Aden is a seaport city in southwestern Yemen, possibly identical with the city of Eden referred to in Ezekiel 27:23. Aden had a long and storied Jewish history that was almost completely wiped out due to violence against the Jewish community after the establishment of Israel.
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).
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.
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 folklore of the Jews of Aden was strongly influenced and dominated by that of the Jews of Yemen. This was especially evident in their narrative lore. Among the unrelated local customs: The tallit ("mandīl") was worn with green silk edges; a goat was slaughtered and placed under the bed of a mother in childbirth; on the first day of the seven-day wedding celebration a heifer was slaughtered. These animal sacrifices were also practiced by neighboring non-Jewish tribes, and it is doubtful whether they stem directly from ancient Jewish traditions.
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.
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.
A new chapter in the history of Aden Jewry, as part of the political and economic changes in Aden itself, began with the conquest of the port and city from the Sultan of Laḥj by the British captain S.B. Haines in 1839, supposedly in response to the aggressive action of the sultan against a British ship anchored next to Aden. In fact, the conquest of the port was intended to assure a safe place to anchor and fuel for British ships arriving from the Mediterranean basin via the Red Sea and Aden on their way to India. In 1839 the population of Aden was only 600, 250 of them Jewish and 50 Banyans (Indians). Soon after the British had occupied Aden, the governor abrogated the Jews' status as a protected community ( dhimmī ) and restored discriminatory laws in accordance with Islamic tradition (Ghiyār). This was done despite the sultan's explicit orders. Haines' reports describe the delighted reaction of the Jews to the British conquest as do the later accounts of the Jewish sources: Y. Sappir, S.D. Karasso, and M. ha-Adani. As a result of the occupation, the economic development of Aden took wing, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. As a consequence, a profound transformation occurred in the economic structure of Aden's Jewry from traditional handcrafts to various kinds of commerce. Particularly prominent was the Moses (Messa) family, whose head, Menahem Moses (d. 1864), was the president of the community. This family became very wealthy, especially as suppliers to the British army and its administration in Aden, which trusted the Jewish merchants more than the Muslim ones. The Moses family continued to be the social and economic leaders of Aden Jewry in the next two generations, particularly Menahem Moses' son, Banin (d. 1922), who succeeded his father as the head of the family and president of the community.
Because of the equal rights enjoyed by the Jews and the access to the outside world, Aden became attractive to Yemenite Jews. Many Jews emigrated to Aden as refugees escaping Yemen and the deteriorating political situation that particularly affected Jews and merchants. Jewish ship passengers and emissaries stopped at Aden and some decided to settle there. The number of Jews in Aden in 1860 was 1,500 and, by 1945, 4,500 Jews inhabited the city. In this way the Aden community took on a somewhat "international" character somewhat different from that of Yemen Jewry. Aden became the entry port to Yemen. Leaders of the local community, such as Moses Hanoch ha-Levi from the Caucasus and Banin Moses looked out for the well-being of Yemenite Jews and the refugees passing through Aden on their way to Ereẓ Israel. Banin Moses even supported educational and outreach institutions of various Diaspora communities in Jerusalem and many of the emissaries from Ereẓ Israel used to apply to him for contributions.
The profound political and economic changes did not result in social and cultural change. The Moses family, and
especially Banin Moses, who held the economic reins of the community, virtually controlled single-handedly the social and religious administration of the community. He stymied all innovation, such as the establishment of modern schools and cooperation with the Zionist movement. As a result, a professional class of Jews did not come into being in Aden. Only after the death in 1924 of Judah Moses, the third family president, did a new family president, Selim (1924–38), another son of Menahem Moses, establish a modern educational system for girls and boys and strengthen the connections with the Zionist movement in Ereẓ Israel. His partner in these activities was Mahalal Adani . In this way the young generation – women as well as men – acquired a modern Zionist Hebrew education; however, none continued on to higher education. Neither did the small Hebrew printing press established in Aden in 1891 become a milestone in the cultural development of the community, as only a small number of religious books were printed there for the needs of religious life: various liturgical books and rules for ritual slaughter.
The abrogation of the status of the Jews as a protected community led to a deterioration in relations with the Muslim majority, heightened by the conflict with the Arabs in Ereẓ Israel. Even though the Jewish community in Aden grew in numbers, the growth of the Muslim community was incomparably larger. As opposed to their relative size at the start of the British occupation in 1839, when they constituted approximately half the population, at this stage they became just a small religious minority. Apart from individual Muslim attacks against Jews, a large-scale attack on the Jewish quarter occurred in 1932 and continued for a few days. The Jewish stores were pillaged, many Jews were beaten, and the "Farḥi" synagogue was desecrated. The British police showed its indifference by doing little to punish the attackers. Following these incidents, Aden Jewry no longer felt safe and immigration to Ereẓ Israel became an alternative. Simultaneously, the Islamic nationalist movement began to develop in Aden, seeking to end the British occupation. The situation of the Jews further deteriorated after the riots in Ereẓ Israel in 1936–39. However, Yemenite and Aden Jews faced difficulties in immigrating to Israel because of British Mandate policy, which limited the number of certificates to Palestine.
In contrast to the declining political and economic situation, educational and social activities increased among the young generation in Aden thanks to the numerous emissaries arriving from Ereẓ Israel. These emissaries included Yemenite and Aden Jews who had already moved to Israel such as Yosef ben David, Ovadia Tuvia, Binyamin Ratzabi, and Shimon Sha'er (Avizemer). These activities were not approved of by the traditional Jewish religious authorities, which caused tension between them and the younger rebellious generation. But social change was nipped in the bud as Arab violence was stepped up following the UN decision to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. In the new pogroms, which continued for three days with no British intervention, nearly a hundred Jews were killed in Aden and the nearby city of Sheikh 'Uthmān. Others were injured, two Jewish schools were burned down, and most Jewish stores and small businesses were pillaged. The Jewish community lost all at once its economic underpinning and its faith in the British government. An investigating committee initiated by the British government did little to improve the financial and mental state of the Jews. Most of them preferred to immigrate to Israel with the founding of the Jewish state. Out of a population of 4,500, only 1,100 remained in 1946. In the mid-1950s, 830 lived there, a small minority among the 135,000 members of the Muslim community. The number of Jews diminished further in the course of the following years when their political situation worsened due to the tension between Israel and the Arab states and the radicalism of the Islamic nationalist Arab movement in Aden and its struggle against the British occupation. The 1958 incidents are an example of this trend: Jews were attacked in their synagogues, cars were destroyed, and an attempt was made to burn the Jewish school. With Britain's departure after the Six-Day War in June 1967, many of the Jews who still lived in Aden left. In the following November an independent state was established in Aden. The remnants of the Jewish community arrived partly in Israel and partly in London, leaving their belongings and institutions behind them. The Jews who immigrated to London as British citizens joined the members of the community who had moved there several years earlier. This strengthened the Aden community in London, which still retains its religious traditions.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
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).