Jewish history in the United Arab Emirates.

Given the historic event of this week of an alliance between Israel and the UAE- United Arab Emirates, I decided to do some research about a country we know little about.

Historic in more way than one, as Saudi Arabia gave permission for the first passenger plane to fly over it.


US-Israeli delegation lands in UAE. credit: Gulf News

A medieval Jewish traveller, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela from the Kingdom of Navarre, now in what is Spain,  travelled to Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 12th century, proceeding Marco Polo by a hundred or so years.

credit: Wikipedia Free Commons


It was an historical journey from 1165 to 1173, to visit far-flung Jewish communities that crossed and tracked some of the areas that are today in the United Arab Emirates.  They had also been under the control of the Persians.

His  journey began as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There is some controversy about the reasons for his travels. It’s been suggested he may have had a commercial motive as well as a religious one.  Or  he may have intended to catalogue the Jewish communities on the route to the Holy Land, to provide a guide to where hospitality could be found for Jews travelling to the Holy Land.

He took the “long road” stopping frequently, meeting people, visiting places, describing occupations and giving a demographic count of Jews in every town and country.

One of the known towns that Benjamin of Tudela reported as having a Jewish community was in a place called “Kis”, located in Ras al-Khaimah, one of the seven emirates of the UAE.  Modern Ras Al Khaimah covers an area of 656 square miles (1700 km²) in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

credit: Jewish Virtual Library.

Since the formation of United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1971, a small Jewish community has grown. Some having lived in the UAE for many years. The community includes Jews who have lived there for many years, as well as Jews who moved to the UAE because they are involved in business and commerce in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  According to Rabbi Marc Schneier , who has worked on the Council on American–Islamic Relations, an estimated 150 families to 3,000 Jews live in the UAE.

There are two synagogues in Dubai. In 2019, the United Arab Emirates government announced the year of tolerance, officially recognising the existence of Jews in the UAE. A Jewish benediction is also recited to the president of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan as well a to the rest of the rulers of the UAE during sabbath service.

Of the two permanent synagogues in Dubai, one is the Jewish Community of the Emirates (JCE) which is led by Ross Kriel since 2013 and the JCC (Jewish Community Center) of the UAE, which is Chabad and is led by Rabbi Levi Duchman.

A kosher catering company called Kosher Arabia has been established in Dubai.  The company was founded one of the Orthodox Jewish community leaders in the UAE.  The company plans to serve to all gulf states and I would imagine airlines too.  They plan on opening a kosher restaurant with Kosher meals to soon be aserved on Gulf airlines.  Kosher chickens per week is provided to the community by local Kosher Shechita.  In May 2020, it was reported that the JCC of UAE has imported the largest meat shipment in history of the community.

A new Talmud Torah (Hebrew school) was opened in 2020 and now has around 40 pupils.

Since February 2019, and as part of the United Arab Emirates’s national tolerance programme, the Ministry of Tolerance officially recognized the UAE’s local Jewish population and there were in talks of establishing a proper synagogue, kosher foods and even a mikveh (ritual bath)

There is more on Wikipedia.

As an aside..

Jewish Yemenite immigrants arriving at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, in 2012. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

“Yemen’s last remaining Jews are to emigrate to Abu Dhabi following the announcement Thursday that Israel and the United Arab Emirates will normalize diplomatic ties and forge a broad new relationship, a Yemeni Rabbi has told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service.

Over 50,000 Jews lived in Yemen prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. Between June 1949 and September 1950, the overwhelming majority of Yemen’s Jewish population was transported to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet. After several waves of persecution throughout Yemen, most Yemenite Jews now live in Israel, while smaller communities live in the United States and elsewhere. Only a few dozen remain in Yemen. Their exact number is unknown.

The Rabbi, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons, said that plans are under way to end the Jewish presence in Yemen and transfer 100 people to Abu Dhabi.

The remaining Yemeni Jews have rejected previous proposals to emigrate to Israel and to the United States, despite the brutal war which has affected Yemen since 2015 and antisemitic discrimination against them by the Houthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa and whose slogans include the words “A curse on the Jews.”

According to the report, 40 Jewish Yemenis have already agreed to move to the UAE, which has offered to take them in following a request from the U.S., while the others are being persuaded to move on the grounds that they will have no problem integrating into Emirati society.”

Credits to The Jewish Virtual Library, Hamodia and Wikipedia

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