During the early twentieth century, Yemeni Jews operated within a legal structure that defined them as dhimmi,
that is, non-Muslims living as a protected population under the sovereignty of an Islamic state. In exchange for the payment of a poll tax, the jizya, and the acknowledged of supremacy of Islam, their lives and property were to be inviolable. Although this framework burdened Jews with some legal disadvantages, for example a Muslim's witness testimony was worth double that of a Jew's in court, it allowed for the integration of Jews into Yemen's complex hierarchical social structure, and not always at the bottom of that structure.
Mark S. Wagner's
book Jews and Islamic Law in Early 20th-Century Yemen
(Indiana University Press, 2015) examines how Jews negotiated this Islamic legal system, both in shariah courts and in extralegal settings. Wagner employs numerous Arabic and Hebrew sources, particularly the memoirs of prominent Yemeni Jews such as Salim Said al-Jamal, Salih al-Zahiri, Salim Mansurah, and others, and the primary document collections they have preserved. Through their first-hand accounts, anecdotes, and archives, Wagner interrogates how the Yemeni Jewish elite understood its social and political position in Yemen. These men used their knowledge of Arabic and Islamic law, and their status as intermediaries between the state authorities and the Jewish community, to preserve their own positions and to benefit other members of the Jewish community. Wagner's work deepens our understanding of Muslim-Jewish relations in Yemen and the place of non-Muslims in Islamic law in general.