ḤABBĀN , a town on the western border of *Ḥaḍramawt, formerly in the Wāḥidī Sultanate, an important junction and post on the incense way. It was the extreme southeastern settlement with a Jewish community. During the last generation of their life in *Yemen the Jews of Ḥabbān lived under the protection of Sulṭān Nāṣir ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Muḥsin. The community of Ḥabbān was the religious and social center for the Jewish communities around it. It numbered about 450 people, most of them divided into five main families: Maʿṭūf, Hillel, Shammākh, Maifa'ī, and 'Adanī. All of them were silversmiths and goldsmiths who wandered from one place to another to provide the Muslims with weapons and jewelry. In their wanderings they reached as far to the east at Mukallā, moving all over Ḥaḍramawt where Jews had not been allowed to dwell since the end of the 16th century. Some of them used to come home only for the High Holidays and Passover. With their leaving the country in 1949, however, the Jews of Ḥabbān carried with them the knowledge of working silver and gold which they had made their specialty.
Ḥabbāni Jews, like their Bayḍani coreligionists, lived in their own quarter (Ḥārat al-Yahūd), located on the down slopes of a hill. The sultan's palace separated the Jewish quarter from the Muslim quarter. The Jews lived in tall houses, two to five stories high, a situation against the ruling regulations throughout Yemen and other Muslim countries. There were two synagogues practicing a combination of the local old rite (baladī) and the newly imported Sephardi rite (shāmī). The synagogues also functioned as religious courts. The Jews of Ḥabbān were very different in their appearance and behavior from most other Yemenite Jews, as most of the discriminatory anti-Jewish Muslim regulations were not in force there. They had long hair reaching down over their shoulders but no sidelocks, and did not wear black dresses but covered their bodies with multi-colored fabrics with a decorated belt, just like their Muslim tribal neighbors. The women tied nets decorated with silver jewelry around their heads and also wore wide silver belts. A few generations ago they apparently even used to carry weapons and took part in inter-tribal battles of the Muslims. There were no priests (Kohanim) and Levites among them. They were distinctive as well in terms of Jewish daily life. A few of them had already immigrarted to the land of Israel in the 1940s, but it was only after the establishment of the State of Israel that the community as a whole submitted their house keys to the local sultan and prepared themselves to immigrate to the new-born Jewish state. But the sultan did not give them permission and only after his unexpected death and the messengers of the State of Israel having paid a ransom for each of them were they allowed to leave for the British colony of *Aden and from there to fly to Israel. Most of them settled in their own settlement – moshav Bareket – where they could preserve their distinctive communal and religious life. Since their immigration they have attracted scholars in various fields and were the subject of many studies on communal life, folklore, music, health, and liturgy.
S. Maʿtūf, Yahadut Ḥabbān (1987); K. Blady, Jewish Communities in Exotic Places (2000), Y. Tobi, Moreshet Yehudei Teman (1977), M. Rodionov, in: tema, 8 (2004), 153–68; S. Jawnieli, Massa le-Teiman (1952), 36–37, 222–8; J. Sha'ir, in: Harel, Koveẓ Zikkaron… Rephael Alshekh (1962), 231–5; T. Ashkenazi, in: Sinai, 22 (1947/48), 248–57; idem, in: jqr, 38 (1947/48), 93–96; Y. Shai, Traditional Songs of the Habbani Women and Their Role in the Wedding (1985).
[Yosef Tobi (2nd ed.)]