Among a collection I acquired this week was a complete, attractively-bound set of the first edition of the Taj, which is the Torah with Aramaic and Arabic translations.
The year 1881 saw a new era begin for the Jews of Yemen. With the Suez Canal’s opening and the Ottoman Empire extending to Yemen, travel to the Holy Land became much easier. So after millennia of discrimination and inability to travel outside the region, many pious Yemenite Jews saw this newfound travel ability as a sign that the redemption was near and took it upon themselves to travel to Eretz Yisrael.
Between 1881 and 1914, approximately 10 percent of Yemenite Jews made aliyah – mostly settling in Jerusalem and Jaffa – and these Jews had access to Hebrew printing presses for the first time. In Yemen, such presses didn’t exist and all sefarim were written by hand.
So one of the Yemenite Jews’ first projects upon settling in Eretz Yisrael was printing the Taj (whose literal translation is “crown”). Printed in Jerusalem between 1894-1901, the Taj includes the entire Torah, with Onkelos and the Judeo-Arabic Targum of Rav Saadia Gaon. (To this day, Yemenite Jews translate the pesukim as part of keriat haTorah, as per the instructions of the Talmud.)
The printing of the Taj meant that the average Yemenite Jew could own a Chumash, and that the whole community would be reading a uniform and accurate text.