Kuhayl, Shukr ben Sālim

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KUHAYL, SHUKR BEN SĀLIM , two false messiahs with this name who appeared in *Yemen in the 19th century. The first was active between 1859 and 1863 and the other between 1868 and 1870. The first was born in Bayt Radam, a small place not far from *San'a, to where he moved and made his humble living by repairing leather buckets and shoes. He is depicted as a religious erudite, expert in the Bible, Zohar, and Kabbalah; an innocent and humble person, believing himself a messiah. For that reason he divorced his wife, increased his prayers and fasts, refused donations, and in 1859 went through villages and towns, heralding the forthcoming of salvation and redemption and urging the Jews to repent. After two years he settled on Mount Tiyyāl, where he was later killed by the messengers of the Imam. Since he had some Muslim adherents, his story and death were documented by contemporary Muslim chroniclers in Yemen, but almost nothing was reported about him in Jewish sources out of Yemen. Conversely, the second Shukr Kuḥayl was a con man who presented himself as a transfiguration of the former. He is depicted as a conspirator, arrogant and greedy, strongly attracted by worldly, materialistic pleasures. He sent emissaries and letters throughout Yemen and even to *Aden, *Egypt, the Holy Land, and *India, where he acquired many zealous followers. He compelled his local adherents to pay him a tithe of their revenues and established a wide network of fundraising to finance his profligate habits. His fame reached far beyond the boundaries of Yemen, particularly owing to the reports of Jacob *Saphir in the Jewish journal Ha-Levanon published in Paris by his son in-law J. Brill. In 1873 Saphir published his Iggeret Teiman ha-Shenit, in which he attacked Kuḥayl, but this unintentionally contributed to enhancing his name and influence. Thus, for example, the Italian Hebrew poetess Rachel *Morpurgo wrote a poem about the false messiah. But eventually he got into trouble over money and as a result of the complaint by the heads of the Jewish community of San'a to the Turkish governor he was arrested and sent to Izmir. After some years he returned to San'a where he died in solitude in 1878. It should be noted that, although both religious and temporal leaders of the Jewish community in San'a rejected the false claims of Shukr Kuhayl the first and the second, the treacherous political and economic situation in Yemen, from which the Jews suffered more than any other segment of the population, brought not a few of them to support him and to follow him. The character of the second false messiah is well represented in the modern novel Ha-Mashi'ahmi-Teiman by Shalom Medinah (1977).


A. Yaari, in Shevut Teiman (1945), 124–48 (incl. bibl.); A. Qorah, Sa'arat Teiman (1954), 36–39; Y. Tobi, Yehudei Teiman ba-Me'ah ha-Yod Tet (1976), 62–68; Y. Nini, The Jews of Yemen 18001914 (1991), 136–53; B. Klorman-Eraqi, The Jews of Yemen in the Nineteenth Century (1993), 104–58.

[Yosef Tobi (2nd ed.)]