The Yemenite Path to Zionism, as Explained by One of Yemen’s Greatest Rabbis

Dec. 28 2021

In 1982, Rabbi Yosef Qafiḥ (sometimes pronounced “Kapaḥ”) was asked to address the Knesset to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the aliyah, or collective migration to the Land of Israel, of Jews from Yemen. Elli Fischer, prefaces his 2015 translation of the speech with a note about Qafiḥ’s life:

Rabbi Qafiḥ (1917-2000) was a Yemenite-born rabbinical judge and scholar of Jewish theology who made aliyah in 1943. Once in Israel, Rabbi Qafiḥ served on the country’s supreme rabbinic court and translated the classics of the Jewish theological tradition—Rabbi Saadya Gaon’s Book of Doctrines and Beliefs, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi’s Kuzari, Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed, and more—from Arabic to modern Hebrew. In addition to being an expert in both the Jewish legal and theological traditions, Rabbi Qafiḥ was a daring thinker who didn’t hesitate to attack conventional pieties. This [speech] is a good example of his iconoclasm.

In his address, Qafiḥ challenges the very assumption that the Yemenite aliyah began in 1882:

The concept of “Zionism” has been invoked here several times. In Yemen, this concept did not exist as the name of a movement or a distinct internal group. The Diaspora throughout Yemen was there on a temporary basis. They saw themselves as hotel guests, even though their stay lasted for 2,000 years. Therefore, those individuals and groups who made aliyah to the Land of Israel over time did not deviate from the mainstream. For that reason, these aliyot [i.e., waves of migration] were not noted, in contrast to aliyot from elsewhere. . . . Since the latter [immigrants] went against the pervading spirit of their environments, their aliyah was an extraordinary, wondrous, inspirational thing. . . . In Yemen there was no need for this. Aliyah naturally continued in a normal, organic fashion, because everyone was a candidate; everyone waited for the right moment, for the removal of his particular barriers.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Sephardi Ideas Monthly

More about: Aliyah, Judaism, Yemenite Jewry

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism