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Muslim kingdom in the southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula, made up of plateaus and hills rising to 10,000 feet. This altitude gives Yemen enough rain to supply a population of about 7 million with corn, vegetables, fruit, and wheat, and enough of its famous mocha coffee to export. In ancient times, Yemen traded with Africa and the Far East, but since adopting Islam in 628, the country has been fearful of strangers, isolated, and poor. The Jewish community of Yemen is thought to be the oldest in the world, dating back to Solomon‘s time. In the 5th century C.E., Jewish influence was so great that the Himyaritic kings adopted Judaism; however, the Ethiopian invasions ended this dynasty. When Yemen adopted Islam, Jews were made second-class citizens; they were not, for example, permitted to walk on the pavement or ride on a donkey, lest a Jew look down upon a Muslim pedestrian. Jewish orphans were forcibly converted to Islam. Nevertheless, through centuries of oppression, the Yemenite Jews preserved their traditional religion. In 1172, Maimonides wrote his famous Epistle to the Yemenites, in which he expressed his sympathy for Jews of Yemen in their martyrdom and exhorted them to remain true to their faith. Their yearning for Zion led the Yemenite Jews to place their faith in a number of false Messiahs, a danger Maimonides had warned against. Despite their isolation, Yemenite Jews were in contact with Jewish spiritual and creative life during the Middle Ages. Kabbalah was a popular study among them, and they had Kabbalist writers, poets, and scholars. In 1517, Yemen became a part of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire. Periodic clashes between Arab and Turk followed; the Turks were driven out of Yemen, but returned to reoccupy the country. Each change worsened the position of Jews. This situation and their ancient love of the Holy Land induced them to begin migration to Israel in 1881. This migration reached its climax after the establishment of the State of Israel, when the entire community of 40,000 Yemenite Jews was transported by plane within about a year. To Yemenite Jews, these flights were theeagle‘s wings” in the prophecy of redemption. In 1998, there were about 200 Jews still in the country.

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