This is a 1969 photograph of a Yemenite woman baking matzah for Passover in the traditional Yemenite manner. The woman, wearing a green and blue dress, apron, and head covering, is removing the freshly baked matzah from the oven. The matzah is baked on the walls of a round, wood-burning oven called a tabun. Yemenite matzah is fresher and more “doughy” than other types of matzah and must be baked fresh every day or two because, unlike dried matzah, it can get stale. As with all types of matzah, the process of making Yemenite matzah must be completed within 18 minutes to qualify as kosher.
Would You Like to Know More?
Jewish Community of Yemen – The Yemenite Jewish community has a unique religious and cultural tradition that distinguishes it from the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and other Jewish communities. The Jewish community of Yemen dates back at least 2,000 years, if not earlier. One tradition holds that the first Jews to arrive in Yemen came as a result of Jeremiah’s prophecies of Israel’s capture, fleeing south to Yemen in 629 BCE. Another tradition connects the Jews of Yemen to the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon in around 900 BCE. From the second until the fifth centuries, Jews were prosperous in Yemen and the Jewish idea of monotheism was adopted by the ruling kingdom. When Yemen was conquered by Muslims, the Jews were considered protected dhimmi, who had to pay a tax and follow special laws but were allowed to practice Judaism freely. In the 1100s the Jews of Yemen were given the option of converting to Islam or being killed, and the community wrote to Maimonides (the Rambam) for halakhic (Jewish legal) guidance. The Rambam answered with the “Yemen Epistle” (Iggeret Teiman), which gave the Jews of Yemen permission to live as hidden Jews while seeming to convert to Islam. The Ottomans ruled Yemen from 1546–1629, and this was a peaceful time for the Jewish community. This ended, however, when Yemen was captured by the Qasimid dynasty in 1629 and began to persecute and exile Jews. Jewish literature, learning, and culture continued to flourish nonetheless. Yemenite Jews first immigrated to Israel in 1881. Their integration was problematic, however, and their Jewish identity was questioned by the Ashkenazi Jews of the Yishuv. By the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, 35,000 Yemenite Jews were living in Israel. After the State was declared, riots against the Jews broke out in Yemen, and Israel brought almost 50,000 Jews to Israel from Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet (also known as “On the Wings of Eagles”). Several thousand more Yemenite Jews were brought to Israel throughout the 1950s. Fewer than 50 Jews currently live in Yemen.
Passover (Pesach) – Pesach, one of the three pilgrimage festivals, celebrates the freedom of the Israelites from Egypt that is described in the biblical book of Exodus. A main feature of the Pesach celebration is the Seder which is conducted in the home. The text of the Seder, as written in the Haggadah, tells the story of the Exodus with the aid of symbolic foods, songs, and discussion. As a reminder of the rushed manner in which the Israelites left Egypt, matzah (unleavened bread) is eaten during Pesach and chametz (leavened bread) is removed from the home. It is traditional to clean one’s house prior to Pesach and to perform a ceremony to remove and nullify any chametz that is in one’s possession.