The Jewish Silversmiths of Yemen

Thuma Dagger by Sulayman Salih, c. 1850, The Walters Art Museam
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Jews resided in Yemen since the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem in the 580s B.C.  Jesus ben Sirach (Ecclesiastus) writing during the Greek period at the end of the third century BCE, describes the activity of Judaic silversmiths in vivid poetry: 

The maker of carving and cunning device,

Who by night as by day has no rest,

Who engraveth signet rings,

Whose art is to make the likeness true,

And his anxiety is to complete the work.

So also the smith that sitteth by the furnace,

And regardeth his weighty vessels;

The flame of the fire cracketh his flesh,

And with the heat of his furnace he gloweth;

To the hammer's sound he inclineth his ear,

And to the vessel's pattern he directeth his eyes.

From the inception of Islam in the seventh century, Jewish and Muslim communities co-existed in Yemen, although few Jews live there today. Yemeni-Jewish craftsmen produced beautiful silver pieces characterized by elaborate granulation and filigree decoration for Muslim and Jew alike. 

The Jewish-Yemeni art of silver smithery was and remains legendary not only in Yemen, but also elsewhere in the Arab world and beyond. In Yemen, the expression “Jewish work” (‘amal yuhudi) continues to be used to this day to praise excellent examples of silver smithery .


Gold and Silver Smithing; A Judaic Tradition
Part I - The Near-East and the Medeterranean, Fact Paper 17-I