The Lesson

The alphabet that the Jews in Yemen learn first is Hebrew, and in fact many older members of the community cannot read or write Arabic letters, despite being native speakers of that language. Instead, they write Arabic in Hebrew letters, a tradition that is true of all Jewish communities in the Arabic-speaking world. There is an entire body of literature, commentary, and poetry written by Arab Jews in this dialect of Arabic known as Judeo-Arabic.

In the tiny community that remains in Yemen, Jewish learning dimly flickers and the traditions are passed on as they have been for more than 2000 years here. It is the oldest diaspora community of Jews in the world.

Saalem bin Musa Marhabi teaches the older children the weekly Torah reading, while the younger kids learn the alphabet in another room.

All photographs by Rachael Strecher.

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~ by Josh on December 7, 2009.

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