims and many were subjected to violence, famine, and a struggle for survival. The Sephardic refugees were known as megorashim (those expelled) to differentiate them from Morocco’s Mizrahi toshavim (residents).
In the 17th century, the Alawids came to power and Jews continued to live as dhimmis, forced to pay exorbitantly high taxes and move into mellahs throughout the country. In 1670, a prominent Jewish councilor, Abu Bakr, was burned in public in order to arouse terror among Jews. During this same time, synagogues were destroyed and Jews were expelled from the region. Continued poor treatment of the Jews occurred until 1863, when Sir Moses Montefiore was sent by the British to help release 10 Jewish men imprisoned in Morocco under suspicion of killing a Spaniard. Montefiore succeeded in liberating the prisoners and the Sultan published an edict granting equal rights to Jews. Despite this edict, Jews still faced discrimination and violence.
By 1930, there were 225,000 Jews living in Morocco, constituting the largest population of Jews in North Africa. When Nazi anti-Semitic decrees prohibited Jews from participating in public functions, Mohammed V refused to abide by such rules and instead invited all the rabbis of Morocco to throne celebrations. The declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, however, brought forth rioting and anti-Semitic sentiments within Morocco’s Arabs, resulting in 44 Jewish deaths and the emigration of 18,000 Moroccan Jews to Israel. Morocco declared its independence in 1956 with several political positions being held by Jews. The same year, Jewish emigration from Morocco to Israel was suspended, but in 1963 the ban was lifted and some 100,000 Moroccan Jews immigrated to Israel. The Six Day War in 1967 reignited Arab-Jewish tensions and by 1971, the Jewish population in Morocco had decreased to 35,000. Today, 3,500 Jews remain in Morocco and, although small, the Jewish community plays a significant role in politics and culture.
Abraham is said to have stopped in Syria on his journey to the land of Canaan, sharing his goat’s milk with the poor. Haleb or Aleppo, means “he milked” and it’s said the city was named after Abraham’s visit there. Jews are believed to have had a continuous presence in Syria since the days of King David (1000 BCE), when Judea’s military commander Joab, took control of the ancient town of Aleppo. The indigenous Jewish community who lived in Syria since biblical days where known locally as must’arabia, or “would-be-Jews.”
In 635 AD, when Damascus fell to the Muslim Umayyads in the Arab Conquest Jews began to experience a period of significant growth, as they had previously suffered under Christian domination during Roman and Byzantine rule. During the Abbasid Dynasty (eight to tenth centuries), Jewish life in Syria flourished with the Great Synagogue being built in Aleppo and Syrian Rabbis leading Jewish spiritual practice and scholarship of the time. During this period Maimonides wrote his famous work, A Guide for the Perplexed as a letter to his Aleppan colleague, Joseph Ben Judah. In 1375, a descendent of Maimonides brought the Aleppo Codex from Egypt to Aleppo, where it would be cared for and protected for 600 years.
With the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, Spanish Jews fled and immigrated to many Eastern Mediterranean countries, including Syria. While the local must’arabia Jews of Syria accepted and welcomed the Jewish refugees from Spain, initially the two communities existed separately. Overtime the communities joined until few distinctions remained. Under Ottoman rule Aleppo became a hub of trade, and life for Jews, in both business and spirituality.
The 1800’s signaled a change for the Jews of Syria. In 1840 during the Damascus affair, Jews were accused of conducting ritual murder, and again in 1860 outlandish claims were made about Jews being criminals. As a result, beginning in 1850, Jews left Syria for Egypt and later for England. In 1908 a large community of Syrian Jews immigrated to New York, where the largest Syrian Jewish community lives today.
By 1943, 30,000 Jews resided in Syria, most of whom where located in Aleppo. In 1946, the French Colonial Mandate of Syria ended and a wave of Arab Nationalism spread throughout Syria. Following the 1947 U.N. partition of Palestine, mobs of rioters took to the streets burning and looting Jewish community sites, Jewish homes and businesses, and sacred artifacts and manuscripts including the Aleppo Codex. The political and economic situation became even more unmanageable when Jews were discharged from all government positions and Jewish bank accounts were frozen. Until 1992, when the Syrian Jewish community was finally granted exit visas, Jews suffered severe human rights abuses. Freedom of movement was severely restricted, forcing many to flee in-danger, undercover. In May 2012, it was reported that only 22 Jews still lived in Syria, all of them elderly and living in Damascus, in a building adjoining the city’s only functioning synagogue.
The first remnants of Jewish life in Tunisia date back to the 4th century. In the 400’s, Jews were increasing in size and prospering greatly to such a degree that the African Church Council enacted strict restrictions on the Jews in order to minimize their influence. In 534, the Jews were considered heathens and faced persecution. Throughout their history, Tunisian Jews encounter eras of good treatment interspersed with eras of anti-Semitism and discrimination.
When the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 sent Jews fleeing Spain to surrounding countries, only a few Jews immigrated to Tunisia because of the harsh conditions experienced by the Tunisian Jews at that time. In 1855 Mohammed Bey executed a Jew named Batto Sfoz. Two years of diplomatic negotiations took place with the French government who ultimately responded by granting Jews equal rights. Not only was this a victory for the Jewish people, but also the Tunisian government became weary of interfering with the Jews.
The French protectorate of Tunisa was established by treaty in 1881 and the situation of Tunisian Jews once again improved. Many Tunisian Jews welcomed the opportunity to become French citizens and identified strongly with French and European culture. This situation shifted dramatically in 1940 as France’s Anti-Semitic Vichy regime came to power.
In 1940, as Tunisa was subjected Vichy policy discriminatory, anti-Jewish legislation was implemented. By 1942, the Nazi’s were occupying Tunisia arresting Jewish leaders and sending many Jews to North African Nazi camps. According to Robert Satloff, “From November 1942 to May 1943, the Germans and their local collaborators implemented a forced-labor regime, confiscations of property, hostage-takings, mass extortion, deportations, and executions.” At least 160 Tunisian Jews were deported to European death camps.
The Tunisians gained independence in 1956 and immediately abolished the Jewish Community Council and destroyed many Jewish areas for “urban renewal.” As a result, many Jews felt forced to leave Tunisia. Following the Biserte war in 1961 and the Six Day War in 1967, Jews experienced significant anti-Semitism and were accused of being unpatriotic, which caused an additional 7,000 to leave Tunisia for France or Israel.
In the 1980’s Tunisia’s government took heavy measures to protect its dwindling Jewish population. Following Israel’s October 1, 1985 bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis, the government acted decisively to protect Jews from a backlash. The famous El Ghriba synagogue in the island of Djerba has served as a pilgrimage site for nearly 2,000 years and was attacked by al-Qaeda in 2002, leaving 17 dead.
Today the Tunisian Jewish population is approximately 1,500, comprising the largest indigenous religious minority in Tunisia.
The Jewish presence in Turkey has existed since biblical times when it is believed that Noah’s ark landed on Mount Ararat. In 300 BCE, the Jewish community was located primarily in the city of Sardis. In 1204 the Jews, Muslims, and Christians were told to resettle in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), the new capital.
When the Ottoman Army conquered Bursa in 1324 they made the city their new capital. At the time, they found a Jewish community oppressed under Byzantine rule. Jews welcomed the Ottomans as saviors. Sultan Orhan gave them permission to build the Etz ha-Hayyim (Tree of Life) synagogue which remained in service for hundreds of years until recent times.
Following the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, the Sultan Bayezid II invited Jews from Spain and Portugal to resettle in the Ottoman Empire which perpetuated a mass immigration to the region. At the time, the Ottoman Empire consisted of territory covering most of North Africa, the Middle East, the Caucuses, modern day Greece, as well as what we now call the Balkans and the Arabian Gulf.
Unlike Jews in other areas of Europe and the Middle East, the Jews in Turkey enjoyed a good amount of religious tolerance and prosperity. Although they were still required to pay special taxes and abide by restrictions dictating where to live and work, Jews had a significant amount of autonomy, engaged in business enterprises of their choice, and some reached high positions in the Ottoman court. Jews is the Ottoman Empire were respected, influential members of society who contributed to diplomacy, commerce and trade.
In 1912, the future first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion moved to Istanbul and studied law at Istanbul University with Yitzhak Ben Tzvi who would later become the second President of Israel.
Turkey established its independence in 1923, and as a result, the treatment of the Jews changed as well. In 1934, a planned deportation of Jews from East Thrace and an anti-Jewish pogrom caused feelings of insecurity among the Turkish Jews. In addition, the varlik vergisi, or wealth tax, of 1942 was imposed upon wealthy citizens of Turkey which disproportionately affected minorities and was seen as an attempt to decrease minority power. People who were unable to pay the tax were forced into labor camps. 30,000 Jews decided to emigrate from Turkey.
During WWII when the ship Struma filled with 769 Jews arrived in Istanbul, the passengers were refused permission to enter Turkey. On the journey back the ship sank after being hit by an explosion. Throughout WWII, Turkey remained relatively neutral, but several Turkish diplomats were key in saving thousands of Jews from France and Eastern Europe. A riot in Istanbul in 1955 destroyed 4,000 businesses and 1,000 homes and convinced 10,000 Jews to leave Turkey.
Today there is still a strong community of about 26,000 Jews remaining in Turkey, despite occasional anti-Semitic sentiment. In 2003, the Bet Israel Synagogue in Istanbul was bombed, killing 20 and injuring over 300.
There are many legends detailing the story of how the Jews came to settle in Yemen. Some believe that the Jews arrived in Yemen after receiving an order from King Solomon to search for gold and silver for the construction of the Temple, in 900 BCE. However, according to Yemenite tradition, it is believed that the Jews migrated to Yemen when they heard of the impending destruction of the First Temple in 629 BCE. Despite disagreement about when the Jews arrived in Yemen, there is no question about their long and illustrious history.
By the 900’s, Islam rose to power and allowed Jews freedom of religion in exchange for a poll tax. Jews were treated like second-class citizens and viewed as pariahs. In 1679 a large portion of the Jewish community was expelled from the region, only to be asked to return a year later when the economy in Yemen was suffering and the Jews had craftsmen and artisan skills which were needed. By 1700 there was resurgence in Jewish life in Yemen.
1882 marked the first wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine when conditions for the Jews started to worsen. An ancient Islamic law enforced in 1922, required all Jewish orphans under the age of 12 to be forcibly converted to Islam. Then in 1947 when the UN partition of Palestine was announced, a violent anti-Jewish pogrom spread through Aden, killing an estimated 82 Jews and destroying nearly of the Jewish shops, four synagogues, and over 200 homes. At this point the Jewish community became paralyzed by the loss. Therefore from 1949-50 nearly the entire Jewish Yemenite community was airlifted to Israel via Operation Magic Carpet. Civil war in 1962 prohibited any remaining Jews from leaving Yemen, although a few managed to escape anyway. By 2005 there were less than 200 Jews living in Yemen.