KHAYBAR


KHAYBAR, the largest Jewish settlement in *Arabia in the time of *Muhammad, approximately 60 mi. (97 km.) from Medina. Khaybar is located on a very high mountainous plateau entirely composed of lava deposits, containing very fertile valleys that are, however, covered by malarial swamps; the Jews of Khaybar were thus forced toward the mountains, only going down into the valleys (during the day) in order to work their lands. They cultivated dates, grapes, vegetables, and grain, and raised sheep, cattle, camels, horses, and donkeys. They also engaged in spinning, weaving, and the manufacture of silk clothing, garments which were well-known in the entire Hejaz, and benefited from the caravan trade between Arabia, *Syria, and *Iraq and traded with Syria. The Arabs were not at that time capable of producing for themselves the tools, the weapons, the textiles, and the jewelry which they needed or coveted, and the Jews, being skillful artisans and drawn towards commerce, were in a position to supply these objects because they understood the art of manufacturing them or the means of importing them. The Jews provided the capital for commercial activities while the Arabs acted as intermediaries between them and the tribes of the interior. The Jews of Khaybar were well known for their diligence, wealth, and hospitality. During the night they would place beacons in the towers of their castles, guiding those who were lost to their houses, which remained open all night. The Jewish Banū *Naḍīr of *Medina, who claimed to be descendants of Aaron the priest, owned lands in Khaybar and had castles, fortresses, and their own weapons there. After Muhammad expelled them from Medina in 625, their leaders moved to their estates in Khaybar in order to prepare for war against Muhammad and to recruit the aid of Arab tribes. In fact, they led those who fought against Muhammad, and the men of Khaybar, who had intermarried with them, treated them with respect and obeyed them. The settlements of Khaybar were concentrated around three centers – Naṭāt, Shiqq, and Katība – scattered over a wide area. The settlers engaged in the manufacture of metal implements for work and weapons such as battering rams and catapults, which they stored in their castles and even lent to Arab tribes. According to the sources, most of them written by Arabic chroniclers, they had 10,000 warriors but this number is probably very exaggerated.

Muhammad's war against the Jews of Khaybar (628) was very harsh. At first he sent disguised guests to the homes of the leaders of Banū Naḍīr who then killed their hosts. Muhammad's victory over the Jews of Khaybar, some of whom were held in esteem by the enemy, was also aided by the distance of the settlements and their castles from one another, the absence of coordination between the fighting forces, the death of the leader Sallām ibn Mishkam, and the treachery of a Jew who showed the Muslims the secret entrances to one of the fortresses. The castles of Khaybar had tunnels and passages which in wartime enabled the besieged to reach water sources outside the castles. Muhammad treated the Jews of Khaybar with cruelty, murdering Ḥuyayy ibn Akhṭab, head of Banū Naḍīr, in Medina. He ordered the son of the leader and the husband of his daughter Ṣafiyya killed in Khaybar. He married Ṣafiyya, who herself was taken captive, on the way from Khaybar to Medina. The sources emphasize her beauty, her faithfulness to Muhammad, and her privileges, which included the inheritance of her property by a relative and his uncle in Khaybar.

Concerned that Khaybar would remain desolate and would not continue supplying its agricultural produce to the Hejaz, Muhammad and the Jews signed an agreement which allowed many of its inhabitants to remain on their lands, even though the payment of half their crops to the conquerors undermined the economic position of the Jews of Khaybar. From a legal point of view the pact was defective, since it did not define the situation of the Jews and did not say whether they were to remain the owners of the soil which they were to cultivate. In later years Muslim jurists defined this settlement as land tenure with rent paid in produce. One version of this agreement was copied by Joseph *Sambari in the 17th century. According to Muslim sources, Muhammad returned to the Jews copies of the Torah seized during the siege, since he opposed desecrating them. After captives of war and slaves from other countries were brought to Khaybar and the people of Hejaz became more accustomed to agriculture, the caliph *Omar decided to expel the Jews of Khaybar in 642 under the pretense that before his death Muhammad had commanded that two religions could not exist simultaneously in the Hejaz. Contrary to the statements of Graetz, Dubnow, and others, however, not all the Jews of Khaybar were expelled by Omar. Those who had made special treaties and covenants with Muhammad, especially the members of the family of his wife Ṣafiyya, were allowed to remain. Graetz's theory about the wanderings of the Jews of Khaybar to Kufa on the Euphrates, where they influenced the center of the gaonate in Babylonia and served as an ethnic background for the growth of Karaism there, is basically incorrect. Some of the Jews of Khaybar settled in Wadi al-Qurā and *Tayma, but most of them settled in *Jericho. Among those exiled to Jericho was the son of the chief warrior of Khaybar, Ḥārith, who was the father of Zaynab, the woman credited with the attempt to poison Muhammad in revenge for the slaughter of her people. The Jews of Khaybar apparently spread out from Jericho along the Jordan Valley, reaching the Sānūr Valley in northern Samaria. This is indicated by the names Tell-Khaybar and Khirbat-Khaybar in that valley and an ancient Arab tradition about a Jewish king and princess who lived in these places. An Arabic source published by I. *Goldziher (REJ, 28 (1894), 83) quotes an Arabic account in which the Muslims express their astonishment that the Jewish women of Khaybar put on their most beautiful jewelry on the Day of Atonement.

The Jews of Khaybar, like Jews in other parts of the Hejaz, are mentioned hundreds of years after the expulsion of some of them by Omar. At the end of the 11th century they still had possessions, lands, fields, and castles in the region of Katība, which was a region of Banū Naḍīr in the time of Muhammad. The Jews of Wadi al-Qurā addressed questions about the cultivation of dates to R. Sherira and Hai Gaon in Babylonia. *Benjamin of Tudela (12th century) heard rumors, which are exaggerated, about the power of the Jews of Khaybar and Tayma, who were still addressing questions to the exilarchs in *Baghdad. He noted that the Jews of Khaybar were descendants of the Re'uben, Gad, and Menashe tribes and that they numbered 50,000, including scholars and war heroes who fought against their enemies. In the 11th and 12th centuries the Jews of Khaybar are mentioned in Egypt and Babylonia. In a letter from the gaon Solomon b. Judah written in Jerusalem around 1020, a certain Isaac from Wadi al-Qura is mentioned. This man deserted his family for four years, traveled to Egypt and returned "to his land," that is, to Wadi al-Qura. Two *Genizah documents attest the settlement of Khaybar Jews in Tiberias during that period. According to Muslim tradition, the Jews of Khyabar were expelled in the days of Omar. They claimed in Tiberias to be Khayberis, and therefore exempt from tax,

Great attention has been devoted by scholars to a letter from the Cairo Genizah, written in Arabic in Hebrew letters, to "Ḥanina (or Ḥabiba) and the people of Khaybar and Maqnā," showering numerous privileges on them and promising their safety from harm by the Muslims for the sake of their cousin Ṣafiyya; the letter, which is written on paper, is probably copied from one which had been written on leather, as was the case with the letters and treaties of Muhammad. Arabic sources attest that correspondence to Jews in the time of Muhammad was in Arabic in Hebrew letters. The letter, however, has been recognized by most scholars as a forgery, although there is disagreement as to whether its details are drawn from authentic treaties and historical facts and are copies of these sources. In any event, the letter was composed at the time of the caliph Al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allah (ca. 1010) as a defense against persecutions, expropriation of property, and coercion to accept the Muslim faith in his time, not only in Egypt but in other parts of his rule and including Khaybar itself. An Arabic source explicitly states that "Khaybar Jews" are exempt from the decrees. A Genizah letter tells about the poet Yakhin who fled from *al-Mahalla (Egypt) when he was requested to pay the poll tax. The letter supposes that Yakhin was entitled to tax exemption because he was a Khayberi. In other Genizah letters from the 11th century there are references to persons called Ibn al-Khayberi. It seems to *Goitein that a distinction should be made between Jews who really emigrated from north Arabia and were called Hizajis, and the Khaybaris, who probably came to the West via Iraq and had no real connection with Khaibar. Gil also doubts whether those Jews claiming exemption and special status were in fact Khayberis.

From the 16th century onward, when European travelers began to visit Arabia, rumors were spread about the presence of the Jews of Khaybar in the Hejaz, their bravery, their control of the roads to Mecca, and their collection of road taxes from pilgrims. Varthema, who traveled in Arabia during the early years of the 16th century, noted that in a locality between *Damascus and *Medina there lived between 4,000 and 5,000 Jews, but the orientalist Pirenne doubts this. David Hareuveni claimed in 1524 in Italy that he was the army general of the king Solomon from Habur (Khaybar) desert. During the 19th century these rumors encouraged some hardy, imaginative Jews to go out into the wilderness of Arabia in search of the "Sons of Rehab" (Khaybar) and the "Sons of Moses, Dan, and Asher." Some of them died on the way and were not heard of again. Pirenne writes that in the mid-19th century, the Jews were in considerable numbers in that area. According to rumors, a few Khaybar Jews arrived in Palestine and appeared in synagogues. Of special interest is the Muḥamara family in the village of Yutah in the mountains south of Hebron, which traces its lineage to the Jews of Khaybar, as well as the family of the head of the deserted village of Hūj, near kibbutz Dorot, who was related to the descendants from Khaybar in Yutah. The old father of the Muḥamara family settled in Yutah in the second half of the 18th century. G.M. Kressel wrote (in 2001) about the symbolic meaning amongst the Negev Bedouin population of Muhammad's war against the Jews of Khaybar.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

I. Ben-Ze'ev, Ha-Yehudim ba-Arav (19572), index; H.Z. Hirschberg, Yisrael ba-Arav (1946), index; I. Ben Zvi, in: Keneset, 5 (1940), 281–302; J. Braslavsky, Le-Ḥeker Arẓenu (1954), 3–52 (English summaries: 3–4, English section); S.D. Goitein, in: KS, 9 (1932/33), 507–21; Caetani, in: Annali dell' Islam, 2 (1905), 8–41; R. Leszynsky, Juden in Arabien zur Zeit Mohammeds (1910). ADD BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Pirenne, A la découverte de l'Arabie (1958), 33, 76, 215ff.; Ashtor (Strauss), Toledot, 2 (1953), 298–309; I. Ben-Zvi, She'ar Yashuv (1966), 370, 380, 415–23; B.Z. Dinur Israel ba-Golah, 2:2 (1959), 26–27, 169–170; 2:3 (1968), 424–25; M.A. Shaban, Islamic History, A New Interpretation (600750) (1971), 10, 13; EIS2 (1978), 1137–43; Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, 2 (1971), 386, 611; 5 (1988), 603; M. Lecker, in: Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 5 (1984), 1–11; N. Dana, in: Moreshet Yisrael, 1 (2005), 88–99; M.R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross, The Jews in the Middle Ages (1994), index; M. Gil, A History of Palestine, 6341099 (1992), index; M. Lecker, in: Pe'amim, 61 (1994), 6–15; S. Shtuber, Sefer Divrei Yosef le-Rabbi Yosef be-Rabbi Yiẓḥak Sambari (1994), 97, 293, 313; G.M. Kressel, in: Israel as Center Stage (2001), 165–87; M. Gil, The Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (2004), 3–45.

[Joseph Braslavi (Braslavski) /

Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.