A Synthesis of Oral and Documented Accounts

Mind and Soul
Jewish Thinking in Morocco

Marc Eliany (c) All Rights Reserved

A Brief Social History of the Jews in Morocco
A Synthesis of Oral and Documented Accounts

Marc Eliany © All Rights Reserved

The Edge of the World

Western North Africa, known as Ifrikia or Berberia before Arab occupation, is known nowadays as Maghreb, that is ‘west’ in Arabic. It has also been referred to as ‘the end of the world’ or ‘the edge of the world’ occasionally. The region includes Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Mediterranean in the north and the Sahara in the south to the Lybian desert in the east surrounded it to make it an ‘island’ into itself, even if it was not in reality.

Hebrews knew Maghreb and Maghreb knew the Hebrews since antiquity, according to legends. The 4500 kilometers that separated Jerusalem from Fes, did not keep Hebrews away and the ‘edge of the world’ was not an edge at all for them. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Vandals, and most recently the French among other Europeans have always come and gone, as if they hardly existed, but Arabs and Jews inhabited North Africa until very recently.


In oral accounts, Joseph led Egypt to greatness around 1350 BCE. Hebrews settled in Egypt because it offered opportunities but also because droughts and tribal rivalry left little room for Hebrews in Canaan. Canaanites as well as internal family feuds made Hebrews seek greener pastures. Ishmael made claims on Abraham’s land leaving little room for his brother Isaac. Later Jacob sought refuge in Aram in fear of his brother Esau. But beyond canonized Biblical accounts, oral tales tell another story. Hebrews did not migrate east only. They sailed to the edge of the world to places such as ‘Tarshish’ and ‘Sepharad,’ which were located in the west, rather than in the east. No one can tell where Tarshish and Separad are for sure, but there is little doubt that they were in the far west, possibly as far as Morocco or Spain.

Oral tales suggest that Ephraim, one of Joseph’s sons, occupied territories west of Egypt (around 1300 BCE). It is not clear exactly where but elderly Moroccan Jews believed firmly that they were descendents of Ephraim. According to them, Ephraim established a kingdom in Ifrikia and that it survived, albeit in altered forms until the time of the Mouahidoun (1147 CE). Scattered evidence validates their accounts, for example: the massive adoption of Judaism by local tribes in North Africa, the existence of the kingdom of the Djeruya, tribal names such as Ait Israel and Ait Mussa and more to be discussed later.

Biblical accounts convey that a new Pharaoh who did not ‘know’ Joseph oppressed the Hebrews and imposed upon them immigration restrictions. The Hebrews rejected the immigration restrictions and negotiated greater quotas. When Pharaoh refused, Egyptian Hebrews called upon allies (Medianites) and Hebrew brothers who remained in Canaan to assist them (and possibly other Hebrews based in the south (Ehtiopia) and the west (Ephraim)). The long struggle resulted in the legendary ‘Exodus.’ But did all Hebrews immigrate eastward? Oral tales suggest otherwise. Hebrews in all likelihood moved in other directions. Some went west to join Ephraim and some moved south to Sudan and Ethiopia. Oral accounts propose that Moses led a kingdom in southern Egypt prior to assuming the leadership of the Hebrew rebellion and Exodus (1279 – 1212 BCE).

Oulad Moussa

An oral tale suggests that Children born to Moses with Zipora the Medianite settled in Sigilmassa (Mount Moses), south of the Valley of Ziz. They settled there in a very ancient time (about 1250 BCE), presumably as a protest that their father was forbidden from crossing the Jordan into the Land of Israel. The children of Moses walked bare feet to the ‘edge of the world’ where a voice from heaven said that the Valley of Ziz would be renamed Sigilmassa and that the caravans going North or South would passed there to make it the greatest city South of the Atlas Mountains. And God’s name became known beyond the mountains and there were more people who claimed affinity to Moses (Oulad Moussa) than any other people in all of Ifrikia. Oulad Moussa lived in Sigilmassa in peace and great was their reputation in Ifrikia for their wisdom and wealth.

After the destruction of the Temple (586 BCE), the Children of Israel (Ait Israil) found refuge in Sigilmassa and their name is still remembered there till this day. Moses’ Children (Oulad Moussa) welcomed the Children of Israel and showered water upon them, for that was the custom they remembered from Mount Sinai. According to this tale, the Hebrews fell asleep at the foot of Mount Sinai while waiting for Moses when he went to fetch the Commandments. The Children of Moses showered water upon the Children of Israel to awaken them. Till this day, Jews of Maghreb sprinkle water each on another in Pentecost (Shavuot). For they remember ‘the showers of awakening’ and related blessings associated with rain and water (see for example Mazel, 1971 based on ‘The Secret History of the Jews Of Dra’).

Legends convey also that Canaanites migrated westward at a result of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan led by Joshua (1200 BCE). Another wave of migration westward occurred when David defeated Goliat (1004-964 BCE). Subsequently, Yoah Ben Zeruya’s chased Canaanites and pursued them as far as ‘the edge of the world.’ (A kingdom of the Djeruya, in all likelihood descendents of Yoav Ben Zeruya, existed in North Africa till the days of the Arab conquest.) Similar legends suggest that Hebrews sailed westward on Tarshish sailboats in all likelihood to Ifrikia and Spain. A review of relevant ancient sources by Hirschberg suggests that the antiquity and reliability of these oral traditions should not be doubted. It is possible that local populations developed some affinity to Judaism around this time (Hirschberg, 1965).

Under the influence of the Phenicians
Cathaga, 814 – 146 BCE

No one knows when Hebrews traveled to the ‘edge of the world’ with certainty. One thing is sure: Hebrews did travel back and forth from Canaan to the ‘edge of the world’ since a very ancient time. They marched through desert sands to escape war and walked on Northern paths through Europe in search of adventures but most often, they sailed along Mediterranean Shores to trade. For a chain of settlements linked Canaan to the ‘edge of the world’ and people hopped from one place to the next all the time. It happened long before the destruction of the First Temple (about 586 BCE). Carthaga (814 BCE) is remembered in some historical accounts, but there was more than Carthaga to the Old World and Hebrews knew it. If there is no doubt about sailing back and forth between Phenicia and the ‘edge of the world,’ there should be no qualm about Hebrews traveling there too.

According to popular tales, King Solomon (965 BC) sent tradesmen westward. They were expert in construction as well as in arts and crafts. These envoys built a synagogue in ‘Gheriba’ on a cornerstone brought from Solomon’s Temple. Tales suggest that another synagogue was built in Jerba (Tunisia) around that time (Selouche taf shin bet; Gerber 1992).

300 BCE – 700 CE

Jews in Lybia and Tunisia The earliest historical evidence indicating that Hebrews lived in North Africa is from the time of King Talmay (285-323 BCE), who sent 100,000 Hebrew soldiers to Cyrene (Lybia). Greek sources indicate further that Hebrews lived in significant numbers in Egypt and in every city in the world and that their influence was considerable. Later Roman sources suggest that Jews had a communal autonomy in Cyrene and Bereniki (contemporary Bengazi). It seems that at least one million Jews lived in Egypt and Lybia and that the Jewish population in the region increased following the destruction of the Second Temple. Some Jews immigrated to the area of their own free will. But Romans also brought Jewish slaves to farm North Africa lands, i.e., Titus (Hirschberg, 1965).

Talmudic sources also mention North Africa, referring specifically to Cartage (tevota detunes) and Berberia ‘beyond which the world is inundated by sea.’ Galpira the widow of Herod’s son Alexandros married Joba, the King of Mauritania. Zealots retreated to North Afrika in significant numbers in 73 CE and tried to incite a rebellion against Rome there too. African Jews refused to support the zealots and informed Roman authorities. Subsequently, Jonathan the leader of the zealots claimed that wealthy Jews, including Josephus Flavius (i.e., Yossef Ben matatiahu), were behind the rebellion. Aspasianus Ceasar did not believe Jonathan. Josephus was spared but 3000 wealthy Jews were executed in Egypt. It is possible that zealots who found refuge in the region organized the rebellion against Rome in the time of Trianus Ceasar (96-117 CE). Rabbi Akiva visited Africa before the rebellion but it is not known if he supported it or not. The rebellion was of significant dimensions and spread all the way to Mesopothamia. A Berber legion led by Lucius brought the rebellion under control. Talmudic sources address the dispersion of the Jews as far as Berberia (‘Some of you went to exile in Berberia…).

It is very likely that many Jews moved further to western North Africa following the massive destruction of Jewish settlement in eastern North Africa. Archeological findings provide evidence that Jewish settlements existed in western North Africa as far as Volubilis (near contemporary Meknes in Morocco) as well as in Sale and Tangier. Within five hundred years, the forest of North Africa were chopped, lions were shipped to Roman arenas, elephants to Caesar’s battle fields and new crops overtook the virgin land to yield vine, olives and wheat to feed a growing appetite of the Empire. The fate of the Hebrews, many of them slaves, was sealed. It was their destiny to alter the face of Rome and Ifrikia. There can be little doubt that Jews served Romans in North Africa (Hirschberg, 1965 and Flavius, 1996).

The Spread of Judaism in the Roman Empire and the Development of Christianity. 70 – 430 CE.

Of all the nations conquered by Rome, only the Jews maintained their old laws and traditions. Paradoxically, their dispersion in the Empire became an asset. It brought them close to remote populations, who adopted Judaism or came very close to adopting it in significant numbers. Many people worshipped the Divine in Heaven in North Africa. And all the efforts of the Romans to prevent this worship failed. After a time, even Romans succumbed to the charm of Judaism and when they did, the evolving and internal split in the synagogue opened wide. A new church rose from within the synagogue to gather strength. The foundation of the Roman Catholic Church was laid in North Africa, more than anywhere else (Saint Augustus, 354-430 CE, The Divine City).

But the emergence of Christianity from within Judaism to dominate the Roman Empire could not be an internal Jewish matter entirely. For as much as it was an active Jewish adaptation of Judaism to the Greco-Roman world, where assimilation was rampant, it was a pro-active adaptation of Judaism to the needs of local inhabitants who liked Jewish life but were prevented from adopting it by Roman as well as Jewish conservative authorities. In this context it is likely that early Christians, who were despised and persecuted in their beginning, developed a reactionary response, which formed the foundation of anti-Semitism.

In the beginning, the division between Jews and Christians related to Jesus’ teachings and primarily his stand on social justice, i.e., his objection to Roman and Jewish elites exploitation of the people. Immediately after the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion on the Jews in the Roman Empire, the Sabbath and consumption practices began to distinguish Jews from Christians. The latter were in the most assimilated Jews in need of a theological platform to ease their integration in the Roman Empire. It is only at a later stage that circumcision separated between Jews and Christians because Gentiles adopted Judaism in an increasing number, partly for economic reasons, i.e., business relations and freedom from slavery after seven years and partly for socio-cultural reason such as learning traditions and rest on the Sabbath.

The honor of enslaved men and women in Jewish households was protected. Owners could not take advantage of them sexually. Sexual abuse led to liberation, i.e., an abusive owner had to marry the abused slave. A man could have sex with his slave without the permission of his wife. The same rule applied in the case of taking a second wife. Jewish slave owners did marry gentile slaves in the time of the Romans. A similar practice continued under Islam. Most slaves converted to Judaism. Many children were born from such relations. Most children were raised as Jews. This may explain why the Jewish population grew significantly in North Africa, in spite of the split between Judaism and Christianity (see for example Hirschberg, 1965).

Oral accounts suggest that although the split within synagogues and communities in Ifrikia was in the most part peaceful, there were occasion when it turned into bloody battles. Names such as ‘El Hi Ani’ (I am a living God) may be a vestige of a period when Jews adopted names to flag adherence to Christianity. Correspondence linked Ifrikia to Babylon and Jerusalem and Tiberias in the time of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Correspondence between an Aghamat rabbi (near Marrakech) and Babylon is mentioned in the Talmud. North African rabbis were trained in Babylon as late at 1000 CE. Rabenu Nissim and Rabenu Hananel who taught in Kerouan (contemporary Algeria) were among the last to study in Jewish centers of learning in Babylon before its decline. A network of runners, merchant-ships, caravans and an official post office, often non-Jewish, linked between east and west. Later, haj’ caravans played a postal role under Islam. Routes between east and west were well established. The seashore route linked Zur, Acre, Gaza, Alexandria, Cyrene, Mahdia, Sebta, Ksar El Kbir, Tangier, Arzila, Larache, Sale, a’Zemour, Safi, Essaouira and Agadir. A mountain route from Marakesh, Aghamat, Melal, Meknes, Fes, Taharat, Messila, Ashir, Kala’t Hmad and Mjana connected to the sea route. A southern route went from Sousse, Kubbe, Talwit, Melal, Dra’, SigilMassa, Wa’ rglan, Babess, Nafezawa, Al Hama, Gedams, Messine, Jadua, Nafussa, making SigilMassa was a gate to the South, deep into Africa. Pilgrimage made Cyrene a main stop between east and west as well as north and south. The pilgrims’ route had stops at Bagdad, Haleb (Alepo), Damascus, Tiberias, Ramlah, Cairo, Barka, Lebda, Trablus, Kabess, Sussa, Mehdiah, Cyrene, Alger, Messila, Ashir, Taharat, Tlemcen, Oran, Sebta, Tangier, Sla (Rabat), Fes, and Aghamat (Marrakech). A trip lasted 30 days from Cyrene to Sigilmassa in land, or 50 days along the sea route. Commercial relations made routes viable. There were markets in every transit town, especially in Cyrene and Trablous. Ifrikia supplied beautiful mixed race women, oil, wool, silk, horses and donkeys, animals such as sheep and cows, turmeric, pepper, saffron, leather, and leather products, fruits, dates, wax, among other products. There would have been no commerce if there were no elaborate transportation and security systems. Routes survived and even strengthened under Arab rule. Security weakened only when central government became unstable as accounts of piracy indicate (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).

Under the influence of the Vandals
429 – 533 CE

In 429 CE, German Vandals crossed the marine bridge that linked Mount Tarik (Gibraltar) to Tingitana (Tangier). Within ten years Berberia fell in their hands and by 455 CE, local inhabitants rallied around them to take vengeance of Rome and rob it of the wealth it acquired by its strong arm.

Those were the days when the holy vessels of the Temple brought by Titus from Jerusalem to Rome found refuge in Carthaga. The Vandals, who lived by their swords the whole days of their existence, fell in the hands of Byzantium and disappeared from the face of the earth. The holy vessels of the Temple were moved to Constantinople (533 CE). Jews lived in relative peace under the rule of the Vandals but significant constraints were imposed on them as soon as Byzantium re-conquered North Africa due to catholic influence (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).

Under the influence of Byzantium
533- 685 CE

The rule of Byzantium in North Africa, marked by persecutions and economic exploitation, threw the whole region into economic and cultural decline. Jews, Christian Vandals and Pagans alike escaped deep into Berberia, for if Rome took the cream of their crop, Constantinople cut into their flesh and deprived them religious freedom. It is also important to note that although Byzantium ruled over large areas in North Africa, its control over the region was not complete. North Africans always knew how to preserve their freedom by retreating to remote areas and Jews did the same. For this reason Jews settled remote centers such as Sigilmassa. Jews emigrated from Spain to Mauritania-Tingitania (Morocco) for similar reasons (see for example Gibbons 1979, Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).

Historical sources indicate that Jewish communities were well organized. Synagogues were the focal point of communal organization as well as education. Some Jews served in the Roman Army but others were involved in farming, trade, commerce and transportation (shipping). There were centers of wealth in North Africa and it is likely that Jews did not fare badly. As usual, although congregation around synagogues and education preserved Jewish traditions, involvement in secular occupations and mobility led to assimilation. Jews adopted not only local languages but local names and customs too. In spite of the assimilation tendencies, Jews preserved their identity. They also maintained ties with other Jewish centers and especially Israel, to which they returned to dedicate their life to learning or to spend the end of their days. This pattern held many centuries (Hirschberg, 1965).

Jews acquired Roman citizenship and were dispersed in the Empire. However, the split in synagogues evolved and when Christianity gathered strength and became a state religion, debates and anti-Jewish propaganda spread, turning into violent conflicts from time to time. Christian sources indicate that Jews practiced their religion freely and that many gentiles adopted Jewish traditions, although they did not convert fully. In this context it would be appropriate to raise the issue of massive adoption of Judaism in the region. Arab and Jewish sources tend to confirm oral tales that Judaism spread in North Africa. It is well established that “Heaven Fearer” had close affinity to Judaism during the Roman era. However, with the rise of Christianity in the region, many gentiles opted for it. Subsequently most of the gentiles who were associated with Judaism (i.e., the Djeruya) and Christians converted to Islam. Based on general probability trends, it would be reasonable to assume that some Jews adopted Islam too (Hirschberg, 1965).

Under the influence of the Arabs
600 CE

The decline of the Roman Empire began when its exploitation of foreign nations reached its peak. To some extent, the daring war of the Hebrews against mighty Rome marked the beginning of its decline. It demonstrated to the Old World that small nations could stand up to Roman might. But the Hebrews paid a heavy price. Israel was destroyed and its citizens scattered in the Roman Empire, many as slaves. But mighty Rome paid a heavy price too. Its plans to subdue Parthia were curtailed and Rome’s fault lines began to show. Byzantium split from Rome and the Empire ran out of steam. By this time Jewish thinking filtered through the Roman mind, to be reborn in a Christian spirit. Throughout the tumultuous changeover, Arab tribes, inspired by Hebrew prophets, sought to establish a New World Order where the pursuit of justice became more fundamental that before (see for example Gibbons 1979, Hirschberg, 1965, Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).

Glory and Uncertainty under Islam

After a period of expansion and glory of Mohammad, division grew in all the lands that came under the reign of Islam, for Sunnis slaughtered Shiites, as if they were not brothers at all. So great was the animosity between Caliphs from Egypt to Baghdad and between Emirs from the Near East to the Far West that the days of peace and prosperity were clouded by war.

Ever since, it has been prescribed that prosperity would spread in Arab lands only in times of abundance and that uncertainty would reign there in times of scarcity. For whenever only a few enjoyed the wealth of the land, rain withdrew its grace from it and crops did not rise from its depth and hunger drove distant tribes to pirate what was left. Those were days of instability for every one, but Hebrews suffered most, for even protectors turned against them. But in days of abundance, Jews were protected as dhimmis and were better off than the Christians and the foreign ‘a’jam’. Jews managed their own affairs and excelled in their occupations and commanded much respect in the land, in spite of the head tax (dhimma) and legal restrictions imposed by Omar.

Most Christians converted to Islam in North Africa. But some preferred conversion to Judaism because they could practice Christianity under cover of Judaism without fear, waiting for an opportunity to return to Christianity when possible (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).

Dahia al Kahana and the Djeruya Kingdom.
582 – 702 CE

As mentioned earlier, oral accounts indicate that Ephraim established a Hebrew Kingdom in North Africa. Historical evidence also point to a significant growth of the Jewish population in North Africa following the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Jewish slaves in the Roman Empire as well as due to the adoption of Judaism by Berbers and Romans alike. Jews were strong enough to rule at least parts of the region. Little is known of the legendary kingdom of Ephraim. Yet, when Arabs made an attempt to spread Islam in North Africa, they met stiff resistance from the Djeruya, sometimes pronounced ‘Tseruya’ or ‘Zerouya’. The Djeruya, according to oral accounts, were descendents of Yoav Ben Tseruya (1004 – 965 BCE), yet another indication as to the existence of a strong Hebrew presence in Ifrikia in antiquity.

Hassan Ben Nou’man beat the Byzantines in North Africa in 685 CE and conquered Carthaga. Kusseila, a Christian Berber, the military leader of the Byzantines fell in the hands of Hassan and adopted Islam. But Kusseila was a Berber and an ally of Dahia, the Queen of the Djeruya, with whom he had a son. And when Hassan Ben Nou’man sent Kusseila along with Ukeiba, his chief of staff, against the Djeruya (687 CE), Kusseila betrayed the Arabs in the course of the battle. The Arabs had to retreat to Cyrene due to significant losses and in spite of some gains in the battlefield.

Many Arab prisoners fell in the hands of the Djeruya. Dahia adopted Khaled Ben Yazid, an Arab of privileged descent. She learnt from him that the Arabs were interested not only in converting Ifrikia to Islam but also to establish an economic base along the North African coast, which was rich in port cities and essential to control commerce in the Mediterranean as well as to launch a campaign against Christian Rome from the West.

Dahia destroyed all the settlements along the coast of North Africa from Tripoli to Tangier, assuming that it would make the region less attractive to the Arabs. But the destruction caused a deep rift in North Africa and Dahia lost her support among Berbers, Christians and Jews alike.

While Hassan Ben Nou’man waited for reinforcement in Barka, Dahia prophesized her loss. Khaled Ben Yazid informed Hassan Ben Nou’man as to the state of affairs in the Djeruyas’ camp. Five years after the retreat to Barka, the Arab army defeated the Djeruya at Bir Al Kahena, named after Dahia till this day. Dahia died in 702 CE. Dahia’s sons, the Djeruya and most of the Berber tribes adopted Islam shortly thereafter. Ever since, there was hardly any memory left of the Christian era in Ifrikia, and gone were the vestiges of Rome, the Vandals and Byzantium with it. Yet, although many Jews adopted Islam, Judaism managed to survive for the price of a head tax (dhimma). The surviving Jews became dhimmis in Arab lands until the establishment of the State of Israel. Ifrikia or Berberia became known as Maghreb.

Then, in the time when Al Hakim Be’amer Allah ruled Egypt, evil took over eastern North Africa. Every holy place that was not Muslim East of Cyrene was leveled or burnt to the ground. People deserted the East and sought refuge in the West, for Maghreb had been a land of refuge since antiquity. And as the East declined, the Maghreb rose (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).

Walil (Volubilis)
Enf of 8th century

Idriss I, the son of Fatma, the daughter of the Prophet Mohamed deserted the East and went to Maghreb. Tales recount that news had reached Idriss that the west was blessed. And when he saw that the land was good and its people pure, he established a kingdom there. And he made Walil (the old Volubilis in the time of the Rome) his home, and capital and severed his ties with Baghdad. And till this day, people go on pilgrimage to Walil, for Idriss the Great rests there.

Hebrews lived in Volubilis, now Walil, since the time of Rome. Oral accounts indicate the Hebrews prospered there. For there were many farmers among them and there was not one among them that did not have a cow, a sheep or a goat for milk, butter, cheese, meat, wool and leather, which were abundant in the region. And the rich among them had large herds… And they supplied cheese and butter to the land… Local produce carried a stamp that said ‘beraca’ (benediction) and the cream of the crop was stamped with a menorah, with the word ‘beraca’ etched on its base. It was a time when Volubilis was surrounded with grazing fields and orchards of every fruit. And property owner had many slaves to labor the land.

Around the same time, Berber tribes demanded equality among the races in Islam. The movement known as ‘hargia’ (secessionists) rebelled and established new kingdoms in contemporary Algeria with Taharat as its capital as well as in Tlemcen and the Ziz Valley with Sigilmassa as capital. Jewish communities of great significance lived in these capitals. Rabbi Abraham, a Gaon in Babylon, originated from Kabes in contemporary Tunisia, indicating that learning remained of value in North Africa (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).


Idriss II left Walil to make Fez his capital. Idriss II called upon every Jew of independent means to settle there. And so numerous were the Jews in Fez that it became known in the land as the ‘City of the Jews.’ As King Idriss protected the Jews, his coffers filled. And although Jews lived in every place in Maghreb, their number remained the largest in Fez. Jews lived in peace and were busy in every occupation known in the land. The most fortunate Jews served the King in every corner of Maghreb. They also represented him in foreign lands. Court Jews would serve Moroccan kings for many years to come.

The land was rich of many crops and wheat and fruits and spices. And gold was abundant. Among all the peoples in the land, the Children of Israel were blessed in their ability to read and write since a very ancient time and they knew every foreign land and they came and went in the Old World, much like we travel in our days. Although Jew in Maghreb were dhimmis, the people of the land respected them. And when Amir Ihiah the son of Idriss II defiled the honor of a Jewish woman, the whole land stood against him and buried him alive. It seems obvious that legend and real intertwine in this account, but the essence remains quite factual. Jews were omnipresent in commerce (i.e., wax, dates, Henna, wool, and spices). They were relatively well educated. They had commercial ties with Europe, especially in Spain, Italy and France but also elsewhere. They occupied significant roles in Arab royal courts as doctors, advisors and ministers (in military spheres too). They were also translators in the service of the king and had a hand in many agreements between Europe and Maghreb.

It is important to note that Jews could not occupy such central positions overnight. Jews must have had a base in North Africa for a long time. They played an important role during the Roman era. They led the Berbers against the Arabs. Then they joined the secessionists in Taharat and Sigilmassa. In fact, in spite of the significant decline of the Jewish population in Maghreb, Jews still advise the king of Morocco (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985, Eliany 2005).

Knowledge of Arabic and Hebrew
Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Koreish (950 CE)

By 950 the knowledge of Arabic spread among Jews in Maghreb while Aramaic comprehension weakened. Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Koreish (950 CE), a liturgical poet (paytan), linguist and doctor recommended to the Fez rabbinical council to translate the Pentateuch to Aramaic to facilitate understanding Torah and Hebrew. Ibn Koreish followed in all likelihood Babylonian rabbinical authorities instructions that objected to singing in Arabic not only in religious settings but also in secular events. Rav Hay repeated this objection later. Rabbi Donat Ben Labrat HaLevy and Rabbi Yehuda Hayuj studied with Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Koreish. Thus a custom evolved in Maghreb for children to learn Torah for Bar Mitzvah, with at least one translation but not necessarily Aramaic. In this context David Ben Abraham of Fez composed a Hebrew Dictionary before his departure to Jerusalem. Ben Abraham may have been a Karai, a Jewish sect that followed the Torah only. His active involvement in community affairs indicates that Moroccan Jews did not discriminate against the Karaiim. Intermarriage with Karaiim was permitted in Morocco, thus facilitating their assimilitation (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).

Yacov Ibn Jo
975-1020 CE

In the time when the Oumayade of Cordoba fought the Idrissis of Maghreb, the hostilities endangered Jewish life on both sides of the conflict. Each side demanded of the Jews more taxes to finance its war, even when wealth dwindled. Each side demanded Jewish support. And no matter which side Jews chose, the other accused them of treason. According to some accounts, the king appointed Yacov Ibn Jo as Minister to collect taxes and rule in all Jewish matters. Yacov collected all that the Jews had and when there resources dwindled, the king demoted him and imprisoned him. This oral account is pretty factual too. For it was typical for the lord of the land to appoint a loyal merchant to lead the Jews, use him to extort taxes and then demote him and rob him of all his wealth. For this reason, among others, rabbinical rulings exempted Jewish leader in royal service from the obligation to pay taxes (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985, Eliany 2005).

Synthesis and Simplification in Rabbinical Thinking in North Africa according to Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, 1013-1103

Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, known also as Harif, is the author of ‘Sefer Hahalacot,’ a synthesis of the Talmud. He was the first to review the Talmud in its entirety in order to write a simplified and orderly summary or a concise Talmud.

Harif was born in the small village of Kala’ Hamad in contemporary Algeria and studied in Kirouan with Rabenu Nissim and Rabenu Hananel, among the last to study in Babylon.

Researchers who often emphasized the lack of information on North African Jewry tend to neglect that Rav Hay kept close ties with Maghreb and Spain, hoping that they would continue their support to Babylon rather than to Israeli centers such as Tiberias. But, there was a strong tendency in Maghreb to go back and forth to Israel and thus naturally to support Israeli centers of learning too.

Around 1038 CE Rabbi Hananel relied on Jerusalem Talmud in his teaching, for the love of Jerusalem remained strong in Maghreb, although Babylonia wisdom originating from Surah and Pumbeditah was consumed with eagerness too. Maghreb Jews collected funds for both Jerusalem and Babylon and send them to Rabbi Yossef Ben Beraciah in Cyrene once a year, on the occasion of the gathering of the sages (shivtah deriglah) there. One part of the funds was sent to Jerusalem and nine parts to Babylon. The allocation was justified because ‘learning on matters of purity originated from Jerusalem while knowledge in matters of contract came from Babylon.’ Rav Hay in all likelihood influenced decisions made in this regard through Babylonian emissaries, who also taught in Maghreb (i.e., Cyrene or Kirouan).

Following the death of Rav Hay, the last of the Rabbis known as Geonim, Babylon declined as a center of learning while other Academies rose to prominence in western Africa. Rabenu Nissim and Rabenu Hananel brought Babylonian learning traditions to Kirouan, turning it into an important center of learning in North Africa.

Harif, one of the formost graduates of the Kirouan Academy, moved to Fez as soon as he earned his rabbinical accreditation and served there as rabbi, judge and teacher for at least forty years. It was a time when the Talmud was known only by the learned and even so, it was too complex to follow. Simplified interpretations such as Rashi’s came much later. Therefore, Harif undertook a comprehensive review of the Talmud to produce a simplified code following legal principles (Halacot). His work gained him reputation throughout the Jewish World then and remains relevant in our own days. Some also argue that Harif’s work paved the way to Maimonides’ Code (Mishneh Torah).

Harif left Fez in difficult circumstances. It appears that he issued a judgment that favored a humble community member in a case against a community leader who abused his power as advisor to the king. As the said community leader rejected Harif’s ruling and tried to harm him, the rabbi and judge escaped to Cordoba in Spain, spent a few months there, then assumed the function of chief rabbi at Lucena, where he established a new center of learning. Harif taught Baruc Albaliah, Yehuda Halevy and Yossef Ben Meir Migash in Lucena.

Maimonides, among other leading rabbinic authorities, had great respect for Harif. Some equaled him to Rav Hay, the last of the Babylonian Geonim. Maimonides instructed his students to study Harif’s ‘Sefer Hahalacot’ and said about it that ‘it equals the sum of all predecessors contributions to the Talmud!’ (See for example Sar Shalom, Berliner, 1876).

Reconciliation between Rationalism and Jewish belief Systems in North Africa and Spain and Maimonides

Moshe Ben Maimon, Rabbi, Known as Harambam, Maimonides, Cordoba, Spain; Fez, Morocco; Fostat, Egypt (1135-1204)

Linkages between Babylon and North Africa

Transmition of knowledge has been the key to Jewish continuity and survival across generations. As mentioned in Harif’s tale, researchers who often emphasized the lack of information on North African Jewry tended to neglect linkages between Babylon and North Africa. Specifically, that as Babylon declined, other Academies rose to prominence, among them Kirouan in Algeria and Fez in Morocco. Rabbi Isaac Alfasi’s (Harif), studied in Kirouan with Rabenu Nissim and Rabenu Hananel, among the last to study in Jewish centers of learning in Babylon. Rabbi Isaac Alfassi left Fez to Spain at old age and established a rabbinical centre of learning in Lucena, where Baruc Albaliah, Yehuda Halevy and Yossef Ben Meir Migash studied.

Maimonides, born in Cordoba in 1135, was the student of Rabbi Yossef Ben Meir Migash and acquired rabbinical accreditation under his tutelage. Maimonides was groomed to assume rabbinical leadership in Cordoba but increasing hostilities between Christians and Moslems in Spain led his family to move to Fez, Morocco, where relative stability still reigned in spite of the rise of the fundamentalist Mouahidoun movement. Maimonides moved to Fez (1160) not only to escape religious persecution but also to continue his rabbinical and medical studies with Rabbi Yehuda Hacohen Eben Shoshan.

As demonstrated above, teachers and students moved back and forth between Spain and North Africa. Thus transmission of rabbinical knowledge could not be clearly demarcated as Spanish or North African. Linkages were intense and mutual influences – significant (see for example Sar Shalom and Ben Naim).

The devastation of the Spanish and Western North African Jewry

The fundamentalist Mouahidoun movement spread all across Morocco and North Africa like a storm. Ibn Toumert offered Jews conversion or death (1125). Then Abd El Moumin of Sousse launched a campaign to conquer Maghreb for Islam (1141-1147). In the beginning of his campaign, he used inter-faith debates to convince Non-Muslims to convert, but when the soft approach failed, Jews had to choose between conversion and death. Some chose death, Rabbi Yehuda Hacohen Eben Shoshan among them. Yet many Jewish refugees managed to move to Egypt, Israel, Syria and Yemen, among other countries. By 1160 hardly any Jews survived in North Africa between Tangier in the west to Mahdiah in the eastern Maghreb. The devastation of the Spanish and Western North African Jewry was complete as witnessed in the poetry of Rabbi Abraham Eben Ezra (see for example Sar Shalom and Ben Naim).

Conversion to Islam and related Controversy

Although a segment of the population followed Eben Shoshan’s example and chose death rather than conversion, most Jews converted to Islam to preserve life. Converts continued to practice Judaism covertly. Rabbinical rulings indicate that efforts were made to keep converts property and inheritance in Jewish hands whenever and wherever feasible.

Maimonides diverged with his teacher, Eben Shoshan. He comforted converts to Islam, encouraged them not to despair, maintain Jewish beliefs covertly and move to places of refuge as soon as possible (‘in secret or in the open, learn Torah and pray to the heavens and do not despair if your knowledge of Hebrew is gone, for God listens to you in every language and from every place.’ Maimonides’s Conversion Letter known as Igeret Hashemad).

Maimonides managed to survive in Fez but even he could no longer stay there in spite of his privileged relationship with the king. Maimonides moved east like most refugees. He spent a few months visiting holy sites in Israel, and then moved to Egypt where he assumed a rabbinical post as well as a medical position at the royal court (1165). Maimonides did not forget Jews in distress in western North Africa. He called upon Jews to collect funds to free prisoners as well as assist converts to move to safer places of refuge where they could practice Judaism overtly (see for example Sar Shalom).

Reconciliation between Rationalism and Jewish belief Systems in North Africa and Spain

Maimonides became one of the leading philosophers of the Middle Ages. He was a doctor, mathematician, astronomer, community leader and rabbi. Following Rabbi Isaac Alfassi’s approach, Maiminides reviewed the Talmud with the purpose to re-compose it within a manageable legal and rational framework (Mishneh Torah). He later wrote ‘A Guide to the Perplexed’ (Moreh Nevoocim) in which he reconciled the Jewish belief system with rationalism (Aristotelian thinking). Maimonides’s philosophical approach influenced Baruc Spinoza and Moses Mendelssohn as well as Christian (Saint-Thomas d’Aquino and Eckhart) and Moslem thinkers too. He also published medical treaties of great significance.

Some reviewers tend to emphasize Maimonides’s rational approach and distinguish it from subsequent ‘mystical’ approaches underlying the work of Avi Hatsira Yaacov. But in reality, the difference was only in emphasis. Avi Hatsira did not reject rational thinking. He only argued that Judaism as a belief system cannot be derived from rules of nature or rationalism. Both could easily live with theological and rational derivations side by side (Margolis and Marx, 1927 and Manor).

Jewish life in Maghreb and Spain

Fez remained an important center of rabbinical and medical learning even after the departure of Harif, as Maimonides settle there to continue his rabbinic and medicine studies there with Rabbi Yehuda Hacohen Eben Shoshan.

Jews went back and forth from Spain to Morocco. Differences were minor, mostly in marriage practices (i.e., polygamy was forbidden in Spain) and in ritual slaughter. There was complete agreement on every thing else. Even in areas of disagreement, i.e., in matters relating to the treatment of women, women were respected and protected. Polygamy was discouraged. Marriage contracts (ketubot) were often updated to conform to community progress. Divorces were discouraged. And in general, family relations appear to reflect a sense of content (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).

Rabbinical Courts (beth din) in Fez ruled in all matters of Maghreb Jewry, with the exception of persecution periods (during the rule of the Mouahidoun or hameyahadim in Hebrew). Grooming judges required a whole system of education. Morocco did not import rabbis. It produced its own. Morocco even exported learned rabbis to foreign countries, including Spain. The head of local rabbinical academies (beth midrash or yeshiva) appointed rabbis and judges (dayanim). Only in very special cases did the local judges call for Israeli or Babylonian judges to add an opinion. Islamic authorities kingdom recognized rabbinical ruling, through a Jewish minister or president (nagid or nassi). Jewish courts dealt in matters between Jews and non-Jews occasionally. In most cases, enforcement was voluntary but occasionally they called upon secular authorities to enforce sentences. Islamic authorities were called upon to enforce rabbinical rulings in a few rare cases. The most common custom among Jews in Maghreb was to use rabbinical courts rather than rely on the courts of the land, mainly to avoid rulings that contradict Jewish law as well as a measure of compassion for the poor. An effort was made to avoid the use of Islamic courts as they lacked legal expertise and their assessment of witness reliability was limited, in addition to problems associated with corruption. Similar problems applied to lower Jewish courts in which non-experts served as judges. Jews avoided Islamic courts so that oath would not be required in contradiction to Jewish customs. Jewish authorities were also concerned that use of Islamic courts could be interpreted as rejection of Jewish law. The key concern was justice. If Jewish courts could deliver justice, they were preferred. If they could not then, Islamic court were used and respected.

Most Jews used rabbinical courts and accepted their judgments. Rabbinical courts called upon Jewish authorities to enforce judgments whenever people did not comply voluntarily. When enforcement became impossible, community excommunication was used. Flogging (malkot) was used occasionally. In places where there was no rabbinical court (dayan), learned people used mediation based on rabbinic guidelines.

In general, a president (Rais or rosh kehila) led communities with the assistance of a council of elders (zikney haiir) or a committee of notables (necbadim), often representing the secular arm (wealthy or educated people).

Religious affairs were led by rabbis with rabbinical accreditation, teachers who were learned but without rabbinical accreditation, Torah-readers (hazan), prayer-leaders (shaliah tsibur) and sometimes, rabbinical judges too. It depended on the size of the community, its level of education and its distance from centers of learning. In some cases, learned rabbis sent students to teach and guide small and remote communities. In other cases, rabbis spent a part of their time in distant communities on a voluntary basis. Following periods of decline, North African Jews abroad (i.e., Jerusalem) sent messengers to remote communities in Morocco to teach and revive Jewish learning (see for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985, Eliany, 2005).

1030 CE

Oral tales coincide with historical evidence that sages in Aghamat, Kerouan and Sigilmassa corresponded with Rav Hay in Babylonia in a time when ‘people sinned’ and rain did not show its face in Maghreb and hunger came upon the land and grasshoppers came from the South to devour all the crops of the North. Sages of Sigilmassa decreed that the children of Israel could eat grasshoppers to save their lives in light of the drought and lack of food. It was a time when the learned were wise, for in all Maghreb, from Fes to Kerouan, sages spoke in one voice. And the laws of purity (kashrut) were void, for life was deemed of higher value than strict adherence to law. Rav Hay of Babylon praised the ruling of the sages of Sigilmassa. Ever since, it has been a tradition in Maghreb to eat grasshoppers in good and bad times, in memory of ancestors who fed on them, like manna from heaven.

According to oral history, when the Mourabitoun (1082 – 1130 CE) and the Mouahidoun rose to power (1147), Oulad Moussa went to Camerounia and Nigeria and to the lands of Africa that were known as Western Sudan (Sudan Al Gharbi), because in those days Sudan extended from East to West and the path of Camels linked the oceans. Jews then lived in Touat, Toukourat and Timbuktu and in other places deep in Africa and ‘the Divine in Heaven was known in all those places’. And the Mouahidoun could not reach Jews who sought refuge there. They lived in complete freedom and did not submit to any ruler. The strong among them rode horses and camels and carried arms. There were times when they had kings and many were the tribes who paid them tributes in gold and silver and virgins and the animals that were the crop of the land. They were tall and strong because they were blessed and a loaf of bread and a skin of water satisfied them for many days.

It was a time when the Children of Moses (Oulad Moussa) built forts (kasba and ksar), for they knew how to turn straw and mud into strong walls since the time they lived in Egypt. They dug wells everywhere and farmed lands in the most remote places and caravans that ventured into Africa, ate and slept in their settlements. They made jewelry of African silver and gold in Timbuktu, and many were among them the merchants who traded dates for wheat and the tradesmen who made leather out of camels’ skins, among many other things.

After many years, Oulad Moussa submitted to King Al Rashid Al Alaoui who extended control deep into Mauritania (1666-1672). Although Oulad Moussa and Ait Israil are Jewish ancestry by name, their customs changed, for many years had passed and little did they remember of their Jewish past, although many still take their oath by Moses (Sidna Moussa). And people in Africa still call them Yahoud al A’rab! (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983, Chouraki, 1985 and Eliany interviews).

The Secret History of the Jews of Dra

A Judeo-Arabic manuscript known as ‘The Secret History of the Jews Of Dra’ attest to the ancient origin of the Jews of the Dra region as well as to the existence of an ancient Jewish kingdom (as mentioned earlier) and recurring armed conflicts with Christians. But the document has been copied many times. Most versions are consistent is mentioning the existence of an independent network of Jewish settlements led by a king but variation occurs as to who Jews were in conflict with. In one version the conflict is with Christians (Jean Gattefosse) but in other versions the conflict is with Moslems or both (Bar Shalom). However, when details are closely studied, it seems that the narrative is an accurate description of Abd El Moumin’s campaign in the region at the beginning of the rise of the Almohads. Based on this account Jews led by king Samuel (shmuel) encountered Almohad forces, won early battles but were misled to believe that Moslem forces were willing to sign a peace treaty. The Almohad forces laid a trap and massacred the Jews instead. Almohad forces went on to conquer the rest of Morocco, forcing Jews to convert or die (about 1147-1165). The account above, among others, indicate that Moroccan Jews did not submit to oppression passively. Some migrated to distant places of refuge but some re-grouped to fight, as the tale above indicates (Mazel, 1971).

1127-1163 CE

Military campaigns by the Mourabitoun and the Mouahidoun as well as internal divisions amongst them and recurring raids of Berber nomad tribes brought to the fall of Cyrene and Mahdiyah rose in its stead (1000-1100 CE). Many Jews were sold into slavery in Maghreb then. Surviving Jewish communities redeemed as many Jewish slaves as possible, for there was no greater mitzvah than relief from slavery in Maghreb Al Aktsa. Rabbi Nissim escaped to Mahdiya, but continued to comfort Jews and converts in their misery. Maimonides did the same upon his arrival to Egypt (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985).

1082-1147 CE

Sigilmassa declined and Dra’ and Marakesh began to rise, for the Mourabitoun came from Dra’ to conquer in a storm many cities in Maghreb and Spain (1082 CE). It was a time when Jews served in the army of Ibn Tashfin’s Mourabitoun. Jewish soldiers consumed only milk products and vegetables and were permitted to rest and drink wine on Sabbath. Mourabitoun soldiers maintain a cordial relationship with Jews at this stage. Jews gained respect for their learning and knowledge of trade, crafts and medicine.

As the Mourabitoun weakened (1130 CE), the Mouahidoun assumed the task to strengthen Islam in Spain (Cordoba 1147 CE) and unify the Maghreb (1163 CE). The following oral account describes the condition as factually as any historian would:

‘And in those days, Rabbi Moshei of Dra’ studied Torah with Rabbi Yossef Halevi in Andalousia. And he came to Fez and a word came to him that Ibn Toumert, the leader of the Mouahadin came from Tafilalet to debate on matters of Islam with the Sages of the Mourabitoun (1127 CE). And when Rabbi Moshei heard Ibn Toumert speaking, he remembered the clouds of the Mourabitoun from their early days and the Mouahadin appeared in his dreams as a violent storm. And on the morning after his dream, Rabbi Moshei walked in the street of the Jewish quarter (melah) and went to every synagogue to tell any man who would listen of the coming storm. And people sought refuge in Andalusia and other went to Livorno but the majority who did not know what to do or where to go prepared to follow Rabbi Moshei to Jerusalem as if he, and no one else, was the Redeemer.’ (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence, Eliany, interviews).

The Devastation of the North African Jewry

Ibn Toumert and his followers initiated debates within the Moslem community in a drive to strengthen support to his movement (1125 CE). Then Abd El Moumin of Sousse launched a campaign to conquer Maghreb for Islam. The Mouahidoun summoned Jews to debates with the sole purpose to convert them without resorting to force. But when Jews did not respond positively, they were offered conversion or death. Some chose death but most converted, but continued to practice Judaism covertly. Synagogues were converted into mosques and hardly any Jews were left West of Mahdiah (in eastern North Africa) (1141-1147 CE).

Abd El Moumin consolidated his conquest of the Eastern Maghreb in the years 1159-1160 CE. Mahdiah submitted on good terms but Tunis did not and the Mouahidoun confiscated half its wealth. Remaining Jews and Christians were forced to convert or die. Every one else yielded without war. It was a time when there was nowhere to flee and there were more converts among the Jews than there were Jews who fled or chose death. And although they were converts, they remained Jews in their hearts. And the wisest amongst them escaped to Egypt, or to the Land of Israel, Syria and Yemen (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Aghamat and Marakesh
1106-1142 CE

Aghamat, the old capital of the Mourabitoun stood proud at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, a day’s walk South East of Marrakech. Jews lived in Aghamat since an ancient time, according to oral accounts since the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE). Priests (Cohanim) sought refuge there.

Before Ibn Tashfin made Marrakech a holy city and before Jews were permitted to live there, Marrakech was a marketplace. But Ibn Tashfin wanted to make it a capital city, an alternative to Fez. So he called upon the learned and skilled Jews to settle in Marrakech. Many Jews from Andalusia responded to Ibn Tashfin’s call. Rabbi Meir Ben Kamniel a medical practitioner became Ibn Tashfin’s personal doctor (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Community Organization and Occupations

The community was led by ‘Caid al Yahud,’ sometimes called Nagid, Gaon or Rais. The community leader had a police service (shurtha) at his disposal to enforce order as well as an announcer (dalal).

A rabbinical judge (dayan) dispensed justice. Other actors provided community services: prayer-leaders (hazan), rabbis (often called sages or hacamim), ritual slaughter specialists (shocet), teachers (melamedim) and scribes (katab or sofer). There were also translators (torg’man) in languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Andalusian, French, German and Italian as well as doctors (tabib or rofei). Jews had communal autonomy and lived well in good times but their suffering was great in times of political instability or religious fundamentalism.

Jewish trades included jewelers (dahbi or zoref), imitation gold maker (chimia), money-changers (saraf), mattress makers (halaf), silk maker (harar), metal workers, builders (banay), die makers (sabagh) of wool, cotton, silk and linen (pishtan), wax and candle makers, perfume makers (besamin and cahalin), spice makers (atarin) who made curcuma, saffron, pepper, salt among other spices, sugar makers (sakarin), wine makers (sherabi), bread maker (bu cabza), honey makers (assal or debash), oil makers (ziat), merchants (al bi’u shra or soher), multi-functional diplomats, translators and merchants who spoke several languages (rajuan), and sailors, ship makers, and ship captains. Jews in Maghreb could do any trade in good times but lived in poverty in bad times.

Many Jews in coastal cities such as Essaouira, Sla or Tangier were overseas’ merchants (import and export), because the income was good and the encounter with foreign nations offered ‘protection’ (hemaya or hasut) in the form of foreign nationality or passport. But the occupation was risky due to the danger of drowning, piracy and change in market conditions (change in market prices and related losses). The learned were merchants who turned to medicine and learning after failure or accumulation of wealth. Sailing routes passed through Essaouira, Safi, Sale and Tangier in Morocco, Alger, Tunis and Cyrene (which was also a meeting place for travelers) in Algeria, Alexandria and Fostat (a meeting place for travelers) in Egypt. Acre and Gaza in Palestine and from there: land routes to Ramleh, Damascus, and Baghdad. There were also routes to Ubula near Basra (Iraq), and Oman to India and China. Additional routes went to Yemen and then to India and China. There were also commercial ties with Spain, Genoa, Pizza and Livorno in Italy (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Yehuda Ibn Abbas
Fez 1159-1160 CE

Abd El Moumin of Sousse relaxed his attitude towards Jews towards the end of his rule and although many converted to Islam earlier, no one examined if they practiced Judaism in private. As mentioned earlier, Maimonides moved to Fez in 1160 to study with Rabbi Yehuda Hacohen Ibn Shoshan. Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Abbas, a local liturgical poet (paytan) could correspond with Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, another poet and doctor in Andalusia, and sing his songs in spite of the hardship. Jews had to maintain a low profile to survive and they could do so because their beliefs held firm, although learning declined and superstitions spread (i.e., the revival of beliefs in talismans and spirits (jnun).

As conversion pressures increased, Maimonides encouraged Jews to leave Morocco rather than wait for a Redeemer. Maimonides did what he preached and immigrated to Egypt (1165 CE) as mentioned earlier (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

1276 CE

In the days of Abu Yussuf al Manzur (1184-1199 CE), the granson of Abd Al Moumin, even Jews who converted to Islam had to wear distinctive cloths and were forbidden to marry ‘perfect’ Muslims or owning Muslim slaves, mostly because Jewish converts remained suspect and because the old king was subject to persistent attacks from within and oppressed Jews and converts to demonstrate his zeal. For even Abu Yussuf the Victorious, the conqueror of Spain, was subject to the cycle of seasons that governed the Maghreb, a Spring to rise, a Summer to flower, a Fall to linger and a Winter to slumber and its was the time for aspiring sheiks to challenge the aging lion.

Converts then had no choice but marry within their own midst. Thus the interdiction to marry ‘others’ turned into a blessing, for although four generations passed since the early conversions and although few synagogues remained in Maghreb Al Aktsa, converts remembered their origin and returned to Judaism! But Al Manzur succumbed to a rebellion and his son Mohamed took his place, only to loose a new round of wars against Christian Spain (1212 CE) as well as his father’s gains in Maghreb. Soon Oulad Hafez made Tunisia an independent kingdom (1228 CE), Oulad Ziyan did the same in Algiria (1235 CE) and Oulad Merin assumed the rule of Morocco (1269 CE). By the year 1276 CE, there was no remembrance of Oulad Moumin in Maghreb al Aktsa. They were all buried alive in Hatsan Al Tinmal, the highest elevation of the Atlas Mountain!

Jews came out of their hiding places as soon as the Mouahidoun kingdom broke apart, rebuilding communities and synagogues in places where they lived before. And where there was a synagogue, there was a place of learning, a ritual slaughterer, a rabbinical judge and enough support to provide for the poor, the widow and orphan. Resilience facilitated in all likelihood the reconstruction of Jewish communities in Morocco; but beyond resilience there was a pattern. Oral tales stress again and again the sacrifice of rabbis who traveled to remote places to teach the young and comfort the old. Some of these rabbis rose from within but some also came from expatriates in Israel. Many were rewarded with annual commemorations (hilulot) as well as a touch of reverence or sainthood (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence and Eliany 2005).

Califa the Great

Soon Jews settled in Fez and Marrakech again, rebuilding trading networks, linking the four corners of Morocco with the world. Some represented kings in matters of peace and war and commerce. Jews lived well again. And it became a custom in the land to leave a part of the inheritance (hekdesh) to the poor, to a rabbi or judge (dayan) or to a synagogue or to a remote community to install a rabbi or a judge. And the just among the learned went to every place where Jews lived before and established synagogues in humble places and there were more synagogues at that time than in the troubled times before. And children learnt how to read Torah in proper intonation once more. And it became a custom in Maghreb for Jews to learn prayers by heart, even when they could not read. All this happened in the time of Califa the Great (Ben Hayun), the advisor of King Yussuf Ibn Yakub (1286-1307). But as usual in Moroccan courts, envy combined with greed not only to displace Califa and most of his family from their positions of power but also to deprive them of their lives and wealth (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

The Retreat from Andalusia and the Struggle for Power in North Africa 1285 – 1400

In spite of major efforts, King Yussuf signed a peace treaty with Castilia and retreated to North Africa. Here his descendents did better. Abu Hassan Ali (1331-1351) asserted his authority on Tlemcen and Tunis. Yet, rival tribes did not yield and managed to extend their territories gradually.

Interestingly, the retreat of Muslim and Jewish refugees from Andalusia to North Africa brought economic development to many cities and towns along the Atlantic and Mediterranean shores as well as in the interior. And in spite of vestiges of fundamentalists’ pressures, Moroccan kings protected Jews and relied on their skills and services to develop the local economy. Jews fared relatively well, as many of them used Jewish commerce networks around the Mediterranean Sea (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Turkish Rule in North Africa

Turkey ruled a good part of the eastern Mediterranean, bringing under its rule Jews in the Balkan region, Turkey, the Middle East as well as North Africa, with the exception of Morocco. A council of Janissars, officers overseeing pirates’ operations, ruled North Africa, except Morocco. The Janissars’ rule was tough and oppressive at the administrative level but had little impact over every day life.

The New Jewish Quarter in Fez
1438 CE

Jews lived in Old Fez (Fez Al Bali) in relative peace for a while but an old Sheriff remembered ‘suddenly’ the long forgotten tomb of King Idriss at the edge of the quarter where some Jews lived. And as if it was an act of Heaven, a wine cup was found in one of the mosques in the old city. Upon the disenchanting discovery, Moslems raided homes where Jews could be found, some to rob and some to kill, some to rape and some to convert the remaining living souls to Islam. Since it became a tradition among Jews in Maghreb to value life above all, many converted. But when the king saw that fundamentalist Moslems were not satisfied that Jews lived amongst them, even after the killings and conversions, he allocated a piece of land below his palace to survivors and Jews built new homes there and lived there ever since (i.e., melah) (Hirschberg, 1965).

Harun A Saraf
1465 CE

In the days of Abd El Haq the Marinide, Harun A Saraf rose among all Jews to become the Minister of Ministers in Abd El Haq’s palace. And the children of Ibn Al Wattas who was the Minister of Ministers before, called upon their supporters among the Berber tribes and told Mohamed Ben Amran, the old Sheriff at the Cyrene Mosque in Fez: ‘let’s revive faith in Islam!’ and the old Sheriff saw that the anger against Abd El Haq and the Jews was great and blessed the believers. And before the sun set that day, the blood of the Children of Israel ran in the streets of New and Old Fez like flush flood in a desert stream and the blood of Harun A Saraf mixed with Abd El Haq’s, the last of the Marinide’s Kings, and no one could tell the difference between them by evening. And those who loved life among the Jews cried loud in the streets of Fez that ‘there was no God but Allah and Mohamed was his Prophet’ once more. And there was no town left in Maghreb where Jews could live in peace. Those were the days when chaos (Dar a Siba) reigned in Maghreb, for law and order (Dar Al Maczan) weakened. And Romans (i.e., Europeans) dared establish posts along Moroccan coasts again.

And the very few Jews who survived slaughter and conversion, found refuge in remote villages where Jews were still welcomed, for strong was the belief in the land that Oulad Israel and Oulad Moussa were of the same blood and deserved to be spared for the blessings they brought to the land. And many years passed before Jews returned to Fez, although the tombs of their ancestors remained there. Here too, oral accounts coincide with historical evidence closely (see for example, Hirshberg, 1965).

Sources of Information and related Biases

Oral tales, as problematic as they may be in terms of reliability, provide long forgotten testimonies as to what may have happened in the past. There is confusion in oral tales about locations, chronology as well as key players. But careful reviews often provide significant leads. They convey a pattern of survival whereby Jews adopt Islam overtly but continue to practice Judaism covertly. Furthermore, they move to remote places, deep in the Moroccan interior or abroad, to survive.

Rabbinical sources proved more reliable in specifying locations, chronology and key players but were biased in terms of their focus on centers such as Fes, Meknes, Rabat or Marrakech. They also tend to deal with problems privileged Jews encountered in urban centers (i.e., in royal courts), while neglecting accounts relating to Jews in the periphery, where many Jews lived a relatively peaceful life. From time to time, however, rabbinical documents shed light on community organization and related cultural characteristics and activities.

European sources such as those of diplomats, merchants, artists and tourists had their own pitfalls. Europeans had easier access to Jewish circles, especially Jewish diplomats and merchants. Therefore European reports reflected only part of the reality in Morocco. They were also tinted by hatred towards Jews or lack of understanding of the local context, i.e., the dhimmi status (Gelfand 1999 on Charcot). And yet, some of the reports do convey that Jews had a decent community life (i.e., Delacroix).

Most Muslim sources were not interested in Jewish matters and when they did, they emphasized issues such as the legal status of Jews in Arab Lands (dhimma), conversion and Jews in royal courts. There were also period when Jews were not mentioned at all in Muslim sources, mainly because Jewish communities were taken for granted. In such period, Jews lived in peace and fared well.

Existing gaps and discrepancies between the different sources require an analytical reconciliation. The most evident gap lies between popular beliefs and documented accounts. Oral accounts report cordial relations between Moslems and Jews in Morocco over extended periods of time. Tales do point out abuses due to the inferior status of the Jews (dhimma), especially during periods of political instability, but Moslems suffered as much then too. Overall, it seems that stable government were associated with fair living conditions as much as instability correlated with general suffering. Further, in periods of transition when treasuries emptied or when government expenses rose (i.e., due to rising military expenses), kings tended to be more demanding of all their citizens but more so of their Jews.

Given the constraints mentioned above, it seems that Jews did manage to lead a ‘normal’ community life within the context of a turbulent and evolving Moroccan society. There are also indications that Jews may have fared better than Muslim neighbors on average. Jews did better because of their educational system as well as knowledge of trades and involvement in commerce, including import and export (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence and Eliany 2005 for tales).

Refuge in Morocco

The reign of the Moors weakened in Spain as internal divisions increased. As Christians made progress in their war against Islam, Jews suffered. Expulsions and forced conversions pressed Jews to seek refuge in Maghreb, although order hardly reigned there. Very few ventured into Algeria, Tunisia and Lybia because of the Christian threat that hanged over those lands.

Spanish and Portuguese Jews went to places where they had connections and where local authorities were at least tolerant, if not welcoming. In the beginning, welcome was common but as the stream of refugees increased, the local population protested and local authorities imposed an entree tax. Authorities were interested in the skills of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews and closed their eyes. But law and order were weak in many parts of Morocco (dar a siba). Many Jews sought refuge deep in the interior in places where local sheiks offered protection and safety. Other Jews left North Africa to destinations in Europe (Balkan, Greece, but also Italy, Holland and a few to England) as well as in the Middle East (Turkey, Syria, Israel and Egypt). But most refugees stayed in Morocco. As difficult as it may have been under the Moslem rule, it was difficult to leave the whole community behind, because people had a community life in the places where they lived, so that even in hardship, they were surrounded by people they knew and the learned among them taught them that the hard times would pass and they found comfort in Torah and ‘Eternal’ delivery (see for example, Hirshberg, 1965).

Enslavement and Redemption

Oral accounts, supported by historical evidence indicate that law and order (dar al maczen) weakened during the reign of Oulad Watass, and strong-armed robbers ruled the interior (dar a siba). When Jews came from Spain and Portugal, Andalusian Moslems who came with the Jews faced the robbers and said: ‘Go after the Jews. They have precious belongings’ to escape robbers’ wrath. Thus impoverished refugees had to shed the little they had and when there was nothing left, hostages were taken among them to be sold into slavery. And the cry of the Children of Israel in Maghreb rose to Heaven, for little money was left to redeem prisoners. Jews pleaded for mercy and where there was no mercy left in the heart of men, inhabitants joined Moslem neighbors to say: ‘let no more refugees in!’ But it was a time when there was no place to go, for Maghreb became a land of last refuge.

Spanish and Portuguese refugees scattered in every remote place in Maghreb Al Aktsa and lived there in great humility, yielding in every way to the Judgment imposed on them by Heaven, although no one could justify it. And the learned among them sought understanding in the Book of Splendor (Zohar) and attributed mystical meanings to every kind of suffering and people found comfort in every explanation to hang on to life, although it was not worth living. For it was a time when hunger spread in the land even before the arrival of the refugees and people laid bare under barren clouds for lack of accommodation and decent living.

And in the great misery, there were people for whom old explanations could not provide hope any longer. Some left Maghreb for distant Christian lands. For in many corners of the world, the despised Jews seemed useful against all odds, especially to princes eager to exploit every situation. And even Spain and Portugal accepted them back and many Jews returned there in great despair and although some remembered their origins in agony, most realized that it was best to forget the past and live their new life in the Christian faith. But it is in the nature of things for old problems to reappear and after some years, Jews turned ‘New Christians’ shined again and in face of unwanted competition, even most sincere conversions seemed suspect and the suffering continued and the Gods in Heaven stood still and the words of their prophets turned empty of any meaningful significance. The inquisition made sure of it.

But most Spanish and Portuguese refugees stayed in Maghreb and settled in every place where they could make a living, often where old Jewish community existed. After a time, one could not tell who lived in Maghreb from an old time (inhabitants) and who came from Spain or Portugal due to expulsion or conversion (expelled or megorashim). Rabbi Yacob Rosales became a King’s Merchant and he went in and out of the king’s palace like a minister. And Rabbi Menahem Senanes represented the sultan in the courts of the kings of Spain and Portugal among other Christian lands. And after him, came Yacov Ruti and did the same. And Yacov Ruti brought many converts back to Judaism and was a just man all his life (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

The ‘Inhabitants’ versus ‘Expelled’ Controversy

A rift between Spanish-Portuguese Jewish refugees and the old Jewish ‘inhabitants’ of Morocco in relation to ritual slaughters practices as well as marriage contracts has been used to suggest that the two populations did not mix. However, a massive flow of Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal into Morocco and their assimilation into the ‘inhabitants’ population, with some exceptions, lend credence to the argument that the rift has been exaggerated and that the assimilation has been downplayed.
Historical background
It was well established above that the origins of the Iberian Jewry was in North Africa and that people went back and forth between the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. Most celebrated is Harif’s move to Lucena and Maimonides travel to Fez to further his education, after studying with Rabbis of Moroccan origin in Spain (Hirschberg, 1965).
There are also occasional references to Morocco and North Africa as centers of refuge for the Spanish-Portuguese Jewry after the 1492 expulsion from Spain and the 1497 forced and massive conversion in Portugal (Hirschberg, 1965, Chouraqui, 1985, Zafrani 1983).
Occasionally, a rift between Spanish-Portuguese Jewish refugees and the old Jewish ‘inhabitants’ of Morocco in relation to ritual slaughtering practices and marriage contracts has been used to indicate that the two populations did not mix. Highlighting the rift appears to be a research bias due to excessive reliance on rabbinic documentation and the lack of other empirical observations as to everyday life in Morocco.
A good review of historical facts does point to a massive in land flow of Jewish refugees from Spain into Portugal around 1492 mainly due to lack of sufficient maritime means of transportation, impoverishment (and abuse) of the Jewish population around the time of the decree of expulsion, limiting the ability to buy a way out, in addition to constraints on massive immigration to neighboring countries, including North Africa (Hirschberg, 1965, Chouraqui, 1985, Zafrani 1983).
Similar circumstances limited the ability of Jews to leave Portugal in 1497, leading to their massive conversion and the establishment of a significant New Christian population in Portugal.
But life was not easy for the New Christians in Iberia and many sought refuge elsewhere. The tales of Spanish-Portuguese Jewish centers in places such as Amsterdam, Livorno, Sarajevo and Kushta to mention only a few, are well known. But less known is the tale of the massive immigration of Spanish-Portuguese Jews to Morocco.
Many Spanish-Portuguese Jews found refuge in Morocco for the following reasons: 1. Morocco was close and relatively easy to reach by sea at a modest cost;
2. Local Jews assisted their friends and relatives to settle in Morocco; 3. Internal conditions led Arab leaders to sponsor Spanish-Portuguese Jews to settle across the land including remote Southern areas; 4. Spanish-Portuguese New Christians used Spanish and Portuguese ports on Moroccan land, i.e., Mogador, to establish contacts with the so-called Jewish ‘inhabitants’ of Morocco and to settle amongst them;
5. After settling in Morocco, Spanish-Portuguese New Christians returned to Judaism and assisted their relations to leave Iberia in order to settle in Morocco (Roth 1932, Hirschberg, 1965, Chouraqui, 1985, Zafrani 1983, Fernandes 1980).
The case for assimilation
The question that remains is what happened to all the Spanish-Portuguese New Christians who settled in Morocco. Contrary to widely held opinions; it seems that most assimilated in the local Jewish population and only a minority kept a distinct identity. The following case study provides some evidence.
According to established oral traditions, Cohanim played an important role in the development of trade and commerce in and around Marrakech since a very ancient time. Leading Cohanim families, among others, participated in the Moors’ conquest of Spain and settled there. But family and commercial ties were maintained overtime, even during turbulent times.
Around the time of the expulsion from Spain and following the forced conversion of the Portuguese Jewry, Arab and Berber leaders sought skilled Jewish refugees to fortify Southern Morocco after a period of decline.
According to the same oral sources (1), several families of Cohanim adopted distinct New Christians names such as DeJesus and DeDieu. The Khesus (read Jesus) family, for example, had expertise in silver and gold embroidery and worked for the governor of Marrakech and Southern Morocco from generation to generation and could trace their background to one of the New Christian families who were Cohanim before the conversion.
According to the same sources (1), the families could not re-adopt the Cohen status and name because of the ‘conversion sin.’ Some families maintained the ‘Khesus’ and ‘Dadia’ (3) names (Arabic distortions of Jesus and DeDieu) to remember the conversion disaster. Other families adopted Hebrew names such as ‘Ben Zicri’ or ‘Ben Shoshan’ to denote their priesthood (Cohanim) ancestry.
It is interesting to note that most of the families above, with the exception of one (Ben Shoshan) (3) did no longer speak Spanish or Portuguese and one could not distinguish them from local Jewish ‘inhabitants.’ Among their elders, vestiges of memories held that relatives lived ‘across the sea’ (read in Portugal, Spain, Cape Verde and Manchester) but their mention was taboo, probably because the foreign branches lived as Christians (i.e., Corcos and Ben Saud as Protestants in Manchester and elsewhere in England as well as De Jesus as Catholics in Lisbon and Cape Verde) (4).
Members of some of the families above were known to live as Jews in Morocco but maintained a Christian lifestyle elsewhere until recent years. In one case, a relative of the Khesus of Marrakech, who lived as a Jew and Cohen in Mogador and who maintained commercial ties with the De Jesus of Lisbon, married in the early 1900’s a woman of De Jesus family. This Cohen-De Jesus family settled later in Cape Verde and some of its descendents live in Lisbon, Portugal as well as Ottawa and Montreal in Canada. Most members of these families remember their origins but live a secular lifestyle, wearing Jewish symbols such as the Star of David discreetly.
Note also that ongoing persecutions, persisting over centuries rather than decades, did not distinguish between ‘inhabitants’ and ‘expelled.’ Everyone suffered equally. But there is evidence that urban dwellers in centers such as Fez may have suffered more. For example, after the death of Mohamed Ben Abd Allah (1790) and the rise of his son Yazid (nicknamed mezid, i.e., abuser), the Jews of Fez were expelled when they failed to deliver an exorbitant levy and were forced to wander into the interior of Morocco, where the so called ‘inhabitants’ absorbed them to an extent that it was impossible to distinguish between the ‘inhabitants’ and ‘expelled’ in the 20th century or by the time of the massive immigration to Israel (Eliany, 1992).

Christians Posts on Moroccan Shores – Mazagan

After the slaughter of Abd El Haq, the rule of the king weakened in Maghreb Al Aktsa and the Portuguese strengthened their foothold on the shores of North Africa, adding Arzila (1471 CE) to Sebta (1415 CE) in the North and Azemour (1486 CE) to Safi (1488 CE) in the South. They built a port in Mazagan (Essaouira) further South and it was their ambition in those days to set posts all around Africa on the way to India. New Christians who left Spain and Portugal lived in the Christian posts in Africa, joining Jews who lived there from an ancient time before. It was a time when many New Christians followed their Jewish brethren and settled in many places in Maghreb and lived there as Jews without fear or persecution.

Those were the days when the wisdom of Ben Zemiro spread from Safi and was heard from Lisbon to Dra, for his knowledge of Torah and Mishneh Torah was great and his poetry became known in the land. The remains of Ben Zemiro lie in Safi now and people go there on pilgrimage to remember the past and celebrate the present but mostly to plead for a better future.

This is to say that even when life appeared to be bearable, misfortune came upon Jews in Maghreb many times, for it was a time of uncertainty and Portuguese and Ishmaelite robbers roamed the land and took every opportunity to enrich themselves on account of merchants who ventured into the interior of Morocco to make a living. Those were the days when belief became necessary to survive, for prayers were not answered from the heavens and salvation did not come from the earth below (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Christian Ambitions in North Africa
1509 – 1578

It was a time when Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castilia completed their conquest of Iberian land from the hands of the Moors and although they had ambitions to solidify their gains with additional conquest in Africa, they were constrained by a vow they made to the King of Portugal who took their daughter for a wife. But it was a time when the Castilian army was strong and the Catholic Church was full of fervor and it was in the best interest of all to direct their energy to go as far as Oran in a campaign to combine interests of the Holy Cross with earthly appetite for exploitation of foreign lands. So it happened that the Moors turned weak and Oran and Alger and Tunis and Trablous fell in the hands of Christians once more. And the Jews paid the price, once more, in enslavement, if not in conversion, if they did not retreat deep into the land that became their refuge since antiquity. And so great was the number of slaves that all the money in the coffers of the Jews in Fez and Dra’ did not suffice to fulfill the holy commandment of prisoners’ redemption.

And in spite of all the might of Lisbon and Castilia, Christian rule in Africa did not last 50 years, for by 1578 their last hope was buried with the fall of Sebastien the King of Portugal in Ksar Al Kbir (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Moshe and Yacov Ruti

In 1547, the Inquisition established an office in Tangier, where Franciscan brothers arrested Moshe Ruti, who came to visit from Arzila, and made accusation against him that he enticed New Christians to re-join the rank of the Jews by proposing to them marriages with the fairest women in the land, among other business offers.

The commander of the Portuguese post in Arzila intervened on behalf of Ruti for fear of reprisal from Moshe’s brother Yacov who had a say in the king’s court in Fez. And after a time, Moshe was released and returned to Arzila because the Portuguese, who already lost most of their posts along the Maghreb’s Southern Coast, feared that the Jews would turn against them. For in those days, Jews made arms and knew where to buy them and where to sell them and they sold them to the king of Maghreb who vowed to protect them (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Jews in Dra’ under Oulad Sa’ad

Oulad Sa’ad rose in the Dra’ Valley and extended their government all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and neither the Portuguese or Oulad Watas could stop them. And many were the New Christians who settled in Marrakech and returned to live among the Jews and married among them. And there were among them weapon makers, doctors and translators and people who could make salt and sugar and wax and honey and soap, among many other products. And Oulad Sa’ad saw that they could draw benefits from them and vowed to protect them. And Jews in the service of Oulad Sa’ad advised them with wisdom and Agadir fell into Moslem hands (1541 CE) and the Portuguese left all their posts along the coast except Mazagan (Essaouira). Then Oulad Sa’ad turned against Oulad Watas and the Turkish soldiers who supported them and conquered Fez (1549 CE) and ruled the whole Maghreb thereafter. Jews paid Oulad Sa’ad in Dinars of Sousse, in wheat and soap in exchange of a vow to protect them. It was a time when Jews sought refuge in Meknes for fear of the soldiers of the Sultan of the Turks who supported Oulad Watas and who defiled Jewish virgins and enslaved many Jews (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Jews in Diplomacy and International Commerce
Marrakech 1557

After the death of Muhammad Al Sheikh, his son AbdAllah made Marrakech the capital of Morocco and Mogador its port city (1557-1574). And Abd Al Malek took over the kingdom and died after four years in the battle of the Three Kings (1578 CE) and his brother Ahmed led the war in his stead and was victorious and he became known as Ahmed Al Manzur because of his victory and he ruled many years (1578-1603 CE).

Those were the days when France and England sought to befriend Maghreb to counter the influence of Spain. As usual, Moroccan kings used Jewish emissaries to deal with European nations. It was a time when Jews lived in the four corners of Maghreb and served their kings to meet their ends. Some collected his taxes; some printed his coins while others managed his dealings with foreign lands. And although much of the wealth of the land passed through their hands, in the eyes of the kings, dhimmis remained but servants and little benefits remained in their hands (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence, Eliany 2005).

The Resurgence of Judaism in Morocco

Tangier changed hands many times because Spain and Portugal and England sought a foothold in Maghreb to enhance its interest. It was a time when Europeans bartered arms for phosphates needed to make gunpowder. Morocco resumed its control over Tangier only in 1684.

Jews lived in relative peace in quasi-autonomous communities. Synagogues sprung everywhere, but remained modest, so as not to attract the attention of Moslems who did not approve of the resurgence of Judaism in Morocco. Economic conditions improved but wealth accumulation remained rare. Rulers exploited the Jews who spoke Spanish or Portuguese, French or Italian or Turkish as well as those who lived in the land for many generations and spoke Moroccan Arabic and among them those who came from the countryside and spoke one of three Berber dialects, Rifit, Tashelhit or Sahraouite. And there were among them many merchants and jewelers and they made coins and exchanged them and they had their hand in every trade, they knew how to saw and work leather and die thread and cloth. And they taught their children Hebrew and they read and wrote Arabic in Hebrew letters. And in spite of the blessings they brought to the land, they were despised and wore distinctive cloths and the rich among them traveled to Christian lands and lived there as Christians and in Maghreb they lived as Jews, although some also were known as Muslims. Jews traveled to Gibraltar and returned to Tangier after thirty days. And when they did not return after the prescribed time, they were fined and expelled. Jews built three synagogues in Gibraltar. Some wandered to Amsterdam and Manchester. And some lived there are Christians.

In the month before Purim (1558 CE) a disease (a plague?) spread from Old to New Fez and the cemetery, below the melah walls (beautifully maintained in 1996) filled with the dead and many were among them the old and the children.

South of Marrakech in the High Atlas, in Sousse Al Aksa, Jews rode horses and carried arms although they paid a head tax (dhimma). Some were accepted as full members of local tribes. They were artisans and farmers among them. Some belonged to the karaiim sect that assimilated into the local Jewish community and disappeared (1600 CE) (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983, Chouraki, 1985, and the chapter on Azoulay for related historical evidence).

Samuel and Joseph Palagi

In the time of King Zeidan, Samuel and Joseph Palagi held residences in both Marrakech and Amsterdam and served as official representatives of the Sa’adien kings who ruled Morocco in Marakesh in all matters of trade and diplomacy. It was a time when Moroccan Jews had several ‘minians’ (prayer quorum of at least 10 adults) in Manchester and Amsterdam. Moroccan Jews made sugar for export to England and Holland and imported fabric and textiles. Reports indicate that Samuel behaved like a noble man and was highly respected in Holland. He died in Amsterdam and was buried there. He donated a Torah scroll to the Portuguese synagogue (Neve Shalom). After his death, Joseph built war ships for Zeidan who paid for them in wheat and phosphates and he served the kings who came after Zeidan (1638). Joseph yearned to end his days in Jerusalem but it is not known if he ever visited there. When Joseph died, his children represented the Saadien kings till the end of their days (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

North Africans in Livorno, Italy

In the days of Ferdinand of the House of Medici, men of all races and religions were permitted to settle in Livorno to conduct commerce and trade. And when Jews of Maghreb saw that they were welcome in the land of the Christians again, their count in Livorno increased from a few hundreds to a few thousands within a few years. And it became a custom for the old to settle in Livorno and for the young to travel back and forth between Africa and Europe. This was the time when every new manuscript prepared in the land of Maghreb was sent to Livorno and the old printed it in local printing houses and sent copies back to the Land of Maghreb.

And there were among the Jews who settled in Livorno those who redeemed merchandise and prisoners taken by North African pirates. And many among them had the rights to trade in wax and dyed cotton and wool and every woven cloth. And there were among them who had the rights to trade in oil and collect taxes too (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Yearning for Redemption
1603- 1665

Oral accounts as well as rabbinical sources tend to recount hardship and destruction of Jewish communities often. Sometimes tales of hardship appear exaggerated because it is evident that Jews did also experience decent relations with Moslem neighbors. They held important positions in government, diplomacy and commerce, especially in import and export and wholesale and distribution all across Morocco. Rabbinical rulings calling upon Jews to celebrate life cycle events such as weddings and Bar Mitzvahs with modesty do indicate Jews accumulated enough resources to spend lavishly. Yet, hardship remains omnipresent as in the following account.

It was a time when no king was safe in his kingdom and war among the kings’ children and brothers spread in the land and rendered life not worthy of living. And each king turned to the people of the land and to the Jews among them to demand wheat and gold to feed the soldiers and to finance the never-ending wars. And Jews prayed day and night but their suffering did not end, as levies multiplied, rain shied away from the land, until people were reduced to starvation.

Those were the days when a donkey’s head sold for gold coins and many among the children of Israel died from thrust and starvation and those who survived were slaughtered in their escape and women were sold in Moslem markets while mobs defiled Torah scrolls and houses of prayer. And the children were assembled around the oldest Torah scrolls and the aged stood around them and pleaded with the Creator to spare the community on account of the toddlers who did not sin. But each king in his turn, turned against his Jewish citizens. And each demanded provisions they no longer had because of disorder in the land. Those were the days when chaos (dar a siba) reigned in the land and law and order (dar al maczen) was reduced to nothing, for it was a time when kings had no one to dominate except for Jews. And Jews paid them multiples of the prescribed dues, yet no one felt safe and no one could earn a living for fear of the strong-armed that ruled the land. And people cried asked: ‘Just of Justs, when will injustice end? When shall Your mercy show its face at last?’ And rumors spread in the land that a redeemer (Shabtay Tsvi, 1665) was born. But just when people began to believe that suffering was not in vain; the redeemer proved to be false (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

The rise of the Alaouites

When king Zeidan died, his kingdom weakened in the hands of his inheritors. And the Alaouites gathered strength from their base in Tafilalet to rule the land. In the days A Rashid Al A’laoui (1666-1672 CE), ‘Dilim and Shabtayim’ were subdued equally.

Those were the days when false prophecies spread in the land and synagogues were ordered closed. On account of the messiah rumors, Jews were ordered to walk bare feet and were forbidden to congregate in groups exceeding ten (minian). Jews in Morocco were so tired of exile that even false prophecies offered them comfort that better days would come (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Mimran, Toledano and Ben Atar

In the days of Ishmael Al A’laoui (1672-1727) peace came upon the land again and Mimran, Toledano and Ben Attar represented the king in foreign lands and brought him armaments to maintain order from Tangier in the North to River Nun in the South. But in spite of the blessing they brought to the land, Jews walked bare feet in the street and had to pay their dues in labor (without remuneration), on top of the dhimma levies they paid. Those were the days when injustice made blessings bitter and they praised Heaven that they earned a living in spite of their hardship and that the poor did not go hungry and rarely were they lost to Israel in spite of isolation and dispersion in most remote corners of the land (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983, Chouraki, 1985 and relevant chapters in Mind and Soul… for related historical evidence).

Droughts and Hardship

After the death of Ishmael Al A’laoui, each of his ten sons made a claim to the throne and for thirty years there was no peace in the land (1727-1757). And when injustice did not seem to end, a drought came upon Maghreb to warn the Children of Ishmael but all warnings were ignored and famine spread in the land. Those were the days when life was not worth living and life made no sense at all and the Children of Israel sought refuge deep in the interior of the land. And there was no peace in the land until the reign of Mohamed Ben Abd Allah (1757-1790). In 1765 the king rebuilt the port of Mogador (Essaouira) and modernized the city and appointed ten Jews to be the king’s merchants to deal with foreign nations in matters of international commerce, among them Samuel son of Elisha’, Aaron Af-Lalo of Agadir, Moses Eved-Rahem of Tetouan and Maimon Ben Isaac of Marrakech, the son of Joshua the Castilian, the Rabbi of the city of Corcos just before the expulsion. But even then, there was no security even in high rank, for the most notable among the Children of Israel were but servants in the hands of the kings and from the highest of all positions, they often ended humbled, like the most common man in all the land, for it was a time when fate was determined more by shifting political needs than by reciprocity or any sense of justice. (See for example Hirschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983, Chouraki, 1985, Sar Shalom and Eliany 2005 for related historical evidence).

The expulsion of the Jews of Fez

Upon the death of Mohamed Ben Abd Allah (1790), chaos came upon Maghreb again. Road pirates robbed Jews everywhere, defiled women and desecrated synagogues. And Yazid the son of Abd Allah demanded levies Jews did not have and when they did not deliver the expected payment, he expelled them from Fez. And Jews wandered like nomads and lived in tents in the heat of the summer and robbers raided them and took the little they had left and even serpents, scorpions, insects and rodents came to take their dues. And after two years, Yazid went to Marrakech and filled its streets with corpses and robbed it of all its wealth and Moulay Hissam could not stop him and escaped. Thereafter Yazid brought death and ruin to other cities until a bullet spilled his blood (See for example Hrschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Persecution in the time of Moulay Suliman

Moulay Suliman became king after the death of his brother Yazid (1792 -1822) and he brought peace to the land again (1820-1822). Some of the survivors of Yazid’s persecutions returned to Fez and lived there in peace for a while. And since that time, it became a custom in the land to bless the king in Jewish prayers. But opposition to the king remained strong and insecurity in the periphery was widespread. Thus Jewish suffering continued. Worse, in the year 1820, a rumor spread that the king passed away and Oudaya rebels raided Jewish Quarters everywhere. And as it happened in the past in times of uncertainty, Jews were robbed of all their wealth, and women and synagogues were defiled and the corpses of the dead laid on the ground for days before anyone could bring them to burial. And after two year, when Mulay Suliman really died, Jews were subject to persecution again (See for example Hrschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Persecution Patterns, Persisting Suffering and Qualified Kindness, 1822- 1859

As a rule, weak central governments in Morocco imply rising opposition in the periphery and disorder everywhere. In such conditions, production suffers and living conditions deteriorate. In addition, Morocco has been subject to recurring droughts. Thus natural disasters added to the general hardship from time to time, as irrigation systems were neither widespread nor sophisticated.

Under the rule of Abd A Rahman (1822- 1859) political instability and natural disasters combined to bring about an economic downturn and a widespread famine. Jews suffered like everyone else. Rabbinical accounts reported Jews dying of starvation everywhere. Yet, Moslems believed that Jews were better off and thus subjected them to repeated raids.

Rabbinical accounts documented Jewish suffering in Morocco in detail. Yet, a personal account of a Jewish family from the interior indicates that devastation was of unimaginable dimensions. Berbers raided Jewish homes, slid open stomachs, believing that Jews swallowed gold to preserve their savings. In a family of 12 children, only three survived the massacre: one man who studied at the Avihatsira Academy in Tafilalet, one brother who found refuge in a remote Berber village and converted to Islam and one sister who was left behind as dead. This tale, however gruesome, does also point to the fact that island of kindness did exist in the sea of cruelty and that some Moslem did protect Jews and offered them shelters, sometime for the price of temporary conversion (the Jew in question returned to Judaism later) (Eliany, 2005).

Some may suggest that Moroccan elites, kings included, differed in their behavior from the masses or that benevolence towards Jews was greater in the center than in the periphery or vise versa. However reality suggests otherwise. Jews were victimized systematically during periods of instability associated with political unrest, economic downturns or natural disasters. In addition, Jews were persecuted in ‘good times’ for religious reasons because fundamentalists believed Jews should live in inferior conditions at all times to bring about conversions and to justify the religious superiority of Islam over Judaism. Furthermore, kings perceived Jews as easy targets to exploit. They used their services to enrich themselves and robbed them of their wealth if they accumulated any.

The conditions above had significant consequences on consumption patterns among Moroccan Jews. Specifically, Moroccan Jews tend to consume accumulated wealth in ongoing celebrations such as holidays and lifecycle celebrations till this day. They used those occasions to share wealth with the poor and the needy. One may recall rabbinical rulings urging Jews to avoid conspicuous consumption. Community leaders were fully aware that conspicuous consumption would cause envy and bring about increased levies as well as raids. The rulings were definitely not motivated by theological considerations (i.e., humble lifestyle was expected of the devout who followed AviHatsira, for example). By the same token, the fact that Jews earned enough to afford lavish celebrations does indicate that they fared relatively well in spite of the adverse living conditions.

King Abd A Rahman (1822 – 1859) did the best to survive in difficult circumstances. Like other kings, he used Jewish merchants to salvage the economy (export of sugar and wax) but his attitude was not different from that of preceding kings. He believed firmly that Moslem law permitted persecution and exploitation of Jews (See for example Hrschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983, Chouraki, 1985 and Potugali, 1993 for related historical evidence).

Divergence between Legend and Reality
The case of Sol the Just (1817-1834)

After a family feud, Solika sought refuge at a Moslem neighbor’s home. The neighbors decided to take her as a wife and claimed that she converted to Islam of her own will. But when she denied his claim, she was brought before the court of King Abd A Rahman and was sentenced to death.

Many tales evolved around Solika thereafter. Solika was elevated to the status of a saint for her refusal to convert. Jews, but also some Moslems, go on pilgrimage to her tomb to plead for good luck and especially, fertility. In many cases, tales suggest that a prince sought to marry Solika. Glorification or exaggeration is part of the storytelling but the essence remains bound to factual circumstances. An adaptation of the tale of Solika-the-Just follows for illustration purposes.

In all of Fez, and some say, even from one end of Maghreb to another, there was no beauty to match Sol the graceful. She was barely seventeen, some say only fifteen, when prince Abd A Rahman heard of the Jewish belle and summoned her to his court. And when Sol appeared before the prince, he told her that in no time at all, he would be king and his desire for her would make her queen!

-Oh, son of kings,
Heir of prophets,
How could a dhimmi
Wear a crown
In a castle of believers? Said Solika.

– Enchanted I am,
By your charm,
Bewitched –
By your spell,
Oh uncle’s daughter.
“Muhammad is your prophet.
The Eternal is one.”
Replied the son of kings.

– Oh successor,
Fortune maker,
My faith is Sarah’s,
My head is yours to take,
If you wish!

And so it was in eighteen hundred and thirty-four to the count of the Romans, the lovely head was chopped and served on a golden platter to the would-be-king. Some say, the sacrifice was necessary for the Eternal’s glory, for the one who witnesses all and pronounces right judgments! (Eliany, 2005).

Alliance Israelite Universelle
Tetuan 1862

Ongoing persecution of Jew in Morocco attracted the attention of foreign powers. It is clear that Jews were not the prime interest of intervention. Benevolence was only an excuse for European nations to advance their interests in North Africa. France succeeded especially in doing so. It used Jewish organization to introduce French education in Jewish Schools through the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU or Col Israel Haverim in Hebrew). AIU schools were opened in Tetuan (1862) and Tangier (1865) and spread from there everywhere. By the time Moroccan Jews began their exodus to Israel, a significant percentage went though the AIU education system.

French education as we shall see would provide new opportunities to Jews as agents of modernization and social change in Morocco.

Jews as Mediators and Agents of Change

For centuries, European nations aimed to secure their interests in Africa by holding strongholds on its shores. Portugal, Spain, France, England and Holland exploited every diplomatic or military opportunity to set a foothold on Maghreb soil. When central governments were strong, Europeans secured treaties and sent diplomats to represent their interest in Maghreb. But diplomats were often targets of extortion and piracy, because law and order (dar Al Maczen) remained weak in face of its challenging opposition (dar a siba). For stability was a relative matter in Moslem lands and European diplomats had to learn that signed treaties were almost always only an expression of good will that had to stand the test of reality. And as it is in the nature of men to learn from experience, Europeans began to adopt Moroccan practices, i.e., using Moroccan Jews as consular representatives to reduce their own risks. This was one of the peculiar historical situations where the perennial weakness of the marginal Jew turned into a seasonal blessing, as circumstances positioned him to bridge between cultures. And so, in season, selected Jews rose to prominence while negotiating diplomatic and commercial treaties on behalf of both Europeans and Africans. In perspective, Jews’ benefits were almost always short lived and more often than not, they ended up squeezed out of the deal! They rarely received any salary and had to be content with a quasi-diplomatic status, which could be withdrawn any time and under the circumstances, they were obliged to strive for a very fine balance.

As usual in times of transition, the crowning of a new monarch in Maghreb was accompanied by internal instability. But when Mohamed Ben Abd A Rahman (1859-1873) was anointed king, he had to face an additional challenge. Spain launched an attack from the North to strengthen its positions on Moroccan soil. Spain managed to conquer Tetuan (1860). As usual in times of war, the retreating army proved its prowess by beating on the weak and defenseless Jews. And in no time at all, the flow of refugees filled Gibraltar. It is hard to say exactly what happened but unlike in past history, on this very special occasion, British Authorities did allow Jewish refugees to land on the tip of the Iberian soil. The gentle breeze of the Spring of Nations may have been still blowing in the air and the world may have began to recognize that the Children of Israel were after all brethrens!

In 1864, the old Montifiori arrived to Marrakech, after stops in Tangier and Mogador, to seek from the Moroccan monarch the emancipation of Jewish brethren. It was a time when a rumor spread that soon the Children of Israel would gain their freedom from exile to settle new colonies in the Land of Israel. But when the aged Montifiori appeared alone and without an army, it became clear that redemption was not near. Yet Montifiori managed to convince King Mohamed Ben Abd A Rahman to grant his dhimmis basic rights, at least on paper. For those were the days when Moroccan monarchs were well drilled in signing treaties with no intent to respect them at all. And so Jews continued to walk bare feet like before and their humiliation in the land knew no end at all. Around the same time, Montifiori sponsored the establishment of agricultural colonies in Palestine and Argentina to accommodate North African Jews (See for example Hrschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

The French in Algeria
1827- 1870

In the year 1827, diplomats assembled at Hussein Dai’s palace in Alger to pay him honor in the occasion of Id al Fetar. One after the other, representatives of countries with interest in Algeria paid their dues in words and gifts to appease the Dai who had the power to disrupt shipping in the Mediterranean Sea and who supplied Europe with wheat in normal days of peace.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Alger then. It was a time to feast and celebrate and no one could imagine the day would bring war. For when Deval, the consul of France stood in front of Hussein Dai, the Dai could not contain his anger that France failed to pay debts for years of wheat supplies. Embarrassed, the French diplomat found no words to appease the Dai, who slapped him in front of the whole community of assembled diplomats. And when after three years of mediation the Dai refused to apologize, the Prime Minister of France, Prince de Polignac, sent Marshal de Bourmont to teach the Dai a lesson but also to secure France’s interests: a steady supply of wheat in times of need.

It was a time when the power of the Turks in Alger weakened and Hussein Dai opted to save his private fortune rather than fight to defend his honor. The Turks lost Algeria while the French learnt that the real power was in the hands of the Berbers who held on to their autonomy no matter who claimed power in Alger. For dozens of years, French generals came and went while Berber tribes remained free. France called upon its citizens to farm the fertile lands of Algeria. Algerian land was cheap: it was free. Many French urbanites came along and settled in Alger and Constantine, among other cities where opportunities knocked.

When the French strengthened their hold on Algeria, new hopes were born in Jewish hearts in Maghreb and Jews flocked there from North and South and from East and West and new communities came into being in places where they were forgotten for long. Those were the days when Jews who were citizens of France called upon their government to do away with the position of the Mokadem, who was the Prince of the Jews during the rule of the Turks in Algeria and appoint a counsel dominated by French Jews in its place. And so, French Jews who fought for democracy in their own land came to Algeria to deny local Jewish inhabitants the right to elect leaders according to the rule of majority, for fear that they would loose their position of domination. It was a time when European Jews believed they knew better what was good for Algerian Jews, although the local inhabitants survived thousands of years of hardship in Maghreb. It was a time when there were more Jews from Morocco in Oran than Algerians for without them there was no life in the market place.

European influence in North Africa increased gradually. France occupied Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881. Italy took over Lybia in 1911. It was the beginning of the breakdown of the Turkish Empire (See for example Hrschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Under French influence
Morocco 1912

Morocco remained independent except for a few European strongholds in port cities such as Mogador and Ceuta. By 1912, France signed a ‘protectorat’ treaty with Morocco while Spain controlled the Northern Rif region. Historically, Moroccan kings ruled effectively only over parts of Morocco, mainly the capital region in Fez or Rabat (i.e., bled al maczan), with limited control over the rest of the country (i.e., bled a siba) where local sheikhs had real control.

Perennial instability gave an excuse to European countries to meddle in Moroccan affairs. In 1880, France, Spain and England, among other countries convened with Hassan Ben Mohamed (1873-1894) in Madrid to secure diplomatic privileges to individuals in their service (Moroccan Jews in most cases) as well as squeeze a declaration of intent to grant equal rights to all non-Muslim, including the Jews (1880).

But those were the days when the king ruled only in Fez and Dar A Siba extended its wings over most of the land and things did not improve with the crowning of Abd Al Aziz at the age of 15 (1894-1908) and Abd Al Hafet (1908-1923). Those were the days when there was no safety on the roads and Jews were targets of raids even within the confines of walled quarters (melah) and when there was no safety for the Jews, it was a sign that existence was miserable all over Maghreb.

Although the fate of Jews was never of any significant concern to European Nations, when European interests were at stake, it became one of the causes for armed penetration into Morocco under a Protectorat agreement (1912). The French were given the authority to rule the land with the blessing of the king. When necessary, one king was de-crowned (Abd al Hafet, 1923) to make room for a new one (Moulay Youssef Ben Mohamed, 1923-1961) to accommodate French interests. But in the North, Spain held its ground, making Tetuan the capital of the Rif, while Tangier remained under international rule (See for example Hrschberg, 1965 Zafrani, 1983 and Chouraki, 1985 for related historical evidence).

Jews under French Influence

In the beginning the French established their rule mainly in coastal and urban areas. Efforts to pacify the periphery (dar a siba) took place between the two World Wars and especially after WWII.

In the mind of many, the French brought much blessing to Moroccan Jews. Under their rule, modern secular education became widespread and Jews could earn a living again with an increasing measure of security. But discrimination did not end. The French replaced Jews where they could (i.e., in import-export) and used them to advance their interests where they could not (i.e., wholesale/retail). Under the Nazi cloud, the French prohibited Jews from dealing in real estate and money lending, in addition to professional restrictions (limits on doctors, lawyers, government positions, military service, etc…). Limits on the number of Jewish students were also imposed (10% of non-Jews in elementary and high schools and 3% for higher learning). Jews were also obliged to register their person and property in preparation for typical Nazi persecution and were forbidden to live outside of Jewish quarters (melahs), leading to unbearable density and increased health problems. Many were also interned in labor camps in terrible conditions. Interestingly, little is known of the Nazi threat and related Jewish losses in North Africa (Abitbol, 1989).

But the Maghreb was not Europe and in spite of Muslim tendencies to despise, humiliate and persecute Jews, Moroccans ignored Franco-German anti-Jewish rules and the king, Mohamed Ben Youssef even objected to them and the Jews were a relieved only after the departure of General Nogues to Portugal (1943).

The Exodus of the Moroccan Jewry
1948 – 2005

As usual, when living conditions do not accommodate decent living, Jews seek to move elsewhere. Moroccan Jews immigrated to other countries when given opportunity. Traditionally, they went to Zion for religious reasons. They also left Morocco to other Mediterranean countries due to persecutions. But they went to Argentina and Palestine, as well as Spain, Britain, Holland and Italy for economic reasons too. Later, AIU offered educational opportunities in France, Switzerland and Belgium. Younger Jews benefited from them but in relatively small numbers.

The greatest opportunity to leave Morocco behind and start a new life elsewhere came with the establishment of Israel (1948). Jews left Morocco in significant number as soon as the gates of immigration to Israel opened. Immigration was massive between 1948 and 1956. Nowadays most Jews of Moroccan origin live in Israel. A significant number of Moroccan Jews settled in France, Canada, USA and Mexico, among other countries.

In spite of significant difficulties, Moroccan Jews managed to rebuild their life in Israel and elsewhere. A small community remains in Morocco (about 1000), mostly in large urban centers such as Casablanca. Most Jews are doing well there. Authorities extend them adequate protection and equal rights. Yet, one cannot ignore the sense of insecurity individuals feel.

There is no doubt that the standard of living and quality of life of Moroccan Jews improved a great deal in Israel. They are an integral part of the Israeli society in all streams of life. Yet, equality of opportunity lingers in development towns and disadvantaged neighborhood in larger urban centers. This segment of the Israeli population (certainly not of Moroccan origin exclusively) appears to have paid the price of policies, which diverted resources to settle occupied territories and maintain security there. Israelis will have to confront this matter head on to avoid far reaching consequences within the Israeli society.

Elsewhere, the Moroccan Jewish Diaspora has fared relatively well, although signs of insecurity seem to make North African Jews quite uneasy in France in recent years.


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Eliany, E. formely Khesus, interviews in Kiriat Shemona, Israel, recalling oral traditions in Marakesh.

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