Tag Archives: Yemenite Jews

Jews of the Week: Asenath Barzani & the Maid of Ludomir

Two Amazing Women

Torah

Asenath Barzani (1590-1670) was born in Mosul, Iraq to the chief rabbi of Kurdistan, Shmuel Barzani. After her father’s passing she took over his role, serving as the head of the Mosul Yeshiva and teaching Torah to the masses (preferring to do this from behind a curtain, for she was also very beautiful). Asenath was given the title Tanna’it (“Great Teacher”) and was known for performing incredible miracles, including reviving a dead dove, bringing a legion of angels down from Heaven, and fighting crime using only her mystical powers. To this day, people make pilgrimages to her grave in Iraq.

On the other side of the world, in the Ukranian town of Ludomir, lived a woman named Hannah Rachel Verbermacher (1805-1888). After a midnight incident at a cemetery, where she had a certain revelation, Hannah Rachel transformed into a highly respected Torah teacher famous across Eastern Europe (she, too, gave her speeches from behind a screen for modesty). Many Hassidim became her devoted followers, building a synagogue and study house for the great ‘Maid of Ludomir’. Some even called her rebbe, and she was often seen wearing tefillin and a tallit (which stirred up quite a bit of controversy). At the end of her life, she made Aliyah to Israel and is said to have joined a descendant of the great Yemenite sage Shalom Shabazi in the mission of bringing Mashiach. However, according to legend the angel Eliyahu came down to stop them, for the world was not yet ready!

Words of the Week

Don’t ask for a lighter burden, ask for broader shoulders.
– Jewish Proverb

Jews of the Week: Abu-Kariba & Yusuf Dhu-Nawas

How Arabia Almost Became Jewish

Arabia, one-time home of Jewish Kings

In the 400s CE, before the time of Muhammed, the Arabian Peninsula was dominated by the powerful Kingdom of Himyar, based in Yemen. Their ambitious king was a man named Abu-Kariba, who gathered a massive army to war with the Byzantines (aka. the Eastern Roman Empire). However, Abu-Kariba got only as far as the city of Yathrib, which was then the heart of Jewish Arabia (and today is the second holiest site in Islam, called Medina). While fighting a rebel army in Yathrib, Abu-Kariba fell ill. Two Jewish sages from the city went across enemy lines and healed the king. Their kindness, courage and wisdom prompted Abu-Kariba to convert to Judaism, along with his entire army. Kariba changed his plans and returned home to Yemen to spread the new faith. However, his successor Dhu-Shenstir, was a mad pagan who brutally tortured his people. Thankfully, he was killed by Yusuf Dhu-Nuwas, who became the new king and restored Judaism to the throne. “Dhu-Nuwas” is Arabic for ‘Lord Sidelocks’, because of the long sidelocks he wore, like many Jews do today. Dhu-Nuwas tried his utmost to stop Jewish persecution by Christians in the Byzantine Empire. When his calls went on deaf ears, he kidnapped a handful of Byzantine officials and executed them, sparking a war which he won. Emboldened by his success, he worked mightily to re-establish a Jewish kingdom in Israel, collaborating with the famous Torah leader of the time, Mar Zutra (the Third). Unfortunately, in 525 CE, the Byzantines allied with Ethiopia, as well as the Arab Christians, and destroyed Dhu-Nawas’ growing domain. His dream of a pan-Jewish empire came to an end. This spectacular episode is the reason many historians suggest “only a hair’s-breadth prevented all Arabia from becoming Jewish.”

 

Words of the Week

I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war.
King David, Psalms 120:7

Modern Arabia, where few Jews may be found…