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ADEN, port and city in S.W. Arabia, now part of the Federation of South Arabia, possibly identical with the Eden referred to in Ezekiel 27:23. Aden had a medieval Jewish community of great importance for the history of Jewish letters. It reached its peak during the 12th century. About 150 letters and documents written in, sent to, or concerning Aden were found in the Cairo Genizah. In addition, Yemenite Jews of that period communicated with other Jewish communities via Aden. By the end of the 11th century there was a "representative of the merchants" in Aden, Abu Ali Hasan (Heb. Japheth) ibn Bundar (probably a name of Persian origin). He bore the Hebrew title sar ha-kehillot ("chief of the congregations"), which indicates that he was head of the Jewish communities of both Aden and *Yemen. His son, *Maḍmūn, was "nagid of the Land of Yemen."

In addition to business and family ties, there were communal and religious relations between the Jews of Aden and practically all the Jewish communities of the Islamic empire. "Aden and India" formed one juridical diocese: the Jewish merchants and craftsmen of about 20 different ports of India and Ceylon were under the jurisdiction of the rabbinical court of Aden. In Yemen itself the authority of the court of Aden extended as far as Saʿda, the northernmost important Jewish community of the country. In turn, the rabbinical court of Aden regarded itself subordinate to that of the Egyptian capital, which had been instituted by the head of the Palestinian academy. In a letter addressed in 1153 to Old Cairo, the rabbis of Aden describe themselves as authorized by their exilarch and their nagid, but add that they acknowledge their "masters in Egypt" as an authority higher than themselves (see Strauss (Ashtor), in Zion, 4 (1939), 226, 231).

Conflict of Religious Authority

Because of relations with both Iraq and Palestine-Egypt, the Jewish community of Aden was drawn into the rivalry between the respective Jewish authorities. The dissensions of the Old Cairo community were transmitted to Aden, where they erupted in the spring of 1134. On the Sabbath before Passover that year, a scholarly Jew from Saʿda was asked to lead the community in prayer. Following his home custom and the written instructions of the nagid Maḍmūn, he mentioned both the exilarch and the Palestinian gaon in his sermon. However, the Old Cairo opponents of Maẓli'aḥ, who happened to be present, objected; and a cousin of the exilarch, recognized as his representative, forced the scholar from Saʿda to recant his error publicly. After Passover the merchants from North Africa and Egypt who went to Aden – most of them ardent followers of the Palestinian gaon – gathered around Ḥalfon b. Nethanel Dimyati, known in Hebrew literature as an intimate friend of the poet Judah Halevi. The followers of Maẓli'aḥ even threatened to apply to the Fatimid authorities to settle the dispute, but did not carry out the threat.

It is known that at the end of the 11th or the beginning of the 12th century the Jews of Aden contributed regularly to the upkeep of the academies of Iraq (see Goitein, in Tarbiz, 31 (1961/62), 363). Maḍmūn and other well-to-do merchants of Aden also sent regular contributions consisting partly of money and partly of precious Oriental spices and clothes to the gaon and members of the rabbinical court in Old Cairo.

The Jews of Aden and Yemen submitted religious queries to the scholars of Egypt even before the time of Maimonides. For example, Maḍmūn once sent gaon Maẓli'aḥ a set of translucent Chinese porcelain accompanied by the religious query, often repeated in later sources, whether china should be regarded ritually as glass or pottery. Isaac b. Samuel ha-Sephardi, one of the two chief judges of Old Cairo between 1095–1127, sent responsa to Yemen, which, like Maimonides' letters to Yemen, were certainly sent via Aden. (See the article on *nagid for the later negidim of Aden and Yemen.)

The Aden tradition of contributing to the academies of Iraq and Palestine was extended to that of *Maimonides. A very large donation for it is indicated in a letter sent from Aden. Abraham, Maimonides' son and successor, answered queries addressed to him by the scholars of Aden.

Adani and Yemenite Jews

The impressive number of chiefs of congregations and negidim of Aden in the 11th and 12th centuries and later may be misleading: these notables did not exercise authority over the Jews of Yemen throughout the whole period. Despite the close connection between the Jews of Aden and those of inner Yemen, there were tangible differences between them, and they were referred to as "Adani" and "Yemeni," respectively, when traveling abroad. In the 12th century Adanis were found in Egypt and as far west as Mamsa in Morocco (cf. DIT, no. 109 (= manuscript Cambridge, T.-S., 12. 1905), Yosef al-ʿAdanī al-Mamsāwī).

There were also Karaites in Aden. They tried to gain adherents to their beliefs, and the poems of Abraham Yiju in honor of Maḍmūn b. Japheth credit him with crushing their efforts. Disputations with Karaites are reflected in Yemenite writings of that period.

The Importance of Aden for Hebrew Literature

The Jews of Aden were ardent collectors of books. Maḍmūn b. David in his letter of July 1202 asked to have the medical treatises of Maimonides and other useful books sent to him; he specifically requested copies written on good paper and in a clear hand. The Jews of Aden were such avid bibliophiles that the Egyptian India traveler Ḥalfon b. Nethanel went there for books that he could not get elsewhere (DIT, no. 246). Many of the most important literary creations written in Hebrew, such as the poems of Judah Halevi and Moses ibn Ezra, have been preserved in manuscripts found in Yemen. The Midrash ha-Gadol of David *Adani shows that he possessed an exceptionally rich, specialized library, containing works that have not yet been found in their entirety elsewhere.

Most of the letters from Aden, consisting predominantly of business correspondence, are in Arabic, which was in those days the lingua franca of commerce throughout the Islamic world and beyond. However, the often very long Hebrew poems appended to these letters, as well as the personal letters written in Hebrew, prove that their writers were well versed in Hebrew literature and inclined toward the midrashic style and the piyyut.

Jewish Tombstones

A great many tombstones with Hebrew inscriptions were found in Aden. Some are preserved in the British Museum and many more in museums in Aden, but most of them have become known through rubbings and photographs made of tombs still in situ. The oldest inscriptions are from the 12th century; and those referring to persons mentioned also in the genizah documents are of particular interest. There are others from the 13th and 14th centuries and a great number from the 16th through the 18th. The wording in the older inscriptions is extremely modest and concise, while the later ones are occasionally more elaborate. In the tombstones of women, as a rule, the names of their fathers, but not those of their husbands, are indicated, even when the woman concerned was described as an ishah ḥashuvah ("an important lady"). (The comprehensive study of the subject by H.P. Chajes in the Sitzungsberichte of the Viennese Academy of Sciences, 147 (1904), no. 3, was complemented by additional material published by I. Ben-Zvi, in Tarbiz, 22 (1952/53), 198 ff.; E. Subar, in JQR, 49 (1959), 301 ff.; S.A. Birnbaum, in JSS, 6 (1961), 95 ff.; and by the critical survey by S.D. Goitein, in JSS, 7 (1962), 81–84.).

Aden remained a busy port and its Jewish community prospered well into the 16th century. Despite a decline in Jewish participation in the India trade, Jewish Mediterranean merchants continued to frequent Aden, and scholars called Adani and known to have lived in Aden made considerable contributions. The replacement of a local dynasty by the Ottoman Turks in 1538 did not adversely affect the fortunes of the Jews of Aden. A Muslim book of legal opinions from the beginning of the Ottoman period gives the number of Jewish male taxpayers as 7,000. Since taxes customarily were paid for boys at the age of nine approximately, this number of taxpayers indicates the existence of about 3,000 Jewish families in Aden. In the 18th century, when the India trade was at its lowest ebb and the tribal sultan of Laḥj ruled it, Aden fell into utter decay.


R.B. Serjeant, Portuguese off the South Arabian Coast (1963), 139–40; J. Saphir, Even Sappir, 2 (1874); H. von Maltzan, Reise nach Suedarabien, 1 (1873), 172–81; Mahalal ha-Adani, Bein Aden le-Teiman (1947); Y. Sémach, Une Mission d'Alliance au Yémen (1910); S. Yavnieli, Massa le-Teiman (1952); Great Britain, Admiralty, Handbook of Arabia (1920); Colonial Office, Report of the Commission of Enquiry into Disturbances in Aden in December 1947 (1948), no. 233; Histadrut ha-Ovdim, Ẓeror Iggerot al ha-Sho'ah be-Aden (1948); Bentwich, in: Jewish Monthly (April 1948); Yesha'ya, in: Yalkut ha-Mizraḥ ha-Tikhon (Feb. 1949); Jewish Agency, Dappei Aliyah (1949–50); Samuel b. Joseph Yeshua Adani, Naḥalat Yosef (1907); E. Brauer, Ethnologie der jemenitischen Juden (1934); S. Assaf, Mekorot u-Meḥkarim be-Toledot Yisrael (1946); A. Yaari, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Arḥot ha-Mizraḥ, 1 (1937), 86 ff.; idem, in: KS, 24 (1947/48), 70. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Aharoni, Yehudei Aden (1991); idem, The Jews of the British Crown Colony of Aden (1994); J. Tobi, West of Aden: A Survey of the Aden Jewish Community (1994).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.