Last year, Haaretz what is actually a very informative article about archaeology in Saudi Arabia and the history of the ostensibly Jewish kingdom of Himyar in parts of today’s Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
But a closer look finds the type of bias we all come to expect from the newspaper.
One of the key, but often forgotten, players in Arabia at the time was the kingdom of Himyar.
Established around the 2nd century CE, by the 4th century it had become a regional power. Headquartered in what is today Yemen, Himyar had conquered neighboring states, including the ancient kingdom of Sheba (whose legendary queen features in a biblical meeting with Solomon).
In a recent article titled “What kind of Judaism in Arabia?” Christian Robin, a French epigraphist and historian who also leads the expedition at Bir Hima, says most scholars now agree that, around 380 CE, the elites of the kingdom of Himyar converted to some form of Judaism.
The Himyarite rulers may have seen in Judaism a potential unifying force for their new, culturally diverse empire, and an identity to rally resistance against creeping encroachment by the Byzantine and Ethiopian Christians, as well as the Zoroastrian empire of Persia.It is unclear how much of the population converted, but what is sure is that in the Himyarite capital of Zafar (south of Sana’a), references to pagan gods largely disappear from royal inscriptions and texts on public buildings, and are replaced by writings that refer to a single deity.
Using mostly the local Sabean language (and in some rare cases Hebrew), this god is alternatively described as Rahmanan – the Merciful – the “Lord of the Heavens and Earth,” the “God of Israel” and “Lord of the Jews.” Prayers invoke his blessings on the “people of Israel” and those invocations often end with shalom and amen.
…One big question that remains about the Jews of Himyar is what kind of Judaism they practiced. Did they observe the Sabbath? Or the rules of kashrut?
Some scholars, like the 19th century Jewish-French orientalist Joseph Halevy, refused to believe that a Jewish king could persecute and massacre his Christian subjects, and dismissed the Himyarites as belonging to one of the many sects in which Christianity was divided in its early days.
Robin, the French epigraphist, writes in his article that the official religion of Himyar may be described as “Judeo-monotheism” – “a minimalist variety of Judaism” that followed some of the religion’s basic principles.
The fact is that the few inscriptions found so far, along with the writings of later chroniclers, who may have been biased against the Himyarites, do not allow scholars to form a clear picture of the kingdom’s spirituality.
But there is another way to look at the question.
Through Christian and Muslim rule, Jews continued to be a strong presence in the Arabian Peninsula. This is clear not only from Mohammed’s (often conflictual) dealings with them, but also from the influence that Judaism had on the new religion’s rituals and prohibitions (daily prayers, circumcision, ritual purity, pilgrimage, charity, ban on images and eating pork).
In Yemen, the heartland of the Himyarites, the Jewish community endured through centuries of persecution, until 1949-1950, when almost all its remaining members – around 50,000 – were airlifted to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet. And while they maintain some unique rituals and traditions, which set them apart from Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, no one would doubt that they are indeed, the last, very much Jewish descendants of the lost kingdom of Himyar.
This is the author of the Haaretz piece, Ariel David, making up the idea that Yemenite Jews are descended from converts to a watered down Judaism in Himyar, not quoting any scholar or archaeologist.
Because they would laugh at the idea that today’s Yemenite Jews were descended from Himyar converts.
For one thing, there is a record of Jews and synagogues in Yemen centuries before the Himyar kingdom conversion to Judaism. Clearly Jews were an important part of the kingdom which is one reason why the Himyarites chose Judaism as a possible unifying factor for their kingdom and conquests. But their actual interest in Judaism was political, not theological.
Secondly, DNA records show that Yemenite Jews are closely related to other Jews.
Haaretz is pushing a new type of “Khazar” theory that Yemenite Jews aren’t really Jews. It’s antisemitic when applied to Ashkenazic Jews and it is antisemitic when applied to Yemenite Jews.
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