Legacy of Jews in the MENA - World Jewish Congress
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Jewish Legacy of the United Arab Emirates

Jewish tribes lived throughout the Arabian Peninsula in the period between the destruction of the Second Temple and the rise of Islam. However, virtually no archeological traces exist attesting to the existence of a pre-Islamic Jewish community in the United Arab Emirates. The earliest written reference to Jews in the region relates to Benjamin of Tudela’s twelfth-century report of a Jewish community in a place called “Kis”—today located in Ras al-Khaimah, one of the seven emirates of the UAE. The reference is further supported by a tombstone with Hebrew inscriptions discovered close to Ras al-Khaimah in the 1970s by local tribesmen. In the late medieval and early modern periods, Jewish traders who dealt with precious gems regularly traveled to the region to acquire pearls. 

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Community Hanukkah menorah-lighting ceremony (c)

Although Dubai has no historic Jewish community, since the formation of the UAE in 1971, a discrete expat community developed as Dubai itself emerged as a hub for international business. It is difficult to estimate the size of this community as organized prayer and other religious practices took place in private homes. However, this changed overnight when in February of 2019, the UAE established diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. The Abraham Accords marked a major turning point for the Jewish population of the UAE. Currently, the Abraham Accords are not recognized by all of the Emirates and continue to garner criticism among certain groups within Emirati society. These accords, however, have been overwhelmingly positive for the Jewish community in the UAE. 

Although small, the Jewish community of the UAE is perhaps the most dynamic contemporary Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel. Dubai in particular is fast becoming a major hub of Jewish life on the Arabian Peninsula. Today, Jewish communal institutions in Dubai are expanding at a fast pace; a religious school, kindergartens, synagogues, mikvahs (ritual baths), and multiple kosher restaurants have all been built in the past four years. With recognition by the Ministry of Tolerance and Coexistence, Judaism has become a publicly accepted religion in Dubai; observant Jewish men in Dubai wear kippot in the street. In 2020, Hanukkah concerts and a candle-lighting ceremony were held at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, the most prominent building in the center of the city. It is estimated that somewhere between 500–3000 Jews live in the UAE, the majority of whom are expats. 

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Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahayan Al Nahayan and Rabbi Elie Abadie complete the Torah Scroll, joined by H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and John Sexton. Nov 25, 2019.
  • El-Naggar, M., & Times, N. Y. (2022). Baking Challah in Dubai: A Jewish Community Heads
  • Estrin, D. (2020). As Thousands of Israeli Tourists Visit Dubai, A Small Jewish Community Gets A Boost: npr
  • Marcela, M. Z., Joanna, D., & Olaf, G. (2021). Jews and Muslims in Dubai, Berlin, and Warsaw: interactions, peacebuilding initiatives, and improbable encounters, 13–13. <https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13010013>