Waves Sharon Yemenite Jewry"Bene Israel" community, India

  • Issue: February 1999
  • Designer: A. Vanooijen
  • Stamps Size: 40 mm x 25.7 mm
  • Plate nos.: 365, 366
  • Sheet of 15 stamps, Tabs: 5
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: Offset

Depicted on the stamps are the traditional costumes of Jewish communities in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In general, the Jews were well integrated into their surroundings and adopted their neighbors' mode of dress, apart from a small number of places where they maintained their own distinctive garb.

Yemenite Jewry

Yemenite Jewry is deeply rooted in the southern part of Arabia. Some claim that Jewish traders reached this remote area as early as the time of King Solomon. Historical sources establish their presence there since the first centuries CE. Because of the relative geographic and political isolation, Yemenite Jewry strictly adhered to their traditions, religion and customs, while maintaining contact with other Jewish centers in Babylonia, the Land of Israel, Egypt, Spain and Ashkenaz.

With the onset of Islam in Southern Arabia the Jews became proteges ("Dhimmi") imposed with various prohibitions and laws, some of them humiliating. Despite this, Jews maintained their religion and a certain level of internal independence. The largest Jewish community, which influenced the entire Yemen, was in San'a, the capital, but most Jews lived in villages dispersed throughout the country. The Jews living in villages usually enjoyed better relations with their Moslem neighbors than did city Jews. The Jews differed from their neighbors in their outward appearance. In villages, the difference was in small details, in cities in their general appearance. Jewish men had side-locks, and wore a Tellith (Prayer Shawl) and modest head covering. Jewish women in San'a wore characteristic attire which was very different from that of the Moslem women. For example, they wore a hat "Gargush" that covered all of the hair.

The Jews always lived in communities, and in San'a they even had their own separate quarter. They took measures not to be conspicuous with luxurious clothing and houses, but maintained an appearance of modesty. Most Jews were craftsmen, occupations not practiced by the Moslems, thus providing a necessary element to the country's economy. They especially excelled at silver working and in embroidery, in which they attained impressive achievements. Many Jews also practiced weaving, pottery, basketry, glaziery and construction work,

The largest wave of immigration of Yemenite Jewry to Israel was after the State gained its independence (in 1949-50). Over the past few years the last remnants of Yemenite Jewry has immigrated and there are only a few hundreds who remain living in Yemen today.

Their expert knowledge of the bible, and the young age at which children began to study, are well known. Their influence on the arts in Israel is very noticeable, especially in the fields of silversmith work, music and dance.

Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper

Curator, Department of Jewish Ethnography, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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"Bene Israel" community, India

The Bene Israel community, the largest of the three Jewish communities in India, lives alongside the Baghdad and the Kochin Jews. For generations the community members lived in villages in the State of Maharashtra in Western India. Their traditional occupations were the production of oil, tilling the soil and carpentry. Under British rule, from the end of 17th century onwards, many community members moved to cities and acquired various professions in public services, especially in the postal and telegraph services, customs, railroad, shipping and medicine.

Socially the relationships between Bene Israel and their Hindu, Moslem and Christian neighbors were friendly, each honoring the customs of the other.

The Jews in India were never faced with prohibitions or limitations in dress, which they were freeto choose according to their needs and ability. The Sari has always been the most common dress throughout India, amongst women of all religions. There have been no significant changes in the Sari over the generations, and it's current form is the same as when it made its first appearance in the first century CE. The Sari is a six to nine meter long piece of cloth, about a meter wide, not sewn nor cut, which is wrapped around the entire body. The manner of wear differs from one geographical region to another and, depends on the woman's activity. The women adorned their feet with heavy silver jewelry, and their faces were decorated with silver and gold ear and nose rings inlaid with gem stones. During the 1920's, when British education became widespread in girls' schools, far reaching changes occurred in dress, influenced by western attire, especially amongst the more affluent city dwellers, but the Sari still remains a very acceptable form of dress.

Orpa Slapak
Department of Jewish Ethnography
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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Ethnic Costumes (II)