Cave, Haidan A-Sham, Yemen, 1992
Cave, Haidan A-Sham, Yemen, 1992Click to Enlarge
You don’t need to be in a classroom or synagogue to study the Torah. You can do it almost anywhere—even in a cave. The town of Haidan A-Sham is located in a rugged and mountainous part of Yemen, and the Jews there made use of whatever spaces were available. These boys have gathered in a cave to study the weekly Torah portion. Since the time this photo was taken, most of the Jews have left that part of the country, moving to bigger cities or to Israel.
Jews first moved to Yemen in ancient times. They practiced their religion faithfully throughout the centuries but were generally treated as second-class citizens by the Muslim authorities. Because of the way they were treated, as well as their longing to return to the Jewish homeland, Yemenite Jews started immigrating to Israel in the late 1880s. This culminated in 1949 – 50 with a huge airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet. For the Yemenite Jews, this airlift seemed to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the Jewish people would be brought to the promised land “on the wings of eagles.” Today, only a tiny number of Jews remain in Yemen.
משֶֹה קִיבֵּל תּוֹרָה מִסִינָי, וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, וִיהוֹשֻעַ לִזְקֵנִים, וּזְקֵנִים לִנְבִיאִים, וּנְבִיאִים מְסָרוּהָ לְאַנְשֵׁי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה. הֵם אָמְרוּ שְׁלוֹשָׁה דְבַרִים: הֱיוּ מְתוּנִים בַּדִּין, וְהַעֲמִידוּ תַּלְמִידִים הַרְבֵּה, וַעֲשׂוּ סְיָג לַתּוֹרה
At Sinai Moses received the Torah and handed it over to Joshua who handed it over to the elders who handed it over to the prophets who in turn handed it over to the men of the Great Assembly. The latter said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah.
– Pirkei Avot 1:1
יְהוֹשֻעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר; וֶהֱוֵי דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת.
Joshua ben Perachyah said, “Get yourself a teacher, find someone to study with, and judge everyone favorably.”
– Pirkei Avot 1:6