NAJRĀN, chain of fertile oases and a town in north *Yemen; in 1936 the area became part of *Saudi Arabia, after the war between the two states. A Jewish community made up of both merchants and farmers existed in Najrān long before the influx in the fifth century of Christians, who were mostly Monophysites from al-*Hira. Najrān became the center of Christian propaganda in southern *Arabia. The persecution of the Christians of Najrān by the Jewish proselyte king of *Himyar, Yosef Dhū Nuwās, in about 523, is recorded in Greek, Syriac, and Ethiopic Christian literature. The Ethiopians, aided by Justinian to some extent, wrested control of the town from Dhū Nuwās and the Himyaris. Nonetheless, Jews continued to live in Najrān, maintaining their former status. Muhammad guaranteed the Christians rights in Najrān, as they quickly made an agreement with him which was confirmed by his successors *Abu Bakr and *Omar. Jewish communities continued to exist in Najrān until their emigration to Israel in 1949.
According to Yemenite Jewish tradition, the Jews of Najrān trace their origin to the Ten Tribes. They lived in the region of Najrān in Saudi Arabia and were the only group of Yemenite Jews who lived outside Yemen under the rule of another kingdom. On the strength of the laws of the desert and tribal protection, they were not subjected to persecution as were the Jews of Yemen. They enjoyed the same equality of rights as the Arabs of Saudi Arabia, were not taxed, and did not pay the *jizya (the poll tax imposed on non-Muslims in the Muslim countries "in exchange for the protection" granted them by the government). The Bedouin of Saudi Arabia, who belonged to the Sunni Islam sect, practiced religious tolerance toward them and ate meat slaughtered under their laws of sheḥitah. The Jews of Najrān carried weapons in self-defense, as did the other inhabitants, and were renowned for their courage and strength. There was no other place in the Arabian Peninsula where Jews lived in such dignity and freedom as in Najrān. By profession they were craftsmen: they worked essentially in goldsmithing and repairing arms. They earned a good livelihood and their material conditions surpassed those of Yemenite Jews. Their settlements were scattered throughout Najrān in small units of two to forty families. They lived in clay houses or in huts. Their clothes, of both men and women, were slightly different from that of Saudi Arabians and Yemenite Jews. The strict barrier between men and women, which was customary in social life throughout Yemen, was nonexistent among them. At festivities and celebrations men and women sat together and women danced to the sound of the men's singing. After 1936, their relations with Yemenite Jews were not very close, because the two groups were under the rule of different kingdoms which occasionally were at war with each other. The life of the Jews of Najrān, dispersed as they were in small settlements, did not encourage the development of Torah studies among them or the fostering of an independent spiritual culture. In matters of religion and halakhah they were dependent on the community of nearby Saʿdah (one day away from them), and when necessary, on the bet din of *Sanʿa. The Jews of Saʿdah served as their spiritual guardians in times of need: they provided them with religious books and guided them in their religious practices. Therefore, their prayers, customs, and system of study were very closely related. In Israel they are concentrated in Kiryat Ekron, which is inhabited by the Jews of Saʿdah. When the Jews of Najrān immigrated to Israel in 1949, they numbered about 250.
H.Z. Hirschberg, Israel Ba-'Arav (1947). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Newby, The History of the Jews in Arabia; Y. Tobi, Jews of Yemen (1999).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.