How Abir-Qesheth Was Preserved in Yemen
About the time of the destruction of the first Temple, the warriors of the Aluf Abir’s family (members of the House of King David) were dispatched to Yemen from ancient Israel during a war.
The battalion, which left Israel as a single unit, was divided in Yemen into two divisions. One was under the leadership of a Kohen (a Jewish priest) who soon fell in battle. The other division – containing the members of the Aluf Abir’s family – was under the command of a warrior from the tribe of Lewi (Levi). They were ordered to move southeast, in order to take control of a mountainous region which was a crossroads leading to all five regions of Yemen, the path to and from the desert routes, and all routes to the harbors, which were ports of international passage and commerce at that time. They found and took control of sources for drinking water as well as the best vantage point in the area – the city of Habban, in what is today known as Wadi Shabwah, at the mouth of the Hadramaut desert that borders Oman to the east and Aden to the west, the Gulf of Aden to the south and Saudi Arabia to the north. This area remained very much the same for a few thousand years and is where each Aluf Abir would train his warriors – as well as his succeeding grandson – for generations.
The previous Aluf Abir was a very pious man who traveled to various centers of Torah scholarship. He was the “Rabbah” or spiritual leader of the community. All the Habbani warriors who comprised the secret “Bani Abir” were primarily drawn from a core group within the Aluf Abir’s clan, which was known by the name “Ma’atuf” (although at one point a branch of the family became known as “Doh,” in reference to their work in coloring textiles). From that time on, the “Bani Abir” included both Ma’atuf family members as well as Doh family members, and moreover were known as “Ma’atuf Doh” or “Ma’atuf il Doh.” Within the “Bani Abir,” the Aluf Abir’s family was called “Sofer,” which later came to replace both “Ma’atuf” and “Doh.” A “Sofer” is known today as merely a scribe who writes Torah scrolls and other holy texts; however, a “Sofer” is also a protector, as Moses was called the “Sofer” of Israel because he was our “protector,” so to speak.
Originally, the Ma’atuf Doh clan had lived outside of the actual city of Habban; however, the family ended up moving from the wilder environment of Wadi Hadramaut into the city proper. The Aluf Abir’s family lived in a large, multi-storied adobe building called “Beth il Doh” and trained outdoors in open areas, near what was to become the road to Marib.
Sometime before the entire Jewish community left Habban to be airlifted to Israel, the Abir system went totally underground and seemed to vanish from the world. The “Bani Abir” ceased all forms of training in public view and disallowed any discussion of Abir training outside of the main “Bani Abir” nucleus.
Once in Israel, members of the Habbani community were placed in two locations: on a moshav (agricultural village) near the Ben Shemen forest and in a section of Tel Aviv (where they live to this day). Sixty years after the Habbani Jews returned to the land of Israel, after having lived like ancient Israelites for thousands of years, most of the Habbanis with hands-on knowledge of Abir have passed on into the next world. Only a few of the older people have a memory of seeing some of the dance moves – which are still seen at family celebrations – correctly applied as fighting forms. Some old timers still dance with swords. Today, the young Habbanis may still smoke the traditional water pipe but none wear the long hair and shaved mustaches our forefathers wore, or wrap their bodies and heads in the garb of our ancestors. The last Habbani left who still wears his hair that way, who still dresses in the traditional clothing, who still practices Abir – is the current Aluf Abir, Yehoshua Sofer Ma’atuf Doh.
The Great-Uncles of ha-Aluf Abir, Yehoshua Sofer Ma’atuf DohThe Great-Uncles of ha-Aluf Abir, Yehoshua Sofer Ma’atuf Doh