The disenchantment of the Orient:A history of Orientalist Expertise in Israel

The disenchantment of the Orient:
A history of Orientalist Expertise in Israel
by Gil Eyal
2005, The Van Leer  Jerusalem Institute
Ha kibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House

Reviewed by Marc Eliany

Zionist aspirations aimed to transform Diaspora Jews into New  Jews. In this attempt, lines were drawn between Jews and Arabs.  An Arab like transformation provided early pioneers the looks and  language of Arab Palestinians as a way to shed the old Diaspora image, to wear  the image of local inhabitants that seemed to recall for them ancient Hebrew and  biblical images. It was, of course, only a superficial transformation, as the  same pioneers perceived local inhabitants as primitive rather than people to  look up to. The adoption of the external look as well as the modest lifestyle,  was a mean to cleanse oneself from the old Diaspora self to adopt a new Israeli  one.
Early pioneers also considered the Sephardic Jewish transformation, as  local Sephardic Jews were well integrated with the Arab Palestinian population,  as well as, symbolized the Golden Era of the Spanish Jewry, and thus provided  the potential to bridge between East and West as well as between Jews and  Arabs. But, local Sephardic Jews were not given the opportunity to fulfill the  bridging role, as it presented a threat to the hegemony of the early pioneers.   Early Zionists also looked at the inhabitant farmer as an icon of the ‘hidden Jew,’ perhaps descendent of the ancient Hebrews, who  stayed in Palestine in spite of exile and destruction to farm the land of his  ancestors.  This image provided early  pioneers with a model that brings them close to the land of Israel.
But the war of independence brought its own changes and exposed the pioneers to  a new reality, and the necessity to draw new distinction between Jews and  Arabs.
In the course of the war, local Arab inhabitants, who fled or were expelled,  became refugees. Some of these refugees, called infiltrators, tried to  come back and thus presented a threat to the newly established state. There were  also the local Arab inhabitants, now called Israeli Arabs, who presented also a  threat to the newly established state and had to be contained under military  rule until 1966. And finally the new immigrants from Arab countries, labeled  Orientals, who came from Arab countries and carried with them an Arabic image,  were also perceived as a threat. The new state of Israel attempted to establish  borders between itself and surrounding Arab influence.
In the Israeli attempt to draw lines between Jews and Arabs,  deserted Arab villages were plowed, so as not to leave any memory of their  existence.  New Development towns were  built in their place, to settle the outskirts, to claim a hold on the land as  well as to absorb new immigrants. The new towns were to serve as service centre  to moshavim  (cooperative villages) and  kibbutzim (collective villages). But the new towns failed to serve as service centers,  as moshavim and kibbutzim had their own a well developed system of purchases  and distribution. Further, the state as well as independent industrialists  opted for investments in the center rather than in remote outskirts for  economic reasons. Consequently, immigrants with skills as well as with small  families left the outskirts to settle in the center, which provided better opportunities,  leaving behind the unskilled and large families, mostly immigrant from Arab countries.  The new towns failed and became structurally disadvantaged, as well as, centers  of poverty, where ‘Oriental’ like culture evolved.
After the establishment of Israel, a number of organizations  specialized in dealing with local and out of state Arabs as well as with  Oriental Jews.  There was a competition  between the different groups of experts. These groups were closely associated  with military and political elites. They were to provide advice based on the accumulated  information; but in reality, it was to serve state interests. Thus, the advice  the experts gave was the result of a balance between supply and demand. The experts  adjusted their advice to the demand of the elite it served (p.157, 160).   Members of the centers of research remained closed to a  selected membership, even if research activities were of an academic nature,  such as at the Dayan center at Tel Aviv University. These centers thus  reflected a social hierarchy in which Oriental Jews served at low level  functions, while Arabs were left out (p. 168).
The leading discourse then remained in the hands of an elite, which held the  authority to interpret the ‘truth based on facts and evidence.’ Other parties,  i.e., Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, or Arabs, who attempted to  state any other interpretation, had to face up to an authoritative elite, which  reinforced and served the authority of the state.

Portuguese Jewry at the Stake, Studies on Jews and Crypto-Jews

   Portuguese  Jewry at the Stake, Studies on Jews and Crypto-Jews
Yom Tov Assis and Moises Orfali, eds.,
Jerusalem: The Hebrew  University, Magnes Press, 2009.   [Hebrew]
TEL: 972-2-6586659  FAX: 972-2-5660341 PO Box 39099, Jerusalem, Israel. 91380.

Reviewed by Marc Eliany

This is a pioneering effort to shed light on the history  of the Jews in Portugal and afterward as anusim (marranos, crypto-Jews). The  reader can read a selection of essays on hundreds of years of Portuguese Jewish  history and rabbinic works, the relocation of affluent and other Jews after the  1492 expulsion from Castille and other parts of Spain, the events surrounding  the 1496/7 Portuguese expulsion declaration and how it was not a forced eviction,  but a devious successful attempt at forced conversion to Catholicism, and a more in-depth look at the crypto-Jewish existence of  many of the New Christians. The book exposes some five generations or more of  crypto-Jewish life in Portugal, adversity for New Christians, their mostly  horrible fate in the Inquisition, migration of individuals to the colonies, and  struggles to escape Portugal and reach places like France, Antwerp, Amsterdam,  and elsewhere in the Low Lands.
Yom Tov Assis in his  sweeping essay on the history of Portuguese Jewry since the Muslim conquest and  later during the Catholic Reconquista, sites economic reasons for disdain of  Jews and not only the polemical background and religious reasons that Moshe  Orfali poignantly and extensively portrayed. Asis noted that the expulsion  order was prompted not only by the Spanish theological precedent and the  marriage of Portuguese King Manuel to Isabelle daughter of the Catholic Spanish  monarchy, but to avoid the Jews from exploring and exploiting the wealth in Goa  and elsewhere in India. While rabbis like Usque noted the rationale for the  expulsion degree stemming from Jewish secularization or unduly experimenting in  medicine and science, Asis presents the fear of the aristocracy and monarchy of  Jewish economic growth and the need to convert the Jews in order to seize their  economic assets, eliminate their continuing and future economic growth and  wealth, and need to make them fellow Catholics in order to utilize and exploit  their knowledge, talents, and ultimately transfer former Jewish economic assets  to the Catholic monarchy.
Former Jewish Castillian  New Christian refugees found refuge in Portugal after the 1391 riots and  returned to Judaism there. Six hundred Jewish affluent families found refuge in  Portugal after the 1492 expulsion.
As early as 1493, the new  Castillian Jewish refugees were blamed for causing a plague and anti-Jewish  violence erupted. Earthquakes were believed to be cause by anti-Christian  Jewish heresy, and Jews had to constantly be cautious not to irritate  Portuguese Catholic society. In 1504 there were anti-Jewish riots stemming from  the Jews being blamed for plagues and physical disasters. In 1505 during the  draught in Lisbon and plagues, anusim in Evora were attacked and the synagogue  in the city was destroyed.
Edgar Samuel explained that  already in 1493 King Jaio II wanted to turn most of the refugees into slaves  and in that year 2,000 children were taken into slavery. They were taken to Sao  Tome off the western African coast, most were killed, and all were converted.  Assis noted that children between the ages of 2 and 10 were caught and sent to  the islands of Sao Tome and Perdidas. He noted that many died en-route and at  sea.
When the Jews naively waited for  boats to arrive in Lisbon to take them to exile, none arrived and 20,000 Jews  were forced to convert.  Previously on Pessach 1497, Jewish children until  the age of 14 were taken away from their parents and baptized. Despite advice  from the Bishop of Silves and official Catholic doctrine against forced  conversion, the King was determined to convert the Jews and leave no Jewish  presence in the Kingdom. In 1499 it was forbidden for the New Christian to  migrate, and if men left for business, the women and children had to remain in  the country. Relaxation in conditions for New Christians occurred in 1502 when  inheritance privileges for New Christians were equal with those of Old  Christians. In territories that the King conquered in North Africa, Jews could  continue to live there and New Christians migrated there. Both groups  maintained cordial relations until the Inquisition was founded in 1536.
In 1506, some New  Christians were allowed to leave Portugal by order of monarchy, but most  remained and were trapped in the country.       In 1536 the Inquisition began and many anusim were  informed on by their own relatives or various elements throughout the  Portuguese Catholic society.
As early as 1482 the Jews  of Portugal were involved in printing their religious texts, and there was even  a printing press in Lerea. Some of the Jews involved in printing migrated to  the Ottoman Empire; like Don Gedalya who established the first printing press  in Salonika. Assis elaborates on the rich rabbinical tradition in Portugal from  the Abravanel, Hayoun, and Ibn Yehiya fmilies. Rabbi David Ben Yomtov Ibn Bliya  in the first half of the 14th century, a renaissance man prolific in  halacha, Bible, poetry, medicine, astrology, and translation from Latin to  Hebrew, published the thirteen volume Yesodot Hamaskil on the foundations of  Judaism. Members of the Negro family were renown paytanim.
Moshe Orfali presented an extensive  analysis about Christian polemics against the Jews in Portugal. Orfali pointed  out ambitious efforts of Catholic priests and theologians to confront Judaism,  active efforts through the generations to forcefully present polemics in  synagogues, and anti-Jewish polemics in the 16th and 17th  centuries. As far away as Goa, the Archhegemon and head Inquisitor Dom Gaspar  de Leao Pereira published a two volume work from Latin into Portuguese of  Heironymos de Santa Fe against the Jews. This was a response to the large  number of New Christians who flocked to such far away colonies to flee the  reign of Christianity, and efforts of the Catholic church to combat such  heresy.  Late 16th century “Dialogues” (theological  treatises) advocated conversion and expulsions of Jews and questioned the  authenticity of the conversions and beliefs of the new Christians. Due to the  mass conversion of Jews in Portugal, as opposed to Spain which previously had a  mixture of Jews and New Christians, the New Christian population was homogenous  and labeled by the general society as Jews. While the Portuguese New Christians  were baptized, they were regarded by the general Catholic society as strangers  and dangerous. Nonetheless the New Christians were seen as Jews guilty of  original sin for Jesus’ crucifixion. The Church and the polemicists had the  never ending task of eradicating heresy due to the former or hidden Jewish  influences; which could never be repaired by their baptism.  While  polemics inspired more polemics to a great extent the secret Judaizing New  Christian enclaves and communities strengthened their beliefs and formal and  informal communal structures and rituals for generations (even as many as 5-6  generations until they could escape to Western Europe, Italy, the Ottoman  Empire, and beyond. Orfali shows how polemical speeches and preaching fueled  the inter-communal debates much more than the polemical writings. The reader is  encouraged to consult the essay and further scholarship by Orfali to see the  depth of Portuguese polemic literature; which usually is overshadowed by  Inquisition proceedings and testimonies in the scholarly literature.
While research by the late Elias  Lipiner and Dov Stucynski has been reviewed here before and needs no  introduction to many of the readers of this monthly e-publication. The last  essay focused will be by Edgar Samuel on the Couriel family in the 16th  century. This study shows the Castillian and Portuguese roots of the family and  how they fared in Portugal as New Christians and in the Inquisition, and how  some succeeded to reach the Ottoman Empire and return to Judaism. Samuel shows  how the family left Avila and that David Couriel sold the Santa Scholistica  monastery several houses in the Jewish Quarter, and that they relocated to  Coimbra, Portugal. Most striking was their link to the royal court through  extramarital birth by Pokrinia of a son named Fernau Lorenco with Geronomo da  Saldinia, son of Don Diego da Saldina, who was Castillian ambassador in  Portugal and secretary to Doniya Joana, Princess of Asturias. Geronomo received  in Rome Portuguese citizenship from the King in 1496. eventually Fernam, a  physician, reached Istanbul and returned to Judaism with his wife and two sons,  was reported to the inquisition in 1560 and it was noted that he had a living  brother in Coimbra named Duarte Nunes who was a merchant. Initially the illegitimate  son Fernau Lorenco was baptized, but since many Jews who arrived from castile  were put in slavery, his mother Pokrinia was made a slave fo Geronomo, and only  released in 1495 when King Manuel ordered the liberation of the Castillian  Jewish slaves, and that the slave girls could return to their families. The  true identity of the mother of lorenco was not known and when the Jews  converted to Catholicism, they took new names. It is believed that Lorenco  comes from the Couriel family. Lorenco lived in Coimbra as a merchant and  married Pheliipa Nunes in 1533. Samuel elaborates local anti-Jewish processions  likr thr Corpus Christi where holy utrncils for the Host ceremony were  displayed, and where workers guilds marched and mimicked Jews dancing with Torah  scrolls aimed at insulting the New Christians. Samuel shows hundreds of years  of past family trees of Loreno’s ancestors from the Daza and Saldanha families.  He lays out Fernao Lourenco’s descendants for 3 geenrations, most notably from  the Nunes family. He extensively depicts 8 children of Duarte (son of Laurenco)  and Gracia Nunes. The seventh son, Diego Peres da Costa, took the name of Diego  Pires (after the false messiah Shlomo Molho who according to Samuel was burned  at the stake in Milan in 1533) and voyaged to Peru where he was a merchant.  Afterward to moved to Venico and Salona (near Split) returned to. Judaism as  Avraham (or Yaakov) Couriel and according to Samuel was the ancestor of the  Couriels from Split, and Dubrovnik, whose descndants later settled in Pisa,  Livorno, Venice, and Trieste in the 18th century. There are many  more details to read about those siblings and descendants who remained in  Portugal and who were detected in archives or Inquisition documents. Samuel  provided an insight to crypto-Jewish life amongst New Christians in 16th  century Portugal and their predicaments and highlights.
The book is recommended for  Hebrew readers in Jewish and Sephardic studies, and all those who want to track  Portuguese roots of the Western European and Ottoman Sephardim. Hopefully many  more such studies will be conducted and published.

Being Israeli – The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship

Book Review
M. Eliany

Being Israeli   The Dynamics of Multiple  Citizenship
Peld Y. and Shafir G.
2005 Tel Aviv University Press (Hebrew)
2002 Cambridge university Press (English)

Peled and Shafir is one of the most comprehensive reviews of  research dealing with integration processes through which Israel turn newcomers  into citizens. But beyond the valuable synthesis of research, they also offer a  critical analysis that sheds a new light on the ‘old elite’ through its  perennial transformation as well as its differential stratification impact on  the Israeli society.

Peled and Shafir claim that a settlement (colonialist)  policy characterized Labour Zionism and gave legitimacy to its social  integration policies until 1967. Thereafter, Labour declined as integration  policies could not be applied as effectively to a wider Palestinian population  without putting at risk the Jewish majority in Israel and without constraining  Israel’s participation in a liberal global market. Consequently, a political  struggle for hegemony between forces in favour of liberalization (individual  rights and universalism) and proponents of group rights (autonomy of Jews and  Moslem side by side or particularism) is now at play. Peled and Shafir tend to  attribute political instability in Israel to this struggle. They also suggest  that orthodox nationalists (i.e., settlers, read also as Mafdal party) together  with ‘Orientals,’ (i.e., orthodox ‘Oriental’ Jews, read also as Shass party)  are proponents of group rights, although they admit the failure of peace  negotiations and the Palestinian uprising (Intifada) led to a national  consensus among Jews of all camps on matters of group rights. Therefore the  liberalization discourse narrowed to the economic domain and no longer applies  to civil rights at large. Peled and Shafir propose that a resolution to  existing counter trends may arise from a simultaneous recognition of universal  individual civil, political and social rights along with particularistic  cultural rights to distinct groups or minorities. Such recognition would allow  groups to maintain their culture and use it to enhance their position in  society through the use of individual rights without undermining national  cohesion. In addition, Peled and Shafir believe that the state must invest  significant resources to elevate the culture of disadvantaged groups (i.e.,  Palestinians and ‘Oriental’ Jews) in a multi-cultural democratic context in  order to prevent the hierarchical stratification of the past.

Key findings
Peled and Shafir suggest that early Zionists had many good  intentions but a history of intentions if written, would ignore the complex  relations between intentions and deeds, and focus on real facts and deeds,  rather than the intentions behind them. (p.32).

The reality is that the law of return grants Jewish  immigrants rights that are not extended to Palestinian citizens and that  Palestinians remained under martial law from 1948-1966. Similarly, immigrants  of European origin received preferential access to national institutions in  comparison to those who came from non-European countries (p. 39).

Globalization dragged Israel into the adoption of liberal  policies, as well as into the peace process, which resulted in an accord with  Egypt as well as with the Palestinians (Oslo 1993). However, liberalization  came on the expense of social and civil rights as weaker social segments of the  Israeli society (Jews and Palestinians) suffered, turning them to ethnic and  religious organizations for comfort (p. 42).

Labor elite used socialist ideology to provide legitimacy to  hierarchical stratification and differential access to national institutions  from 1920 through 1977 in order to ensure nation building but also to hang on  to power and control of Jewish international resources. Social scientists  provided academic legitimacy to the same through 1990 (Eisenstadt and his  students – the Functionalists).  Overall  the basic theory was that Palestinians and Oriental Jewish immigrants benefit  from modernization and thus differential treatment is to their advantage.  However, as nation building came to fruition, stronger elements in the Israeli  society (previously perceived as a functional elite) demanded liberalization  (1985), which gave them even more advantages on the expense of disadvantaged  groups (Arabs, Oriental Jews, the poor and the religious) (p.44-51).

In general, Labour parties supported democracy but only as a  procedural matter. In reality, Labour undermined the development of voluntary  association networks, which provide the basis of real democracy. Israel thus  remains a particularistic democracy (Smooha calls it ‘ethnic democracy’) where  citizenship is based not on equal individual-rights but on unequal differential  group-rights (Smooha, 1983, 1993, 2000 and Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.51-53).

Privileged Pioneers

About 2 million Jews left behind poverty, oppression and  anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe between 1882-1914 for a better life elsewhere.  Most Jews immigrated to the Americas, South Africa and Western Europe. Less  than 3% settled in Palestine. The first wave of immigrants (1882-1903) bought  land and established farming communities relying on Arab Labour to a large  extent. They sought co-existence with local Arab communities. The second wave  of immigrants (1904-1914) came penniless, expecting their predecessors to  provide them with work. But first wave veterans preferred Arab labourers who  were cheaper, obedient and hard worker. Facing hardship, 90% of the second wave  immigrants left Palestine but those who stayed established a labour movement  and launched a struggle to conquer both labour and land on the expense of their  Arab competitors, causing thereby rising tensions.  Labour acquired leadership in ‘nation building’ but managed to do  so only due to the financial support of World Zionist Organizations. Although  Labour, like the old orthodox sector, both relied on financial support from  abroad to survive in Palestine, it acquired pioneer and leadership status as it  laid the organizational foundation for the absorption of subsequent waves of  immigrants.Subsequently, the Labour movement monopolized resources  received from world Jewry and aimed for nation building. It implemented a  policy of differential allocation of the same resources based on affiliation to  the labour movement and ethnic and religious proximity (i.e., Polish/Russian  first, then Hungarian and Romanian, then Orientals etc… while Arabs were  excluded  (Shafir 1989 and Peled and  Shafir, 2005: p.59-68).

The coalition between the  Labour movement and World Zionist Organizations was fruitful in term of nation  building as Labour provided the manpower and the infrastructure for absorption  of new immigrants while WZO provided financing to conquer both labour (avoda  ivrit) and land, while excluding local Arabs. Pioneer settlements and related  organizations were cooperative in character (kibbutz, moshav and covered a  variety of services from health to finance…), allowing the labour movement to  control both members and resources acquired from WZO. Further, land ownership  remained in national hands, except in urban areas where land was more expensive  and where private ownership was more prevalent. But the Labour movement’s  domination of most national resources was used not only to fulfill  nation-building objectives but also to control allocation of resources and  membership loyalty to enhance particularistic Labour parties’ interests,  undermining thereby universal principles of citizenship in the nation in the  making. Subsequently, the Labour movement constrained Israel’s democracy  through systematic allocation of privileges to loyal groups fostering thereby  dependence of individual members (Ram 1995; Shapira 1977 and Peled and Shafir,  2005: p.68-76).

From a strict economic point, WZO had limited success  attracting immigrants with private investment since profit considerations led  them elsewhere and those who did immigrate to Palestine between 1882-1903  (i.e., first wave) preferred hiring cheap labour (i.e., Arab labour) which  undermined early Zionist nation building objectives. Subsequently, WZO combined  with the Labour movement to subsidize labour as well as land in  order to establish a sheltered Jewish economy separated from the competitive  Arab one. Labour also controlled monetary funds from internal and external  resources as well as their allocation. In early phases, priority was given to  the agricultural sector. Around 1962, funds were directed to industrialization.  After 1967, following the French arms embargo, investments in the military  sector received priority. In general, investments in the local industry aimed  to reduce dependence on imports. This applied especially to the military  industry, which became and engine of economic development while offering new  opportunities in the civilian sector and export, especially in high tech in the  Eighties. Finally, as local production rose, pressures to liberalize monetary  funds controls increased and market forces weakened institutional and Labour  controls (Kleinman 1967 and Peled and Shafir, 2005: p. 76-84).

Civil and Social Rights

From the beginning the Labour movement was not interested in  philanthropic services, which characterized the old orthodox sector and  conceded them to other parties such as religious parties, the Joint and the  Jewish Agency. The Labour movement chose to focus on nation building by  providing and/or subsidizing services that would ensure a ‘European’ standard  of living in the areas of housing, employment and health to its members. It  used these services or privileges to increase its membership as well as its  political influence. Thus social services were reserved to Labour members  rather than to all citizens as universal rights  (Shalev 1992). Labour leaders also helped themselves from the  public purse. They considered this type of self-service as a deserved right and  on occasions when caught red-handed, they were forgiven on account of their  contribution to nation building (Shapira 1977 and Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.  84-88).

Labour nation building strategy proved effective in tying  immigrants to the land through subsidized social services. However, Labour’s  preferential treatment of its own members implied also the exclusion of  immigrants from North African and Middle Eastern countries, religious groups,  women, as well as Arab Palestinians. Thus, nation building became characterized  by an elitist and sectarian approach on the expense on real pluralism and  universal principles. Yet Labour managed to maintain its hegemony until 1977  because of its significant contribution to nation building.

Labour Zionism however appears to be a special case in  nation building. Some researchers noted its colonialist character although such  comparisons remain quite controversial. In reality, Jews, like other groups,  wished for the acquisition of civil and social rights in the context of  national sovereignty due to the influence of the French revolution and the rise  of nationalism. In addition, with the rise of nationalism in Europe, Jews  became subject to increasing pressures as a minority and more than they wanted  a solution for themselves in their own homeland, hosting nations wanted them  gone. The historical opportunity rose after WWI when the League of Nations  broke apart the old Empires to establish a new World Order in which sovereign  nations were the key building blocks. Thus, Jews were granted a homeland in  Palestine on both sides of the Jordan. Britain was given the mandate to  oversee the establishment of the Jewish homeland while the Jewish Agency was  meant to bring it to fruition but in reality the Labour movement led the way in  nation building while all other parties and organizations followed suit.  Unfortunately, the Labour movement failed to extend equal civil and social  rights beyond its membership; thus creating a stratified society in which non-European  immigrants, women and religious groups were assigned a lower status. Arab  Palestinians took an even lower level in the same hierarchy. Rather than  establishing a universal criterion for membership in the Israeli society,  Labour ranked higher its own members (Arendt 1973; Peled and Shafir, 2005:  p.89-98).


Differential treatment of Non-European Immigrants
In general, Jews of  European origin claim that because they were pioneers, they deserve to be at  the top of the Israeli social hierarchy. In the pioneers’ mind, Europeans Jews  provided Israel with quality while non-Europeans Jews supplied the quantity.  However, Jews of North African and Middle Eastern background always immigrated  to Palestine and constituted there about 10% of the pre-independence Jewish  population. In addition, a significant number of Yemenite Jews settled in  Palestine during the first and second wave (1880-1914). Yet, Jews of  non-European background were not included in the pioneer category and were  often discriminated against in terms of allocation of resources as well as  employment benefits. Furthermore, the Labour elite held an ‘Orientalist’ bias  in the sense that they feared the ‘Levantinization’ of Israel. They identified  Jews of North African and Middle Eastern background with an inferior Arab  culture and wished to make Israel a ‘European’ like nation. But faced with an  Arab demographic threat, the Labour pioneers decided to bring in Jews of North  African and Middle Eastern background to settle the periphery, provide cheap labour  as well as low level manpower to the army, in all likelihood because the  Holocaust dwindled the European Jewish population. This policy had dire  consequences as it differentiated between European and non-European Jews in  terms of access to economic and educational opportunities and widened the gap  between them further (Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.99-114).

Constraining the Political  Rights of North African and Middle Eastern Jews   Given that the share of  Jews of North African and Middle Eastern background in the general population  increased after the independence of Israel and given that equal political  rights were granted to all citizens at the formal level, one may ask why  non-European Jews did not make political gains in terms of representation. One  of the key observations appears to be that Jews of North African and Middle  Eastern background were constrained in terms of the use of their political  rights, as such use was perceived as divisive and therefore illegitimate. The  divisiveness argument was never used in the case of parties dominated by  European Jews. Under these circumstances, non-European Jews remained  under-represented and when represented – they were prevented from using  ‘ethnic’ considerations to advance their causes. Dejected, they turned first to  the Liberal Conservative parties (i.e., Likud) to punish the Labour parties and  when disappointed from the Liberal Conservatives, they turned to orthodox  parties (i.e., Shass) for comfort. But unfortunately, while voting for orthodox  parties may bring about improvements in the area of religious services, it is  not likely to advance the lot of non-European voters in the socio-economic  domains. Interestingly, so far North African and Middle Eastern Jews did not  adopt class or ethnic arguments to negate their spatial, economic, cultural and  educational exclusion and time will tell if gains made within mainstream  political parties in terms of representation will be translated into policies  to advance their causes (Peled and Shafir, 2005:p.114-123).

Differential treatment of Women
Social equality has been the declared ideology of the Labour Movement in Israel  in all matters related to women. However, Labour did not install institutional  structures and processes to make equality between the sexes real. As nation  building required both hard physical work and military involvement, women were  ranked according to their contribution to both domains; in other words, lower  than men. Women in Israel have been involved in the military more than  elsewhere in the world, yet they have not been exposed to front line battle  positions. Further, many are relieved from military duty to facilitate  marriage, care for children and bear as many of them as possible to win the  demographic battle.

In general, women have not fared as well as men in the  labour market. Many of the positions they occupy remain secondary both in  ranking and remuneration. They also remain at a disadvantage in orthodox  courts. In addition, they failed to translate their weight in the population  into electoral representation (hardly 10%). Further, they did not manage to  promote an agenda that favours women interests, mainly because attempts to do  so were labelled divisive and anti-patriotic, as was the case when Jews  originating from Arab countries made similar attempts (Safir 1991, Swirski  1991, Izreli 1997, Yishai 1997, Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.123-128).

Differential treatment of Orthodox non-Zionists and Orthodox  Nationalists
Orthodox Jews wish for national redemption to materialize in  the hands of a divine messenger and in the context of a national entity  respectful of Jewish law. Zionism, however, provides for the establishment of a  Jewish nation that is secular and thus non-conforming to orthodox  interpretations of Jewish law. These differences present a paradox for both  sides. Orthodox groups had to decide whether to support a Jewish but secular  entity, which engaged in bringing about national redemption. Orthodox groups  responded in a variety of ways. Pragmatist Zionists (i.e., Reines’  Hamizrahi) support Zionist’s initiatives as a life saving response to counter  threats for Jewish existence. They do not perceive Zionist secular initiatives  as a part of religious redemption. Orthodox nationalists (i.e.,  Kook’s Mafdal) grant support to Zionist‘s nation building as a preliminary step  to divine redemption. Orthodox objectionists (i.e., Agudat Israel)  object to the Zionist initiative but deal with it as a worldly political entity  and do so to advance religious interests. Orthodox antagonists reject  the Zionist initiative completely.

As Jewish orthodox groups provide historical and Biblical  legitimacy to nation building, Labour Zionism conceded to them civil and social  rights but also autonomy in matters of education, authority over marriage and  divorce, kashrut, Sabbath related laws, as well as, the privilege to define  ‘Who is Jewish.’ They were also granted exemption from military service, except  for Orthodox nationalists who serve in the Israeli army. The latter group  raises a potential problem since while their weight in the army increases;  there is a risk that they would opt to conform to rabbinic rather than military  authorities. Concessions to orthodox groups cost Israel dearly (about 3.5  billions per year, or a sum equivalent to the budget of 12 government  ministries).

Some have argued that Labour Zionists made concessions to  0rthodox groups as a necessity to form coalitions and maintain power (Cohen  1997a). However, Labour Zionism adopted its Jewish characteristics as a matter  of fact to legitimize itself as a national movement representing Jews all over  the world. This may be the main reason Labour Zionism makes concessions to  orthodox groups. Further, even when concessions were not needed, Labour  government adopted ‘Jewish studies’ in secular school to strengthen Jewish  identity. In light of this observation, it is of essence to inquire whether it  would be feasible to separate religion from the state in Israel and adopt civil  and social rights that are applied according to universal principles. Polarization  between religious and secular groups suggests that pressures are likely to lead  in the direction of a separation between the state and religion. However,  historical observations indicate that Israeli-Palestinian tensions (i.e., the  Intifada in 2000) tend to strengthen reliance on ethno-Jewish characteristics  to foster internal solidarity. Therefore, as long as Israeli-Palestinian  tensions remain in effect, it would be difficult to separate religion from the  state in order to adopt universal principles of citizenship. This of course has  implications for the place of the Palestinians in Israel.

Differential treatment of Palestinians


About one million Palestinians live in Israel, 17% of the  population. They live in the Galilee, the ‘Triangle’ where they constitute the  majority and in the Negev. (After 1967, Palestinians made the majority in Gaza  and the West Bank too). Military-rule (1948-1966) controlled Palestinians  entree into the Israeli labour market and facilitated their political  cooptation as well as land nationalization.

Land is the main dividing issue between Arabs and Jews in  Israel. Palestinians lost about 70% of their land through nationalization.  Israeli authorities control construction and land leasing on all nationalized  land. Palestinians are permitted to acquire only short leases (1-3 years). They  received low compensation for nationalized land and low water allocation for  agriculture (Lustick 1985; Haidar 1995).

Under the above condition, self-employment among  Palestinians decreased and dependence on Jewish employment, mainly low status  jobs, increased. Palestinians are hardly represented in high scale positions,  they get lower salaries and more of them live under the poverty line. The  Jewish and Arab education systems are separate until the end of high school.  The Palestinian education system received fewer resources and students’  achievements tend to be lower than in the Jewish sector. Consequently, lower  education resulted in limited employment opportunities and partial access to  social rights. (Peled and Shafir, 2005:p.139-156).

After the abolition of military rule in 1966, Palestinians  enjoyed equal civil and political rights on an official level. However, anyone  who does not serve in the Israeli army or does not contribute to Jewish  nation-building, finds his/her civil and/or social rights curtailed in one way  or anther. Thus a Jew who does not serve in the army may not have access to  certain categories of employment or housing subsidies… Such limitations apply  to Israeli Arabs with more vigour. Arab citizens are not permitted to form  parties that support hostilities towards Israel. Arab parties have not been  included in coalition governments, although some governments rely on their  votes to maintain a majority (i.e., Rabin re the Oslo agreement). Further, Arab  attempts to demand equalallocation of land (i.e., Ka’adan in Katsir)  and pro-Palestinian demonstrations (i.e., during the Second Intifada – 2000)  were interpreted as real threats to nation-building. Israeli police shot and  killed Israeli Palestinians and common Israelis reduced dealing with them (50%  decline of commerce). Given that real civil and social integration appears  difficult in light of Jewish nation building interests, Israeli Palestinians  have voiced the option of an ethnic autonomy within the context of ‘an ethnic  democracy’ (Lewin-Epstein and Samyonov 1993; Smooha 1997; Peled and Shafir,  2005: p. 156-170).

Expansion beyond the Green lines for Security

The 1967 war opened new-old frontiers to Israelis. Although  Israelis got used to a smaller Israel within the ‘green lines’, the occupation  of Gaza, the West Bank of the Jordan and the Golan Heights revived yearnings  for a Greater Israel, perhaps as large as the mandatory Palestine destined by  the League of Nations to be a home for the Jews on both sides of the Jordan.  Soon, the Labour elite resorted to the establishment of strategic settlements  along the Jordan River (Alon’s plan), in Gaza (Dayan’s plan) and finally in the  midst of Judea and Samaria (Galili’s plan) while the Golan Heights were  annexed. Interestingly, the occupation offered an opportunity to exchange land  for peace (Sadat offered such a deal in 1971 before the 1973 War) but the  Labour elite, dominated by activists with military background, opted for  hanging on to the occupied territories for security reasons. Security reasons  were brought to the forefront to legitimize the expansion of Israel beyond the  ‘green lines’ (Harris 1990; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p. 193-199).

Seeking Legitimacy in Biblical Inheritance and Messianic  Redemption

In the same way that the occupation of Gaza, the West Bank  of the Jordan and the Golan Heights revived yearnings for a Greater Israel for  security reasons among Labour Zionists, Orthodox nationalists perceived the  liberation of holy sites (Old Jerusalem as well as Judea and Samaria) as the  beginning of redemption (i.e., Kook’s thesis). Orthodox nationalists adopted  with fervour the duty to expand into territories beyond the ‘green lines.’  Their young generation educated in separate  orthodox nationalists schools funded by the state, however small, reclaimed a  ‘new pioneer’ status, providing renewed legitimacy to settling occupied  territories for Biblical and historical reasons as part of a religious national  redemption. For them, negotiated peace is secondary to a messianic and divine  redemption. As their actions indicate, i.e., settlements without government  approval and hostility towards Palestinians and secular Jews alike, religious  nationalists may pose a significant security challenge from within as well as a  threat to peace with Arab neighbours (Sandler 1981; Lustick 1988; Sprinzak  1991; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p. 199-207).

Expansion beyond the ‘Green Lines’

All Israeli government, whether Labour or Liberal-Conservative  led, supported the expansion beyond the green lines by providing security,  infrastructure development as well as subsidies that made living in the new  settlements worthwhile. Orthodox nationalists were the most visible and vocal  settlers, but even they could not enlist a large pool to thicken their  settlements. In reality, most of the settlers were not religious nationalists  but people of moderate views and income who sought cheaper and better quality  housing beyond the green lines but close to main urban conglomerations. Most  were motivated by economic considerations.
Most of the development beyond the green lines was financed on the expense of  development within, especially to the detriment of the periphery, i.e., the  Galilee and the Negev; in other words, to the disadvantage of immigrants from  North Africa and the Middle East who make the majority in the outskirts.  Objections to settlements beyond the green lines (about 200,000 around  Jerusalem and another 200,000 elsewhere) grew as their cost increased and  especially when Palestinians responded with increased violence (i.e., two  Intifadas). At this point, many Israelis began questioning the legitimacy of  occupation and its costs to the Israeli society and began considering peace as  an alternative to reliance military solutions and territorial expansion  (Benvenisti 1986a, 1986b; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p. 207-220).
Palestinian Resistance beyond the Green Lines

Israel expanded its territories to include Gaza, the West  Bank of Jordan and the Golan Heights to include the majority of the Palestinian  population by the end of the 1967 war. Soon after the war, the Labour  government considered immediate withdrawal to the 1967 borders in exchange of  peace as well as a proposal to grant Palestinians autonomy with a security  treaty and an open market with Israel. But these worthwhile proposals were set  aside in order to establish a military rule similar in nature to the one  imposed on Israeli Palestinians between 1948 and 1966. Its objectives were to  control Palestinian access to the Israeli labour market as well as  appropriation of as much Palestinian land as possible. To start Israel  appropriated all public land (about 30% of the occupied land, excluding the  Golan Height). It also permitted the purchase of private land in the occupied  territories by Israelis. Israel prohibited voluntary association but allowed  municipal elections under the old Jordanian rules, which privileged notables  (1972). However, election rules were reformed in 1976 to allow wider participation  to include women and the poor. Palestinians then elected a pro-PLO leadership  to displace the old notables as well as convey their dissatisfaction on  continued occupation. Subsequently, they made their intensions clearer in a  series of strikes which would turn later into violent rebellions, i.e., two  intifadas in 1987 and 2000 (Peretz 1986;Younis 2000, Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.  221-222; 228-232).

Resistance increased in all likelihood because Palestinians  observed how Israeli policies not only denied them autonomy but also resulted  in creeping appropriation of Palestinian land. Although Israelis claimed that  Palestinians benefit from occupation due to access to the Israeli labour  market, civil and social rights improvement and infrastructure development,  studies refute their assertions. The standard of living improved in Palestinian  territories only slightly in comparison to Syria and Jordan. Palestinians did  benefit from improved medical and judicial services, extended voting rights to  women and the poor, paid sick leaves as well as compensation upon dismissal and  abolition of the death penalty.  Yet,  Israel did not allow industrial development, and it constrained water  allocation to agriculture and employed only low paid labourers into Israel (30%  of equivalent salaries in Israel), while Palestinians contributed to the  Israeli economy taxes on labour and purchases as well as duties on imported  goods. Israeli importers who supplied the Palestinian market also benefited  from exclusive import privileges. In addition, educated and skilled  Palestinians working abroad also contributed to the local economy through  imports of foreign currency (Kleinman 1993; Bellisari 1994; Benvenisti 1990;  Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.222-228, 232-236).

Palestinian resistance began with complaints and occasional  protests but gathered force and turned into a full-scale rebellion (i.e.,  Intifada) when Palestinians realized that Israeli policies undermined their  hope for autonomy. Thus, in spite of prohibition of political association, a  network of associations geared to provide social and professional services  managed to formulate Palestinian demands of a political nature, stating clearly  a desire for independence, recognition of the PLO as a representative of the  Palestinian people, removal of economic development restrictions,  re-imbursement of taxes and duties collected by Israel, re-instatement of  municipal election and an end to military oppression. Although the rebellion  had economic consequences on the Palestinians, it had a significant impact on  Israelis too (increased military expenses, reduced exports to the occupied  territories, reduced tax revenues as well as a decline in tourism, or about  2.5% of the GNP). As the benefit associated with occupation declined, Israelis began  looking for alternative solutions, leading to the Oslo and Camp David  agreements. But these agreements failed due to divergence relating to  Jerusalem, settlements and refugees. Israel proposed to the Palestinians  sovereignty on Arab neighbourhoods in Eastern Jerusalem, including the Temple  Mount while keeping sovereignty in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem as well as  in all the newly built neighbourhoods around Jerusalem. Israel offered to keep  80% of the settlements, i.e., about 10% of the West Bank, including Jerusalem  and gave in exchange a strip of land to thicken the Gaza strip (equivalent to  about 3% of the West Bank). Israel was to keep settlements in the Jordan Valley  for 3-6 years for security reasons as well as a measure of confidence building.  A compromise was possible on the basis on the first two dividing issues but not  on the right of return of refugees (about 3.5 millions). The Palestinians  rejected Clinton’s bridging compromise, i.e., the return of 100,000 refugees to  Israel in the framework of family unification while the remaining refugees  would be compensated and resettled elsewhere with the help of the international  community. They also demanded territorial continuity between Jerusalem and the  West Bank as well as a return to the 1967 border elsewhere (Peretz 1990;  Lustick 1993a; Sontag 2001; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.236-250).

The Struggle for the Universalistic Character of Israel

One of the key problems Israel has faced since its  independence is its dependence on foreign Jewish resources originating from a  very generous and liberal Middle Class which stayed abroad and left the task of  nation building in the hands of a Labour movement, which failed to make a  transition from representation of narrow sectarian and/or party interests into  caring for universal national interests. Debates did take place as to what  should be the character of the underlying new nation’s institutions, i.e.,  whether they should be universal (i.e., Weizman and the Liberals) or sectarian  (i.e., Labour); but the Labour parties won because they controlled most of the  national resources before independence and used them post independence to hang  on to power. The debate went on within the Labour movement itself. Ben Gurion  did manage to establish a national army free of sectarian divisions. He tried  to do the same in the domain of education but had limited success because of  concessions made to the orthodox sector. Ben Gurion made another attempt to  lead Israel into universalism when he called for electoral reform in the early  60’s, but the Labour movement did not wish to relinquish its hold on power and  used national resources to maintain it by institutionalizing a system of  allocation of privileges which resulted in a stratified hierarchy. Labour made  generous concessions to the religious sector in order to maintain its  legitimacy in the eyes of the international Jewish community and thereby  continue to control the flow of external resources into Israel as well as their  differential allocation to suit its sectarian interests. The coalition between  Labour and orthodox sectors crippled the Liberal-Conservative movement and  delayed its growth until the mid-eighties, when Progressive Liberal parties  renewed their call for democratic, electoral and economic reform, in addition  to the separation of religion from the state and a peaceful solution to the  Israeli/Palestinian conflict (i.e., Shinuy, Dash, Rats). Often neglected but of  great significance is the shift in the voting pattern of immigrants from North  Africa and the Middle East, who elected a Liberal-Conservative government  (i.e., Likud) to ‘break’ the Labour system of allocation of resources which  disadvantaged them. This shift forced Labour to re-assess its platform (i.e.,  Mashov and Kfar Yarok circles), introducing into it elements of liberal  character, while weaning its labour union from its medical and industrial arms;  thus bringing about convergence across political camps around democratic and  economic reform. Another significant consequence of this convergence is the  reformulation of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict within an economic framework,  which led to the Oslo agreement. The most significant indication of the ongoing  process of convergence is the recent congregation around the political centre  (i.e., Kadima in 2006) (Torgovnik 1980; Corbin 1994; Peled and Shafir, 2005:  p.253-271).

Economic Liberalization and Peace

Interestingly, the re-assessment within Labour which led to  its disassociation from its industrial and medical arms coincide with the rise  of an increasingly independent business community, which happen to have also  intimate links to the Israeli military industry. This shift, however complex  and paradoxical, requires some explanation. One may inquire why the  disassociation of Labour from its industrial and medical arms became associated  with its detachment from commitments to social rights? In other words, why  members in the largely cooperative industrial complex did not get their share?  Or why the ‘new’ Israeli business elite which took over the Labour industrie,  became so intertwined with politics?(Lane 1998; Shalev 2000; Peled and Shafir,  2005: p.272-273).

It is of essence to recall that most national resources  (internal tax revenues and world Jewry sources) were used to subsidies the  agriculture, then labour intensive industries, then military industries and  then high tech industries most recently. Israel’s industrial development  coincides with its rising expenses on defence   (10% of the GNP before 1967 to 20% between 1967 and 1973 and to over 30%  after 1973). It evolved as a response to the French arms embargo as well as an  expanding global demand for arms. However with the peace treaty with Egypt  (1979) and the withdrawal from Lebanon (partial in 1987 and final in 2000) and  the decline in security expenses that followed (to about 10% of the GNP),  provided Israel with the occasion to shift from military to a sophisticated  civilian high tech industry. Israel then signed economic treaties with the  European community (1975) and the USA (1985) to facilitate its integration in  the world global economy. These markers also coincide with increasing economic  and political liberalization as well as with attempts to resolve the Israeli  Arab conflict peacefully. Around the same time, USA enticed Israel to liberalize  its economy by converting an arms related loan into a grant. This, in turn,  made the absorption of a massive Jewish immigration from Russia possible;  adding might to Israel’s economy. These developments facilitated changes in  hierarchical stratification too: the old Labour elite (mostly of European  origin) was able to move its control from the heavily subsidized Labour  industry, through heavily subsidized military industry into the hands of a  privileged group affiliated with it through privatization processes. This  transfer of wealth created a new economic elite, with a high concentration of  economic might. It also allowed for its mobility into an even higher position  in the hierarchical stratification system, making room for others to move up in  the hierarchy. Thus orthodox nationalists and Jews of North African and Middle  Eastern origin gained some mobility, filling political (i.e., Perets at the  head of Labour) and military positions (i.e, Mofaz as chief of staff in the  Israeli army), which lost shine in the meantime (Silver 1990; Levy 1997;  Barnett 1992; Grinberg 1991;Waldman 1991;Asa-El 1997; Peled and Shafir, 2005:  p.273-280; 288-296).

Opening the Financial Markets

Liberalization became possible due to a change in the  balance of power in the financial markets. Labour controlled most of the  financial resources before the rise of the Liberal-Conservatives (i.e., Likud)  to power in 1977. Thereafter, economic legislation changes reduced government  and Labour control of financial resources, making room for a stock market to  emerge, for a more open foreign currency market to evolve, as well as, for the  Central Bank of Israel to make effective monetary policy (i.e., control of  interest rates). Access to open financial market freed capital, professional and  educational resources from the old Labour controlled system, bringing about a  liberalization of the Israeli economy. (Contrary to widely held beliefs, a few  non-European Israelis played an important role in this liberalization process  (i.e., Gaon and Ben Ami in the case of Koor) along with the old European elite)  (Grinberg 1991; Razin and Sadka 1993; Gaon 1994a; Koor 1994; Peled and Shafir,  2005: p.280-288).

The Finance and Peace Connection

Investors prefer to operate in predictable financial  markets. They do not invest in war zones or unstable political countries.  Therefore, when the financial markets opened up in Israel, the business  community demanded a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Leaders  in the business community estimated that peace would open Arab and  international markets to Israeli investments and goods. They lobbied for a  peaceful settlement and laboured for the acceptance of the Oslo in the general  population. Subsequent to the Oslo agreement becoming public, they also established  Israeli-Palestinian business forums to enhance collaboration between Israelis  and Arabs. Gaon, Koor’s CEO, led the pack by establishing an office in Egypt as  well as signing a variety of commercial deals in Egypt and Morocco (Rossant  1989; Gaon 1993; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.288-304).

From a Subservient to an Autonomous Judicial System

Upon the declaration of independence in 1948, the Israeli  parliament decided not to adopt a constitution, mainly due to Ben Gurion’s  objection, as he wanted to give the state enough power to complete the task of  nation building. Israeli parliaments adopted ‘constitutional laws’ (hukey  yesod) which did not have any overriding power but were added to existing laws.  This system allowed for more power to the parliament and the government and a  weaker subservient judiciary.

Following the October War (1973) and Lebanon War (1982) as  well as the economic crisis (high rate of inflation) around the same time, a  group of intellectuals (mostly lawyers) called for a constitutional reform to  address Israel’s mounting problems and increasing corruption. They called for  the adoption of a constitution and a change from proportional elections to a  hybrid system that combines personal-regional and proportional elections.

Attempts to change the election system failed. Most analysts  suggest that the attempt to elect prime ministers directly (1996-2001) led to  increased political fragmentation as small parties gained power on the expense  of larger ones. Further, as party members elected parliament candidates in a  democratic contest (rather than through internal selection committees), party  control of its membership weakened (within the Labour party especially). As  these developments, which pointed to increasing opportunities for more democratic  and balanced representation, disappointed the larger parties which hoped for  more power consolidation in their hands rather than fragmentation, direct  elections of the prime minister were abandoned   (Hazan 1996, 1997a; 1997; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p. 309-312).

The call for constitutional reform resulted in the adoption  of two constitutional laws, which address human rights. These laws, considered  by some as ‘revolutionary,’ provided for the first time a legal foundation for  the protection of civil rights while constraining national rights due to  ‘security considerations’ or ‘ethnic/national interests.’ This change gave the  judicial system the opportunity to act as protector of civil rights and  weakened the institutional powers established by the Labour movement. Some  argue however that the empowerment of the judicial system could hardly be  attributed to the adoption of the new laws, as similar laws existed before then  and remain valid and that in reality it occurred due to ‘liberal activism’ by a  judiciary that has close ties to a privileged elite that is in the process of  losing power (i.e., see above – weakening of large parties etc…) and sought  protection behind a judicial veil. Thus, as long as the old elite controlled  most institutional powers, it used ‘security considerations’ or  ‘ethnic/national interests’ to maintain its privileges; but as soon as it began  losing its hold on national institutions, it sought cover behind non-elected  institutions such as the Central Bank and the Judicial System and civil rights.  This view gains some validity in light of recent interpretation of labour laws  (i.e., by Justice Barak), which indicate to a shift in favour of employers and  capitalists on the expense of employees. Another test of the so-called judicial  ‘revolution’ relates to the protection of civil rights of non-Jewish  Palestinians. Although Israeli courts appear to be more willing to offer some  protection to Palestinians (or non-religious Jews), ‘security considerations’  and ‘ethnic and Jewish national interests’ remain an important element in their  considerations  (Gross 1998; Lahav 1993;  Hirschl 2000a; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p. 305-309; 312-324).

Diluting Social Rights

Studies indicate that inequality has been increasing since  Israel’s independence. This trend is closely related to structural changes,  especially the liberalization of foreign exchange and the privatization  process. Government research also reports that income inequality, before and  after tax, is wider in Israel in comparison to other developed countries. Tax  reforms benefited high-income earners especially. In general, groups such as  North Africans, Middle Easterners, the orthodox and Palestinians are  disadvantaged as the weight of high tech professional requirements increase and  the need for low skilled jobs decreases as well as the decline of union  contracts and the rise of employment through agencies that do not offer social  benefits. Moreover, the percentage of families and children living in poverty  has been on a steady increase, reaching (22.4% and 31% respectively in 2004).  Interestingly, allocations to the elderly (who are mostly of European origin)  have been indexed to inflation while allocations to children (mostly of North  Africans and Middle Easterners background) have been reduced systematically.  (Palestinians did not get children benefits as they did not serve in the army,  until 1993 when this restriction was removed.) (Rosenhek and Shalev 2000; Peled  and Shafir, 2005: p.325-342).

Some researchers suggest that reductions in security  expenses (below 10% of GNP) would allow raising allocations to disadvantaged  groups (above 11% of GNP), but such an occurrence appear unlikely. Further,  trends in liberalization of the Israeli economy do not bode well for the  disadvantaged. Five families own 40% of the capital traded in the Tel Aviv  stock exchange! And while the income of Israeli managers is higher that their  colleagues in industrialized nations, the income of employees is lower and the  gap is increasing. Although most people living in poverty tend to be old people  or the unemployed, one third of the employee category are working poor. Thus  liberalization does not appear to bring much hope for the poor or the working  poor (Rosenhek and Shalev 2000; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.325-342).



As Taxation and employment do not seem to promise equal  access to citizenship, would education, health or housing services do?

Recent trends indicate that education, normally an  effective tool of mobility in industrialized societies, has not been effective  in reducing inequalities. Economic liberalization meant also privatization of  educational services and in other words less public allocations to education  and even less so to the disadvantaged. Thus, a process of differentiation  between the rich and poor has become more evident (some Israeli researchers  call it segregation, i.e., Swirski 1999). And in general, Israel educational  achievements regressed when compared to other industrialised nations (Swirski  1999; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.342-346).

Political affiliation determined access to health services before independence. As the labour movement had the largest combined  party and health membership (70%), it objected to nationalization of health  services. After independence, the state established complementary health  services (mostly to expecting mothers or mothers with young children as well as  to the mentally disabled) while subsidizing sectarian health services dominated  by the Labour movement. However, with the weakening of the Labour movement, the  nationalization of health services became possible (after 1973); but in  reality, a ‘nationalized privatization’ occurred, under which, existing  sectarian health organizations became ‘non-profit providers’ of health  services, financed partly by members and partly through taxes. In addition, new  legislation abolished employers’ contributions to health services, as part of  the liberalization process but did not oblige the state to cover the gap or any  deficits. Thus a divergence in health services occurred on the basis on the  ability to buy them. Citizens, who want services beyond the minimum provided by  the state through sectarian ‘non-profit providers’ of health services, must  purchase additional insurance. Further, a grey market has developed within the  ‘nationalized private’ health services in which citizens are obliged to pay  special fees to doctors to provide them with ‘private’ services within the  existing system. In other words, access to health services is subject to an  increasing process of privatization, which widens inequality in Israel  (Chernichovsky and Chinitz 1995; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.346-353).

Housing is another measure of equality in civil  societies. Housing ownership is one of the highest in the world (73%). The  state used it to tie newcomers to their new country, partly through subsidies  (i.e., conditional loans). The state also determined to a large extent access  to land and housing through ‘a policy of dispersion of the population.’ This  policy disadvantaged North Africans who were settled in the periphery (not only  in terms of property values but also in terms of limited opportunities in  education, employment and business).   However, in the course of the liberalization process, the state sought  to privatize land and housing by granting them to citizens who held them, but  not on an equitable or universal principle. Thus members of collectives and  cooperatives (i.e., kibbutz and moshav, mostly Europeans) stood to benefit  greatly from privatization but not so in the case of apartment holders in  development areas (mostly from North Africa and the Middle East). Objections  and protests did not seem to prevent the state from yet another display of  inequitable and differential allocation of resources. Consequently, rates of  ownership (80% among Europeans, 78% among Middle Easterners and 59% among North  Africans) as well as differences in the value of the properties held by the  same groups indicate as to differential access to social rights in Israel with  dire consequences for future generations. These conclusions apply even more so  to Israeli Palestinians whose access to subsidies is non-existent, in addition  to the fact that 70% of their land was nationalized (Lewin-Epstein, Elmelech  and Semyonov 1997; Kretzner 1990; Peled and Shafir, 2005: p.353-357).

To conclude, differential access to education, health  services and housing through liberalization processes reduced equality of  opportunity and thereby civil and social equity in Israel. Egalitarian social  objectives used in the discourse of the Labour movement can hardly be  acknowledged nowadays in Israel while universality of access to social and  civil rights has not been adopted in the process of liberalization.

The New Israelis – the Russians

About one million immigrants came to Israel from the former  Soviet Union, about 150,000 in the seventies and the rest in the nineties.  Israel made special efforts to absorb these immigrants. It agreed to re-settle  them within the 1967 borders as well as enter into peace negotiation with the  Palestinians. In exchange, United States limited the number of Jewish  immigrants it would accept (to redirect them to Israel) and gave a 10 billion  dollars loan guarantee to facilitated their absorption in Israel. Further,  Israel modified its definition of ‘Who is Jewish’ to include children and  grandchildren of Jews and well as their spouses to facilitate the absorption of  immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Israel within the framework of the  Law Of Return (although between 25% to 40% are not considered Jewish according  to orthodox rules). Moreover, Israel granted each family (up to 4) about  $10,000 on top of subsidized services which included Hebrew lessons, cheap  mortgages, employment grants and health insurance, among others benefits.

Immigrants from the former Soviet Union tend to have high  education as well as higher representation in professional categories such as  medicine and engineering. An effort was made to facilitate their absorption  within higher categories of employment in Israel, although it is estimated that  this group of immigrants lost about 10% in potential income due to employment  below their educational level.

This wave of immigration, like previous ones, was associated  with economic growth. It also coincided with a process of liberalization as  described earlier and in all likelihood contributed to it, i.e., widening the  definition of ‘Who is Jewish’ but also through increased competition in the  labour market and contribution to a decline of the average income of veteran  Israelis.

Until the arrival of immigrants from the former Soviet  Union, it was not considered acceptable for any Jewish ‘ethnic’ group to form a  distinct political party, so as to discourage divisiveness and foster national  cohesion. Yet, this group of immigrants managed to form ‘Russian’ parties and  win enough seat in the parliament to advance their interests as well as make a  difference in Israeli politics. It is now evident that previousefforts  to discourage ‘ethnic’ political formations, were not put to work in the case  of ‘Russian’ parties, mainly due preferential treatment of the latter. (It is  worthwhile to note here that orthodox parties of European Israelis were never  called ‘ethnic’ for the same reason. However, any party of immigrants of North  African or Middle Eastern origin was promptly labelled an ‘ethnic’ party, i.e.,  Shass, a religious party, which attracts many protest votes of non religious  voters, in all likelihood to de-legitimize them).

As might be expected,  widening the definition of ‘Who is Jewish’ and the absorption of a significant  number of immigrants of ‘doubtful’ Jewish origin revived divisions between  orthodox and non-orthodox Jews in Israel as to the characteristics of the  Jewish state. One may recall that Labour Zionists made concessions in this  regard to religious Jews in several ways (i.e., an orthodox definition of ‘Who  is a Jew,’ a sectarian education system, relief from army service and control  over marriage and divorce and burial services, among other related matters.)  However, as the dominance of the Labour movement weakened and as Israel engaged  in liberalization process, polarization between orthodox and non-orthodox  Israelis became increasingly evident. In this context, immigrants from the  former Soviet Union, added strength to the secular side and revived old  divisions and the need to address them as would be expected in a modern civil  society. Recent attempts to target Shass, an orthodox party whose voters tend  to be immigrants of North African or Middle Eastern origin, as the main culprit  behind objections to the inclusion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union  in ‘Jewish’ national registers (among other related matters), cannot be but  another illustration of differential treatment (by the state and the media). In  reality, orthodox and non-orthodox immigrants of North African or Middle  Eastern origin tend to be more accommodating than orthodox Jews of European  origin in matters of ‘Who is Jewish’ and related matters. They also tend to be  supportive of a peaceful settlement (i.e., rabbinical ruling stressing that  preservation of life precedes land sacredness). Thus, setting aside Shass and  immigrants of North African or Middle Eastern origin, immigrants from the  former Soviet Union only point to an underlying fault within the Jewish  international community at large in matters relating to ‘Who is Jewish.’  This matter needs a resolution within the  context of a modern civil society. So far, secular and reform Jews avoided a  rift within Judaism by making concessions to orthodox Jews (these concessions  were made before religious North African or Middle Eastern Jews became partners  to the Zionist enterprise). The question remains if Israelis and world Jewry  will be continue making concessions to appease the orthodox Jewry (Gitelman 1995;  Paltiel et al. 1997; Lustick 1999; Khanin 2000a; Peled and Shafir, 2005:  p.359-374).

The New Israelis – The Ethiopians


About 85,000 immigrants  from Ethiopia were brought to Israel in the Eighties and Nineties. They consist  of two groups: Beita Israel and Falashemura.   Beita Israel are considered ‘pre-rabbinic Jews’ as they practiced an  ancient form of Judaism based on the Torah. Falashemura are former Beita Israel  who adopted Christianity or intermarried with Christians. It should be noted  also that Ethiopian Christians have often voiced their association with  Judaism.  Contacts with Ethiopians of  Jewish origin have been established around the turn of the century but little  effort was made to encourage their immigration to Israel due to doubts about  their ‘Jewish-ness,’ dark skin and lack of resources (i.e., education). These  three characteristics proved a significant barrier to their integration in the  Israeli society.

Rabbinic authorities  demanded a symbolic conversion of Beita Israel and Falashemura members at first  but were forced to retreat due to strong resistance. As the Jewish-ness of  Ethiopian immigrants remains in doubt, it becomes a problem only when they wish  to inter-marry with other Jews who meet the orthodox definition of ‘ Who is a  Jew.’ At this intersection, rabbinic authorities refuse to offer marriage and  divorce services if there is no proof of conversion. Thus, Beita Israel and  Falashemura can marry within themselves or seek a non-rabbinic marriage but  face the problem of remaining outside of the orthodox definition of ‘Who is a  Jew’ for official registration purposes. In this sense, they face similar  problems that non-Jewish Russians face in Israel. But, in the case of the  Russian Jewry, state authorities did make exceptions to the orthodox definition  of ‘Who is a Jew’ by accepting children and grandchildren of Jews as well as  non-Jewish spouses of Jews for the application of the Law of Return. Immigrants  from Ethiopia did not benefit from this liberal treatment, (although an exception  may have been worked out in the course of 2006).

Beita Israel and  Falashemura still face other problems that set them aside and prevent their  integration in the Israeli society. Israelis fail to consider them for plain  labour jobs, even when they are needed to replace Palestinian or foreign  labourers (i.e., following the Intifada). State authorities are now making an  effort to convince Israelis to offer more employment to Beita Israel and  Falashemura members. As in dealing with immigrants from North Africa and the  Middle East, Israelis have yet to overcome tendencies to discriminate against  Beita Israel and Falashemura members not only due to doubts as to their  Jewish-ness but also due to their dark skin as well as fears that they may be  AIDS virus carriers!  (Kaplan and  Salamon 1988; Reiff 1997; Peled and Shafir, 2005:p.374-377).

The Other New Israelis –  Labour Migrants

Israeli employers relied  on cheap labour since the beginning of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine  under the Turks and the British and after independence too. Early settlers like  post independence Israeli employers preferred Arab labourers to Jews because  they were hard and disciplined workers who accepted lower pay. However, during  periods of increased immigration, efforts were made to substitute Arab  labourers with new Jewish immigrants. As Jewish employees tend to be more  protected by labour laws, Israeli employers necessarily preferr to substitute  them with other labourers who offer them more flexibility (i.e., seasonal  employment and dismissal with no legal complications…)

Importing foreign workers  before independence passed un-noticed, although there is no doubt that Jewish  settlers attracted Arab labourers from the neighbouring region during Turkish  and British rule. Labour Zionists made an effort to substitute Arab labourers  with Jewish employees and succeeded only when the latter was subsidized or when  Jewish settlers received an absorption package which included land and funds to  labour the land as well as housing, health and education services, in other  words a very elaborate subsidy package.

After independence, Israel  used military rule to limit access of Israeli Palestinian labourers to Israeli  labour markets until 1966. Israeli employers relied then on new Jewish  immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East to fulfill their needs. Labour  governments subsidized Jewish employers by offering them employment grants as  well as health insurance among other benefits. Similar policies were used to  encourage the employment of new immigrants from Russia.

However, Jewish labourers  tend to be more mobile. As soon as they adapt to the Israeli labour market and  acquire educational and occupational skills as well as economic resources, they  move to occupy better paying jobs or establish independent businesses and new  labourers are needed to replace them (always at the lower end of the employment  market). Thus Israelis relied on Israeli and non-Israeli Palestinians to  substitute Jewish immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East after 1967  and before restrictions were put on non-Israeli Palestinians due to their  uprising  (Intifada).   About 100,000 non-Israeli Palestinian  labourers worked in Israel in construction, farming, among other low paying  menial jobs. There must have been some illegal non-Israeli Palestinian  labourers too but it is difficult to estimate the exact number, as Palestinian  labourers often brought along relatives to work with them unofficially.

Following restrictions  imposed upon the employment of non-Israeli Palestinians, Israel became the  leading employer of foreign workers among industrialized nations. Estimates as  to the real numbers of labour migrants in Israel vary between 170000 to 330000.  Roughly speaking, for every legal migrant labourer, there is another illegal  one.   Labour migrants are  usually employed through agencies. They are employed in construction (East  Europeans, i.e., Romanians), farming (Orientals, i.e., Chinese and Thai) and  assistance to elderly in need of help (Orientals, i.e., Philippines).

Most of the jobs occupied  by Palestinians and migrants are subject to seasonality and are associated with  low pay (40% of the average salary paid to Israelis) and low status (i.e.,  labour that other Israelis won’t do!) Israeli employers have a strong economic  interest in keeping a steady supply of foreign workers but official authorities  seem reluctant to do so due to demographic and citizenship implications (i.e.,  weakening the Jewish majority).

While most Palestinian  labourers return (or returned) home following completion of employment, an  increasing number of foreign labour migrants opt to stay in Israel illegally  and thus present a residency and citizenship status problem that needs to be  addressed. Israel signed treaties that require fair treatment of migrant  workers but evidence as to abuses by employers are widespread and authorities  have hardly devoted any resources to curb them. Further, Israeli authorities  have not made a serious effort to provide health or educational services to  these groups intentionally in order to discourage long-term residency, although  they imposed a special tax (8%) on employers to cover such services. Meanwhile,  efforts to expel illegal foreign workers are increasing. However, foreign  workers have organized and are now working with Israeli civil rights  organizations to force Israel to legitimize their status and develop  integration policies. The question remains if existing liberalization processes  in Israel would be applied to foreign workers as expected by universal human  rights standards and international law   (Bartram 1998; Reiff  1997;Kemp et. al., 2000; Peled and Shafir, 2005:p.378-390).


Arendt, H. 1973 The  Origins of Totalitarianism               New Edition San  Diego: Harcourt Brace & Co   Asa-El, A. 1997 “Koor  Grabs the Future” Jerusalem Post, February  19, 1997    Bartram, D. V. 1998 “Foreign Workers in  Israel: History and Theory”             International Migration  Review 32, pp. 303-325   Belissari, A. 1994 “Public  Health and the Water Crisis in the Occupied Palestinian   Territories”  Journal of Palestine Studies 23, pp.  52-63   Benvenisti, E. 1990 Legal  Dualism: The Absorption of the Occupied Territories into               Israel. The West Bank Data Project and Boulder: Westview.   Benvenisti, M. 1986 The  1986 Report: Demographic, Economic, Legal, Social and   Political Developments in the  West Bank. Boulder: Westview.   Benvenisti, M. The  West Bank Handbook: A Political Lexicon.               Boulder: Westview.   Chernichovsky, D. and  Chinitz, D. 1995 “The Political Economy of the Health System               Reform in Israel” Health Economics 4,pp.127-141   Cohen, S.A. 1997 The  Scroll or the Sword? Dilemmas of Religion and Military Service               in Israel. Harwood Academic Publishers   Corbin, J. 1994 The  Norway Channel: The Secret Talks that Led to the Middle East               Peace Accord.  New York: Atlantic Monthly Press   Gaon, B.D. 1993 “The  Re-emergence of Koor: Anew Way of Doing Business in Israel”             (Remarks made to the British-Israeli Chamber of Commerce,  London, June 25th)   Gaon, B. D. 1994 Remarks  at Reception in Washington and at Waldorf Astoria NYC to               Celebrate: The Conclusion of the International Banking  Chapter in the Story of               Koor’s Restructuring.” April 20th 1994   Gitelman, Z.1995 Immigration  and Identity: The Resettlement and Impact of Soviet            Immigrants on Israeli Politics and Identity. Los Angeles: the Susan and David   Wilstein Institute of Jewish Policy Studies.   Grinberg, L.L. 1991 Split  Corporation in Israel.               Albany,  NY: Sunny Press   Gross, A. 1998 “The  Politics of Rights in Israeli Constitutional Law”             Israel Studies 3,  pp. 80-118   Haider, A. 1995 On the  Margins: The Arab Population in the Israeli Economy               London: Hurst and Co.   Harris, W. W. 1990 Taking  Root: Israeli Settlements in the West Bank, the Golan, and               Gaza-Sinai. 1967-1980, NY: Research Studies Press   Hazan, R.1996  “Presidential Parliamentarism: Direct Popular Elections of the Prime               Minister, Israel’s New Electoral and Political System”             Electoral Studies 15, pp. 21-37   Hazan, R. 1997a “The intra  Party Elections in Israel: Adopting party Primaries”             Electoral Studies 16, pp.  95-103   Hazan, R.1997b “Executive  Legislative Relations in an Era of Accelerated Reform:               Reshaping Government in  Israel”             Legislative Studies  Quarterly 22, pp. 329-350   Hirschl, R. 2000 “The  Political Origins of Judicial Empowerment through               Constitutionalization: Lessons from Four Constitutional  Revolutions”             Law and Social Enquiry 25, pp. 91-149   Kaplan and Salamon 1988 The  Jews of Ethiopia: A Commented Bibliography.               Jerusalem:  Ben Tzvi Institute   Kemp, A. et. al., 2000  “Contesting the Limits of of Political Participation:               Latinos and Black African Migrant Workers in Israel” Ethnic and Racial Studies 23, pp. 94-119   Khanin, V. 2000 The Rise  of Russian Politics in Israel: Elites, Institutions and Cleavages               in the New Immigrant Community”             Annual Meeting of the Association for Israel Studies, Tel  Aviv, 2000   Kleiman, E.,1993 “Some  Basic Problems of the Economic Relationship between Israel               The West Bank and Gaza” pp. 305-355 in Fischer et. al.,  (eds), 1993               The Economics of Middle East Peace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press   Kleiman, E. 1997 “The  Waning of Israeli Etatisme”             Israel Studies 2, 2, Fall, pp.  146-171   Koor, 1994 “koor  Industries 1993 Profits Rose 43% to $124 Million”             News Release, March 30 1994   Kretzner, D.1990 The  Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel               Boulder: Westview   Lahav, P. 1993 “Rights and  Democracy: The Court’s Performance.”             In Sprinzak E. and Diamond L.  (eds.) Israeli Democracy Under Stress.               Boulder:  Westview   Lane, Y. 1998 “The State,  the Business Elite and Coalitions: The Stock Exchange Tax as               a Parable.” MA Thesis, Hebrew University, Jerusalem   Levy, S. Levinsohn, H. and  Katz, E.1997  “Beliefs, Observances and   Social  Interaction among Israeli Jews” pp.1-37 In Liebman C. S. and Katz E. (eds.)  1997 The Jewishness of Israelis: Responses to the Gutman Report. Albany, NY:  SUNY Press   Lewin-Epstein, N.,  Elimelech Y. and Semyonov M. 1997 “Ethnic Inequality in Home               Ownership and the Value of Housing: The Case of  Immigrants in Israel”             Social Forces 75, pp. 1439-1462   Lustick 1985 Arabs  in a Jewish State. Haifa, Mifras (Hebrew)   Lustick, I. S. 1988 For  the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel.               NY: Council on Foreign Relations   Lustick. I. S. 1993 Unsettled States, Disputed  Lands: Britain and Ireland, France            and  Algeria, Israel and the West Bank-Gaza. Ithaca:  Cornell University Press   Lustick, I. S. 1999  “Israel as a non-Arab State: The Political Implications of Mass            Immigration of Non-Jews.” Middle  East Journal 53, pp. 417-433   Paltiel, et. al., 1997 “  Immigrants from the Former USSR in Israel in the 1990’s:            Demographic Characteristics and Socio-Economic  Absorptions” In  Lewin-Epstein, N., Roi’ Y. and Ritterband P. (eds.) 1997               Russian Jews on Three  Continents: Migration and Resettlement.               London:  Frank Cass   Peretz, D.1986 The  West Bank: History, Politics, Society and Economy.               Boulder:  Westview   Peretz, D. 1990 Intifada:  The Palestinian Uprising. Boulder: Westview   Ram, U. (ed.) 1993 The  Israeli Society: Critical Perspectives               Tel Aviv: Brerot   Razin, A. and Sadka, E.  1993 The Economy of Modern Israel: Malaise and Promise               University  of Chicago Press   Reiff, M. F. 1997  “Immigration and Medicine: Stress, Culture and Power in Encounters            Between Ethiopian Immigrants and  their Doctors in Israel.”             PhD Dissertation, Columbia  University   Rosenhek, Z. and Shalev,  M. 2000 “The Contradictions of Palestinian Citizenship in            Israel: Inclusion and Exclusion in  the Israeli Welfare State.” In:               Butenschon N. A., Davis, U.,  Hassassian, M. (eds.) Citizenship and the State in   the Middle East: Approaches and  Applications.               Syracuse,  NY: Syracuse University Press pp. 288-315   Rossant,  J.1989 “Israel Has Everything it Needs –  Except Peace”             Business Week, December 9, 1989   Safir, M. P. 1991  “Religion, Tradition and Public Policy Give Family First Priority.”            pp.57-65 in Swirski, B. and Safir,  M. P. 1991 (eds.) Calling the Equality Bluff:   Women in Israel. NY: Pergamon.   Sandler, S. 1981 “The  National Religious Party: Towards a New Role in Israel’s Political            System” in Lehman-Wilzig S. N. and  Susser, B. (eds.) Public Life in Israel and      the Diaspora. Jerusalem: Bar  Ilan University Press   Shafir, G. 1989 Land,  Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict   1882-1914. Cambridge University Press   Shalev, M.1992 Labour  and the Political Economy in Israel Oxford  University Press   Shalev, M. 2000  “Liberalization and the Transformation of the Political Economy” pp.  129-159  in Shafir and Peled (eds.) 2000  The New Israel: Peacemaking and            Liberal. Boulder: Westview.   Shapira, A.1977 The  Disappointing Struggle: Hebrew Labour: 1929-1939               Tel  Aviv University Press and Kibbutz Meuhad Press   Silver, B.1990 “The  Contraditions of Semiperipheral ‘Success’: The Case of Israel” pp.  161-181 in Martin W.G. (ed.) Semiperipheral States in the World Economy.   NY:  Greenwood   Smooha, S.1983 “Three  Sociological Approaches to Ethnic Relations in Israel”             In Megamot 28, pp.  5-32 (Hebrew)   Smooha, S. 1993 “Class,  Ethnic and nationa Cleavages and Democracy in Israel”             pp. 309-342 Sprinzak E. and Diamond L. (eds.) Israeli  Democracy under Stress               Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner   Smooha, S. 1997 “Ethnic  Democracy: Israel as an Archetype” in   Israeli Studies 2, pp.198-241   Smooha, S. 2000 “The  Israeli Regime: Civil Democracy, non-Democracy or Ethnic            Democracy” in Israeli Sociology B (2) pp. 535-630   Sontag, D. 2001 “Quest for  the Middle East Peace: How and Why it Failed”             New York Times  July 26 2001   Sprinzak, E. 1991 The  Ascendance of Israel’s Radical Right               NY: Oxford University Press   Swirski, B. 1991 “Israeli  Feminism New and Old” in Swirski, B. and Safir, M. P. 1991    (eds.) Calling the Equality Bluff:  Women in Israel. NY: Pergamon.   Swirski, S.1999 Politics  and Education in Israel (Comparisions with the  U.S.)     NY:  Garland   Torgovnik, E. 1980 “A  Movement for Change in a Stable System” pp. 75-98 in               Asher, A. (ed.) The Elections in Israel – 1977               Jerusalem:  Jerusalem Academic Press   Yishai, E. 1997 Between  the Flag and the Banner: Women in Israeli Politics               Albany, NY, SUNY Press   Younis, M.N. 2000 Liberation  and Democratization: The South African and the            Palestinian  National Movements               Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press

Waldman, P. 1991 “Big Brother is Shown the Door at  Koor, Giving Israel’s Largest            Company  a Boost” Wall Street Journal July 3, 1991

The Jews as Viewed by Others!

Some   people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact   that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable   race which has appeared in the world.  Winston   Churchill

“The   Jew is that sacred being who has brought down from heaven the everlasting fire,   and has illumined with it the entire world. He is the religious source, spring,   and fountain out of which all the rest of the peoples have drawn their beliefs   and their religions.”  Leo   Tolstoy

“It was in vain that   we locked them up for several hundred years behind the walls of the Ghetto. No   sooner were their prison gates unbarred than they easily caught up with us, even   on those paths which we opened up without their aid.” A. A. Leroy   Beaulieu,    1842

“The   Jew gave us the Outside and the Inside – our outlook and our inner life. We can   hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream   Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact – new,   adventure, surprise, unique, individual, person, vocation, time, history,   future, freedom, progress, spirit, faith, hope, justice – are the gifts of the   Jews.” Thomas Cahill, Irish   Author

“One of the gifts of   the Jewish culture to Christianity is that it has taught Christians to think   like Jews, and any modern man who has not learned to think as though he were a   Jew can hardly be said to have learned to think at all.” William   Rees-Mogg, former Editor-in-Chief for The Times of London and a member of the House of   Lords

“It is certain that   in certain parts of the world we can see a peculiar people, separated from the   other peoples of the world and this is called the Jewish people…                          This   people is not only of remarkable antiquity but has also lasted for a singular   long time… For whereas the people of Greece and Italy, of Sparta, Athens and   Rome and others who came so much later have perished so long ago, these still   exist, despite the efforts of so many powerful kings who have tried a hundred   times to wipe them out, as their historians testify, and as can easily be judged   by the natural order of things over such a long spell of years. They have always   been preserved, however, and their preservation was foretold… My encounter   with this people amazes me…”  Blaise Pascal, French   Mathematician

“The Jewish   vision became the prototype for many similar grand designs for humanity, both   divine and man made. The Jews, therefore, stand at the center of the perennial   attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose.” Paul Johnson,   American   Historian

“As   long as the world lasts, all who want to make progress in righteousness will   come to Israel for inspiration as to the people who had the sense for righteousness most   glowing and strongest.” Matthew Arnold, British poet and   critic

“Indeed  it is   difficult for all other nations of the world to live in the presence of the   Jews. It is irritating and most uncomfortable. The Jews embarrass the world as   they have done things which are beyond the imaginable. They have become moral   strangers since the day their forefather, Abraham, introduced the world to high   ethical standards and to the fear of Heaven. They brought the world the Ten   Commandments, which many nations prefer to defy. They violated the rules of   history by staying alive, totally at odds with common sense and historical   evidence. They outlived all their former enemies, including vast empires such as   the Romans and the Greeks.  They angered the world with their return to their   homeland after 2000 years of exile and after the murder of six million of their   brothers and sisters.
They aggravated mankind by building, in the wink   of an eye, a democratic State which others were not able to create in even   hundreds of years. They built living monuments such as the duty to be holy and   the privilege to serve one’s fellow men.                          They had their hands in every   human progressive endeavor, whether in science, medicine, psychology or any   other discipline, while totally out of proportion to their actual numbers. They   gave the world the Bible and even their “savior.”                          Jews taught the world   not to accept the world as it is, but to transform it, yet  only a few nations   wanted to listen. Moreover, the Jews introduced the world to one God, yet only a   minority wanted to draw the moral consequences. So the nations of the world   realize that they would have been lost without the   Jews…
And   while their subconscious  tries to remind them of how much of Western   civilization is framed in terms of concepts first articulated by the Jews, they   do  anything to suppress it.
They deny that Jews remind them of a higher   purpose of life and the need to be honorable, and do anything to escape its   consequences. It is simply too much to  handle for them, too embarrassing to   admit, and above all, too difficult to live by.                    So the nations of the   world decided once again to go out of ‘their’ way in order to find a stick to   hit the Jews. The goal: to prove that Jews are as immoral and guilty of massacre   and genocide as some of they themselves are.
All this in  order to hide   and justify their own failure to even protest when six million Jews were brought   to the slaughterhouses of Auschwitz and Dachau; so as to wipe out the moral   conscience of which the Jews remind them, and they found a   stick.                    Nothing could be more gratifying for them than to find the Jews   in a struggle with another people (who are completely terrorized by  their own   leaders) against whom the Jews, against their best wishes, have to defend   themselves in order to survive. With great satisfaction, the world allows and   initiates the rewriting of history so as to fuel the rage of yet another people   against the Jews. This in spite of the fact that the nations understand very   well that peace between the parties could have come a long time ago, if only the   Jews would have had a fair chance. Instead, they happily jumped on the wagon of   hate so as to justify their jealousy of the Jews and their incompetence to deal   with their own moral issues.
When Jews look at the bizarre play taking   place in The Hague, they can only smile as this artificial game once more proves   how the world paradoxically admits the Jews uniqueness. It is in their need to   undermine the Jews that they actually raise them.                    The study of history   of Europe during the past centuries teaches us one uniform lesson: That the   nations which received and in any way dealt fairly and mercifully with the Jew   have prospered; and that the nations that have tortured and oppressed them have   written out their own curse.” Olive Schreiner, South African novelist   and social   activist

“If there   is any honor in all the world that I should like, it would be to be an honorary   Jewish citizen.” A.L Rowse, authority on Shakespeare

A Brief History of the Jews

A Brief History of the Jews
Marc Eliany* (c) All Rights Reserved

Part 1: The Israelites

The Hebrews

The history of the Jews begins with Abraham the patriarch leaving Ur (at the time of Ur Nammu, the king and legislator, about 2000 BCE) to Haran, Canaan, Egypt, finally settling in Hebron, where he purchased a tract of land used as a burial place for him and his family (the Cave of Machpelah).

Hebron was a shrine for the descendents of Abraham for many years. King David was anointed there. But when Jerusalem fell, Edom, Greece, Rome, Arabs, Franks and Mamluks settled it, each leaving behind its mark, especially Heron the Great (a wall enclosure) and Saladin (a pulpit).

Abraham did not take Hebron by force. He acquired land rights for a price and contractual agreement with Ephron the Hittite. Abraham distinguished himself from his neighbors through association with an omnipotent God, mythical figures committed to do right on earth (i.e., Adam, Shem the priest and Noah, the righteous, who built an ark to save humanity from extinction) as well as a conception of right and wrong. Abraham stood out as a just man, concerned for his fellow men, like his ancestors. He was shy of war and hospitable to strangers but put in a historical context, Abraham was a leader of a cultivated tribe, one of many Habiru (Hebrew) tribes that migrated for economical reasons from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean, to earn a living as merchants or to work in the services of local kings. He was versed with contract making and his relation to God was contractual in nature: an exchange of land, fertility (offspring) and blessed universality (in thy seeds shall all the nations be blessed) for loyalty. Disobedience implies a loss of privileges even if God’s promise stands forever.

Jacob Israel

By the time of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, the Hebrew tribes acquired a sense of belonging to the land of Canaan and their identity crystallized around a common ancestry, with Jacob at its core. Jacob was the man who did right with God to re-name himself and his people – Israel. Around this time, Shechem (near ancient Vespasian Neapolis, 72 CE, nowadays Nablus) was already a capital city of the Hebrews and although some of the tribes lived in Egypt and wandered around Canaan, they clearly identified Canaan as an ancestral land they could return to, that is the Land of Israel.

Joseph and Moses

Hebrews lived in Egypt since the days of Abraham. They were foreign workers who occasionally reached leadership positions. One of the most distinguished Hebrews to achieve prominence in Egypt was Joseph, an able administrator and visionary, a model for generations of Jews in foreign lands thereafter. But alas, the fate of foreign workers has always been precarious and during the reign of Rameses II (1304-1237 BCE), oppression drove the Hebrews to emigration and even to revolt during the reign of Merneptah (1220 BCE). Moses, a spiritual man, lawmaker and judge, led the Exodus that marked the memory of the Hebrew tribes to such an extent that it transformed them into the nation of Israel. Moses did not only change the fate of the Israelites, he transformed the ancient world too, for according to ancient observers, he re-invented the concept of law, making it entirely novel and something for subsequent civilizations to adopt.

Moses’ Code regulates a definition of God as an infinite concept associated with ethical principles, equality before the law, the sanctity of human life and the human body (man created in the image of God), rest (Sabbath and holidays), sexual behavior (ban of irregular forms of sex, i.e., bestiality as well as consanguinity), hygiene (i.e., leprosy and circumcision) and dietary laws (consumption of ruminants and prohibition of animals harboring parasitic organisms).

Joshua, Judges, Kings and Prophets

Joshua took over the leadership from Moses and led the conquest of Canaan through reinforcement of existing Israelite settlements (i.e., Shechem), alliances and negotiated surrenders (i.e., Gibeon) but also forceful invasion (i.e., Kadesh, Jericho, Hazor). A full-scale conquest may have been delayed due to entrenched equality, tribal divisiveness and resistance to central authority. After Joshua’s death, the conquest of Canaan was led by judges through ad hoc military tribal coalitions and was consolidated only when all tribes united in one kingdom (1200-925 BCE).

Leadership at this time was set in a democratic theocracy and was earned through blessed merit and hard work (i.e., Ehud, Deborah, Jephthah, Samson, Saul, David,1005-966 BCE). Prophets, who emphasized ethical conduct rather than rituals and temporal power, admonished priests, military and political leaders, who, worked side-by-side during this period. The emphasis on ethical conduct created perennial tensions between heavenly and temporal powers, which remain till our days.

King David brought all the Israelites under central rule, making Jerusalem a national capital but tribal resistance persisted (i.e., we have no part in David… Every man to his tent, O Israel). David solidified Israel’s economy by controlling regional trade routes and contained the Philistines and Canaanites as well as established authority over other neighbors (i.e., Ammon, Edom, Moab, Aram). King Solomon consolidated his father’s gains but proved less sensitive to tribal pride and religious ethics. Solomon taxed the Israelites heavily to build a strong army to maintain Israel’s unity and regional status. He also intertwined diplomacy and trade to enrich Israel’s economy and to finance ambitious building projects (i.e., temples and palaces) but in the process, he sacrificed the old ethics that held the Israelites together. Solomon’s kingdom broke into Israel and Judea after his death (925 BCE), exposing both to dangers as empires rose (Babylon and Assyria).

Politics among the Israelites have been dominated by righteousness since the days of Abraham. Moses inscribed righteousness into law, prophets watched over its application, rebuking kings when deviating from it.

Israel benefited from the separation from Judea. The economy improved due to an alliance with sea trading Sidon, under Omri, Ahab and Jehu but the gap between rich and poor and paganism increased and prophets’ appeals for redress did not help (i.e., Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea). By 722 BCE, internal tensions and external Assyrian oppression brought upon Israel destruction, deportation and assimilation (i.e., the lost tribes of Israel).

Judaism survived in Judea for a while longer. Jerusalem reformed it-self (Jehoiada, Hezekiah, Josiah) and re-kindled hopes that repentance can re-establish social justice and even bring universal peace on earth (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch). Babylon rose to master the Middle East and capture Jerusalem (597 BCE). But destruction no longer mattered because Judaism was reformed to thrive in adversity, breaking through national barriers to spread a universal message to humanity.

Part 2: Judaism

After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews dispersed in the old world (597 BCE). Without state or government, law and history defined Jewish identity. Circumcision, rules of cleanliness, the Sabbath and the holidays (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacle, New Year and the Day of Atonement) defined their rituals. But Judaism was more than rituals and when scribes recorded its essence in legal terms, people learned it and adhered to it of their own free will.

With the rise of the Persian Empire, Babylonian Jews were given the opportunity to return to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem but most stayed behind in the Diaspora. Life in the Persian Empire was comfortable; yet, some returned to Jerusalem (Shenazar, Zerubabel, Ezra and Nehemiah) to rebuild it (538-445 BCE), in spite of forceful objections by the local population (local inhabitants mixed with deportees brought in by Assyrians, i.e., Samaritans).

Ezra and Nehemiah re-edited the Mosaic Law and although most Jews remained in the Diaspora, scribal and educational practices preserved Judaism. The Jews were the first to create a substantive record of law, legends and history and attribute it to a divine power, although its main actors are human beings (albeit born the image of God). The Pentateuch or the Torah was canonized first around 622 BCE. The remaining books of the Bible were added gradually and sealed around 300 BCE. But there are also well known exclusions (Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Ben Sirah, the books of Daniel, Judith, Tobit, Baruch, the Maccabees and Josephus as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls). Subsequently, much has been written to explain, elaborate and adapt previous records to contemporary times but transcending them all, is the question of moral order to which human beings are to abide.

Alexander of Macedon cracked the Persian Empire to expose the Jews to Greek rule and culture (332-200 BCE). Purist, as usual, retreated to the desert to re-group before purging Judaism from Greek culture, but most Jews, especially in the Diaspora, adopted Hellenism and the affluence it brought. Jewish elites were quite willing to pay their dues and taxes to Greek rulers as long as they were given the freedom to practice their own religion. Some even attempted to reform Judaism to fit the Greek era (i.e., Jason 175 BCE and Menelaus 167 BCE). But when Antiochus, the Greek ruler and his reformist allies attempted to speed up the process of Hellenization, they met stiff resistance. Traditionalists (the Hassidim) led by a priesthood family (the Hasmoneans) assaulted reformists and launched a guerrilla war on the Greek occupiers (166 BCE), drove them out of Jerusalem (Hannukah, 164 BCE) and signed a treaty with Rome (161 BCE). By 152 BCE, when the Greeks realized they could not crush the revolt, they recognized Jonathan the Maccabee as high priest, conceding independence to Judea thereafter (142 BCE).

The Hasmoneans joined priesthood and government to rule 115 years. Their success was timed by the decline of the Greek Empire and the rise of Rome and their failure was characterized by a strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law (a Sadducean approach) and by their attempt to impose it on Jews and conquered neighbors alike. For Herod the Great (63-4 BCE), the son of an Idumean convert and powerful minister who married into the Hasmoneans, turned Judea into Roman client state. Judea (2.5 million inhabitants) thrived under Herod’s rule and the Jewish Diaspora (another 5.5 million) flourished in the Roman Empire. But, due to Herod’s paranoia and systematic killing of able successors, none of his heirs proved able to rule Judea after his death. Therefore governance reverted to Roman procurators. Thus Judea lost its autonomy till its resurrection in 1948 CE. From Herod’s death to the fall of Jerusalem (4 BCE- 70 CE), Roman governance of Judea failed miserably. Most procurators, tax collectors, civil servants and merchants were Greeks, who despised Jews (i.e., anti-Jewish literature thrived) and robbed them (i.e., raids on the Temple were common), pushing them into a rebellion.

The encounter with the Roman and Greek civilizations, exposed Judaism to internal as well as external pressures. The Hasmonean Sadducees, who like the Hellenist reformists before, combined priesthood and government, failed to sway the masses into their fold, partly because they were perceived as an oppressing elite associated with foreign oppressors, while, traditionalists (i.e., the Pharisees) although stripped of power, won the battle over the character of Judaism by anchoring it in a popular education system associated with synagogues in which Torah is learnt as interpreted by scribes and teachers. But, there were the sages (i.e., Hachamim) who sought to spread righteousness at large and marginal groups (i.e., Essenes), who lived in remote areas and yearned for change, i.e., the establishment of a free and just society. Yet most opted for peaceful existence even under the rule of foreign powers.

The Rise of Christianity

Jesus was only one of the sages who participated in the ongoing debate on the essence of Judaism; but unlike others, he challenged the priesthood, the Sanhedrin and conservative interpretations of the Mosaic Law and because he gathered an important following and became associated with a rebellion in the making, he was referred to Roman authorities and was crucified.

Jesus exposed the fault line of Judaism: a perennial struggle over its moral and universalistic character. Jesus disciples understood his message and spread it in the form of a New Covenant (i.e., Christianity). Stripped of circumcision, diet, cleanliness and holiday rules, the reformation of Judaism in Christianity became more appealing to Gentiles as well as to Diaspora Jews. This transformation was in all likelihood an attempt of Jews to dull differences between themselves and their neighbors but hostilities towards Jews did not diminish. Anti-Jewish literature thrived (i.e., Manetho through Tacitus).

In light of failure of the transformation of Judaism into Christianity to dull Greek and Roman hostilities towards Jews, it is entirely plausible that religious differences were not the primary cause of the rebellion and that economic reasons played an important role (i.e., economic oppression).

During the first century, Judaism spread in the Roman Empire (one or more of the Flavian Emperors courted with Judaism). It is clear that the Jewish establishment and most Jews knew they could not afford a rebellion against Rome and objected to it (i.e., handing rebels to Romans) but increasing abuses by Roman procurators and Greek cronies tipped the balance in favor of extremists (i.e., Zealots, 66-70 CE). Later, when Emperor Hadrian turned the ruins of Jerusalem into a Roman temple, the Jews rebelled again (Bar Kokhba 132-135 CE). The rebellion was crushed, Judea was laid to waste and its Jews were dispersed as slaves in the Roman Empire.

In the beginning, Christianity hardly differed from Judaism. Diaspora Jews were the principal Christian converts. But, when Christians insisted on the divine character of Jesus, the rift became final. Soon a war of words superimposed Christian argumentation with anti-Jewish literature, turning it into a potent engine of hatred.

The Rise of Rabbinical Judaism

Powerless and increasingly marginalized, Jews withdrew into an introspective mode to derive from their collective memory a system of ethics and self-regulation to endure centuries of hatred and oppression. Johanan Ben Zakay led the canonization of the Bible and learning became the criteria to merit community leadership (i.e., rabbinical accreditation). Successive generations of learned sages redefined Judaism in Palestine (Javneh, Usha, Bet Shearim, Caesarea, Tiberias and Lydda) as well as in the Diaspora (i.e., Sura and Pumbedita in Babylon) and elsewhere, documenting oral traditions, using interpretation (midrash), legal rulings (halakha) and legends (haggadah) to compose the Mishnah (Tannaim, second century), the Jerusalem Talmud (fourth century), the Babylonian Talmud (Amoraim, fifth century), commentaries (Geonim, 5th-11th century, rabbanim, 12th-15th centuries, Akharonim, 16th-18th century).

Jewish ethics stressed: the sanctity of life, equality among all men, freedom, the rule of majority, the acknowledgement of submissive dissidence, individual and social responsibility in paying taxes, making charity and respecting neighbors, law application to enhance justice but also to promote repentance, atonement, forgiveness, social harmony and peace. (Judaism renounced righteous violence since 135 CE (till the Holocaust revived it), because promoting peace is more importance than doing justice).

Part 3: The Rule of Scholarship

As Christianity spread in the Roman Empire (Emperor Constantine adopted it in 313 CE), Jewish persecution and forced conversion increased. As internal religious disputes weakened the Byzantine Empire, Persia conquered Jerusalem (611 CE), recaptured by Heraclius (629 CE) only to loose it to the rising Empire of Islam (640 CE).

Like Christianity, Islam diverged from Judaism to become a separate religion. Hebrews interacted with Arabs in early stages of Jewish religious development (Abraham through Jacob) and all through history till the conquest of Jerusalem by Moslem forces. Some Arab tribes practiced Judaism. When Mohammed created Islam, he had in mind the Jewish model. But using forced conversion, Islam spread by the beginning of the 8th century westward to Spain and eastward into Asia.

When Jerusalem fell (70 CE), an estimated 8 million Jews lived in the Roman Empire. But by the 10th century, the Jewish population collapsed to about one million. The decrease is partly attributed to economic and demographic constraints but mostly to assimilation. The remaining Jews scattered around the Mediterranean and in Europe as far north as Russia. They were literate, lived in small urban communities regulated by rabbinic laws, earned a living as craftsmen and merchants and in spite of their small representation in the general population as well as legal and religious constraints, they became instrumental to economic development due to their abilities to compute exchange rates, draw contracts and network around the world. But there lied their vulnerability too.

Jewish law forbids Jews to charge interest on loans given to other Jews to encourage mutual help and reduce internal dissention. Jews are encouraged to apply this practice to neighboring gentiles whenever possible but precedence is given to charity among Jews first. Discriminating regulation in Christian lands pushed Jews into occupations, which gave them economic advantages i.e., the hated money trading.

According to Islam, Jihad is a permanent state of war waged against non-Moslems till they submit. Many Jews were forced to convert to Islam but religious affinities as well as political and economic realities led Moslem leaders to accommodate autonomous Jewish life as ‘dhimma’ in exchange of special taxes. Thus, in spite of an inferior legal status and occasional abuses, it was easier to live and prosper in Moslem lands. Jews were craftsmen, traders and some even achieved court positions as doctors, ministers or bankers and they operated as far as India and China (8-12 centuries). Jewish learning centers thrived in Babylon, Kairouan and Cordoba too. But, when the wind of fundamentalism swept the Moslem world, tolerance vanished and Jews paid dearly in forced conversion and supplementary taxes (i.e., the Almohads in North Africa and Spain in the 12th century). On such occasions, Jews sought refuge in Christian, African and Asian lands that tolerated them (i.e., Maimonides wandering from Cordoba to Fes, Acres and Cairo 1135-1204 CE).

Even in the most difficult of circumstances, Jews valued scholarship as a necessary wisdom to guide men and inculcate in them righteousness. Although distinguished descent and wealth were useful in obtaining communal authority, scholarship was essential to make it stick because Jews had no power of enforcement, except for excommunication. Scholars performed communal functions as a social responsibility without compensation (i.e., Maimonides). They were expected to earn a living independently or through partnerships with wealthy merchants, who sustained some of them occasionally.

Scholarship was not applied solely to the Jewish community; it was extended to society at large in an effort to spread reason/righteousness in the world and make it a civilized (i.e., to complete the task of creation) (but also to prevent ill treatment of Jews, among other minorities, i.e., Philo). Of course, scholarship remained an ideal, pursued by an elite, for superstition and mysticism endured (i.e., Zohar), especially when persecution under both Christianity and Islam increased, but even in most difficult times, poor Jews invested in education, keeping irrational thinking in check while amazing envious persecutors.

Scholarship became the main tool of survival after the destruction of Judea, as rabbinical Judaism repudiated righteous use of force (until its resumption in 1948). Jews followed a variety of survival paths: professions that made them useful to host communities and made them mobile (i.e., medicine), family business, strong families based on contractual obligations, synagogue rituals, dietary laws, charity, a sense of criticism and historical perspective (i.e., the Bible), dispersion and mobility, integration in universities but also in reform movements (Renaissance and Reformation, making them subject to subversive accusations).

Regardless of the survival mode chosen, persecution persisted. Treatment of Jews under Islam varied in place and time but was always bad under Byzantine rule and bad in the remaining Christian lands when the Crusades started (1095 CE). Authorities under both Islam and Christianity valued Jews due to their skills and wealth, as well as, the ease to tax and plunder them and ecclesiastic powers legitimized their slander, abuse, killing, conversion and expulsion. Thus, anti-Semitism and its violent consequences spread over time and space, dehumanizing Jews, even after conversion (i.e., persecution of converts), bringing upon them both economic and population decline (i.e., Spain, 15th century), till it transformed into the Holocaust (i.e., Germany, 20th century).

Of an estimated 200,000 Jews in Spain and Portugal, hardly 50,000 found refuge (1492-1497). But although Jewish decline made them dispensable, Spanish and Portuguese Jews rehabilitated themselves under Moslem rule in North Africa and in the Turkish Empire as well as in Christian countries such as France, Italy, Holland and England. They also made a contribution to the discovery of the new world and immigrated there. It was time when expelling Jews was in vogue (Vienna and Linz 1421, Cologne 1424, Florence and Tuscany 1494 to name only a few). Jews could hardly make a living anywhere in Western Europe and had to wander Eastward to survive. But alas, the image of the de-humanized Jew became so established that walls had to be built to contain them (i.e., ghettos).

Part 5: Exclusion and De-humanization

Destitute, Jews wandered from place to place to earn a living while the lucky among them, were confined into ghettos to burden them with special taxes, inflated rents as well as limited competition (i.e., Venice). Apart, Jewish life thrived, giving rigorous rabbis more influence. But life went on and some flourished even under hardship (i.e., Abraham Colorni, 1540 CE, Mantua). Jewish traders did well in Italian ports (i.e., Ancona and Livorno) as well as under Turkish rule (i.e., Constantinople and Salonika), although their defenselessness exposed them to both Christian and Moslem pirates, who confiscated boats, merchandise and sold captive Jews as slaves as late as 1810.

The rise of Protestantism reduced the isolation of Judaism as a religious minority in Christian Europe but hopes for increased tolerance did not materialize as Reformation leaders enflamed anti-Semitism and initiated expulsions (i.e., Luther). Jews were blamed for the rise of heresy, thus justifying their containment behind walls in every state under papal influence (16th century) and secular authorities who normally perceived Jews and converts as wealth builders, turned against them too, blaming them for spreading subversive ideas.

While it may be true that Jews and converts may have diffused innovative ideas in both religious and economic realms, they did so partly due to their scholarship but also due to societal pressures that displaced them in space (i.e., expulsions) and marginalized them economically (i.e., ejection out of money trading when Christians adopted it). Under these circumstances, they confronted reality rationally, unraveling in the process innovative solutions ahead of others. Thus they moved into the New World with energy and did the same in Eastern Europe, bringing with them ideas that rendered them useful to their new communities. They demystified the use of money, treating it like any commodity, overcoming thereby religious constraints, to facilitate economic development that benefited them as well as their neighbors (i.e., 70% of all taxes raised went to secular authorities for protection). By the end of the 16th century, as the power of the church declined and as secular authorities gathered steam, European intellectuals observed that social tolerance (or national unity) is a necessary ingredient for prosperity. In this context, Jews and converts were welcomed on the basis of merit in Western Europe again (i.e., Amsterdam).

During the 17th century, when wars raged in Europe, Jews were summoned to finance supplies, paid in credit, protection and privileges, demonstrating yet again their vulnerability (i.e., Meisel under the Habsburgs), but as strange as it may be, Jews survived the Thirty Years War without maltreatment and proved as useful during the reconstruction that followed. They (i.e., Oppenheimer) rendered great service to Austria in its struggle against France (1673-9) and against Turkey (1682) but the Austrian treasury refused to pay back debts (and a mob was allowed to plunder Oppenheimer’s house). Further east, noble landowner demanded ever-rising rents from Jewish middlemen who transferred the increases to Polish and Ukrainian peasants till they rose against their oppressors. But here too, the nobles easily sacrificed the Jews and massacres followed (i.e., the Chmielnicki pogroms). Jews, however powerful or useful, were never safe.

The calamities swung the pendulum in Jewish communities from rationalism to mysticism, with Luria bridging between the two as well as between Sepharade and Ashkenaze in Safed (1534-1572 CE), spreading the belief that suffering must herald pending messianic deliverance. It was a time when exorcists (baal shem) and amulates gained powers potent enough (at least in theory) to save Jews from evil and exile (i.e., dybbuks, jnun as well as terrible neighbors) and as if miraculously, a messiah appeared (Shabbetai Zvi 1626-76) and almost all the Jewish world was taken in.

The messiah proved false but Jewish existence remained miserable and desperate yearning for salvation made the Shabbatean movement last through the 18th century, causing many disenchanted Jews to convert to Islam, Christianity as well as Frankism (i.e., an underground Shabbatean religion led by Jacob Leib known as Frank, 1726-1791).

As usual in Jewish history, destruction gives rise to reconstruction, for a Marrano scholar (Manasseh Ben Israel, 1604-1657) from Amsterdam combined with British fundamentalists (with sympathies for Jews) to convince Cromwell to allow Jewish immigration, making England the harbinger of Modern Jewish communities (1648-1732). When New Amsterdam fell into English hands (1664), the New World offered Jews equal rights and new opportunities from the very beginning. Here, Jews enjoyed the security to accumulate wealth and did not run the risk of pillage by mobs or governments like in the Old World. Hence, unlike in continental Europe, they contributed to economic development and stability: central banks (Bank of England, 1694), paper securities and stock exchanges (NYSE, 1792), advertising and economic information systems and in short, modern capitalism.

On another front, scholars struggled with aspects of Judaism that produced irrational tendencies (i.e., the Shabbatean movement), bringing to the for-front distinctions between rationalism (i.e., Spinoza) and faith (i.e., Hasidism) within Judaism. While rationalism permitted scholars to delve into far reaching intellectual notions of law and divinity, faith kept discussions as well as ordinary Jews within traditional bounds.

By middle of the 18th century, the Enlightenment debate began in Europe. Naturally, learned Jews were drawn into it (i.e., Moses Mendelsshon) not only to bring Enlightenment into Judaism but make it part of a larger and more tolerant European culture. This materialized in England and American but hardly so in Europe. By the beginning of the 19th century, Jews were still living in poverty and subjected to scorn due to residency limitations (i.e., ‘Pale of Settlement’ in Russia), religious constraints (i.e., forced conversion in Italy), expulsions (i.e., from Prague in1744), professional restrictions and imposed derogatory names (i.e., Austria, 1781-1787). Even the French Revolution, that granted them equal rights, hardly improved their lot. For French intellectuals (Voltaire, 1756 and Diderot, 1770) led other Europeans in a new and more virulent secular anti-Semitism, accusing Jews of obstructing progress as well as instigating anarchy. Soon thereafter, when Napoleon convened a Jewish Assembly to advise him on Jewish matters (1807), European fantasy was ripe enough to accuse ‘the Elders of Zion’ of secret plots and conspiracies.

Part 5: Emancipation
Emancipation started around the middle of the 17th century, gaining strength through the following century with occasional retreats. Napoleon (1812) granted Jews civil rights but restrictions remained in effect throughout Europe by the end of the 19th century, especially in Eastern Europe.

In previous centuries, conversion to Christianity, whether forced or voluntary, was intended to reduce persecution. Emancipation, at least in theory, was supposed to free Jews from the necessity to convert but in reality, it facilitated it. As ghetto barriers broke open, Jews responded to emancipation in different ways. Civil rights allowed integration in increasingly tolerant societies while keeping faith (i.e., Rothschild). But in spite of improved legal conditions, conversion remained a condition to integration in most parts of Europe and even in tolerant England (i.e., D’Israeli). In some cases, conversion was not enough and one had to turn against his own to prove to himself as well as others that emancipation from Judaism was real (i.e., Karl Marx, Heinrich Heine).

Emancipation changed the dynamic of the relationship between Jews and Christians in increasingly civil and secular societies but the change became most noticeable in Britain. Elsewhere, in spite of emancipation, acceptance of Jews remained fragile; for while British authorities welcomed Jews (converted or not), they had to intervene on their behalf all over Europe (Prague, 1745; Germany, 1814) as well as in Moslem lands (settlement in Jerusalem under the Turkish Empire, 1827). In light of widespread European lack of acceptance, some learned and enlightened Jews attempted to bring Judaism closer to secular culture (i.e., Jost and Zunz or Haskalah /Wissenschaft movement) with limited success, since conversion remained a necessary passport even to increasingly enlightened societies (i.e., Gans in Germany). In these circumstances, some learned Jews developed a nationalist view of Judaism (i.e., Graetz), although some tried to reform it, to make it more harmonious with modernity (Wolf, Geiger, the Reform movement). But, as usual, in Jewish history, when acceptance of Jews into their host societies did not materialize, withdrawal into orthodoxy offered some comfort, even when secular knowledge was embraced (i.e., Hirsch).

To sum up, emancipation brought into Judaism much controversy, if not confusion; and the bewilderment was compounded by a debate over the role of Hebrew, Yiddish and local languages in the process of Enlightenment. It was a time when different streams emerged within Judaism but none had clear leadership. In this context, intellectuals broke beyond traditional rabbinical learning centers, demonstrating remarkable abilities in secular domains. But here too, Jewish talent was denied (i.e., the poetry of Heinrich Heine in Germany) for Jews, even when converted, were suspect of both attempting to dominate established societies as well as destroy them (i.e., Karl Marx). European Christian intellectuals expressed their anti-Semitism with fervor (i.e., Goethe and the German Idealists as well as Fourier and the French socialists) and self-hating Jewish intellectuals, transformed it into class warfare or hostility towards capitalists as well as their own parents (i.e., Karl Marx). But as revolutionary as it may appear, Marxist theory was but a makeover of old prophetic criticism of societal injustice and need for redress, an element that made it so appealing to emancipating Jews yearning to break free into increasingly modern and secular societies (i.e., Lasalle in Germany).

In spite of persisting discrimination, Emancipation gave Jews hope. Improving hygiene, urbanization and industrialization allowed Jewish population growth to over 13 millions by 1914 in Europe. Most Jews lived in urban settings, able to read and write and a high percentage of well-educated and secular intellectuals who were no longer ready to submit to antiquated religious or racial discrimination. Thus Jewish organizations sprung, calling for redress (i.e., Alliance Israelite Universelle, 1860).

Most European autocracies preserved an ambivalent attitude towards Jews, vacillating from protection through exploitation and persecution but the worst treatment was in Russia, where anti-Semitism remained an official policy. Jews were confined to ‘a Pale of Settlements,’ subject to arbitrary rules, extortion, expulsions (1881), pogroms (1871, 1881, 1903-1911), forced conscription, occupational and educational exclusions, impoverishment, re-education and conversion and the cumulative effect aimed to reduce the Jewish population, led to panic emigration (2.5 million immigrants between 1881-1914) in scales not known since the expulsion of the Jews of Spain (1492). About 2 million Jewish emigrants found refuge in America but the remaining converted and non-converted Jews in Eastern Europe (5.5 millions in Russia and 2.5 millions in the Austrian Empire) proved resourceful enough to survive and even contribute to the revolutionary movement in their pursuit of justice.

In America, Jews worked hard and felt confident enough to call upon European relatives to join them as well as campaign to acquire denied rights. American Jewry became liberal, patriotic and respectable. Soon Jews emerged on the American scene in leading positions (i.e., Seligman, 1820-80, as a banker and head of treasury) as well as in the needle trades, labor movement, philanthropy, community organization (i.e., Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1873) and struggle for righteousness in modern society alongside other people of good will (i.e., Emma Lazarus). By 1920, American Jewry grew to 4.5 million, making New York the largest Jewish city in the world (1.6 million), forming the American Jewish Committee (1906) to care for Jews in distress around the world.

The events of 1881-1914 that pushed Jews out of Eastern Europe to America, led them to Zion too. Since the Babylonian exile, Jews yearned for Zion. In every generation, religious Jews went to Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed, among other places in Zion. Some bought land to settle the Land of Israel (Kalischer with the help of the Rothschilds, 1836; Alkalai, 1840). But emancipation turned many Jews into secular beings in search of personal-redemption. As the Dreyfus affair (1895) broke into European consciousness, emancipated Jews realized that integration in European societies remained an illusion. Jews had the highest emancipation expectations in France but the French disappointed them with multi-layered anti-Semitism built on pseudo-racial theories, envy and Catholic revivalism. Jews also came under attack from aristocrats, academics, artists, industrialists and populists and anti-Semitism became part of political platforms (i.e., Germany and Austria). Some even called to solve the ‘Jewish question’ by ‘killing’ (Durhing). In fact, as emancipated Jews became more prominent in European culture, their rejection increased. Even converts could not vanish in a European crowd. In this context, even most emancipated Jews became convinced that Jews needed a refuge where they could govern themselves, free of persecution (i.e., Herzel and Pinsker).

It was a time when the old Turkish Empire was crumbling and with the combined good will of British sympathizers (Palmerston, Disraeli, George Eliot), Jewish capitalists (Rothschilds) and visionaries (Herzel, Nordau,1895), it became possible to establish a corner stone for a Jewish homestead. Most Jews of influence feared the idea. Many thought Jews would lose everything before they would get a state of their own (Rothschild, Hirsch). But the poor who had nothing left to loose, assembled from 16 countries to for the first Zionist Congress (Bazel,1897).

Soon Herzel focused on high-level diplomacy to secure support even from anti-Semite European leaders who would have been more than happy to get rid of Jews but Turkey objected to offer land in Palestine. Only Britain demonstrated resolute support, suggesting homesteads in El Arish and Uganda but by the Seventh Zionist Congress (1905), only old Zion proved acceptable. By then Zionism became a practical solution to the Jewish problem and although some religious (Kook) and secular Jews saw it as a step to rehabilitate world Jewry and humanity, most did not. For in spite of anti-Semitism, the emancipation of the European Jews and their emergence into European mainstream could hardly be denied, especially in Germany (multiple Nobel Prizes and over 31,500 Crosses of distinction in WWI). Jews contributed to Europe (and humanity at large), the power of insight into human nature (i.e., Freud) and nature itself (i.e., Einstein); but alas, they were denied the right to be part of the societies they cherished (i.e., Mahler’s and Einstein’s move to America; Herzel’s and Weitzman’s drive for a Jewish homeland).

Part 6: The Holocaust

WWI broke the old empires into national homes based on linguistic, ethnic and racial principles. Britain secured Palestine from Turkish hands with the intention to make it a Jewish homestead (Balfour Declaration, Versaille Treaty and San Remo Conference). Arabs who fought on the Allied side expected a great Arab state but they got French rule in Lebanon and Syria and British control in Palestine, instead. Soon, France exploited Arab disappointment to direct rising Arab nationalism (i.e., Al Fatah) against Britain and Zionism. Arabs (500,000) who lived in Palestine then began to express objection to Jewish settlements (100,000).

Before WWI, there were religious communities in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias, as well as, agricultural and industrial settlements financed by Montefiore and Rothschild scattered all over Palestine. But the pogroms of 1881 and 1904 in Russia generated two significant waves of immigration (known as first and second Alyia in Zionist accounts), which changed the nature of the Jewish community in Palestine. Initially, Arabs benefited from the economic development generated by Jewish immigrants. Arab landowners sold sand and marshlands for high prices while laborers came from neighboring Arab countries to work for Jews. But while early settlers relied on Arab labor, newly arrived immigrants established self-sustaining collective settlements (i.e., kibbutz, moshav as well as cooperative/collective labor groups). There was awareness that an understanding with the Arabs was necessary (i.e., Weitzman, Herbert Samuel, Arad Ha’am, Einstein), but the Zionists, overwhelmed by the task of absorbing Jewish refugees, did not enhance it.

After WWI (1920), an influx of Jewish refugees from Egypt and Russia turned the Arabs increasingly hostile, making Jewish self-defense necessary (i.e., Jabotinsky). Palestinian leaders (i.e., Amin Al Husaini) adopted terror to silence moderate Arabs, along with a policy of non-negotiation and objection to Jewish immigration and statehood. Thus the Israeli-Arab conflict became institutionalized and co-existence became more difficult.

It was a time when Arabs had many states but the Jews had none and a pledge was implied in international treaties (Versaille and San Remo) that Jewish statehood would be granted if a Jewish majority were achieved (George Lloyd and Churchill). Zionists aimed to fulfill their nationhood dream in different ways: building economic and institutional infrastructures (Weitzman), organizations and settlements based on socialism, along with Hebrew revival (Ben Gurion), while some gave priority to massive immigration (Jabotinsky). But between 1920 and 1929, as pogroms subsided and civil rights were granted (Versailles treaties) and prosperity increased in Europe, few Jews exploited immigration opportunities to establish their homestead in Palestine. There lies the tragedy, because in the following decade, when anti-Semitism rose again in Europe to reach Holocaust dimensions and Jews rushed to Palestine for refuge, the British restricted Jewish immigration and land ownership (White Papers, 1930, 1939) due to Arabs resistance (Arab pogroms, 1929 and Arab revolt, 1937) and oil interests.

It was a time when exclusion from European societies pushed some highly educated and intelligent Jews to join revolutionary ranks to a point of self-denial (Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky). Socialism became a fashionable mean (among non-Jewish Jews especially), to free Jews and humanity from injustice (Bela Kun in Hungry, Kurt Eisner in Bavaria, Isaac Babel in the Soviet Union). As a consequence, Jews were identified with Bolshevism and became a target of increasingly vicious attacks all over Europe, although few identified with communism and most suffered disproportionately in its hands (i.e., under Lenin and Stalin). Even tolerant Britain and United States went through a phase of Bolshevism related anti-Semitism (i.e., Jewish immigration to USA was reduced to a trickle).

By 1939, when Jews were in dire need for a refuge in light of a universally hostile world and a pending Holocaust, they could no longer afford seeking consent from anyone, a Jewish state had to be established in spite of British and Arabs objections (Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion), since even USA applied strict quotas on immigration.

Lucky Jewish immigrants arrived to America before the Holocaust. They started as simple laborers in sweatshops, building a textile industry, along with big surface retail, with entertainment to go with it, in theatres (Hammerstein), concert halls (Gershwin and Bernstein) and cinemas (Fox, Mayer, Warner), neglecting not professions (Brandeis). Surely, they contributed to petty and high crime (Buchhalter and Lanski) but these did not enjoy communal sanction and proved to be a temporary deviation. But here too, Jews, even when assimilated, however influential, were pushed back into line (i.e., Bernard Baruch and Lippmann) and polls indicated that anti-Semitism spread widely (Elmo Roper).

In the heart of Europe, Germany emerged as the strongest economic and cultural power. It even seemed as the best-educated nation in the world, gathering more Nobel prizes than any other country. Jews made a significant contribution to Germany and tied their fate to it but remained far from dominating it. Yet, Germans turned on them. Some suggest that Germany’s defeat in WWI induced violence, transforming underlying anti-Semitism into aggression. Germans needed a scapegoat to atone their loss and when Hitler offered Jewish victims, anti-Semitism turned into a national political platform, in which Jews, became the ultimate imaginary threat to German existence (politically and biologically) and Germans, intellectual elite included, assisted its spread (media and campuses), till it became justified to sacrifice Jews to preserve German sanctity as if it were a religious imperative. Some suggest also that the Great Depression hit Germany so hard, that scores of unemployed were compelled to vote for the Nazis as a protest but Hitler consolidated his grip on power quickly and few dared stand up to him, even when Germans at large were asked to take part in a planned slaughter (the final solution).

Some Jews fled Germany in time. Some who believed whole-heartedly in the feasibility of living as non-Jewish Jews in Germany committed suicide (i.e., Walter Benjamin). But most Jews were systematically victimized by ordinary Germans: bureaucrats, medical professionals and priests issued identification certificates, bankers dispossessed them, industrialists worked them to death and neighbors and transport clerks (1,200,000) facilitated their concentration and transportation into camps where they were exterminated. It was suggested that in spite of widespread anti-Semitism, crude violence against Jews was not acceptable to Germans and that Hitler used the veil of war to justify and co-opt them in taking part in the extermination (i.e., starvation, work to death and murder).

As German military forces moved eastward, mobile killing battalions (Einsatzgruppen) did most of the killing (shooting in ditches, dynamite, mobile and fixed gas units) but the military and local cooperators made contributions of their own. There were 1634 death camps, in addition to their satellites as well as 900 labor camps. Chelmno, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and Belzec were established to process mass slaughter on an industrial scale. While Hitler-Himmler-Heydrich formed the top chain of command, Goring coordinated the state bureaucracies, Eichmann led the administration and the SS (900,000) did the killing, the whole nation, its army and industry took part in the killing machine that annihilated 5,933,900 Jews, often with gruesome cruelty.

Germans knew of the atrocities but developed euphemisms to minimize brooding on their actions and related benefits, rather than protest or assist Jews to escape (although factories tried to keep Jewish laborers who made themselves indispensable). Austrians contributed to the Holocaust beyond the proportion to their numbers (one third of the Einsatzgruppen). Romanians outdid the SS by their cruelty (burnt between 20 and 30 thousands alive). The French did not carry out the ‘Final solution’ themselves but the Vichy regime implemented anti-Semitic laws and ordinary French citizens surrendered most of the French Jews to be killed or deported (i.e., 3-5 million denunciation letters). Italians proved much less cooperative. They hid Jews and gave them advance warnings of German rounding up activities. Most Greek and Hungarian Jews were murdered. Belgium and Holland showed some resistance but most Jews perished in their territories. Finland and Denmark spared their Jews.

Russia did not show the slightest desire to save Jews. The British and Americans did not use air power to stop the killing. They also showed no interest in absorbing Jewish refugees. Britain even restricted immigration to Palestine not to alienate the Arabs. Americans resisted accepting the facts of the Holocaust and were amenable to accept anti-Jewish laws. Under these circumstances, even the American Jewry gave priority to defeating Hitler rather than bombing death camps.

Jews themselves produced little resistance (i.e., Warsaw Ghetto rebellion and scattered partisan activities) because Jews resolved after the destruction of Judea and their dispersion as slaves in the Roman Empire, not to raise arms again and faith as well as two thousand years of persecution conditioned them to submit, no matter the cost, to save the ‘remnant.’ For some Jews who kept faith, there was redemption in suffering. Little did they know that Hitler intended to exploit these characteristics to deceive them, reduce their resistance and even make them active participants in the annihilation plan.

After WWII, when the dimensions of the calamity became known, some people expected expressions of outrage or at least pity but survivors faced repugnance (even from General Patton) and more killing (i.e., those repatriated to Poland) and a hatred that transferred from Europe to the Middle East. Nevertheless, the international community agreed on some measures of punishment (Nuremberg trials) and restitution (Germany paid symbolic compensation while Austria and Eastern Bloc countries avoided it). Further, only in 1965, did the Catholic Church make a declaration with an intent to clear Jews of the death of Jesus in an attempt to stamp church based anti-Semitism. One can hardly say that justice was done.

Part 7: Israel

The fall of the old empires which followed WWI and the rise of nation states, set in motion the principle which justified the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Europe’s failure to absorb a remarkably productive group of people, assimilated or not, and its vicious persecution during WWII, led the victims, secular as well as religious Jews, to conclude that a refuge had to be established against all odds. Two thousand years of persecution, which reached gruesome levels with the Holocaust, taught Jews that even the civilized world could no longer be trusted. It became imperative to establish a sovereign refuge where Jews could safeguard their own safety.

In spite of the Holocaust, Britain enforced strict immigration policies, which prevented Jewish refugees from settling in Palestine (boats loaded with refugees were re-directed to camps in Cyprus, mainland Europe or drowned). Reluctantly, with determination and under great risk, Jews felt compelled to raise arms again after 2000 years of self imposed restaint, to launch a terror campaign to weaken Britain’s will to hold on to Palestine (Begin’s Irgun, Shamir’s Stern group and Ben Gurion’s Haganah).

Once Britain renounced its mandate in Palestine, the United Nations resolved to establish an Arab state along a Jewish one, with Jerusalem as an international zone (November, 1947). Strangely enough, the Soviet Union, which oppressed Jews in its midst, played a key role in passing the resolution in a bid to weaken the British hold on the Middle East, and hoping that Israel would become a socialist ally, even armed it to withstand an Arab onslaught with success. It was a rare and transient window of opportunity, because the Soviets (Stalin) reverted to anti-Jewish policies shortly thereafter and without their support, Israel would not have come into being, because both Britain and the USA were not about to jeopardize their oil interests in the Middle East.

The Arab League launched ‘a war of extermination’ as soon as the State of Israel was declared (May 14, 1948) but the Israelis won the war and extended their borders beyond the partition limits. About 500,000 Arabs fled Israel to the West Bank and Gaza while another 150,000 went to neighboring countries but mostly to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. They fled to avoid injury in response to Arab calls as well as due to fear of Jews (i.e., Dir Yassin) but also because of the breakdown of the British administration. Between 1947 and 1967, about 567,654 Jewish refugees fled Arab countries to settle in Israel. Jewish refugees rehabilitated themselves in Israel while Arab governments rejected UN resettlement plans and Israeli compensation offers to keep Arab refugees in camps pending the re-conquest of Palestine, till this day.

For two thousand years, Jews lived as an oppressed minority, used to negotiations rather than use of force. They habitually paid heavy prices to live in peace even in underprivileged conditions. Since the Versailles and San Remo international conferences (1920), they used negotiations to achieve self-government. Even when some Jews had a territory in mind, they defined its borders in practical terms. They accepted the Peel (1937) and UN (1947) partitions, which offered them only 20 and 50 per cent of Palestine, respectively. They were even willing to settle lands shunned by Arabs (i.e., coastal sands and malaria infected land) to prevent conflicts.

Arabs, however, perceived Jews as dhimmis, with whom a truce was acceptable only on an interim basis, pending the re-conquest of Palestine. They could have had a Palestinian state, based on partition, without negotiation or use of force, but they opted for the use of force, with the intent to revert the Jews to second-citizens status. There lies the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict till this day and that is why Israelis felt obliged to put up perimeter fences to guard against Arab intruders (i.e., terrorists) as well as adopt a defense strategy to counter multiple Arab states assault at once.

The Sinai War

After the War of Independence (1947), cease-fire lines were drawn. Israel attempted to negotiate an agreement and permanent frontiers to no avail. The Arabs used terror and economic boycotts. Egypt, which denied Israel passage through the Suez Canal, contrary to international conventions, blocked the Gulf of Aqaba (1956) and formed a unified military Arab command to destroy Israel. Israel launched a pre-emptive attack in which it conquered Gaza and the Sinai desert, while Britain and France took over the Suez Canal. Israel withdrew from all the territories conquered when UN forces formed a buffer zone and Egypt undertook not to re-militarize the area. The Arabs continued to refuse negotiations with Israel.

The Six Days War By June 1967, Egypt ordered the UN forces out of the buffer zone, blocked the Gulf of Aqaba again and moved 100,000 troops into the Sinai in battle position, while Syria, Jordan and Iraq did the same. Israel launched a pre-emptive strike again, taking over Jerusalem and the West Bank of Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai from Egypt. Israel’s offers to trade occupied territories for peace were rejected again.

The War of Atonement By October 1973, while Israelis prayed solemnly for atonement, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack, destroying much of the Israeli army, tacking back the Suez Canal as well as the Golan Heights. Israel prepared to evacuate the Galilee, facing a real threat of a second holocaust. But audacity in light pending destruction and an emergency airlift of advanced weapons from America allowed the Israelis to cut off the advancing Arab forces and even re-gain the Golan Heights.

Trading peace for territories The Arabs could afford four attempts to destroy Israel and refuse to negotiate peace but the real threat of a catastrophe in 1973, demonstrated that Israel could not afford even one loss. But Israeli victories could not win peace either, unless Arabs demonstrated a will to negotiate.

When Egypt recognized Israel’s right to exist as well as its southern border, Israel handed over Sinai and undertook to make similar concessions to other Arab states willing to negotiate (1978). The agreement cost President Sadat his life.

Oil, ($3 in the Seventies, close to $40 in 2004), gave Arabs extra-ordinary diplomatic leverage (to a point that UN bodies passed resolutions equating Zionism to racism in 1972), the power to re-arm at will, as well as, the resources to finance terrorism. Thus Arabs continued to shun negotiations, believing that time and demography are on their side.

But Israel established itself as a modern democratic society based on high ethics, advanced education and high technology. It absorbed Jewish immigrants in distress, in daring as well as covert operations, offering them shelter, education and productive sources of living, while forging them into a nation determined to withstand external threats.

The Israeli Society

Israel inherited many British constitutional and legal institutions but its underlying structures were socialist (Soviet). Party rule dominates allocation of resources and appointments in the army, civil service and economy. Political affinity determined military and administrative careers as well as subsequent integration in political structures (i.e., the choice of Rabin as chief of staff and later prime minister and Peres as defense ministry official and prime minister, thereafter). Civil service positions were distributed according to electoral strength.

The multi-party system preserved democracy but proportional elections gave power to ruling parties, encouraging shifting ad-hoc coalitions in a struggle to acquire appointments and resources. Coalition formed to enhance a combination of ideological agendas and interests since the British mandate era (i.e., allocation of land and even immigrants).

Both Weizman and Ben Gurion tried to divorce the state and public interest from the system party grip. Weizman failed to give the presidency executive power along American line. Ben Gurion managed to free the army and schools from party control, only partially. For when he withdrew from politics, disgusted, he still wished Israel to live up to higher ethics.

Until the early Seventies, politics were dominated by the labor movement, which derived its roots from East European socialism, manned by a quasi-urban middle class, whose symbolic membership in collective settlements was but a cover for weekend retreats and who thought it knew better than average citizens what was good them, especially if they came from Oriental countries. But Labor grip on Israel declined under each successive government, till Liberals (under Begin) took over in 1977, to open Israel’s economy to more competitive forces, subject to discrepancies due to proportional elections, party politics dominance and related distortions in socio-economic mobility and allocation of resources.

Israel remains far from the idealistic model orthodox Jews wish for in a Messianic era. It is a secular political and military response to persisting anti-Semitism geared to enhance survival and pursuit of justice for Jews. It shares the characteristics of past Jewish states, which failed to establish an equitable social order based on the rule of Law. Many Jews, Orthodox and Reform alike, remain uncommitted to Zionism, sometime hostile to it and under certain circumstances, perceive it as ‘the beginning of Redemption.’ Some even believe the Jewish state may end in a catastrophe for not abiding by divine law or pursuit of justice.

Interestingly, issues relating to the application of Jewish Law provoked coalition breakdown often. Debates remain fervent on Shabbat, kosher food, education, conscription of women and religious men into the army and marriage, to name only a few. Religion remains the core of Jewish identity and thus it still arouses debates on its centrality in a state created by Jews who are not necessarily observant. Further, although ritual observance is not as important for secular Jews as pursuit of justice, Israel, for all its shortcomings may be seen as a temple to Jewish pursuit of justice, that is bare bone Judaism.

Most worlds’ Jewry resides outside Israel (75%). It has been so since the Babylonian exile. Yet Israel symbolizes Jewish redemption from persecution on a scale equal to the liberation from Egyptian slavery and has become an open refuge for Jews in distress.

In spite of Israel’s vigor, the development of American Jewry is as significant as the creation of Israel itself. Jews, although a minority (about 6 million), pre-dominantly urban, became a core element of American society. In the context of an open and democratic American society made of immigrants, they are no longer a minority struggling to acquire rights but part of an increasingly privileged majority of Americans and as such, they seek to extend similar benefits to the less fortunate (i.e., voting for democrats), in congruence with a long-standing tradition, which aims to expand righteousness everywhere.

In Russia, however, changes from Tsarist autocracy to communist dictatorship, did not change the living conditions of Jews. Authorities used Jews until non-Jews were proficient enough to replace them and efforts were made to contain them in all spheres (i.e., universities, professions and politics). Anti-Semitism fed Marxist-Leninist theories and as well as the identification of Zionism with colonialism and miscellaneous worldwide conspiracies in Russian/Soviet high circles and media (when Israel did not follow Stalinism). The peak of the anti-Semitic propaganda was reached when Zionism became identified with Nazism and when the Holocaust was transformed into a Jewish-Nazi conspiracy to rid Europe of poor Jews and force them into Zion (Pravda, January 17, 1984)!

Russian/Soviet anti-Semitism was rivaled only by Arab crude propaganda, in which the Protocol of Zion and blood libels featured prominently. More recently, Arab comparisons of the Israeli Army with the SS and Zionism with Nazism spread in Europe, even among well-educated people, following the Six Days War (1967), the War of Atonement (1973), Lebanon War (1982) and the Intifada.

Repeated slander did de-humanize Jews to a point that it legitimized their persecution and killing. Contemporary slur has already generated violence against Jews. Repeated wars by Arab nations, as well as, terror by Palestinians (PLO policy, 1968) did and do not distinguish between Israelis and Jews and others Arab sympathizers hardly do (i.e., Baader Meinhof, 1976 and Russia/Soviet Union). Yet, when Israelis exercise their right for self-defense, they are harshly criticized. (Even Jews, obsessed with high morals and sanctity of life, often subject themselves to self-scolding.) This one-sided criticism of Israel, even in circumstances of self-defense, appears to be yet another transformation of anti-Semitism. Israel must guard itself against it, for the sake of Jews as well as a better world; for Judaism, in spite of anti-Semitism, remains a proponent of a universal morality, whereby all are equal before the law, as well as, a voice of reason in matters of unknown domains of divinity (and perhaps their rationalization). Further, as history suggests that rigorous minorities tend to become triumphant majorities with both constructive and destructive consequences, Israel (and Jews) must guard itself against its own demons and make every effort to live up to its high standards, not to fall victim to its own underlying fundamentalists or destructors within.

*Acknowledgement The summary above is based on multiple sources:

Paul Johnson, 1987, History of the Jews. Phoenix Press, which I strongly recommend. H.H. Ben Sasson (ed.) 1976, A History of the Jewish People (Harvard translation). Barnavi Eli (ed.) 2002 A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People, Schoken Books, New York Max I. Dimont, 1962, Jews God and History. Signet Schiendlin R.P. 1996 The Chronicles of the Jewish People, Friedman and Fairfax Publishers

*Waiver Some of the observations made in the summary above are my own and do not necessarily reflect the analysis of the recommended authors. This summary was prepared for a historical fiction I am working on and was adapted especially for European friends who amazed by their ignorance of Jewish history and their one-sided views of the Israeli/Arab conflict.

Mind and Soul in Jewish Morocco

Mind and Soul
Jewish Thinking in Morocco

Marc Eliany (c) All Rights Reserved

Table of Content

A Brief Social History of the Jews in Morocco (in development)

Synthesis and Simplification in Rabbinical Thinking in North Africa according to Rabbi Isaac AlFasi

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

1300 – 1948
Sainthood, Lineage and Social Stratification in Jewish Morocco

1492 – 1992
Between Lisbon and Marakesh: The ‘Inhabitants’ versus ‘Expelled’ Controversy The case for oral history in education

1570 – 1807
Comfort in Cabbala and Zion – the Case of Rabbi Abraham Azoulay and his Contemporaries.

Rationalism and Mysticism – Spanish Portuguese Jews in Morocco in the time of Rabbi Yaacov Sasportas

Facts and Fictions in Rabbinical Accounts in relation to Rabbi Haim Ben Atar

Exploitation and Abuse Between Moroccan Kings and Jewish Leaders:
Palagi, Mimran and Ben Atar

Sainthood and the Relationship between Zion and Moroccan Jewry:
The Case of David O’ Moshé

Theological Conceptions of Existence among Moroccan Jews based on the Writings of Rabbi Yaacov Avi Hatsira

Burial Societies of Moroccan Jews and the Fes Jewish Cemetery

Artistic Creation and the Moroccan Jewish Diaspora

The Extraordinary in Storytelling in Jewish Morocco

For publication interest or lectures please write to

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.


Abitbol, M.1989, The Jews of North Africa During the Second World War, Wayne State University Press.

Azoulay, D. (H.I.D.A.) Shem Hagedolim, (Names of the Great). Hebrew

Azoulay, A. Hesed Le Abraham (A Memoire of Abraham). (Hebrew).

Ben Naim, Y. Malcei Rabanan (Hebrew)

Berliner, A. 1876 Migdal Chananel. Uber Leben und Schriften R. Chananel’s. (German)

Ben Sasson, H.H. (ed.) 1976, A History of the Jewish People (Harvard translation).

Cintas, P. 1954, Contribution a l’Etude de l’Expansion Carthaginoise au Maroc, Paris.

Chouraki, Andre 1985 Histoire des Juifs en Afrique du Nord, Hachette

Da Silva A. and Benaim-Ouaknine E. 1996 La Memoire au Feminin, Editions Images, Montreal

Dimont, M. I. 1962, Jews God and History. Signet

Eliany, M. 1992, Rezadeira, Virtual Publications, Canada

Eliany, M. 2000, The tale of Solika the Just, Virtual Publications, Canada

Eliany, M. 2005, Jewish Moroccan Tales, Virtual Publications, Canada

Fernandez, L. S. 1980 Judios Espanles en la Edad Media, Ediciones Rialp, Madrid. (Gallimard, 1983 in French)

Flavius, J. (Yosef Ben Matatiahu) The Antiquity of the Jews in Whiston W. 1996 The Complete Work of Josephus.

Garber, Jane. 1992 The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sepahrdic Experience, NY Free Press, MacMillan.

Gelfand, T. 1999 Charcot in Morocco. University of Ottawa

Guernier, E. 1950 L’apport de l’Afrique a la pensee humaine, Paris (French)

Gibbons 1979 Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
London England, Bison Books.

Gsell St. Histoire ancienne de l’Afrique du Nord, 8 vol., Paris 1913-1928 (French)

Hirschberg, J.W. 1965, A History of the Jews in North Africa from Antiquity to our Time, Jerusalem Bialik Institute. (Hebrew)
Manor, Dan: Kabbale et Ethique au Maroc, La voie de Rabbi Jacob Abihatsira (Hebrew)
Margolis, M.L. and Marx, A. 1927 A History of the Jewish People. Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society of America.
Mazel, J. 1971, Maroc Terre d’Enigme, Editions Robert Laffont, France
Potugali, M.1993, Roots in Morocco, Steimatzky, Bnei Brak, Israel (Hebrew)

Raphael, H. 1985 The Road from Babylon: the Story of the Sephardi and Oriental Jews, NY, Harper and Row

Roth C. 1932 A History of the Marranos, Irene Roth (Liana Levi 1992, 2nd Edition)

Sar Shalom, S. Moroccan Sages, Jerusalem, Hod Yossef. (Hebrew)

Selouche, N. (Taf Shin Bet) A Treasure of Phoenician Writings. Tel Aviv. (p.155- 206) Hebrew.

Zafrani Haim, 1983 Mille Ans de Vie Juive au Maroc, Histoire et Culture, Religion et Magie, G.P. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris


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

Eliany, J. interviews in Kiriat Shemona, Israel, recalling oral traditions in Morocco

Elhiany, M. interviews in Kiriat Shemona, Israel, recalling oral traditions in Morocco

Dadia Y. interviews in Beth Shean, Israel, and Canada, recalling oral traditions in Marakesh

Shoshan, D. interviews in Casablanca, recalling family relations and oral traditions in Beni Melal, Morocco.

DeJesus, D. and T. interviews in Ottawa and Montreal, Canada, recalling family relations in Portugal and Cape Verde.


Les Juifs espagnols et l’origine des Juifs du Maroc

Les Juifs espagnols et l’origine des Juifs du Maroc Tribune à Radio JM à l’occasion de la conférence de Yigal Bin-Nun, historien israélien, Université de Paris VIII Conférence à Marseille le Mercredi 5 mai 2010 à 19h30 Au Centre Culturel Edmond Fleg JUDAÏ-CITE, 4 Impasse Dragon 13006 Marseille

Avant de parler des Juifs espagnols, il faut d’abord traiter de l’origine des Juifs du Maroc. Il faut aussi rappeler que les habitants de l’Afrique du Nord sont tous à l’origine des Berbères. La conquête arabo-musulmane n’a laissé sur place que peu de soldats venus de l’Arabie et de l’Orient arabisé. Néanmoins, la civilisation arabe et la religion musulmane réussirent à s’implanter dans les villes, à les arabiser, et à les islamiser. Par contre, de grandes franges de la population autochtone restèrent berbérophones jusqu’à ce jour. Il va sans dire que la scolarisation et les media tendent à propager de plus en plus l’arabisation officielle, qui parfois s’affronte à un mouvement de renouveau berbériste. Je n’utilise le terme de berbère, que pour plus de commodité, à la place du terme plus précis, les Imazighen. Quand à l’origine des Juifs d’Afrique du Nord, il est nécessaire d’élucider un mythe assez répandu dans les medias actuels. Avant même la destruction de Jérusalem en l’an 70 par les Romains, et la perte de l’indépendance, une diaspora judéenne existait déjà en Afrique du Nord. En plus de ces Judéens, il faut prendre en compte l’attrait qu’avaient les gentils, ou les païens, pour l’antique culte judéen. Cet attrait engendra un vaste mouvement de conversion à la religion juive, qui fut aussi renforcé par de nombreux païens, des « sobomenoï », ou des craignant Dieu, à la marge de ces convertis, qui avaient une grande admiration pour le Judaïsme mais qui ne se sont pas convertis. L’accroissement progressif de la secte des fidèles de Jésus, devenus plus tard, les Chrétiens, est due entre autres au passage de la plus part de ces nouveau Juifs et « craignant Dieu », du Judaïsme au Christianisme, qui était moins exigeant dans les pratiques rituelles. Avec l’avènement de l’Islam au VIIe siècle, la majeure partie des habitants autochtones de l’Afrique du Nord, les Berbères, convertis d’abord au Judaïsme, puis au Christianisme, furent pratiquement tous contrains à s’islamiser. Ce qui rend très probable, à mon avis, la constatation que les seuls nord-africains qui sont restés juifs ne devaient être que ceux qui, à l’origine, avaient émigrés de la Judée et de la Galilée. Par conséquent les Juifs nord africains dans leur grande majorité ne seraient pas des Berbères convertis mais des anciens Israelites et Judéens émigrés de leur pays, avant et après la guerre contre les Romains. Durant tout le Moyen âge, l’Afrique du Nord et l’Espagne ne formaient qu’un seul domaine culturel et les lettrés juifs de l’époque passaient facilement d’une région à l’autre. Ce brassage de population ne permet plus de distinction ethnique entre les Juifs d’Espagne et ceux de l’Afrique du Nord. Cependant, avec l’expulsion des Juifs d’Espagne et du Portugal, après 1492, les juifs de la péninsule ibérique, devenue chrétienne, émigra en partie en Afrique du Nord et composa une communauté distincte par ses origines et son particularisme. On les appelle les megorashim les expulsés, par rapport aux toshabim les autochtones. Grace à ces nouveaux venus qui constituèrent une aristocratie locale, le dialecte judéo-arabe marocain, dans toute sa diversité, est encore truffé d’espagnol dans le domaine lexical. Jusqu’au XIXe siècle, on continua même de traduire dans des textes du droit juif, certains termes de l’hébreu en espagnol, pour qu’ils soient compris par le lecteur. Bien avant le protectorat espagnol de 1912, l’Alliance Israélite Universelle établit des écoles françaises au nord du Maroc. A Tétouan en 1862, à Larache en 1864, à Tanger en 1902. Cet avantage qu’avait la communauté juive du Nord du Maroc dans le domaine de la francisation scolaire entraina, après la guerre, une émigration vers la ville moderne de Casablanca. C’est ainsi que l’on peut trouver des originaires de Tétouan, Tanger, Ceuta, Larache et Melilla à la tète de la plupart des institutions sociales et culturelles juives à Casablanca. Citons entre autres S. D. Levy qui fonda la plus parts des institutions sociales et éducatives de la communauté, Alfonso Sabbah qui avec Jo Lasry et Daniel Levy étaient à la tête de l’association Charles Netter qui regroupait en son sein tous les Mouvements de Jeunesse ; l’écrivain Carlos de Nesry ; le ministre du premier gouvernement marocain le docteur Leon Benzaquen, les hommes politiques de gauche : Meyer Toledeno et Marc Sabbah,, les militants communistes Sam Benharroch, Ralf Benharroch-Maudi, Abraham Serfati et Jo Bendellac, Le juristes qui défendaient la cause juive Helene Cazes Benattar, Akiba Benharroch et Salomon Benchabat. Et enfin deux personnalités juives restées dans l’ombre : Sam Benazeraf et Isaac Cohen Olivar, qui grâce à leur médiation, fut conclu l’accord de compromis pour l’évacuation des Juifs du Maroc, en aout 1961. Yigal Bin-Nun Université de Paris VIII Bref CV