I recently had the privilege of conserving a Yemenite manuscript of the Pentateuch with Rashi’s Commentary. Experts estimate that the book dates back to around the 15th century, but in view of the exceptional Yemenite Jewish traditions relating to the religious calligraphic tradition and preservation of manuscripts, this is a conservative estimate.
The book had no cover, it was sewn in three separate sections, and was moldy. After treating the mold, the approach that was decided upon in consultation with the book’s owner was to undertake a standard restoration – i.e., with minimal intervention. A new cover was created, but it can be easily removed without affecting the integrity and authenticity of the original book in any way.
The new cover was created using a traditional Middle Eastern bookbinding technique. The decoration on the front cover was chosen by the owner from a selection of examples characteristic of the Middle Eastern style.
Yemenite Jewry is famous for its preservation of tradition and the great importance that it attaches to books and religious study. A comparison of diverse and amazing accounts of how Yemenite Jews made their way to Israel points to a recurring theme: even during difficult and dangerous journeys, and even where jewelry and other valuables had to be left behind, holy books were taken along.
And so it was that this manuscript of the Pentateuch made its way to the Holy Land. It is heartwarming to see the next generation, living in Israel, treating this treasure with the same love as those who carried it with them.
My work on this manuscript, along with exposure to many other Yemenite records, some of which I restored, led me to seek more information about this ancient community.
The link below offers a collection of photographs, documents and testimonies of Yemenite Jews. I hope you will find it as interesting as I did.