Friday, October 27, 2006

Yemeni Jews and Arab Tribes

Those curious about the relationships between communities of Jews and Muslims in history might be interested in a small portion of Paul Dresch's Tribes, Government, and History in Yemen. The book is an ethnography of Arab tribes in the mountains of the former North Yemen, and contains an extensive discussion of the tribal honor system. Among the groups who existed within the space of this system without actually being part of it were the Jewish communities, who were considered neighbors, and hence under the protection of the tribe whose neighbors they were. To explain further:
"'Weak' not have the tribesman's ability to intervene in affairs between other tribesmen by taking someone into their peace and providing protection. In the game of tribal honour and standing, they are not recognized as players. For a tribesman to offend against a weak person is a disgrace, although in practice the offence must be recognized as such by other tribesmen; that is, by men who themselves have honour and are capable of demanding and exacting amends."

Dresch also mentions a specific example:
"Hayyim Habshush relates a late nineteenth-century case where a Jew was killed by a tribesman, and an assembly of shaykhs from Hashid and Bakil judged that the killer's people should pay four times the blood-money. The possibility that the killer himself should be killed was waived on the grounds that he was mad, which may or may not have been so, and the compensation was divided: half to the dead Jew's kin and half to the tribesmen 'on whose honour' he had lived."

Other people who fell into the weak category were barbers, sellers of qat, coffeehouse owners, and sellers of vegetables.


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