Sainthood and the Relationship between Zion and Moroccan Jewry
The Case of David O’ Moshé
Marc Eliany © All Rights Reserved
Oral and rabbinical accounts report not only yearning for Zion and Jerusalem but also actual traveling back and forth between east and west. Maimonides, Azoulay, Ben Atar, Avi Hatsira and Ibn Danan mentioned elsewhere in this series went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land or settled there. Some rabbis, i.e., Ben Atar, established rabbinical academies there. Messengers from the Holy Land went to Morocco from time to time to collect fund to support the poor as well as rabbinical academies. Messengers were welcomed in Morocco with great respect. They often traveled to remote villages not only to collect funds but also to teach for a while as well as to select candidates to study in Jerusalem. Most messengers returned to Israel but some died in Morocco. In most cases, the place of burial of the messenger became a center of pilgrimage, as was the case of Shemouel Elbaz (1600e) (known as Avi Hatsira), Amram Ben Divan and David O’ Moshé.
David O’ Moshé arrived to Morocco during the reign of Abd A Rahman (1822 – 1859), a time when political instability and natural disasters combined to bring about an economic downturn and a widespread famine. Jews suffered like everyone else. Yet, Moslems believed that Jews were better off and thus subjected them to repeated raids.
It was a time when the French conquered Algeria and prepared to take over Morocco too. As usual, when a king needed funds to finance a war, he imposed levies on Jews and confiscated riches accumulated by the wealthy. Abd A Rahman, summoned Don Yehuda Abrabanel, a relative of Don Isaac Abrabanel, and ordered him to surrender his treasures. Abrabanel complied, nevertheless the king ordered his arrest and tortured him till he died. The police then conducted a search in Abrabanel’s house and arrested his seventeen years old daughter Esther. As Esther’s fiancé objected to the arrest, the police killed him along with his beloved and wounded other members of the family.
David O’ Moshé landed in the port of Melilia in northern Morocco to find a Jewish community in despair, as King Abd A Rahman imposed heavy taxes on Jews to prepare the defense of Morocco from the French threat.
David O’ Moshé wandered around Morocco as messengers did. Everywhere he went, people found comfort in his words. Everywhere people attributed to him miraculous cures. As usual, Jews gave donations generously in spite of the hardship. Interestingly, David O’ Moshé decided to venture south to the Dra Valley, where a plague left many Jews and Moslems dead.
David O’ Moshé attempted to heal the sick everywhere. But at some point, he despaired and offered God his own soul in exchange to stop the plague. On a Friday evening, as he welcomed the Sabbath in his prayers, he walked into a cave in the Atlas Mountain, outside Tamzerit and surrendered his soul to the Angel of Peace. By the time villagers passed by at the end of the Sabbath, a stone sealed the cave miraculously and as they read Psalms in his memory, a chariot of fire carried his soul to heaven. Ever since, David O’ Moshé’s burial place became a center of pilgrimage for Jews and Moslem alike. David O’ Moshé was born in Jerusalem to parents of Moroccan origin.
The tale of David O’ Moshé contains information of legendary nature as well as historical information of substance. First, it provides evidence that the Moroccan Jewry provided financial support to Zion as David O’ Moshé was on a mission to collect funds. In addition, king Abd A Rahman imposed special levies on Jews as well as demanded of people such as Don Yehuda Abrabanel to surrender their wealth. These accounts indicate that Moroccan Jews did have some resources to spare, in spite of the difficult historical conditions of abuse they were subjected too.
Furthermore, the account confirm that messengers from the Holy Land went to Morocco from time to time to collect fund to support the poor as well as rabbinical academies, often established by rabbis of Moroccan origin (i.e., Or Ha Haim Rabbinical Academy by Ben Atar). Messengers were welcomed in Morocco with great respect. They often traveled to remote villages not only to collect funds but also to teach. Most messengers returned to Israel but some died in Morocco,. In most cases, the place of burial of the messenger became a center of pilgrimage, as was the case of David O’ Moshé (and Ben Divan in Ouazan).
Relationships between Moslems and Jews were not always abusive. They were often cordial and based on mutal respect. David O’ Moshé’s burial place, for example, became a center of pilgrimage not only for Jews but also for Moslem.
David O’ Moshé’s tale reconciles to some extent contradictions discussed elsewhere in this series (i.e., in Exploitation and Abuse between Moroccan Kings and Jewish Leaders, 1511-1792). Specifically, it is important to stress that although Jews were often subject to abuse and humiliation in Morocco, they also experienced decent living conditions and cordial relations with Moslem neighbors. Abuse and cordiality co-existed. This enigmatic pattern may be of special significance in discussions of Jews in Moslem Lands. For Jews enjoyed a legal, though inferior status as dhimmis in Moslem lands. Moslems humiliated and abused Jews but they were also compelled to protect them by law. Moreover, unlike in Christian lands, in spite of hostility towards Jews in general, Moslems maintained cordial relations with Jews and even shared with them holy places of pilgrimage.