MAWZA' , a town situated in the Tihāma in west *Yemen about 97 km southwest of Taiz, in an inhabited area of land which the streams of rainwater provide with sweet water. Consequently, the land is quite fertile. The town is one of the oldest ports in Yemen, connecting the country with Africa and the Indian Ocean. The temperature and humidity there are very high. The town is famous for its tombs and domes. It was connected with a crucial event in the history of the Jews of Yemen in 1679, which remained in the historical memory of the Jews of Yemen as Galut Mawza' (The Expulsion of Mawza'), when apparently all of them were expelled to the salty and barren stretch of land off the town, notorious for its harsh, hot climate. The expulsion, ordered by Imam Aḥmad ibn Ḥasan (1676–1681), was the culmination of a series of anti-Jewish measures responding to the Jewish messianic movement in Yemen in 1666/7 among the followers of *Shabbetai Zevi. After a long and comprehensive debate by the Muslim scholars of both religious schools, the Zaydi and the Shāfi'i, Imam Ismā'īl (1646–1676) confirmed their ruling that by the fact that a group of Jews in Yemen had taken some practical steps to materialize the Jewish vision of messianic redemption, the whole community had violated the agreement of *dhimma with the Muslim kingdom. The full meaning of that ruling was that they were no longer entitled to government protection and that no Jews were permitted to live there anymore. Imam Ismā'īl decided then to expel all the Jews from his country but left the practical implementation to his heir Imam Aḥmad. Immediately after this the new imam ordered the destruction of all synagogues and prohibited public prayer by Jews. As the Jews rejected the offer to convert and to live in Yemen as Muslims, Imam Aḥmad commanded in 1679 that all Jews leave their places and be sent by boat to the Muslim Moghul kingdom in India. But for some reason, probably practical difficulties, this plan could not be carried out and the Jews stayed for more than one year near Mawza'. This event was the worst calamity that befell the Jews of Yemen in their long history. The houses that the Jews had left behind were destroyed or sold cheaply, and all their valuables were either lost or stolen. Many died en route, and those who reached Mawza' suffered from disease and starvation; as many as two-thirds of the exiles did not survive. The Jews also lost many of their ancient traditions as they could not carry with them most of their old manuscript writings nor their communal books and archives. The event was well documented in both Muslim sources as well as in Jewish ones, especially in the poems of R. Shalem *Shabazi, Yemenite Jewry's greatest poet who went into exile with his coreligionists. The expulsion deprived Yemen of all its Jewish artisans, and the Muslim population soon came to realize that they could not do without them. Step by step the Jews started to return to their places, but were forced to build new neighborhoods outside the town walls. The district governors petitioned the central authorities in *San'a to bring the Jews back, and a year after their expulsion the Imam permitted their return. During the aftermath of the expulsion the Jewish communities sank into a deep social, economic and spiritual crisis (many hundreds converted to *Islam), from which they recovered only after many years.
Y. Tobi, The Jews of Yemen; idem, "Yedi'ot al Yehudei Teiman…," in: Pe'amim, 65 (Autumn 1995), 18–56.
[Yehuda Ratzaby /
Yosef Tobi (2nd ed.)]