Despite Lack of Jewish Presence, Saudi Arabia Remains Rich in Jewish History


2016-08-09 /

While Saudi Arabia is currently off-limits to anyone with an Israeli passport, and has not had any real Jewish activity in almost a century, the country still boasts numerous historic sites connected to the country’s Jewish past. The region was home to a thriving Jewish community during the first Temple era circa 3,000 years ago. A sizeable Jewish population was located in Hejaz, a region in the present-day West of the country, in the sixth and seventh centuries. According to a Jewish and Islamic legend cited by Jewish Virtual Library, the first Jews arrived in Hij?z after Moses dispatched an army to drive the Amalekites out of the land of Yathrib (later named Medinah). Another legend posits that the second Jewish immigration took place in 587 B.C.E. following the destruction of the First Temple. The two Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located in Hejaz as well.
Major Jewish sites in Saudi Arabia include Khaybar, an ancient oasis to the north of Medina. The area had a significant Jewish population in ancient times, due to being a stop along the incense trade route from Yemen to the Levant, according to Times of Israel’s Jessica Steinberg. A 14,000 Jewish cemetery still remains in the area, and is accessible to tourists. The Jewish community of Khaybar was expelled during the reign of Caliph Omar (634-644), and transported, along with the Christian community of Najran, to regions of Syria and Iraq which had recently been conquered.
The country also contains Jewish sites of biblical significance, such as Bir Hadajj, a well located in Tayma, an oasis in northwestern Saudi Arabia, believed to have been a major Jewish settlement in the ancient world. The well is mentioned in the Book of Isaiah (21:14): “Give water to him who is in need of water; give bread, O men of the land of Tema, to those in flight.” Tema was one of the sons of Yishmael, the son of the biblical patriarch Abraham through his Egyptian concubine Hagar.
In a 2014 report to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, the Saudi Labor Ministry said that entry into Saudi Arabia is prohibited “only to those with Israeli citizenship. Other than that, we are open to most nationalities and religions.”