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The Jewish Community of Fez

Fez

In Arabic: فاس‎‎ 

A city in northern Morocco.

Jews were among the first settlers of the town at the end of the 8th century.

The Jewish community rapidly became influential and respected. They lived in their own quarter (Al-Funduk Al-Yahudi). Fez became a cultural and commercial center of prime importance, largely as a result of the Jews' presence. Such scholars as David Ben Abraham Alfasi and rabbi Solomon Ben Judah - who became head of the Jerusalem academy - went on to Palestine, and grammarians of the stature of Dunash Ben Labrat and Judah Hayyuj went to Spain. During the golden era in Fez, three deported to Ashir (Algeria) in about 987; 6,000 Jews were massacred in 1035 by fanatics who conquered Fez; and the town was ruthlessly sacked in 1068 by Almoravides. In about 1127 a pseudo-Messiah, Moses Dari, brought afflictions upon the community. A few decades later attempts at forced conversion led to the death of the Dayyan rabbi Judah Ha-Kohen Ibn Shushan and the emigration of Maimonides and his family.

In 1244 the Merinides established themselves in Fez and treated the Jews well, even saving them from an insurrection. However, with the decline of the Merinides and the revival of fanaticism, the Jews were compelled in 1438 to live in a special Jewish quarter. When the Sultan appointed a Jew, Harun, as prime minister in order to straighten out public finances, the town rose in revolt, the Sultan and his minister were assassinated, and most of the Jews were massacred (1465). The community did not recover from this catastrophe until 1492 with the arrival of the Spanish refugees who became dominant. They held the office of "Nagid", established in Fez at the beginning of the 16th century, and their yeshivot were headed by scholars including Nachman Ben Sunbal, Samuel Chagiz, Judah Uzziel, and Saul Serrero (16th-17th centuries), Judah and Chayyim Ibn Atar, and Samuel Sarfaty (18th century). There were famous Dayyanim, such as the Ibn Danans, whose authority was recognized by Jews of the whole country. Many rabbis of Fez went to teach in communities abroad. The preeminence of Fez only ended after the death of Jacob Ibn Zur in 1753.

In the second half of the 16th century Fez lost its political and economic importance. As a result, many wealthy Jews left the town; after about 100 years 1,300 families of the rich Jewish community of Dila were transferred to Fez. With their arrival, these families changed the composition of the community of Fez, which lost its Spanish character. Most of its members worked in goldsmithing, the manufacture of gold thread, lacemaking, embroidery, and tailoring. In 1790 Moulay Yazid destroyed its synagogues, ordered the plunder of the community, and expelled its inhabitants. The return of the Jews was authorized in 1792, but the community was reduced to a quarter of its former size. Life improved and interest in study was reawakened by such men as Abner Sarfaty and Isaac Ibn Danan (d. 1900). The community possessed many schools, five yeshivot, and an important benevolent society. A French school, financially supported by the notables of the community, was founded by the Alliance Israelite Universelle.

In 1912, two weeks after the establishment of the French protectorate, a revolt broke out in Fez. The community of 12,000 was ransacked and their property set on fire by the mob; about 60 people died. The French military authorities had previously confiscated all the Jews' weapons.

From 1925 many Jews established themselves in the new town of Fez - only the poor remained in the old quarter (Mellah). In 1947 there were 22,484 Jews in Fez and its surroundings, including several physicians, advocates, industrialists, and owners of agricultural estates. In 1951, 12,648 Jews lived in Fez - 5.8% of Moroccan Jewry. The town had many Jewish educational institutions run by the Alliance Israelite Universelle, Ozar Ha-Torah, and Em Ha-Banim. In 1961 these and other Jewish schools had a total of 2,823 pupils.

Before the emigration of the 1950's and 1960's, there were general Jewish organizations such as the Zionist Bnei Akiva, branches of WIZO, and a branch of the World Jewish Congress. There were also groups for the study of Hebrew and several social welfare organizations.

Most of the Jews who left Fez made their way to Israel; others went to France and Canada.

In 1969 there were approximately 1,000 Jews there.

Among the sites of pilgrimage for Jewish travelers in Morocco, the most popular is the tomb of rabbi Yehouda Benatar in Fez.

In 1997 there were 6,500 Jews living in Morocco, 5,000 of them in Casablanca and only 150 Jews in Fez.

Place Type:
City
ID Number:
125714
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:
Rabbi

Born in Fez, Morocco. Editor and compiler of a selection of some important works by Moroccan rabbis, both printed and manuscripts, thus forming one of the largest collections of Jewish religious writings from Morocco. R. Yosef Ben Naim is the author of "Sefer Malke Rabanan" (Jerusalem 1931), a compilation of biographical and bibliographical material about Moroccan rabbis. After his death in 1961, his library was sold to the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York; unfortunately it was partially destroyed in a fire.

Isaac Ben Abraham Uziel (1502-1622) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, in 1605 he went to Oran, Algeria, where he served as rabbi. A year later Uziel settled in Amsterdam, Holland, and became first a teacher in the community’s bet ha-midrash and in 1610 first rabbi of the Neveh Shalom congregation.
Some of Uziel’s poems were included in prayer books in North Africa. He died in Amsterdam, Holland.

Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he lived most of his life in Aleppo, Syria. About twenty of his piyyutim have been preserved, the most noteworthy of which is a 14-stanza piyyut about the sacrifice of Isaac. In Sephardi communities the piyyut is usually sung before the blowing of the shofar on the High Holidays. Judah Ben Samuel Ibn Abbas also wrote much rhymed prose. He died in Aleppo, Syria.

Hayyim Gagin (1450-?) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he left for Spain, probably around 1465, where he first studied with Rabbi Isaac Aboab of Castille and later with Joseph Uzziel. Gagin then returned to Fez and served as head of the bet din. He became involved in a long and vehement dispute which broke out between the community of Fez and the newly established one of Spanish and Portuguese refugees. Gagin described the outcome of this dispute in a lengthy extract entitled Ez Hayyim published in 1911 in J.M. Toledano’s Ner ha-Ma’arav.
Gagin is author of many lamentations, particularly about the expulsion of Jews from Spain. He died in Fez, Morocco.

Dunash Ben Labrat (930-990) , poet and linguist. Born in Fez, Morocco, into a distinguished family of Babylonian origin, he studied with Sa’adiah Gaon in Baghdad and served as rabbi and dayyan. Dunash probably lived for a time in Cordoba, Spain. He wrote responsa against Menahem Ibn Saruq’s dictionary of Hebrew grammar, 68 of which are included in his poem Le-Doresh ha-Hokhmot. The disagreements between Dunash and Menahem developed into a controversy between two schools.
As a poet, Dunash applied the Arabic forms of poetry to Hebrew, thus laying the foundation for medieval Hebrew poetry. However, most of his poems are lost and some of them are known only due to the lines he cited in his responsa. Dunash’ religious poems include the Sabbath song Deror Yikra and Devai Hasser and a kerovah for the Day of Atonement.
He died probably in Cordoba, Spain.
Ben Batash, Aaron (?–1465) scholar, writer and vizier of Morocco, in Spain. Ben Batash moved to Morocco apparently on account of the Inquisition in his native country. Settling in Fez he became banker and adviser to Sultan Abdel al-Haqq and was subsequently elevated to the post of vizer.

As a result of Aaron’s influence, Saul ben Batash, a close relative, was appointed chief of the police and director of the sultan’s palace. Aaron imposed heavy taxes on the population and was accused by the Muslim leaders of using the money to support the impoverished Jews of the town, many of whom like himself had been obliged to flee from Spain. In consequence the Muslim leaders incited the mob to attack the Jewish quarter. The sultan and the vizier were both assassinated.
Philosopher and poet. Born in Barcelona, Spain, he moved to Fez, Morocco, and lived there until his death. Aknin met Maimonides on the latter’s visit to Fez and wrote a sad poem about his departure to Egypt. It is presumed that Aknin was a physician.
He is the author of two books which are no longer extant (Sefer Hukkim u-Mishpatim and Clarification of the Fundamentals of Faith); Ma’amar al ha-Middot ve-he-Mishkalot, on measures and weights; Mevo ha-Talmud, introduction to the learning of the Talmud; The Hygiene of Healthy Souls and the Therapy of Ailing Souls, an ethical compilation; Sefer ha-Musar, commentary on Pirkei Avot; and The Divulgence of Mysteries and the Appearance of Lights, a commentary on the Song of Songs in Arabic. He died in Fez, Morocco.

Hayyim Gagin (1450-?) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he left for Spain, probably around 1465, where he first studied with Rabbi Isaac Aboab of Castille and later with Joseph Uzziel. Gagin then returned to Fez and served as head of the bet din. He became involved in a long and vehement dispute which broke out between the community of Fez and the newly established one of Spanish and Portuguese refugees. Gagin described the outcome of this dispute in a lengthy extract entitled Ez Hayyim published in 1911 in J.M. Toledano’s Ner ha-Ma’arav.
Gagin is author of many lamentations, particularly about the expulsion of Jews from Spain. He died in Fez, Morocco.

ALFASI, AL FASSI, ELFASSI

Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name is a toponymic (derived from a geographic name of a town, city, region or country). Surnames that are based on place names do not always testify to direct origin from that place, but may indicate an indirect relation between the name-bearer or his ancestors and the place, such as birth place, temporary residence, trade, or family-relatives.

The surname Alfasi means "from Fez" in Arabic. A Jewish presence in Fez, Morocco, is recorded since as early as the 8th century.

Distinguished bearers of the Jewish family name Alfassi include the Moroccan-born codifier Isaac Alfassi (1013-1103) and the Karaite scholar Alfi Ben Avraham Alfasi who lived in the 10th century.

Distinguished 19th century bearers of the family name Al Fassi include Rabbi Messaoud Raphael Al Fassi (born in Fez, Morocco, died 1775), who was Av Beth Din ("head of rabbinical court") and chief rabbi in Tunis, and then settled in Eretz Israel. Rabbi Massoud Rephael Al Fassi and his sons published an important work called 'Mishha Diributa' (Livorno, 1805).

The Jewish community of Fez, its traditions and institutions on the eve of World War II.
Produced 1978.
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot 

The 'Ibn Dannan' Synagogue, Fez, Morocco.
The synagogue was built in the mid 17th century, and renovated in its present form at the end of the 19th century.
The synagogue was renovated and re-inaugurated in 1999.
Model.
(Beit Hatfutsot, Permanent Exhibition)
Inside One of the Synagogues in Fez,
Morocco, 1976
The building which once belonged to a wealthy Jewish family, was donated to the Jewish community and is now an Old Age Home
Photo: Donna Wosk, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Donna Wosk, USA)

Jewish men praying the Birkat Hahamma (blessing of the sun) at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery, Fez, Morocco 1953.
Photo: Bouhsira, Studio ABC, Fez.
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People
courtesy of Mr. Bouhasira, Morocco

Members of the Sportsmen Association of Fez, Morocco, 1927
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Margalith Bergstein, Israel)

Young Jewish members of "Dror" movement in Fez, Morocco, 1968

Photo: Dov Luks
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Simone and Dov (Bernard) Luks)

Tea time in the family house of Yehudah Ben Simchon,
Fez, Morocco, 1935
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, Courtesy of Margalit Bergstein, Israel)
Maimonides' Home in Fez, Morocco 1982.
The philosopher lived there between 1160-1165.
Photo: Dr. Theodore Cohen, USA.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Dr. Theodore Cohen, USA)
Women party with musicians.
Fez (?), Morocco 1950's
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot)
Interior of "Ben Sadoun" Synagogue,
view of the ark of the law.
Fez, Morocco 1994.
The synagogue was built by Roben Ben Sadoun in 1920
Photo: Ruth Porter, Tel Aviv.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Ruth Porter, Tel-Aviv)
The Jewish cemetery in Fez, Morocco, 1976
Photo: Donna Wosk, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Dona Wosk, USA)
Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he lived most of his life in Aleppo, Syria. About twenty of his piyyutim have been preserved, the most noteworthy of which is a 14-stanza piyyut about the sacrifice of Isaac. In Sephardi communities the piyyut is usually sung before the blowing of the shofar on the High Holidays. Judah Ben Samuel Ibn Abbas also wrote much rhymed prose. He died in Aleppo, Syria.
Philosopher and poet. Born in Barcelona, Spain, he moved to Fez, Morocco, and lived there until his death. Aknin met Maimonides on the latter’s visit to Fez and wrote a sad poem about his departure to Egypt. It is presumed that Aknin was a physician.
He is the author of two books which are no longer extant (Sefer Hukkim u-Mishpatim and Clarification of the Fundamentals of Faith); Ma’amar al ha-Middot ve-he-Mishkalot, on measures and weights; Mevo ha-Talmud, introduction to the learning of the Talmud; The Hygiene of Healthy Souls and the Therapy of Ailing Souls, an ethical compilation; Sefer ha-Musar, commentary on Pirkei Avot; and The Divulgence of Mysteries and the Appearance of Lights, a commentary on the Song of Songs in Arabic. He died in Fez, Morocco.

Hayyim Gagin (1450-?) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he left for Spain, probably around 1465, where he first studied with Rabbi Isaac Aboab of Castille and later with Joseph Uzziel. Gagin then returned to Fez and served as head of the bet din. He became involved in a long and vehement dispute which broke out between the community of Fez and the newly established one of Spanish and Portuguese refugees. Gagin described the outcome of this dispute in a lengthy extract entitled Ez Hayyim published in 1911 in J.M. Toledano’s Ner ha-Ma’arav.
Gagin is author of many lamentations, particularly about the expulsion of Jews from Spain. He died in Fez, Morocco.

Isaac Ben Jacob Alfasi (1013-1103), Talmudist, born in Algeria, but spend most of his life in Fes, Morocco. He moved to Fes. Morocco, in 1045 with his wife and children when the local community agreed to support him.

Alfasi's plan was to produce a comprehensive work which would set out the practical conclusions of the Gemara in a systematic and clear way. It took him over ten years to compile his work, known as "Sefer Ha-Halachot", one of the earliest comprehensive works of Jewish law. "Sefer H-Halachot" was published before the times of Rashi and other commentators and resulted in a profound change in the study practices of the scholarly Jewish public in that it opened the world of the Gemarah to the public at large. The work became known as the "Talmud Katan" ("Little Talmud").

In Fes Alfasi headed a yeshiva founded in his honour ny the local community and many students from throughout Morocco went there to study under his guidance.

In 1089, after a dispute with the authorities in Fes, Alfasi left Fes and became head of the yeshiva of Lucena, Andalucia (now in Spain).

Alfasi wrote many Responsa most of which were written in Arabic, but which were later translated into Hebrew

Isaac Ben Abraham Uziel (1502-1622) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, in 1605 he went to Oran, Algeria, where he served as rabbi. A year later Uziel settled in Amsterdam, Holland, and became first a teacher in the community’s bet ha-midrash and in 1610 first rabbi of the Neveh Shalom congregation.
Some of Uziel’s poems were included in prayer books in North Africa. He died in Amsterdam, Holland.

Dunash Ben Labrat (930-990) , poet and linguist. Born in Fez, Morocco, into a distinguished family of Babylonian origin, he studied with Sa’adiah Gaon in Baghdad and served as rabbi and dayyan. Dunash probably lived for a time in Cordoba, Spain. He wrote responsa against Menahem Ibn Saruq’s dictionary of Hebrew grammar, 68 of which are included in his poem Le-Doresh ha-Hokhmot. The disagreements between Dunash and Menahem developed into a controversy between two schools.
As a poet, Dunash applied the Arabic forms of poetry to Hebrew, thus laying the foundation for medieval Hebrew poetry. However, most of his poems are lost and some of them are known only due to the lines he cited in his responsa. Dunash’ religious poems include the Sabbath song Deror Yikra and Devai Hasser and a kerovah for the Day of Atonement.
He died probably in Cordoba, Spain.
Rabbi

Born in Fez, Morocco. Editor and compiler of a selection of some important works by Moroccan rabbis, both printed and manuscripts, thus forming one of the largest collections of Jewish religious writings from Morocco. R. Yosef Ben Naim is the author of "Sefer Malke Rabanan" (Jerusalem 1931), a compilation of biographical and bibliographical material about Moroccan rabbis. After his death in 1961, his library was sold to the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York; unfortunately it was partially destroyed in a fire.
Ben Batash, Aaron (?–1465) scholar, writer and vizier of Morocco, in Spain. Ben Batash moved to Morocco apparently on account of the Inquisition in his native country. Settling in Fez he became banker and adviser to Sultan Abdel al-Haqq and was subsequently elevated to the post of vizer.

As a result of Aaron’s influence, Saul ben Batash, a close relative, was appointed chief of the police and director of the sultan’s palace. Aaron imposed heavy taxes on the population and was accused by the Muslim leaders of using the money to support the impoverished Jews of the town, many of whom like himself had been obliged to flee from Spain. In consequence the Muslim leaders incited the mob to attack the Jewish quarter. The sultan and the vizier were both assassinated.

Moses Maimonides, also known as Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon or the acronym the Rambam, was born in Cordoba, Spain on March 30, 1135, and died in Egypt on December 13, 1204. He is buried in Tiberias, Eretz Israel.

One of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, he was a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Spain, Morocco and Egypt during the Middle Ages. He was the preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher. With the contemporary Muslim sage Averroes, he promoted and developed the philosophical tradition of Aristotle. As a result, Maimonides and Averroes would gain a prominent and controversial influence in the West, where Aristotelian thought had been suppressed for centuries

Testour

Tastur, Tichilla,    Arabic      تستور

 

A small town located in the valley of Medjerda, approximately 35 km west of the capital Tunis. During Roman times it was known as Tichilla, meaning green grass, as it is situated in the fertile valley of the Medjerda River.

Testour was rebuilt on the Roman ruins in the early 17th century by Jews and Moslems who were expelled from Spain. The building style and method of irrigation reflect the Andalusian origin of the population.  

 

Tradition

The Tunisian Jewish community connects the town of Testour to the memory of the revered Rabbi Fraji Chaouat whose burial site is situated in the town. According to local tradition he was among the refugees from the Spanish Inquisition towards the end of the 16th century, and settled in the town of Beja. The details of his burial in Testour are legendary, claiming that his last wish was to be tied to the back of a donkey after his death, and to be buried wherever the donkey stopped moving. The ruler of Tunisia, Yousef Bei, sent a delegation of troops to accompany the funeral procession which reached Testour. The burial took place in the early years of the 17th century. His tomb became a center of pilgrimage for Jews and Moslems throughout Tunisia, as Rabbi Fraiji was renowned for his powers of healing.

 

The Jewish community

Testour had a very small community. The earliest number mentioned in a book by Maurice Eisenbeth ("Algerie-Tunisie") states that one family of Marrano origin lived there in 1814-15. The synagogue dates to the 18th century.  Formal records of population state that 156 Jews lived in Testour in 1909. In April 1910 the government issued a decree for the establishment of a committee of five to manage the community. The members were appointed by the authorities, who specified its functions, which were similar to the charity committees in other Tunisian communities. The fund was responsible for providing assistance to needy families, as well as dealing with the maintenance of the synagogue, the cemetery and the tomb of the Rabbi Fraiji Chaouat.

The Jewish population of Testour dropped to 100 in 1926, 107 in 1936, reaching a low of 91 persons in 1946. 

One of the religious leaders in Testour was Rabbi Nissim Idan from Jerba, whose functions included Rabbi, ritual slaughterer, Mohel (performing circumcisions) and teacher. He also served other small communities in Tunisia. A volume of his writings was published posthumously in 1977 under the name "Fresh Olive"(זית רענן)   on topics connected to forbidden meat.

The pilgrimages to the tomb in Testour provided a source of income for the Jews of the town, particularly during Succot when large numbers of pilgrims gathered at the site. Local newspapers in 1924 reported that a record of 6,000 Jews arrived in that year. The local Moslem population often showed animosity towards the crowds of Jewish pilgrims, with outbreaks of violence on several occasions. The emergence of the Moslem extremist Tunisian national movement during the 1920s fostered anti-Jewish feelings. As a result pilgrims leaving the gravesite were frequently attacked by stone throwers, resulting in injuries as well as damage to cars. After a nationalist political party was established in 1934, the extremist propaganda decreased, and with it the attack s on the pilgrims.

World War II resulted in a further decline in the Jewish population as they left to find refuge from the bombing and fighting. After the war and the establishment of the State of Israel most of the Tunisian Jews left the country, either for Israel or for France. By 1956 when Tunisia became independent, only one family remained to take care of the grave and welcome the pilgrims.

The Draa 

Berber languages: Asif en Dra, ⴰⵙⵉⴼ ⴻⵏ ⴷⵔⴰ; Moroccan Arabic: واد درعة‎,  translit. wad dərʿa; also spelled Dra or Drâa, in older sources mostly Darha or Dara

The Draa is Morocco's longest river, from the Atlas mountains in south west Morocco flowing  for 1,100 kms. (680 mi) to the Atlantic Ocean.

21ST CENTURY

Today the largest Jewish community in Morocco is in Casablanca, which is home to 1,000 Jews. There are small Jewish communities in Rabat (400), Marrakesh (250), Meknes (250), Tangier (150), Fez (150), and Titian (100).

 

HISTORY

Early history

Stories of an ancient Jewish kingdom in the valley during the Second Temple period, with its capital at Tamgrout, cannot be verified. Some sources mention the existence of autonomous Jewish communities in the Draa valley before the Arab conquest in the 7th century.

Idrisid dynasty 789-1,000 CE

The upper valley was home to Jews during the late eighth century, when Idriss I established the first Muslim state in Morocco.  His authority extended over the central and western sections of the country, and his objective was to convert the Jews and Christians to Islam. As a result most Jews moved to the mountain and desert regions outside the control of Idriss.  It has been suggested that they moved to the Draa area of the Berber tribes, some of whom had already converted to Judaism. Jewish community life developed and flourished in the Draa valley for many centuries. Jewish scholars such as linguist and writer Donash ben Labrat (born 920 in Fez) and Talmudist Moise Drawi lived in the region during the 10th century.  During this period the leaders of the Jewish community corresponded with the Geonim (religious leaders) of the yeshivot in Babylon (today's Iraq).

Almoravid  dynasty 1060 -1147 CE  

The Almoravids were a newly emerged black Islamic power in North Africa from 1062-1150, conquering Morocco, and spreading the Islamic faith throughout their empire. During this period the Karaite movement, whose influence spread from Babylon to Fez, took root in the Draa valley. These Jews believed only in the Bible, rejecting all later traditions (Mishna and Talmud), resulting in conflicts with the rabbinic community.

Almohad dynasty 1147- 1269 CE

The Almohads conquered the region from the Almoravids during the 12th century, and their rulers tried to force the Jews throughout Morocco to convert to Islam. They also persecuted the Karaites. In order to escape massacres, the Karaites fled to the mountains or the Sahara,   while many Jews escaped to the Draa valley which did not fall under control of the Almohads.  The valley became a center of commercial activity on the caravan route from Fez to the north. Evidence of active involvement of the Jews in trading is given by the geographer Yaqut (1179-1229), who states that most of the merchants of Draa were Jewish. Other occupations included gold and silversmiths, as well as the cultivation of fruit trees, vineyards and date palms.

Merinid dynasty 1244- 1465

During the rule of this Arab-Berber dynasty the Jews were treated more humanely, but were less influential than in the previous century. Despite this, some of them played an important role in financing the caravan trade.

1471- 1900 (beginning of European intervention)

Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the Jewish communities of Morocco absorbed large number of refugees fleeing from the Inquisition. The majority settled in the cities, but the Draa valley also absorbed some of these Spanish and Portugese Jews. 

In 1666 the Alaouite dynasty replaced the Marinids and since then has been the ruling family of Morocco.

There is no reliable demographic information before the 18th century as there were no official government records of births and deaths during the rule of the Moslem dynasties. The kings collected taxes from the regions under their control, which included approximately 50 percent of the country, while the rest was under the control of local chieftains.

Jewish community records from the 16th century mention Jews living in the Draa in separate quarters of the villages called mellahs. The head of the community was usually from one of the rich families, who gained their wealth from the caravan trade.  Harassment by the Berbers in 1608-10 led to the flight of Jews from Akka in the Atlas region to Tamargut in the upper Draa valley.  Interaction between the Jewish and Berber population was commonplace throughout the centuries.

By the end of the 19th century caravan trading had come to an end, resulting in the economic decline of the Jewish population of the Draa.

 1900 – 1956 (European influence and Moroccan Independence)

In 1900 France and Italy made a secret agreement assigning Morocco to France and Libya to Italy, after Tunisia had already become a French protectorate in 1881. In 1902 France and Spain agreed on a division of Morocco between them. Britain agreed on condition that they would remain dominant in Egypt. In 1905 the German emperor, visiting Tangier, emphasized the need to maintain Morocco's independence.

As a result, an international conference in 1912 affirmed the independence of the Moroccan sultans, while giving France the leading role in supervising their foreign affairs. In fact this confirmed Morocco's status as a French colony, with Spain as ruler in a small northern section of Mediterranean coast. 

Under the French Protectorate the Jewish population was granted equality and religious autonomy from 1912 until the time of the Vichy regime during WWII.  Morocco gained independence from French rule in 1956.

Ouarzazate, located at the mouth of the Draa valley, was a royal city during the rule of the sultans, and became an important French administrative and service center for the Draa region including the villages with Jewish population. Although Ouarzazate had no Jewish community, several Jewish goldsmiths from nearby villages had workshops in the town.

One of the villages was Taurirat, located 2 kms south of Ouarzazate. The deserted mellah (Jewish quarter) dates from 1806. Its Jewish population earned their living from growing date palms as well as from gold and silver workshops, and totaled 170 persons during the 1950's prior to Aliya to Israel. Other villages surrounding Ouarzazate included Agdaz, with a small number of Jewish families, Tamangulat with 210 Jews, Tamsinte with 95 Jews, Tlemshale with 200 Jews and Tazanakhte with 300 Jews before Aliya. There was a chief rabbi, Moshe ben Shimon, and a Talmud Torah (religious school) at Tamangulat. The Jews of Tazankhte lived in two storied houses and were economically secure. Like many other Jews of the Draa they made a living from agriculture (dates, vines and fig trees). In addition to traditional crafts of gold and silver, tailoring and dressmaking. The village had two synagogues, a Talmud Torah with a teacher who also functioned as ritual slaughterer.

Other communities included Amzrou, a Berber village with a mellah in the south housing 140 Jews before Aliyah (down from 400 in the 1930's), Tagunit whose Jews traded with tribes from the Sahara, Rabat Tinsulin with a population of 120  Jews, Qasbat –al- Makhsan with 100. The latter had a local weekly market for the surrounding villages, and included the site of the Jewish cemetery.

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jewish communities of Morocco began to emigrate to Israel. The Aliyah authorities gave priority to families with no health problems, and only later, after Morocco gained independence in 1956, did the Jewish Agency organize unlimited Aliyah. The Jewish population of the Draa valley left their villages for Israel between 1948 and the early 1960's.

Tlemcen      

Latin: Pomaria

Arabic: تلمسان‎ 

A city in N.W. Algeria (near border with Morocco)

1962-2011 – Pilgrimage to Tlemcen

In an article from 2017 on the internet, an Arab tour guide describes the site of the synagogue and the tomb of Rabbi Ephraim ben Israel Alnaqhe. The site is surrounded by a wall with a metal gate. The property is guarded and tended by an Arab family, but permission to enter must be obtained from the governor of Tlemcen.

After Algeria became independent in 1962, Jewish pilgrims were forbidden to enter this site, as well as other holy places in Algeria. In the year 2003, with the co-operation of President Boutaflika, France and Algeria agreed to a plan which would allow the reopening of Jewish synagogues and burial sites. As a result, in 2005 the Algerian authorities agreed to the French request to allow Jewish pilgrims from Europe to visit the tomb of Rabbi Alnaque in Tlemcen.  In that same year Jewish delegations poured into the country to make the traditional pilgrimage, which proved to be the last publicized occasion. The 2006 war in Gaza led to the cessation of these pilgrimages, which were a source of anger on the part of the local Arab population of the city.  Evidence of this 2005 pilgrimage is given by an eyewitness, Belbachir Jalloul, a former professor at the Faculty of the Arts: “I was there for the Hilloula rites held by the Jewish delegation in Tlemcen. They walked from the graves to the end of the synagogue, chanting words from the holy book.” This pilgrimage of large number of European Jews lasted eight days.

A tour guide details her experience in 2011. “Every year, a number of Jews travel to Algeria to visit their properties here. I worked as a tour guide with a convoy of Jewish tourists in 2011, and they visited a number of places marked with the Star of David here in Tlemcen,” Shawi Boudaghn says. “However, they weren’t able to visit the mausoleum of Ephraim Alnaqua, since their visit coincided with the declaration of Tlemcen as a capital of Islamic culture, and the wali was not there to grant them an entry permit."

 

Early history

Some sources claim that during the pre-Arab period, prior to the 7th century CE, the local Jewish community included Judaized Berbers. On the other hand, a book by H.Z. (J.W.) Hirchberg (1963) denies that evidence exists for this theory.  

During the 10th and 11th centuries under the Benei Hamad Arab dynasty, (1014-1152), Algerian Jews enjoyed conditions of relative peace and security. Thus Jewish scholars from Tlemcen corresponded with the Geonim (religious leaders) in Babylon.  Tradition and law studied in the important houses of study in Sura and Pumpedita was spread via correspondence to the Jewish communities in north Africa.

 

Middle Ages 12th – 16th Centuries

The conquest of Algeria by the Almohads in the 12th century led to the destruction of Tlemcen in 1146, and to decrees giving the Jews the choice between adopting Islam, exile or death. As a result many Jews were put to death, others fled or went into hiding, keeping Jewish tradition in secret. Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra wrote a poem of mourning (kina) about the suffering of the Jewish community, mentioning Tlemcen: ואי חוֹסָן/ קָהָל תְלמְסֶן / וְהַדְרָתָהּ נָמַסָּה".

Almost 100 years later, in 1235, with the fall of the Almohads, the Tlemcen kingdom was established by the Zeiyanide dynasty in what is now Algeria. They ruled until 1534 and showed tolerance towards the Jews. Consequently, the Jews returned to Tlemcen in 1248 and began to rebuild their community in a suburb outside the city. 

The 13th and 14th centuries presented Tlemcen as a small, but active community on the Sudanese gold route, known as the Jewish Road because of their involvement in trading. Wealthy Jewish merchants of Barcelona, Valencia, Tortosa and Majorca provided the economic support for the Jews of Tlemcen. The Spanish kings of Aragon benefitted economically from the Jewish merchants, once of whom was Avraham Ben Jalil ,the ambassador for Aragon who settled in Tlemcen with his family in 1291. 

During this period the community's rabbinical authorities were Avraham Chakin and Moshe Zakar. Towards the end of the 14th century, following the pogroms instigated in Spain by the Catholic Church in 1391, many Jews fled to Algeria. One of them named Rabbi Ephraim ben Israel Alnaqua (Al-Nakva, Ankava, Al-Naqawa) escaped from the Inquisition and reached Tlemcen where he was granted permission by the king to build a synagogue.  He was famous as a rabbi, philosopher, physician, theological writer, and founder of the Tlemcen community. Manuscripts of some of his writings are held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. He died in 1442, and his tomb became an important site of pilgrimage for both Jews and non-Jews, until the independence of Algeria in 1962. One of his sons, Judah, also lived in Tlemcen.

The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 resulted in a flow of Jewish refugees to North Africa, including to Tlemcen, throughout the 16th century.  Many of them were marranos, or secret Jews, who had managed to escape from the claws of the Inquisition. Some of the better known families included Gavison, Levi-Bacrat and Khallas.  Others, such as Saspotas and Allegra, fulfilled diplomatic roles. Jewish life continued in the town until the Ottoman rulers took control at the onset of the 16th century.

 

Ottoman Rule 1517 – 1830

Tlemcen suffered severe damage from Turkish forces who pillaged the city, destroyed Jewish property and forced the Jews to wear a yellow sign on their clothing. As a result many fled from the city, so that by 1520 only 500 Jewish families remained. The fate of those who remained was no better, as in 1534 the town was taken over by the Spanish army and many Jews were brutally murdered. Some 1,500 were taken prisoner for ransom and later redeemed by the Jewish communities of Fez in Morocco and Oran in Algeria.

 In 1670 the community was attacked again by the Turkish army and suffered loss of life and property.  Despite  continued suffering, the community continued to thrive and produce scholars such as Rav Yaakov Sasportas (1610-1698) who was one of the leading opponents to Shabtai Zvi (the false Messiah), Rav Saadiah Shuraki (1603-1704) as well as Rav Avraham Gavison who died in 1620, and Rav Natan Gh'ian.  The 18th century community leaders included David Gh'ian, Judah Gh'ian, Shalom Elashkar, Nissim El-Haik, Messas (Moshe) Touati, and Joshua Elkavetz.

 

French Rule 1830 – 1962

France invaded Tlemcen in 1830 and divided the city into two separate camps. The pro-French sector was populated by Turkish Arabs, while the Berber section included supporters of Amir abd el Khadir.  In 1834 Abd el Khadir el G'zari made Tlemcen one of his bases in his armed struggle against the French. It was only in 1942 that the city was fully integrated into French Algeria.

The Jewish population of Tlemcen lived through the period of conflict between the French rulers and the anti-French Moslem population.  The Moslems murdered many Jews in a pogrom in 1846. Algeria was administered as a colony until 1848, after which it was considered an integral part of France.

The French administration set up a community organization (consistoire) for the Jewish community in 1842, headed by Simon Kanoui. At the beginning of the 19th century the chief Rabbi was Haim Kasbi. In 1851 the Jewish population totaled 2,688 persons, with eight synagogues and two schools. With modern European influence in Jewish society, the French – Jewish school had 200 Jewish pupils in 1866, while some parents sent their children to Christian schools. There were also Jews who served in the French army, as the French colonial rulers had to deal with armed opposition of the Arab and Berber populations. The uprising of 1881 was their last, unsuccessful, effort to achieve independence from the French. In 1870 the Jews were granted French citizenship and equal rights.

At the turn of the century there were 5,000 Jews in Tlemcen. The religious leaders included Rabbi Moise Weil, Haim Ben Avraham Blia'h (1832-1919), Isaac Shuraky, Saadiah Shuraki, Zemach Amsalem, David Hacohen Sekely.  From 1924-40 Joseph Mashash served as chief rabbi. The Alliance Universelle school was closed in 1934 after Moslem antisemitism raised its head, and the last rabbis in the community were Jacob Sharvit and Yaakov Rouch. In 1940 the French (Vichy) administration introduced antisemitic legislation, and the Jews were stripped of their French citizenship, dismissed from jobs in public service and suffered from restrictions in their daily life. Although their citizenship was restored in 1943, the Jews of Algeria no longer felt safe, in the light of Arab opposition to French colonial rule, and the onset of attacks against synagogues. After the establishment of Israel in 1948 Arab violence forced most of the Jewish population to leave, many for France and others for Israel. After Algeria achieved independence in 1962, no Jews remained in Tlemcen.

Here ends the saga of Jewish Tlemcen.

Asilah

In Arabic: أصيلة; also known as Arcila; ancient Zilis

Port 27 mi. S. of Tangiers, Morocco.

Jews probably settled there in ancient times. When the Portuguese conquered the city in 1471 they seized 250 Jews and sold them as slaves in Portugal; they were ransomed by Isaac Abrabanel. After 1492 Arcila was a disembarkation port for refugees from Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese governor Borba treated them inhumanly, but finally permitted their departure for Fez. When many of them returned, Boba forced their conversion.

In 1510 a community was established. Ships from India and Brazil laden with spices, precious woods, and fabrics called at Arcila; cereals were exported, and much of this trade was in Jewish hands. The evacuation of the Jews of Azemmour to Arcila was planned in 1541 and the following year they were given one month to leave for Fez. When the Portuguese were driven out in 1546 the Jews returned, lived among the Muslims, and paid an annual tax of 60 gold ducats.

In the 19th century the very influential Levy-Benshetons were diplomatic representatives of England and the United States in Arcila.

In 1940 the community numbered only 500. There was no organized community in 1968.

Morocco

المغرب‎

Kingdom of Morocco  المملكة المغربية

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 2,100 out of 35,000,000 (0.006%)

Conseil des Communautés Israelites du Maroc
Phone: 212 522 48 78 51/ 522 29 57 52
Fax: 212 522 48 78 49
Email: ccimsec@gmail.com

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Morocco

687 | The Jewish Khaleesi

According to Sefer Josippon – a book written in the middle ages, which documents the history of the Jewish people during antiquity – some 30,000 Jews fled after the destruction of the Second Temple to the Maghreb area (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), which was at the time inhabited by Berber tribes.
Legend has it that these Jews founded Jewish kingdoms in the vicinity of modern-day Morocco and even caused many of the Berbers to convert to Judaism. Some sources, part historical and part mythical, mention a Jewish queen named Dihya al-Kahina, who headed the resistance to the Arab conquest in the late seventh century. Al-Kahina, who was described as “A true desert queen, beautiful as a horse and strong as a wrestler”, fascinated many scholars. They describe her as a beautiful, charismatic leader, tough and brave, who yet treated captive enemy warriors mercifully, even adopting two of them.

800 | Fez De-Talmud

In the early ninth century, the great yeshivas of Babylon passed the torch to several heirs, among them the Jewish center in the city of Fez, in northeastern Morocco.
While the Arab conquerors imposed an inferior “dhimmi” status on the Jews of Fez, they still thrived relatively speaking. Muslim historian al-Bakhri noted that “In Fez the Jews lived better than in any other city in the Maghreb”.
Indeed, in Fez there gathered many Jewish scholars, who contributed to its growth as a vibrant spiritual center. The best known were linguist and poet Judah ibn Kuraish and Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, who founded a great yeshiva in the city and wrote the “Sefer HaHalachot”, which refined the essence of religious rulings from the Mishna and the Talmud and won its author eternal fame, as it is an integral part of any yeshiva's library and curriculum to this day.

1146 | Doctor Muhammad and Mister Moses

In order not to fall prey to the cruelty of the Almohad dynasty, which seized control of Morocco in 1146, the Jews were forced to choose between two options: Die or convert. Some chose a third option: To become anusim (crypto-Jews), which is to say, Jews at home and Muslim in public. This situation roused Maimonides, who lived in Fez at the time, to write his famous “Epistle on Martyrdom”, which gave the anusim permission to live in a bi-polar state of identity, until the need should pass. According to tradition, the house in which Maimonides' family lived stands to this day in the old city of Fez.

1492 | A Moroccan Righteous Among The Nations

The expulsion from Spain has been burned into the collective Jewish consciousness as a national disaster that will live in eternal infamy. Like other cases in Jewish history when Jews were uprooted, in the Spanish expulsion too there was no great desire among most nations to take in the Jewish refugees.
One exception was King Muhammad al-Sheikh, a ruler of the Wattasid dynasty, a “Righteous Among the Nations” of his time who was one of the few rulers to open his country to the Jews fleeing Spain.
The refugees from Spain acclimated naturally to their new country. They settled mostly in the urban communities of Fez, Meknes, Sal'e and Marrakesh, and soon integrated into the local Jewish community, creating a new economic and rabbinical elite.

1631 | The Holy Zohar

Like in Christian Europe, so in the lands of Islam, the political game of musical chairs never stopped for a moment. The Jews of Morocco were tossed from one regime to the next, each with its own whims and caprices regarding the Jews. These frequent changes ended in 1631 with the ascension of the Alawite dynasty, which rules Morocco to this day. The rulers of this house treated the Jews warmly, allowing them to find their way to key positions in high places, as royal mint managers, royal treasurers and more.
But the main hero of Morocco's Jews in those years was not a high-ranking official, nor a learned rabbinical leader, but a book: The Holy Zohar, considered the foundation text of Jewish mysticism. The “Zohar” had its greatest influence on the cities of southern Morocco, where Kabbalah literature flourished. Among the most famous sages of this stream of thought one can list Rabbi Shimon Lavi, Moshe Ben Maimon Elbaz and Yaacov ben Itzhak Ifargan, and also Rabbi Avraham Azoulay, great-grandfather of the Hid”a, the gaon Chaim Yosef David Azoulay.

1739 | Imprint of a Genius

While the printing press was invented in Germany back in the 15th century, it had yet to be heard of in Morocco even 300 years later, and so the belated creative explosion experienced by the Jews of Morocco during the reign of King Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif in the late 17th and early 18th century has not received the acclaim it deserves. Among the greatest of that forgotten generation were the members of the Toledano and Bardugo families and the rabbis Even-Tzur, Azoulay and Ben-Hemo. But one member of that era still managed to win eternal fame: Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, author of “Or HaChaim” (“Light of Life”).
It was fate that drove Ben Attar to make aliyah in 1739, after a bitter inheritance dispute within his family. En-route to Israel Ben Attar stopped in Livorno, Italy, where he printed his books, and the rest is history.
The greatness of Ben Attar crossed all sectarian and geographical boundaries. According to legend, when the founder of the Hasidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, heard that Ben Attar was making aliyah, he wished to join him, but heaven itself prevented it, on the grounds that if the two great tzadikim were to meet, the messiah would have to come, and the People of Israel were not yet ready.

1838 | The Moroccan Roots of Tel Aviv

In 1838 a clipper set sail from the shores of Morocco bound for the Land of Israel. Aboard it were Moroccan Jews whose hearts longed for the Holy Land. But the treacherous sea ended their hopes and sank the vessel. Among the few to survive the tempest was Avraham Shlush.
Although most discussions of the aliyah of Moroccan Jews focus on the early years of the State of Israel, the great Shlush family – which in 1887 founded the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek (the first Jewish expansion outside of Jaffa and one of the kernels of the city of Tel Aviv), and participated in the founding of Tel Aviv itself 20 years later – is but one of the proofs that this community began making aliyah long before the establishment of the state, and continued doing so in a slow but steady manner until it was founded.
Another famous pioneer who bears mentioning is Chaim Amzaleg, who participated in the purchase of land for the moshavot (colonies) of Rishon LeZion and “The Mother of Moshavot”, Petah Tikva.

1860 | Renewed Ties

For many years the Jews in Morocco were relatively cut off from Jewish communities in Europe. This changed somewhat thanks to the “Tajar al-Sultan” (Royal Merchants) – a new class of Jews that developed in the late 1850s. This group of merchants conducted trade relations with the powers of Europe on behalf of their sovereign, while at the same time establishing ties with their European brethren.
In those years there also began a large migration of Jews from Morocco to South America, following the booming rubber trade in the area, mostly in Brazil. One of the leading international merchants of Jewish origin in this period was Moses Elias Levy from the city of Mogador, who upon reaching adulthood migrated to Florida of all places, and in an act of solidarity purchased hundred of thousands of acres with the intention of providing refuge for persecuted Jews in Eastern Europe.

1912 | All Israel Are Friends

In 1912 the signing of the Treaty of Fez turned Morocco into a French protectorate. For the Jews of Morocco this treaty heralded the end of a dark period replete with pogroms and the beginning of a new era, in which the Jews enjoyed a cultural, social, and political renaissance.
During these years the teaching of Hebrew, combined with the ideas of Enlightenment (both the general kind and Jewish Haskala) spread throughout Morocco via the global Jewish school network Alliance Israelite Universelle (translated into Hebrew as "All Israel Are Friends"), which took the children of Morocco under its wings. It was then that the Jews of Morocco began to exit the Mellahs (the Jewish quarters, somewhat akin to the European ghettos) and move to the new European-style neighborhoods in the major cities.

1940 | The Holocaust Stops in Morocco

In 1940 the Nazis conquered France and established the Vichy regime – a German wolf in French sheep's clothing. Historians are divided as to the extent to which Moroccan King Muhammad V acquiesced to the edicts of the Vichy regime. In any event, the Jews were soon expelled from government positions and thrown back into the ghetto-like Mellah. In addition there is a well-known story of 153 Moroccan Jews who happened to be in Paris and were sent to Auschwitz. In 1942 the Allies conquered Morocco and stopped the plans of the Nazi death machine in North Africa.

1948 | Aliyah to the Melting Pot

The establishment of the State of Israel caused much excitement among the Jews of Morocco. However, this was not just due to love of their people, but also resulted from the hardships of life in Morocco.
During those years the struggle for national independence escalated in Morocco and the national press often incited against Jews. The high tensions led to deplorable incidents including the pogroms of Oujda and Jerada, in which 42 Jews – men, women and children – were murdered.
Between 1948-1956 some 85,000 Jews made aliyah from Morocco, then still under French rule. The immigrants were forced to adjust to the national “melting pot” policy led by then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, and many of them felt that their rich culture was being trampled by the Zionist steamroller. Thousands of them were led in the dead of night to frontier settlements in order to man and populate the borders. In time these settlements would come to be known as “Development Towns” (“Ayarot Pituach”). This trauma stayed with the immigrants for many years, and found expression in Israeli music, literature and film.

1967 | The Perils of Independence

In 1956 Morocco was liberated from French rule, and banned the Jews living in its territory from emigrating to Israel. One reason was apparently the important role played by the Jews in the Moroccan economy. In 1960 the Israeli Mossad embarked on a daring mission to smuggle the Jews of Morocco to Israel aboard the fishing vessel Egoz. On one of its excursions the ship sank near the Straits of Gibraltar, and nearly all those aboard perished, including 44 immigrants. The disaster drew significant global notice, followed by international pressure on Morocco, until it relented, allowing its Jews to leave under various restrictions. Between 1961-1967 approximately 120,000 Jews made aliyah from Morocco to Israel.
In 1967, following the Six Day War and the growing threats to the Jewish community in Morocco, the final wave of aliyah from the country began, leading to the relocation of some 10,000 people.
In 2014 the Jewish community of Morocco numbered around 2,500 people, as opposed to 204,000 Jews who lived in the country in 1947. Many of the Jews of Morocco also immigrated to other countries, including France, Canada and the United States.

Rabat-Sale

In Arabic: الرباط سلا

Rabat is the capital of Morocco, located on the Atlantic Ocean at the southern bank of the Bou Regreg River. Sale is located on the on the northern bank of the river and is Rabat's main commuter town. Together, Rabat and Sale form a single metropolis.

As of the 21st century there is a small Jewish community of a few hundred Jews in Rabat; there are no Jews living in Sale. The community in Rabat includes one active synagogue, a kosher butcher, and a kosher restaurant.

HISTORY

A tombstone confirms the existence of a Jewish presence in ancient Sala during the 2nd century C.E. During the 12th century the Almohads intended to make Rabat the capital of the caliphate and indeed, the city became a center of art and architecture during their reign. The community during that time was prominent enough that the Spanish-Jewish philosopher Abraham ibn Daud mentions the Jewish community of Sale in his 1161 book Sefer HaKabbalah. However, with the fall of the dynasty in 1269 Rabat was essentially abandoned until the 17th century. Sale, however, prospered during the reigns of the successive dynasties. Jews lived in the Bab al-Husayn area of Sale during this period and spoke Judeo-Arabic.

Fewer refugees from Spain and Portugal arrived in Sale than in other Moroccan cities, possibly due to the poor treatment that those who did arrive in Sale received at the hands of the Genoese traders living there. By the middle of the 16th century, however, there was a significant population of Spanish and Portuguese refugees living in Sale and the Jewish community began to grow and prosper.

During the 17th century a few Jews settled in the Behira quarter of Rabat, which at that time was known as "New Sale." They were joined by Muslims from the Spanish town Hornachos, and Muslim converts to Christianity (moriscos) who had been expelled from Spain. During the 17th and 18th centuries these twin towns became one of the most important trading centers in Morocco—as well as a center for piracy. Jews and their Muslim neighbors traded in slaves, gold dust, ostrich feathers, dates, goat skins, indigo, linen, and wax with Europe. The Jews in particular traded in weapons, chiefly with Marranos in the Netherlands. Among the most prominent traders of Sale were the Dutch brothers Benjamin and Joseph Cohen, who were among the Dutch Jews who came to settle in Sale between 1620 and 1660. The Jews and Muslims of the city also profited by less legal means, through piracy, reselling captured goods, and the ransoms that Christian nations paid to redeem Christian captives.

Jews also played an active role in the local government, particularly as ambassadors for European countries. Moses Santiago was the secretary to the governor of Rabat and negotiated a truce with the king of France in 1630. Isaac Pallache was the Dutch consul. Moses ben Attar, the nagid of Sale, was the banker of the warrior king Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif, who reigned from 1672 until 1727, and helped him negotiate a treaty with England in 1721.

Sabbateanism became popular in Sale during the late 17th century, and the city was a connecting point for Sabbateans from the Netherlands and Morocco. The yeshivas of Sale and Rabat were also very active during this period. Graduates included Talmudists and legal authorities such as the kabbalist Rabbi Chaim b. Moses Attar, the author of a commentary on the Pentateuch known as Or HaChaim, who eventually immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1741. Other scholars included Rabbi Shem-Tov Attar, Rabbi Samuel de Avila and his son Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Abraham Rodriguez, Rabbi Samuel Car, Rabbi Solomon Tapiero, Rabbi Judah Anahory, and Rabbi Joseph Elimaleh.

After 1750 the community of Sale was absorbed by Rabat, which numbered over 6,000 people. Some Jews, however, left Sale and Rabat and founded communities elsewhere. The Jews of Rabat were among the founders of the Jewish communities of Gibralter in 1705, Mogador in 1767, Lisbon in 1773, Mazagan in 1825, and the community of the Azores in 1820. Some of the more distinguished families from Rabat settled in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem.

During the late 18th century Rabat and Sale both began to decline in importance. This was due to economic competition from the port that was built in Essaouira—as well as a significant loss of profits as a result of piracy. Additionally, there were a number of natural disasters that affected Rabat-Sale. The 1755 earthquake in Lisbon damaged Rabat-Sale, though it was nothing compared to the famine of 1799, in which two-thirds of the city's population reportedly perished. The Jews of Rabat-Sale were lucky, however, in that they were spared from many of the persecutions initiated by Sultan Moulay Yazid; in 1790 they were saved by Governor Abd Allah Bargash, who convinced the sultan to accept a large payment from the Jews of the city instead of looting Jewish homes and businesses.

For the first time since they arrived to settle in the cities, in 1807 the Jews of Sale-Rabat were confined to two Jewish Quarters, one in Sale and one in Rabat, on the orders of Sultan Mawlay Suleiman. This measure spurred a wave of emigration, especially to South America, while other families converted to Islam rather than leave their homes. New arrivals from the Algerian city of Tlemcen began living in the mellah (Jewish Quarter) of Rabat in 1830. Though the residents of Sale-Rabat continued to be active in international trade, by the end of the 19th century Casablanca had replaced Sale-Rabat as the major international commercial center of Morocco.

The French Protectorate in Morocco was established in 1912, after which Rabat became the capital of Morocco. The Alliance Israelite Universelle, which had opened a school in Rabat in 1905, had enrolled 235 students by 1913, a testament to the French influence over the people and institutions of Morocco. The AIU continued to grow in popularity and prominence; an AIU school was opened in Sale in 1913, and by 1927 most Jewish students were learning in an AIU school. Until 1957 there were also branches of the Jewish National Fund and WIZO active in Rabat.

In 1918 Rabbi Raphael Encaoua was appointed as the chief rabbi and head of the Jewish courts for Morocco. He was a major scholar and an important and influential figure for Jews throughout Morocco. Rabbi Encaoua was revered, and upon his death Moroccan Jews would gather at his tomb in Sale to mark the anniversary of his death. His son, Rabbi Michael Encaoua, was the last chief rabbi of Morocco.

In 1947 there were 20,000 Jews living in the region of Sale-Rabat; 12,350 lived in Rabat, and 3,150 in Sale. However, after Morocco gained its independence in 1956 the Jews of Morocco, including those living in Rabat and Sale, began to emigrate. The majority of the Jews of Rabat emigrated to France, the United States, and Canada; the Jews from Sale almost exclusively left for Israel. Most of the Jewish schools of Rabat were closed, including the wide network of the Alliance Israelite Universelle and Otzar HaTorah schools, as well as a rabbinical seminary that had been established in 1951. By 1971 the Jewish population was less than one percent of the population of Rabat-Sale.

In 1997 there were 6,500 Jews living in Morocco, 400 in Rabat.

Arabic: صفرو

A city in the Fes-Meknes region, Morocco

 

21ST CENTURY

As of 2013, the building that once housed the Em Habahim orphanage, which was originally inaugurated in 1917, has remained standing. The orphanage included a synagogue, which has been preserved and contains prayer books, as well as some French books.

The mellah (Jewish Quarter) has been largely preserved.

 

HISTORY

Sefrou was known as the “little Jerusalem of Morocco” because of its rich religious life and many rabbis who served or learned there. The community itself is thought to have been established during ancient times. Additionally, at the beginning of the Arab occupation during the 8th century many of the locals converted to Judaism.

During the 13th century Jews from the north and southern Morocco and Algeria settled in Sefrou. Later, in 1596, many Jewish exiles from Spain came to live in Sefrou. As a result of these new arrivals, the community increased in number, though it was still overshadowed by the larger community in Fez.

The Jews lived in a mellah, which was located inside the walls of the old Arab town. The mellah occupied about two and a half acres, and was very crowded.

The cave “Kef al Yahudi” was located at the northern route into Sefrou. According to tradition, the prophet Daniel was buried in the cave. An ancient Jewish cemetery was located nearby, though the cemetery ultimately fell into abandon and disrepair.

On the eve of World War I (1914-1918) the Jews of Sefrou, like Jews throughout Morocco, were forced to deal with the general chaos that broke out following the partition of Morocco into two protectorates: Spain and France. Sefrou became part of the French protectorate. In the wake of the partition, Jewish homes were attacked and vandalized by the local Muslim population.

The census of 1936 recorded 4,364 Jews as living in Sefrou.

 

WORLD WAR II (1939-1945)

The Jews of Sefrou were subject to harassment by the local population and discrimination against by the Vichy government of France (1940-1943).

 

POSTWAR

After the war, the community continued to be managed by an elected committee. A number of mutual aid and charitable institutions became active at the beginning of the 1950s, including a chevra kaddisha, a Bikkur Cholim Society for visiting the sick, a Hachnasat Orchim Society for providing local hospitality.

The rabbi and dayan (judge) who served the Jewish community after the Second World War was Rabbi David Obadiah, whose father had been the community’s rabbi until his death at the end of the 1940s. There was also a beit din (Jewish court). Two battei midrash possessed collections of old and important books written by scholars of Sefrou, including the manuscript of the book Kisse Melakhim, a general history of Morocco and Moroccan Jews.

Jewish education for children and adults was important to Sefrou’s Jewish community. Sefrou had a yeshiva and Torah study groups such as Elijahu Hanavi and Simeon bar Yochai for adults. Small children attended cheder.

Em Habanim, a Talmud Torah school, was founded in 1917 through donations made by mothers. By 1956 it had 12 classes, with 14 teachers and 650 pupils. The curriculum included Hebrew, prayers, Jewish law, Bible, and Talmud.

Older boys who graduated from the Talmud Torah studied at the yeshiva, Beit David, which had an enrollment of about 40. Additionally, the Lubavich Chasidim of New York set up a Beit Rivka school for girls, which had 50 students. A branch of the Alliance Israelite Universelle was attended by 482 girls and 231 boys. A plan was drawn up in 1956 to set up a vocational school for girls under the umbrella of ORT that would be financed by the Joint Distribution Committee. This school, however, was never built because by that point most of Sefrou’s Jews had left for the newly-established State of Israel.

In 1956 the community of Sefrou numbered about 4,000 Jews (about one-third of the total population). Before Morocco achieved independence that year, approximately 2,000 members of the community immigrated to Israel. By 1967 the remaining Jews had left for Israel.

 

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The Jewish Community of Fez

Fez

In Arabic: فاس‎‎ 

A city in northern Morocco.

Jews were among the first settlers of the town at the end of the 8th century.

The Jewish community rapidly became influential and respected. They lived in their own quarter (Al-Funduk Al-Yahudi). Fez became a cultural and commercial center of prime importance, largely as a result of the Jews' presence. Such scholars as David Ben Abraham Alfasi and rabbi Solomon Ben Judah - who became head of the Jerusalem academy - went on to Palestine, and grammarians of the stature of Dunash Ben Labrat and Judah Hayyuj went to Spain. During the golden era in Fez, three deported to Ashir (Algeria) in about 987; 6,000 Jews were massacred in 1035 by fanatics who conquered Fez; and the town was ruthlessly sacked in 1068 by Almoravides. In about 1127 a pseudo-Messiah, Moses Dari, brought afflictions upon the community. A few decades later attempts at forced conversion led to the death of the Dayyan rabbi Judah Ha-Kohen Ibn Shushan and the emigration of Maimonides and his family.

In 1244 the Merinides established themselves in Fez and treated the Jews well, even saving them from an insurrection. However, with the decline of the Merinides and the revival of fanaticism, the Jews were compelled in 1438 to live in a special Jewish quarter. When the Sultan appointed a Jew, Harun, as prime minister in order to straighten out public finances, the town rose in revolt, the Sultan and his minister were assassinated, and most of the Jews were massacred (1465). The community did not recover from this catastrophe until 1492 with the arrival of the Spanish refugees who became dominant. They held the office of "Nagid", established in Fez at the beginning of the 16th century, and their yeshivot were headed by scholars including Nachman Ben Sunbal, Samuel Chagiz, Judah Uzziel, and Saul Serrero (16th-17th centuries), Judah and Chayyim Ibn Atar, and Samuel Sarfaty (18th century). There were famous Dayyanim, such as the Ibn Danans, whose authority was recognized by Jews of the whole country. Many rabbis of Fez went to teach in communities abroad. The preeminence of Fez only ended after the death of Jacob Ibn Zur in 1753.

In the second half of the 16th century Fez lost its political and economic importance. As a result, many wealthy Jews left the town; after about 100 years 1,300 families of the rich Jewish community of Dila were transferred to Fez. With their arrival, these families changed the composition of the community of Fez, which lost its Spanish character. Most of its members worked in goldsmithing, the manufacture of gold thread, lacemaking, embroidery, and tailoring. In 1790 Moulay Yazid destroyed its synagogues, ordered the plunder of the community, and expelled its inhabitants. The return of the Jews was authorized in 1792, but the community was reduced to a quarter of its former size. Life improved and interest in study was reawakened by such men as Abner Sarfaty and Isaac Ibn Danan (d. 1900). The community possessed many schools, five yeshivot, and an important benevolent society. A French school, financially supported by the notables of the community, was founded by the Alliance Israelite Universelle.

In 1912, two weeks after the establishment of the French protectorate, a revolt broke out in Fez. The community of 12,000 was ransacked and their property set on fire by the mob; about 60 people died. The French military authorities had previously confiscated all the Jews' weapons.

From 1925 many Jews established themselves in the new town of Fez - only the poor remained in the old quarter (Mellah). In 1947 there were 22,484 Jews in Fez and its surroundings, including several physicians, advocates, industrialists, and owners of agricultural estates. In 1951, 12,648 Jews lived in Fez - 5.8% of Moroccan Jewry. The town had many Jewish educational institutions run by the Alliance Israelite Universelle, Ozar Ha-Torah, and Em Ha-Banim. In 1961 these and other Jewish schools had a total of 2,823 pupils.

Before the emigration of the 1950's and 1960's, there were general Jewish organizations such as the Zionist Bnei Akiva, branches of WIZO, and a branch of the World Jewish Congress. There were also groups for the study of Hebrew and several social welfare organizations.

Most of the Jews who left Fez made their way to Israel; others went to France and Canada.

In 1969 there were approximately 1,000 Jews there.

Among the sites of pilgrimage for Jewish travelers in Morocco, the most popular is the tomb of rabbi Yehouda Benatar in Fez.

In 1997 there were 6,500 Jews living in Morocco, 5,000 of them in Casablanca and only 150 Jews in Fez.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

Sefrou
Rabat-Sale
Morocco
Asilah
Tlemcen      
Draa 
Testour

Arabic: صفرو

A city in the Fes-Meknes region, Morocco

 

21ST CENTURY

As of 2013, the building that once housed the Em Habahim orphanage, which was originally inaugurated in 1917, has remained standing. The orphanage included a synagogue, which has been preserved and contains prayer books, as well as some French books.

The mellah (Jewish Quarter) has been largely preserved.

 

HISTORY

Sefrou was known as the “little Jerusalem of Morocco” because of its rich religious life and many rabbis who served or learned there. The community itself is thought to have been established during ancient times. Additionally, at the beginning of the Arab occupation during the 8th century many of the locals converted to Judaism.

During the 13th century Jews from the north and southern Morocco and Algeria settled in Sefrou. Later, in 1596, many Jewish exiles from Spain came to live in Sefrou. As a result of these new arrivals, the community increased in number, though it was still overshadowed by the larger community in Fez.

The Jews lived in a mellah, which was located inside the walls of the old Arab town. The mellah occupied about two and a half acres, and was very crowded.

The cave “Kef al Yahudi” was located at the northern route into Sefrou. According to tradition, the prophet Daniel was buried in the cave. An ancient Jewish cemetery was located nearby, though the cemetery ultimately fell into abandon and disrepair.

On the eve of World War I (1914-1918) the Jews of Sefrou, like Jews throughout Morocco, were forced to deal with the general chaos that broke out following the partition of Morocco into two protectorates: Spain and France. Sefrou became part of the French protectorate. In the wake of the partition, Jewish homes were attacked and vandalized by the local Muslim population.

The census of 1936 recorded 4,364 Jews as living in Sefrou.

 

WORLD WAR II (1939-1945)

The Jews of Sefrou were subject to harassment by the local population and discrimination against by the Vichy government of France (1940-1943).

 

POSTWAR

After the war, the community continued to be managed by an elected committee. A number of mutual aid and charitable institutions became active at the beginning of the 1950s, including a chevra kaddisha, a Bikkur Cholim Society for visiting the sick, a Hachnasat Orchim Society for providing local hospitality.

The rabbi and dayan (judge) who served the Jewish community after the Second World War was Rabbi David Obadiah, whose father had been the community’s rabbi until his death at the end of the 1940s. There was also a beit din (Jewish court). Two battei midrash possessed collections of old and important books written by scholars of Sefrou, including the manuscript of the book Kisse Melakhim, a general history of Morocco and Moroccan Jews.

Jewish education for children and adults was important to Sefrou’s Jewish community. Sefrou had a yeshiva and Torah study groups such as Elijahu Hanavi and Simeon bar Yochai for adults. Small children attended cheder.

Em Habanim, a Talmud Torah school, was founded in 1917 through donations made by mothers. By 1956 it had 12 classes, with 14 teachers and 650 pupils. The curriculum included Hebrew, prayers, Jewish law, Bible, and Talmud.

Older boys who graduated from the Talmud Torah studied at the yeshiva, Beit David, which had an enrollment of about 40. Additionally, the Lubavich Chasidim of New York set up a Beit Rivka school for girls, which had 50 students. A branch of the Alliance Israelite Universelle was attended by 482 girls and 231 boys. A plan was drawn up in 1956 to set up a vocational school for girls under the umbrella of ORT that would be financed by the Joint Distribution Committee. This school, however, was never built because by that point most of Sefrou’s Jews had left for the newly-established State of Israel.

In 1956 the community of Sefrou numbered about 4,000 Jews (about one-third of the total population). Before Morocco achieved independence that year, approximately 2,000 members of the community immigrated to Israel. By 1967 the remaining Jews had left for Israel.

 

Rabat-Sale

In Arabic: الرباط سلا

Rabat is the capital of Morocco, located on the Atlantic Ocean at the southern bank of the Bou Regreg River. Sale is located on the on the northern bank of the river and is Rabat's main commuter town. Together, Rabat and Sale form a single metropolis.

As of the 21st century there is a small Jewish community of a few hundred Jews in Rabat; there are no Jews living in Sale. The community in Rabat includes one active synagogue, a kosher butcher, and a kosher restaurant.

HISTORY

A tombstone confirms the existence of a Jewish presence in ancient Sala during the 2nd century C.E. During the 12th century the Almohads intended to make Rabat the capital of the caliphate and indeed, the city became a center of art and architecture during their reign. The community during that time was prominent enough that the Spanish-Jewish philosopher Abraham ibn Daud mentions the Jewish community of Sale in his 1161 book Sefer HaKabbalah. However, with the fall of the dynasty in 1269 Rabat was essentially abandoned until the 17th century. Sale, however, prospered during the reigns of the successive dynasties. Jews lived in the Bab al-Husayn area of Sale during this period and spoke Judeo-Arabic.

Fewer refugees from Spain and Portugal arrived in Sale than in other Moroccan cities, possibly due to the poor treatment that those who did arrive in Sale received at the hands of the Genoese traders living there. By the middle of the 16th century, however, there was a significant population of Spanish and Portuguese refugees living in Sale and the Jewish community began to grow and prosper.

During the 17th century a few Jews settled in the Behira quarter of Rabat, which at that time was known as "New Sale." They were joined by Muslims from the Spanish town Hornachos, and Muslim converts to Christianity (moriscos) who had been expelled from Spain. During the 17th and 18th centuries these twin towns became one of the most important trading centers in Morocco—as well as a center for piracy. Jews and their Muslim neighbors traded in slaves, gold dust, ostrich feathers, dates, goat skins, indigo, linen, and wax with Europe. The Jews in particular traded in weapons, chiefly with Marranos in the Netherlands. Among the most prominent traders of Sale were the Dutch brothers Benjamin and Joseph Cohen, who were among the Dutch Jews who came to settle in Sale between 1620 and 1660. The Jews and Muslims of the city also profited by less legal means, through piracy, reselling captured goods, and the ransoms that Christian nations paid to redeem Christian captives.

Jews also played an active role in the local government, particularly as ambassadors for European countries. Moses Santiago was the secretary to the governor of Rabat and negotiated a truce with the king of France in 1630. Isaac Pallache was the Dutch consul. Moses ben Attar, the nagid of Sale, was the banker of the warrior king Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif, who reigned from 1672 until 1727, and helped him negotiate a treaty with England in 1721.

Sabbateanism became popular in Sale during the late 17th century, and the city was a connecting point for Sabbateans from the Netherlands and Morocco. The yeshivas of Sale and Rabat were also very active during this period. Graduates included Talmudists and legal authorities such as the kabbalist Rabbi Chaim b. Moses Attar, the author of a commentary on the Pentateuch known as Or HaChaim, who eventually immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1741. Other scholars included Rabbi Shem-Tov Attar, Rabbi Samuel de Avila and his son Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Abraham Rodriguez, Rabbi Samuel Car, Rabbi Solomon Tapiero, Rabbi Judah Anahory, and Rabbi Joseph Elimaleh.

After 1750 the community of Sale was absorbed by Rabat, which numbered over 6,000 people. Some Jews, however, left Sale and Rabat and founded communities elsewhere. The Jews of Rabat were among the founders of the Jewish communities of Gibralter in 1705, Mogador in 1767, Lisbon in 1773, Mazagan in 1825, and the community of the Azores in 1820. Some of the more distinguished families from Rabat settled in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem.

During the late 18th century Rabat and Sale both began to decline in importance. This was due to economic competition from the port that was built in Essaouira—as well as a significant loss of profits as a result of piracy. Additionally, there were a number of natural disasters that affected Rabat-Sale. The 1755 earthquake in Lisbon damaged Rabat-Sale, though it was nothing compared to the famine of 1799, in which two-thirds of the city's population reportedly perished. The Jews of Rabat-Sale were lucky, however, in that they were spared from many of the persecutions initiated by Sultan Moulay Yazid; in 1790 they were saved by Governor Abd Allah Bargash, who convinced the sultan to accept a large payment from the Jews of the city instead of looting Jewish homes and businesses.

For the first time since they arrived to settle in the cities, in 1807 the Jews of Sale-Rabat were confined to two Jewish Quarters, one in Sale and one in Rabat, on the orders of Sultan Mawlay Suleiman. This measure spurred a wave of emigration, especially to South America, while other families converted to Islam rather than leave their homes. New arrivals from the Algerian city of Tlemcen began living in the mellah (Jewish Quarter) of Rabat in 1830. Though the residents of Sale-Rabat continued to be active in international trade, by the end of the 19th century Casablanca had replaced Sale-Rabat as the major international commercial center of Morocco.

The French Protectorate in Morocco was established in 1912, after which Rabat became the capital of Morocco. The Alliance Israelite Universelle, which had opened a school in Rabat in 1905, had enrolled 235 students by 1913, a testament to the French influence over the people and institutions of Morocco. The AIU continued to grow in popularity and prominence; an AIU school was opened in Sale in 1913, and by 1927 most Jewish students were learning in an AIU school. Until 1957 there were also branches of the Jewish National Fund and WIZO active in Rabat.

In 1918 Rabbi Raphael Encaoua was appointed as the chief rabbi and head of the Jewish courts for Morocco. He was a major scholar and an important and influential figure for Jews throughout Morocco. Rabbi Encaoua was revered, and upon his death Moroccan Jews would gather at his tomb in Sale to mark the anniversary of his death. His son, Rabbi Michael Encaoua, was the last chief rabbi of Morocco.

In 1947 there were 20,000 Jews living in the region of Sale-Rabat; 12,350 lived in Rabat, and 3,150 in Sale. However, after Morocco gained its independence in 1956 the Jews of Morocco, including those living in Rabat and Sale, began to emigrate. The majority of the Jews of Rabat emigrated to France, the United States, and Canada; the Jews from Sale almost exclusively left for Israel. Most of the Jewish schools of Rabat were closed, including the wide network of the Alliance Israelite Universelle and Otzar HaTorah schools, as well as a rabbinical seminary that had been established in 1951. By 1971 the Jewish population was less than one percent of the population of Rabat-Sale.

In 1997 there were 6,500 Jews living in Morocco, 400 in Rabat.

Morocco

المغرب‎

Kingdom of Morocco  المملكة المغربية

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 2,100 out of 35,000,000 (0.006%)

Conseil des Communautés Israelites du Maroc
Phone: 212 522 48 78 51/ 522 29 57 52
Fax: 212 522 48 78 49
Email: ccimsec@gmail.com

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Morocco

687 | The Jewish Khaleesi

According to Sefer Josippon – a book written in the middle ages, which documents the history of the Jewish people during antiquity – some 30,000 Jews fled after the destruction of the Second Temple to the Maghreb area (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), which was at the time inhabited by Berber tribes.
Legend has it that these Jews founded Jewish kingdoms in the vicinity of modern-day Morocco and even caused many of the Berbers to convert to Judaism. Some sources, part historical and part mythical, mention a Jewish queen named Dihya al-Kahina, who headed the resistance to the Arab conquest in the late seventh century. Al-Kahina, who was described as “A true desert queen, beautiful as a horse and strong as a wrestler”, fascinated many scholars. They describe her as a beautiful, charismatic leader, tough and brave, who yet treated captive enemy warriors mercifully, even adopting two of them.

800 | Fez De-Talmud

In the early ninth century, the great yeshivas of Babylon passed the torch to several heirs, among them the Jewish center in the city of Fez, in northeastern Morocco.
While the Arab conquerors imposed an inferior “dhimmi” status on the Jews of Fez, they still thrived relatively speaking. Muslim historian al-Bakhri noted that “In Fez the Jews lived better than in any other city in the Maghreb”.
Indeed, in Fez there gathered many Jewish scholars, who contributed to its growth as a vibrant spiritual center. The best known were linguist and poet Judah ibn Kuraish and Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, who founded a great yeshiva in the city and wrote the “Sefer HaHalachot”, which refined the essence of religious rulings from the Mishna and the Talmud and won its author eternal fame, as it is an integral part of any yeshiva's library and curriculum to this day.

1146 | Doctor Muhammad and Mister Moses

In order not to fall prey to the cruelty of the Almohad dynasty, which seized control of Morocco in 1146, the Jews were forced to choose between two options: Die or convert. Some chose a third option: To become anusim (crypto-Jews), which is to say, Jews at home and Muslim in public. This situation roused Maimonides, who lived in Fez at the time, to write his famous “Epistle on Martyrdom”, which gave the anusim permission to live in a bi-polar state of identity, until the need should pass. According to tradition, the house in which Maimonides' family lived stands to this day in the old city of Fez.

1492 | A Moroccan Righteous Among The Nations

The expulsion from Spain has been burned into the collective Jewish consciousness as a national disaster that will live in eternal infamy. Like other cases in Jewish history when Jews were uprooted, in the Spanish expulsion too there was no great desire among most nations to take in the Jewish refugees.
One exception was King Muhammad al-Sheikh, a ruler of the Wattasid dynasty, a “Righteous Among the Nations” of his time who was one of the few rulers to open his country to the Jews fleeing Spain.
The refugees from Spain acclimated naturally to their new country. They settled mostly in the urban communities of Fez, Meknes, Sal'e and Marrakesh, and soon integrated into the local Jewish community, creating a new economic and rabbinical elite.

1631 | The Holy Zohar

Like in Christian Europe, so in the lands of Islam, the political game of musical chairs never stopped for a moment. The Jews of Morocco were tossed from one regime to the next, each with its own whims and caprices regarding the Jews. These frequent changes ended in 1631 with the ascension of the Alawite dynasty, which rules Morocco to this day. The rulers of this house treated the Jews warmly, allowing them to find their way to key positions in high places, as royal mint managers, royal treasurers and more.
But the main hero of Morocco's Jews in those years was not a high-ranking official, nor a learned rabbinical leader, but a book: The Holy Zohar, considered the foundation text of Jewish mysticism. The “Zohar” had its greatest influence on the cities of southern Morocco, where Kabbalah literature flourished. Among the most famous sages of this stream of thought one can list Rabbi Shimon Lavi, Moshe Ben Maimon Elbaz and Yaacov ben Itzhak Ifargan, and also Rabbi Avraham Azoulay, great-grandfather of the Hid”a, the gaon Chaim Yosef David Azoulay.

1739 | Imprint of a Genius

While the printing press was invented in Germany back in the 15th century, it had yet to be heard of in Morocco even 300 years later, and so the belated creative explosion experienced by the Jews of Morocco during the reign of King Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif in the late 17th and early 18th century has not received the acclaim it deserves. Among the greatest of that forgotten generation were the members of the Toledano and Bardugo families and the rabbis Even-Tzur, Azoulay and Ben-Hemo. But one member of that era still managed to win eternal fame: Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, author of “Or HaChaim” (“Light of Life”).
It was fate that drove Ben Attar to make aliyah in 1739, after a bitter inheritance dispute within his family. En-route to Israel Ben Attar stopped in Livorno, Italy, where he printed his books, and the rest is history.
The greatness of Ben Attar crossed all sectarian and geographical boundaries. According to legend, when the founder of the Hasidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, heard that Ben Attar was making aliyah, he wished to join him, but heaven itself prevented it, on the grounds that if the two great tzadikim were to meet, the messiah would have to come, and the People of Israel were not yet ready.

1838 | The Moroccan Roots of Tel Aviv

In 1838 a clipper set sail from the shores of Morocco bound for the Land of Israel. Aboard it were Moroccan Jews whose hearts longed for the Holy Land. But the treacherous sea ended their hopes and sank the vessel. Among the few to survive the tempest was Avraham Shlush.
Although most discussions of the aliyah of Moroccan Jews focus on the early years of the State of Israel, the great Shlush family – which in 1887 founded the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek (the first Jewish expansion outside of Jaffa and one of the kernels of the city of Tel Aviv), and participated in the founding of Tel Aviv itself 20 years later – is but one of the proofs that this community began making aliyah long before the establishment of the state, and continued doing so in a slow but steady manner until it was founded.
Another famous pioneer who bears mentioning is Chaim Amzaleg, who participated in the purchase of land for the moshavot (colonies) of Rishon LeZion and “The Mother of Moshavot”, Petah Tikva.

1860 | Renewed Ties

For many years the Jews in Morocco were relatively cut off from Jewish communities in Europe. This changed somewhat thanks to the “Tajar al-Sultan” (Royal Merchants) – a new class of Jews that developed in the late 1850s. This group of merchants conducted trade relations with the powers of Europe on behalf of their sovereign, while at the same time establishing ties with their European brethren.
In those years there also began a large migration of Jews from Morocco to South America, following the booming rubber trade in the area, mostly in Brazil. One of the leading international merchants of Jewish origin in this period was Moses Elias Levy from the city of Mogador, who upon reaching adulthood migrated to Florida of all places, and in an act of solidarity purchased hundred of thousands of acres with the intention of providing refuge for persecuted Jews in Eastern Europe.

1912 | All Israel Are Friends

In 1912 the signing of the Treaty of Fez turned Morocco into a French protectorate. For the Jews of Morocco this treaty heralded the end of a dark period replete with pogroms and the beginning of a new era, in which the Jews enjoyed a cultural, social, and political renaissance.
During these years the teaching of Hebrew, combined with the ideas of Enlightenment (both the general kind and Jewish Haskala) spread throughout Morocco via the global Jewish school network Alliance Israelite Universelle (translated into Hebrew as "All Israel Are Friends"), which took the children of Morocco under its wings. It was then that the Jews of Morocco began to exit the Mellahs (the Jewish quarters, somewhat akin to the European ghettos) and move to the new European-style neighborhoods in the major cities.

1940 | The Holocaust Stops in Morocco

In 1940 the Nazis conquered France and established the Vichy regime – a German wolf in French sheep's clothing. Historians are divided as to the extent to which Moroccan King Muhammad V acquiesced to the edicts of the Vichy regime. In any event, the Jews were soon expelled from government positions and thrown back into the ghetto-like Mellah. In addition there is a well-known story of 153 Moroccan Jews who happened to be in Paris and were sent to Auschwitz. In 1942 the Allies conquered Morocco and stopped the plans of the Nazi death machine in North Africa.

1948 | Aliyah to the Melting Pot

The establishment of the State of Israel caused much excitement among the Jews of Morocco. However, this was not just due to love of their people, but also resulted from the hardships of life in Morocco.
During those years the struggle for national independence escalated in Morocco and the national press often incited against Jews. The high tensions led to deplorable incidents including the pogroms of Oujda and Jerada, in which 42 Jews – men, women and children – were murdered.
Between 1948-1956 some 85,000 Jews made aliyah from Morocco, then still under French rule. The immigrants were forced to adjust to the national “melting pot” policy led by then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, and many of them felt that their rich culture was being trampled by the Zionist steamroller. Thousands of them were led in the dead of night to frontier settlements in order to man and populate the borders. In time these settlements would come to be known as “Development Towns” (“Ayarot Pituach”). This trauma stayed with the immigrants for many years, and found expression in Israeli music, literature and film.

1967 | The Perils of Independence

In 1956 Morocco was liberated from French rule, and banned the Jews living in its territory from emigrating to Israel. One reason was apparently the important role played by the Jews in the Moroccan economy. In 1960 the Israeli Mossad embarked on a daring mission to smuggle the Jews of Morocco to Israel aboard the fishing vessel Egoz. On one of its excursions the ship sank near the Straits of Gibraltar, and nearly all those aboard perished, including 44 immigrants. The disaster drew significant global notice, followed by international pressure on Morocco, until it relented, allowing its Jews to leave under various restrictions. Between 1961-1967 approximately 120,000 Jews made aliyah from Morocco to Israel.
In 1967, following the Six Day War and the growing threats to the Jewish community in Morocco, the final wave of aliyah from the country began, leading to the relocation of some 10,000 people.
In 2014 the Jewish community of Morocco numbered around 2,500 people, as opposed to 204,000 Jews who lived in the country in 1947. Many of the Jews of Morocco also immigrated to other countries, including France, Canada and the United States.

Asilah

In Arabic: أصيلة; also known as Arcila; ancient Zilis

Port 27 mi. S. of Tangiers, Morocco.

Jews probably settled there in ancient times. When the Portuguese conquered the city in 1471 they seized 250 Jews and sold them as slaves in Portugal; they were ransomed by Isaac Abrabanel. After 1492 Arcila was a disembarkation port for refugees from Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese governor Borba treated them inhumanly, but finally permitted their departure for Fez. When many of them returned, Boba forced their conversion.

In 1510 a community was established. Ships from India and Brazil laden with spices, precious woods, and fabrics called at Arcila; cereals were exported, and much of this trade was in Jewish hands. The evacuation of the Jews of Azemmour to Arcila was planned in 1541 and the following year they were given one month to leave for Fez. When the Portuguese were driven out in 1546 the Jews returned, lived among the Muslims, and paid an annual tax of 60 gold ducats.

In the 19th century the very influential Levy-Benshetons were diplomatic representatives of England and the United States in Arcila.

In 1940 the community numbered only 500. There was no organized community in 1968.

Tlemcen      

Latin: Pomaria

Arabic: تلمسان‎ 

A city in N.W. Algeria (near border with Morocco)

1962-2011 – Pilgrimage to Tlemcen

In an article from 2017 on the internet, an Arab tour guide describes the site of the synagogue and the tomb of Rabbi Ephraim ben Israel Alnaqhe. The site is surrounded by a wall with a metal gate. The property is guarded and tended by an Arab family, but permission to enter must be obtained from the governor of Tlemcen.

After Algeria became independent in 1962, Jewish pilgrims were forbidden to enter this site, as well as other holy places in Algeria. In the year 2003, with the co-operation of President Boutaflika, France and Algeria agreed to a plan which would allow the reopening of Jewish synagogues and burial sites. As a result, in 2005 the Algerian authorities agreed to the French request to allow Jewish pilgrims from Europe to visit the tomb of Rabbi Alnaque in Tlemcen.  In that same year Jewish delegations poured into the country to make the traditional pilgrimage, which proved to be the last publicized occasion. The 2006 war in Gaza led to the cessation of these pilgrimages, which were a source of anger on the part of the local Arab population of the city.  Evidence of this 2005 pilgrimage is given by an eyewitness, Belbachir Jalloul, a former professor at the Faculty of the Arts: “I was there for the Hilloula rites held by the Jewish delegation in Tlemcen. They walked from the graves to the end of the synagogue, chanting words from the holy book.” This pilgrimage of large number of European Jews lasted eight days.

A tour guide details her experience in 2011. “Every year, a number of Jews travel to Algeria to visit their properties here. I worked as a tour guide with a convoy of Jewish tourists in 2011, and they visited a number of places marked with the Star of David here in Tlemcen,” Shawi Boudaghn says. “However, they weren’t able to visit the mausoleum of Ephraim Alnaqua, since their visit coincided with the declaration of Tlemcen as a capital of Islamic culture, and the wali was not there to grant them an entry permit."

 

Early history

Some sources claim that during the pre-Arab period, prior to the 7th century CE, the local Jewish community included Judaized Berbers. On the other hand, a book by H.Z. (J.W.) Hirchberg (1963) denies that evidence exists for this theory.  

During the 10th and 11th centuries under the Benei Hamad Arab dynasty, (1014-1152), Algerian Jews enjoyed conditions of relative peace and security. Thus Jewish scholars from Tlemcen corresponded with the Geonim (religious leaders) in Babylon.  Tradition and law studied in the important houses of study in Sura and Pumpedita was spread via correspondence to the Jewish communities in north Africa.

 

Middle Ages 12th – 16th Centuries

The conquest of Algeria by the Almohads in the 12th century led to the destruction of Tlemcen in 1146, and to decrees giving the Jews the choice between adopting Islam, exile or death. As a result many Jews were put to death, others fled or went into hiding, keeping Jewish tradition in secret. Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra wrote a poem of mourning (kina) about the suffering of the Jewish community, mentioning Tlemcen: ואי חוֹסָן/ קָהָל תְלמְסֶן / וְהַדְרָתָהּ נָמַסָּה".

Almost 100 years later, in 1235, with the fall of the Almohads, the Tlemcen kingdom was established by the Zeiyanide dynasty in what is now Algeria. They ruled until 1534 and showed tolerance towards the Jews. Consequently, the Jews returned to Tlemcen in 1248 and began to rebuild their community in a suburb outside the city. 

The 13th and 14th centuries presented Tlemcen as a small, but active community on the Sudanese gold route, known as the Jewish Road because of their involvement in trading. Wealthy Jewish merchants of Barcelona, Valencia, Tortosa and Majorca provided the economic support for the Jews of Tlemcen. The Spanish kings of Aragon benefitted economically from the Jewish merchants, once of whom was Avraham Ben Jalil ,the ambassador for Aragon who settled in Tlemcen with his family in 1291. 

During this period the community's rabbinical authorities were Avraham Chakin and Moshe Zakar. Towards the end of the 14th century, following the pogroms instigated in Spain by the Catholic Church in 1391, many Jews fled to Algeria. One of them named Rabbi Ephraim ben Israel Alnaqua (Al-Nakva, Ankava, Al-Naqawa) escaped from the Inquisition and reached Tlemcen where he was granted permission by the king to build a synagogue.  He was famous as a rabbi, philosopher, physician, theological writer, and founder of the Tlemcen community. Manuscripts of some of his writings are held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. He died in 1442, and his tomb became an important site of pilgrimage for both Jews and non-Jews, until the independence of Algeria in 1962. One of his sons, Judah, also lived in Tlemcen.

The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 resulted in a flow of Jewish refugees to North Africa, including to Tlemcen, throughout the 16th century.  Many of them were marranos, or secret Jews, who had managed to escape from the claws of the Inquisition. Some of the better known families included Gavison, Levi-Bacrat and Khallas.  Others, such as Saspotas and Allegra, fulfilled diplomatic roles. Jewish life continued in the town until the Ottoman rulers took control at the onset of the 16th century.

 

Ottoman Rule 1517 – 1830

Tlemcen suffered severe damage from Turkish forces who pillaged the city, destroyed Jewish property and forced the Jews to wear a yellow sign on their clothing. As a result many fled from the city, so that by 1520 only 500 Jewish families remained. The fate of those who remained was no better, as in 1534 the town was taken over by the Spanish army and many Jews were brutally murdered. Some 1,500 were taken prisoner for ransom and later redeemed by the Jewish communities of Fez in Morocco and Oran in Algeria.

 In 1670 the community was attacked again by the Turkish army and suffered loss of life and property.  Despite  continued suffering, the community continued to thrive and produce scholars such as Rav Yaakov Sasportas (1610-1698) who was one of the leading opponents to Shabtai Zvi (the false Messiah), Rav Saadiah Shuraki (1603-1704) as well as Rav Avraham Gavison who died in 1620, and Rav Natan Gh'ian.  The 18th century community leaders included David Gh'ian, Judah Gh'ian, Shalom Elashkar, Nissim El-Haik, Messas (Moshe) Touati, and Joshua Elkavetz.

 

French Rule 1830 – 1962

France invaded Tlemcen in 1830 and divided the city into two separate camps. The pro-French sector was populated by Turkish Arabs, while the Berber section included supporters of Amir abd el Khadir.  In 1834 Abd el Khadir el G'zari made Tlemcen one of his bases in his armed struggle against the French. It was only in 1942 that the city was fully integrated into French Algeria.

The Jewish population of Tlemcen lived through the period of conflict between the French rulers and the anti-French Moslem population.  The Moslems murdered many Jews in a pogrom in 1846. Algeria was administered as a colony until 1848, after which it was considered an integral part of France.

The French administration set up a community organization (consistoire) for the Jewish community in 1842, headed by Simon Kanoui. At the beginning of the 19th century the chief Rabbi was Haim Kasbi. In 1851 the Jewish population totaled 2,688 persons, with eight synagogues and two schools. With modern European influence in Jewish society, the French – Jewish school had 200 Jewish pupils in 1866, while some parents sent their children to Christian schools. There were also Jews who served in the French army, as the French colonial rulers had to deal with armed opposition of the Arab and Berber populations. The uprising of 1881 was their last, unsuccessful, effort to achieve independence from the French. In 1870 the Jews were granted French citizenship and equal rights.

At the turn of the century there were 5,000 Jews in Tlemcen. The religious leaders included Rabbi Moise Weil, Haim Ben Avraham Blia'h (1832-1919), Isaac Shuraky, Saadiah Shuraki, Zemach Amsalem, David Hacohen Sekely.  From 1924-40 Joseph Mashash served as chief rabbi. The Alliance Universelle school was closed in 1934 after Moslem antisemitism raised its head, and the last rabbis in the community were Jacob Sharvit and Yaakov Rouch. In 1940 the French (Vichy) administration introduced antisemitic legislation, and the Jews were stripped of their French citizenship, dismissed from jobs in public service and suffered from restrictions in their daily life. Although their citizenship was restored in 1943, the Jews of Algeria no longer felt safe, in the light of Arab opposition to French colonial rule, and the onset of attacks against synagogues. After the establishment of Israel in 1948 Arab violence forced most of the Jewish population to leave, many for France and others for Israel. After Algeria achieved independence in 1962, no Jews remained in Tlemcen.

Here ends the saga of Jewish Tlemcen.

The Draa 

Berber languages: Asif en Dra, ⴰⵙⵉⴼ ⴻⵏ ⴷⵔⴰ; Moroccan Arabic: واد درعة‎,  translit. wad dərʿa; also spelled Dra or Drâa, in older sources mostly Darha or Dara

The Draa is Morocco's longest river, from the Atlas mountains in south west Morocco flowing  for 1,100 kms. (680 mi) to the Atlantic Ocean.

21ST CENTURY

Today the largest Jewish community in Morocco is in Casablanca, which is home to 1,000 Jews. There are small Jewish communities in Rabat (400), Marrakesh (250), Meknes (250), Tangier (150), Fez (150), and Titian (100).

 

HISTORY

Early history

Stories of an ancient Jewish kingdom in the valley during the Second Temple period, with its capital at Tamgrout, cannot be verified. Some sources mention the existence of autonomous Jewish communities in the Draa valley before the Arab conquest in the 7th century.

Idrisid dynasty 789-1,000 CE

The upper valley was home to Jews during the late eighth century, when Idriss I established the first Muslim state in Morocco.  His authority extended over the central and western sections of the country, and his objective was to convert the Jews and Christians to Islam. As a result most Jews moved to the mountain and desert regions outside the control of Idriss.  It has been suggested that they moved to the Draa area of the Berber tribes, some of whom had already converted to Judaism. Jewish community life developed and flourished in the Draa valley for many centuries. Jewish scholars such as linguist and writer Donash ben Labrat (born 920 in Fez) and Talmudist Moise Drawi lived in the region during the 10th century.  During this period the leaders of the Jewish community corresponded with the Geonim (religious leaders) of the yeshivot in Babylon (today's Iraq).

Almoravid  dynasty 1060 -1147 CE  

The Almoravids were a newly emerged black Islamic power in North Africa from 1062-1150, conquering Morocco, and spreading the Islamic faith throughout their empire. During this period the Karaite movement, whose influence spread from Babylon to Fez, took root in the Draa valley. These Jews believed only in the Bible, rejecting all later traditions (Mishna and Talmud), resulting in conflicts with the rabbinic community.

Almohad dynasty 1147- 1269 CE

The Almohads conquered the region from the Almoravids during the 12th century, and their rulers tried to force the Jews throughout Morocco to convert to Islam. They also persecuted the Karaites. In order to escape massacres, the Karaites fled to the mountains or the Sahara,   while many Jews escaped to the Draa valley which did not fall under control of the Almohads.  The valley became a center of commercial activity on the caravan route from Fez to the north. Evidence of active involvement of the Jews in trading is given by the geographer Yaqut (1179-1229), who states that most of the merchants of Draa were Jewish. Other occupations included gold and silversmiths, as well as the cultivation of fruit trees, vineyards and date palms.

Merinid dynasty 1244- 1465

During the rule of this Arab-Berber dynasty the Jews were treated more humanely, but were less influential than in the previous century. Despite this, some of them played an important role in financing the caravan trade.

1471- 1900 (beginning of European intervention)

Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the Jewish communities of Morocco absorbed large number of refugees fleeing from the Inquisition. The majority settled in the cities, but the Draa valley also absorbed some of these Spanish and Portugese Jews. 

In 1666 the Alaouite dynasty replaced the Marinids and since then has been the ruling family of Morocco.

There is no reliable demographic information before the 18th century as there were no official government records of births and deaths during the rule of the Moslem dynasties. The kings collected taxes from the regions under their control, which included approximately 50 percent of the country, while the rest was under the control of local chieftains.

Jewish community records from the 16th century mention Jews living in the Draa in separate quarters of the villages called mellahs. The head of the community was usually from one of the rich families, who gained their wealth from the caravan trade.  Harassment by the Berbers in 1608-10 led to the flight of Jews from Akka in the Atlas region to Tamargut in the upper Draa valley.  Interaction between the Jewish and Berber population was commonplace throughout the centuries.

By the end of the 19th century caravan trading had come to an end, resulting in the economic decline of the Jewish population of the Draa.

 1900 – 1956 (European influence and Moroccan Independence)

In 1900 France and Italy made a secret agreement assigning Morocco to France and Libya to Italy, after Tunisia had already become a French protectorate in 1881. In 1902 France and Spain agreed on a division of Morocco between them. Britain agreed on condition that they would remain dominant in Egypt. In 1905 the German emperor, visiting Tangier, emphasized the need to maintain Morocco's independence.

As a result, an international conference in 1912 affirmed the independence of the Moroccan sultans, while giving France the leading role in supervising their foreign affairs. In fact this confirmed Morocco's status as a French colony, with Spain as ruler in a small northern section of Mediterranean coast. 

Under the French Protectorate the Jewish population was granted equality and religious autonomy from 1912 until the time of the Vichy regime during WWII.  Morocco gained independence from French rule in 1956.

Ouarzazate, located at the mouth of the Draa valley, was a royal city during the rule of the sultans, and became an important French administrative and service center for the Draa region including the villages with Jewish population. Although Ouarzazate had no Jewish community, several Jewish goldsmiths from nearby villages had workshops in the town.

One of the villages was Taurirat, located 2 kms south of Ouarzazate. The deserted mellah (Jewish quarter) dates from 1806. Its Jewish population earned their living from growing date palms as well as from gold and silver workshops, and totaled 170 persons during the 1950's prior to Aliya to Israel. Other villages surrounding Ouarzazate included Agdaz, with a small number of Jewish families, Tamangulat with 210 Jews, Tamsinte with 95 Jews, Tlemshale with 200 Jews and Tazanakhte with 300 Jews before Aliya. There was a chief rabbi, Moshe ben Shimon, and a Talmud Torah (religious school) at Tamangulat. The Jews of Tazankhte lived in two storied houses and were economically secure. Like many other Jews of the Draa they made a living from agriculture (dates, vines and fig trees). In addition to traditional crafts of gold and silver, tailoring and dressmaking. The village had two synagogues, a Talmud Torah with a teacher who also functioned as ritual slaughterer.

Other communities included Amzrou, a Berber village with a mellah in the south housing 140 Jews before Aliyah (down from 400 in the 1930's), Tagunit whose Jews traded with tribes from the Sahara, Rabat Tinsulin with a population of 120  Jews, Qasbat –al- Makhsan with 100. The latter had a local weekly market for the surrounding villages, and included the site of the Jewish cemetery.

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jewish communities of Morocco began to emigrate to Israel. The Aliyah authorities gave priority to families with no health problems, and only later, after Morocco gained independence in 1956, did the Jewish Agency organize unlimited Aliyah. The Jewish population of the Draa valley left their villages for Israel between 1948 and the early 1960's.

Testour

Tastur, Tichilla,    Arabic      تستور

 

A small town located in the valley of Medjerda, approximately 35 km west of the capital Tunis. During Roman times it was known as Tichilla, meaning green grass, as it is situated in the fertile valley of the Medjerda River.

Testour was rebuilt on the Roman ruins in the early 17th century by Jews and Moslems who were expelled from Spain. The building style and method of irrigation reflect the Andalusian origin of the population.  

 

Tradition

The Tunisian Jewish community connects the town of Testour to the memory of the revered Rabbi Fraji Chaouat whose burial site is situated in the town. According to local tradition he was among the refugees from the Spanish Inquisition towards the end of the 16th century, and settled in the town of Beja. The details of his burial in Testour are legendary, claiming that his last wish was to be tied to the back of a donkey after his death, and to be buried wherever the donkey stopped moving. The ruler of Tunisia, Yousef Bei, sent a delegation of troops to accompany the funeral procession which reached Testour. The burial took place in the early years of the 17th century. His tomb became a center of pilgrimage for Jews and Moslems throughout Tunisia, as Rabbi Fraiji was renowned for his powers of healing.

 

The Jewish community

Testour had a very small community. The earliest number mentioned in a book by Maurice Eisenbeth ("Algerie-Tunisie") states that one family of Marrano origin lived there in 1814-15. The synagogue dates to the 18th century.  Formal records of population state that 156 Jews lived in Testour in 1909. In April 1910 the government issued a decree for the establishment of a committee of five to manage the community. The members were appointed by the authorities, who specified its functions, which were similar to the charity committees in other Tunisian communities. The fund was responsible for providing assistance to needy families, as well as dealing with the maintenance of the synagogue, the cemetery and the tomb of the Rabbi Fraiji Chaouat.

The Jewish population of Testour dropped to 100 in 1926, 107 in 1936, reaching a low of 91 persons in 1946. 

One of the religious leaders in Testour was Rabbi Nissim Idan from Jerba, whose functions included Rabbi, ritual slaughterer, Mohel (performing circumcisions) and teacher. He also served other small communities in Tunisia. A volume of his writings was published posthumously in 1977 under the name "Fresh Olive"(זית רענן)   on topics connected to forbidden meat.

The pilgrimages to the tomb in Testour provided a source of income for the Jews of the town, particularly during Succot when large numbers of pilgrims gathered at the site. Local newspapers in 1924 reported that a record of 6,000 Jews arrived in that year. The local Moslem population often showed animosity towards the crowds of Jewish pilgrims, with outbreaks of violence on several occasions. The emergence of the Moslem extremist Tunisian national movement during the 1920s fostered anti-Jewish feelings. As a result pilgrims leaving the gravesite were frequently attacked by stone throwers, resulting in injuries as well as damage to cars. After a nationalist political party was established in 1934, the extremist propaganda decreased, and with it the attack s on the pilgrims.

World War II resulted in a further decline in the Jewish population as they left to find refuge from the bombing and fighting. After the war and the establishment of the State of Israel most of the Tunisian Jews left the country, either for Israel or for France. By 1956 when Tunisia became independent, only one family remained to take care of the grave and welcome the pilgrims.

Maimonides - Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (Rambam)
Isaac Ben Jacob Alfasi
Aknin, Joseph Ben Judah Ben Jacob
Ben Batash, Aaron
Ibn Zur, Jacob Ben Reuben
Dunash Ben Labrat
Hayyim Gagin
Abbas, Judah Ben Samuel
Isaac Ben Abraham Uziel
Ben Naim, Joseph

Moses Maimonides, also known as Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon or the acronym the Rambam, was born in Cordoba, Spain on March 30, 1135, and died in Egypt on December 13, 1204. He is buried in Tiberias, Eretz Israel.

One of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, he was a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Spain, Morocco and Egypt during the Middle Ages. He was the preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher. With the contemporary Muslim sage Averroes, he promoted and developed the philosophical tradition of Aristotle. As a result, Maimonides and Averroes would gain a prominent and controversial influence in the West, where Aristotelian thought had been suppressed for centuries

Isaac Ben Jacob Alfasi (1013-1103), Talmudist, born in Algeria, but spend most of his life in Fes, Morocco. He moved to Fes. Morocco, in 1045 with his wife and children when the local community agreed to support him.

Alfasi's plan was to produce a comprehensive work which would set out the practical conclusions of the Gemara in a systematic and clear way. It took him over ten years to compile his work, known as "Sefer Ha-Halachot", one of the earliest comprehensive works of Jewish law. "Sefer H-Halachot" was published before the times of Rashi and other commentators and resulted in a profound change in the study practices of the scholarly Jewish public in that it opened the world of the Gemarah to the public at large. The work became known as the "Talmud Katan" ("Little Talmud").

In Fes Alfasi headed a yeshiva founded in his honour ny the local community and many students from throughout Morocco went there to study under his guidance.

In 1089, after a dispute with the authorities in Fes, Alfasi left Fes and became head of the yeshiva of Lucena, Andalucia (now in Spain).

Alfasi wrote many Responsa most of which were written in Arabic, but which were later translated into Hebrew

Philosopher and poet. Born in Barcelona, Spain, he moved to Fez, Morocco, and lived there until his death. Aknin met Maimonides on the latter’s visit to Fez and wrote a sad poem about his departure to Egypt. It is presumed that Aknin was a physician.
He is the author of two books which are no longer extant (Sefer Hukkim u-Mishpatim and Clarification of the Fundamentals of Faith); Ma’amar al ha-Middot ve-he-Mishkalot, on measures and weights; Mevo ha-Talmud, introduction to the learning of the Talmud; The Hygiene of Healthy Souls and the Therapy of Ailing Souls, an ethical compilation; Sefer ha-Musar, commentary on Pirkei Avot; and The Divulgence of Mysteries and the Appearance of Lights, a commentary on the Song of Songs in Arabic. He died in Fez, Morocco.
Ben Batash, Aaron (?–1465) scholar, writer and vizier of Morocco, in Spain. Ben Batash moved to Morocco apparently on account of the Inquisition in his native country. Settling in Fez he became banker and adviser to Sultan Abdel al-Haqq and was subsequently elevated to the post of vizer.

As a result of Aaron’s influence, Saul ben Batash, a close relative, was appointed chief of the police and director of the sultan’s palace. Aaron imposed heavy taxes on the population and was accused by the Muslim leaders of using the money to support the impoverished Jews of the town, many of whom like himself had been obliged to flee from Spain. In consequence the Muslim leaders incited the mob to attack the Jewish quarter. The sultan and the vizier were both assassinated.
Dunash Ben Labrat (930-990) , poet and linguist. Born in Fez, Morocco, into a distinguished family of Babylonian origin, he studied with Sa’adiah Gaon in Baghdad and served as rabbi and dayyan. Dunash probably lived for a time in Cordoba, Spain. He wrote responsa against Menahem Ibn Saruq’s dictionary of Hebrew grammar, 68 of which are included in his poem Le-Doresh ha-Hokhmot. The disagreements between Dunash and Menahem developed into a controversy between two schools.
As a poet, Dunash applied the Arabic forms of poetry to Hebrew, thus laying the foundation for medieval Hebrew poetry. However, most of his poems are lost and some of them are known only due to the lines he cited in his responsa. Dunash’ religious poems include the Sabbath song Deror Yikra and Devai Hasser and a kerovah for the Day of Atonement.
He died probably in Cordoba, Spain.

Hayyim Gagin (1450-?) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he left for Spain, probably around 1465, where he first studied with Rabbi Isaac Aboab of Castille and later with Joseph Uzziel. Gagin then returned to Fez and served as head of the bet din. He became involved in a long and vehement dispute which broke out between the community of Fez and the newly established one of Spanish and Portuguese refugees. Gagin described the outcome of this dispute in a lengthy extract entitled Ez Hayyim published in 1911 in J.M. Toledano’s Ner ha-Ma’arav.
Gagin is author of many lamentations, particularly about the expulsion of Jews from Spain. He died in Fez, Morocco.

Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he lived most of his life in Aleppo, Syria. About twenty of his piyyutim have been preserved, the most noteworthy of which is a 14-stanza piyyut about the sacrifice of Isaac. In Sephardi communities the piyyut is usually sung before the blowing of the shofar on the High Holidays. Judah Ben Samuel Ibn Abbas also wrote much rhymed prose. He died in Aleppo, Syria.

Isaac Ben Abraham Uziel (1502-1622) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, in 1605 he went to Oran, Algeria, where he served as rabbi. A year later Uziel settled in Amsterdam, Holland, and became first a teacher in the community’s bet ha-midrash and in 1610 first rabbi of the Neveh Shalom congregation.
Some of Uziel’s poems were included in prayer books in North Africa. He died in Amsterdam, Holland.

Rabbi

Born in Fez, Morocco. Editor and compiler of a selection of some important works by Moroccan rabbis, both printed and manuscripts, thus forming one of the largest collections of Jewish religious writings from Morocco. R. Yosef Ben Naim is the author of "Sefer Malke Rabanan" (Jerusalem 1931), a compilation of biographical and bibliographical material about Moroccan rabbis. After his death in 1961, his library was sold to the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York; unfortunately it was partially destroyed in a fire.
Isaac Ben Jacob Alfasi

Isaac Ben Jacob Alfasi (1013-1103), Talmudist, born in Algeria, but spend most of his life in Fes, Morocco. He moved to Fes. Morocco, in 1045 with his wife and children when the local community agreed to support him.

Alfasi's plan was to produce a comprehensive work which would set out the practical conclusions of the Gemara in a systematic and clear way. It took him over ten years to compile his work, known as "Sefer Ha-Halachot", one of the earliest comprehensive works of Jewish law. "Sefer H-Halachot" was published before the times of Rashi and other commentators and resulted in a profound change in the study practices of the scholarly Jewish public in that it opened the world of the Gemarah to the public at large. The work became known as the "Talmud Katan" ("Little Talmud").

In Fes Alfasi headed a yeshiva founded in his honour ny the local community and many students from throughout Morocco went there to study under his guidance.

In 1089, after a dispute with the authorities in Fes, Alfasi left Fes and became head of the yeshiva of Lucena, Andalucia (now in Spain).

Alfasi wrote many Responsa most of which were written in Arabic, but which were later translated into Hebrew

The Jewish cemetery in Fez, Morocco, 1976
Interior of "Ben Sadoun" Synagogue, Fez, Morocco 1994
Women party with musicians, Fez(?), Morocco 1950's
Maimonides' Home in Fez, Morocco 1982
Tea time in the family house of Yehudah Ben Simchon, Fez, Morocco, 1935
Young Jewish members of "Dror" movement in Fez, Morocco, 1968
Members of the Sportsmen Association of Fez, Morocco 1927
Birkat Hahamma (Blessing of the sun) in the Jewish Cemetery,Fez, Morocco 1953
Inside One of the Synagogues, Fez, Morocco, 1976
The 'Ibn Dannan' Synagogue, Fez Morocco, Model. Permanent Exhibit
The Jewish cemetery in Fez, Morocco, 1976
Photo: Donna Wosk, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Dona Wosk, USA)
Interior of "Ben Sadoun" Synagogue,
view of the ark of the law.
Fez, Morocco 1994.
The synagogue was built by Roben Ben Sadoun in 1920
Photo: Ruth Porter, Tel Aviv.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Ruth Porter, Tel-Aviv)
Women party with musicians.
Fez (?), Morocco 1950's
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot)
Maimonides' Home in Fez, Morocco 1982.
The philosopher lived there between 1160-1165.
Photo: Dr. Theodore Cohen, USA.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Dr. Theodore Cohen, USA)
Tea time in the family house of Yehudah Ben Simchon,
Fez, Morocco, 1935
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, Courtesy of Margalit Bergstein, Israel)

Young Jewish members of "Dror" movement in Fez, Morocco, 1968

Photo: Dov Luks
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Simone and Dov (Bernard) Luks)

Members of the Sportsmen Association of Fez, Morocco, 1927
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Margalith Bergstein, Israel)

Jewish men praying the Birkat Hahamma (blessing of the sun) at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery, Fez, Morocco 1953.
Photo: Bouhsira, Studio ABC, Fez.
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People
courtesy of Mr. Bouhasira, Morocco

Inside One of the Synagogues in Fez,
Morocco, 1976
The building which once belonged to a wealthy Jewish family, was donated to the Jewish community and is now an Old Age Home
Photo: Donna Wosk, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Donna Wosk, USA)
The 'Ibn Dannan' Synagogue, Fez, Morocco.
The synagogue was built in the mid 17th century, and renovated in its present form at the end of the 19th century.
The synagogue was renovated and re-inaugurated in 1999.
Model.
(Beit Hatfutsot, Permanent Exhibition)
Fez, Morocco (English) 1978

The Jewish community of Fez, its traditions and institutions on the eve of World War II.
Produced 1978.
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot 

ALFASI
ALFASI, AL FASSI, ELFASSI

Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name is a toponymic (derived from a geographic name of a town, city, region or country). Surnames that are based on place names do not always testify to direct origin from that place, but may indicate an indirect relation between the name-bearer or his ancestors and the place, such as birth place, temporary residence, trade, or family-relatives.

The surname Alfasi means "from Fez" in Arabic. A Jewish presence in Fez, Morocco, is recorded since as early as the 8th century.

Distinguished bearers of the Jewish family name Alfassi include the Moroccan-born codifier Isaac Alfassi (1013-1103) and the Karaite scholar Alfi Ben Avraham Alfasi who lived in the 10th century.

Distinguished 19th century bearers of the family name Al Fassi include Rabbi Messaoud Raphael Al Fassi (born in Fez, Morocco, died 1775), who was Av Beth Din ("head of rabbinical court") and chief rabbi in Tunis, and then settled in Eretz Israel. Rabbi Massoud Rephael Al Fassi and his sons published an important work called 'Mishha Diributa' (Livorno, 1805).
Aknin, Joseph Ben Judah Ben Jacob
Ben Batash, Aaron
Hayyim Gagin
Philosopher and poet. Born in Barcelona, Spain, he moved to Fez, Morocco, and lived there until his death. Aknin met Maimonides on the latter’s visit to Fez and wrote a sad poem about his departure to Egypt. It is presumed that Aknin was a physician.
He is the author of two books which are no longer extant (Sefer Hukkim u-Mishpatim and Clarification of the Fundamentals of Faith); Ma’amar al ha-Middot ve-he-Mishkalot, on measures and weights; Mevo ha-Talmud, introduction to the learning of the Talmud; The Hygiene of Healthy Souls and the Therapy of Ailing Souls, an ethical compilation; Sefer ha-Musar, commentary on Pirkei Avot; and The Divulgence of Mysteries and the Appearance of Lights, a commentary on the Song of Songs in Arabic. He died in Fez, Morocco.
Ben Batash, Aaron (?–1465) scholar, writer and vizier of Morocco, in Spain. Ben Batash moved to Morocco apparently on account of the Inquisition in his native country. Settling in Fez he became banker and adviser to Sultan Abdel al-Haqq and was subsequently elevated to the post of vizer.

As a result of Aaron’s influence, Saul ben Batash, a close relative, was appointed chief of the police and director of the sultan’s palace. Aaron imposed heavy taxes on the population and was accused by the Muslim leaders of using the money to support the impoverished Jews of the town, many of whom like himself had been obliged to flee from Spain. In consequence the Muslim leaders incited the mob to attack the Jewish quarter. The sultan and the vizier were both assassinated.

Hayyim Gagin (1450-?) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he left for Spain, probably around 1465, where he first studied with Rabbi Isaac Aboab of Castille and later with Joseph Uzziel. Gagin then returned to Fez and served as head of the bet din. He became involved in a long and vehement dispute which broke out between the community of Fez and the newly established one of Spanish and Portuguese refugees. Gagin described the outcome of this dispute in a lengthy extract entitled Ez Hayyim published in 1911 in J.M. Toledano’s Ner ha-Ma’arav.
Gagin is author of many lamentations, particularly about the expulsion of Jews from Spain. He died in Fez, Morocco.

Aknin, Joseph Ben Judah Ben Jacob
Philosopher and poet. Born in Barcelona, Spain, he moved to Fez, Morocco, and lived there until his death. Aknin met Maimonides on the latter’s visit to Fez and wrote a sad poem about his departure to Egypt. It is presumed that Aknin was a physician.
He is the author of two books which are no longer extant (Sefer Hukkim u-Mishpatim and Clarification of the Fundamentals of Faith); Ma’amar al ha-Middot ve-he-Mishkalot, on measures and weights; Mevo ha-Talmud, introduction to the learning of the Talmud; The Hygiene of Healthy Souls and the Therapy of Ailing Souls, an ethical compilation; Sefer ha-Musar, commentary on Pirkei Avot; and The Divulgence of Mysteries and the Appearance of Lights, a commentary on the Song of Songs in Arabic. He died in Fez, Morocco.
Ben Batash, Aaron
Ben Batash, Aaron (?–1465) scholar, writer and vizier of Morocco, in Spain. Ben Batash moved to Morocco apparently on account of the Inquisition in his native country. Settling in Fez he became banker and adviser to Sultan Abdel al-Haqq and was subsequently elevated to the post of vizer.

As a result of Aaron’s influence, Saul ben Batash, a close relative, was appointed chief of the police and director of the sultan’s palace. Aaron imposed heavy taxes on the population and was accused by the Muslim leaders of using the money to support the impoverished Jews of the town, many of whom like himself had been obliged to flee from Spain. In consequence the Muslim leaders incited the mob to attack the Jewish quarter. The sultan and the vizier were both assassinated.
Ibn Zur, Jacob Ben Reuben
Dunash Ben Labrat
Hayyim Gagin
Abbas, Judah Ben Samuel
Isaac Ben Abraham Uziel
Ben Naim, Joseph
Ibn Zur, Jacob Ben Reuben
Dunash Ben Labrat (930-990) , poet and linguist. Born in Fez, Morocco, into a distinguished family of Babylonian origin, he studied with Sa’adiah Gaon in Baghdad and served as rabbi and dayyan. Dunash probably lived for a time in Cordoba, Spain. He wrote responsa against Menahem Ibn Saruq’s dictionary of Hebrew grammar, 68 of which are included in his poem Le-Doresh ha-Hokhmot. The disagreements between Dunash and Menahem developed into a controversy between two schools.
As a poet, Dunash applied the Arabic forms of poetry to Hebrew, thus laying the foundation for medieval Hebrew poetry. However, most of his poems are lost and some of them are known only due to the lines he cited in his responsa. Dunash’ religious poems include the Sabbath song Deror Yikra and Devai Hasser and a kerovah for the Day of Atonement.
He died probably in Cordoba, Spain.

Hayyim Gagin (1450-?) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he left for Spain, probably around 1465, where he first studied with Rabbi Isaac Aboab of Castille and later with Joseph Uzziel. Gagin then returned to Fez and served as head of the bet din. He became involved in a long and vehement dispute which broke out between the community of Fez and the newly established one of Spanish and Portuguese refugees. Gagin described the outcome of this dispute in a lengthy extract entitled Ez Hayyim published in 1911 in J.M. Toledano’s Ner ha-Ma’arav.
Gagin is author of many lamentations, particularly about the expulsion of Jews from Spain. He died in Fez, Morocco.

Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he lived most of his life in Aleppo, Syria. About twenty of his piyyutim have been preserved, the most noteworthy of which is a 14-stanza piyyut about the sacrifice of Isaac. In Sephardi communities the piyyut is usually sung before the blowing of the shofar on the High Holidays. Judah Ben Samuel Ibn Abbas also wrote much rhymed prose. He died in Aleppo, Syria.

Isaac Ben Abraham Uziel (1502-1622) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, in 1605 he went to Oran, Algeria, where he served as rabbi. A year later Uziel settled in Amsterdam, Holland, and became first a teacher in the community’s bet ha-midrash and in 1610 first rabbi of the Neveh Shalom congregation.
Some of Uziel’s poems were included in prayer books in North Africa. He died in Amsterdam, Holland.

Rabbi

Born in Fez, Morocco. Editor and compiler of a selection of some important works by Moroccan rabbis, both printed and manuscripts, thus forming one of the largest collections of Jewish religious writings from Morocco. R. Yosef Ben Naim is the author of "Sefer Malke Rabanan" (Jerusalem 1931), a compilation of biographical and bibliographical material about Moroccan rabbis. After his death in 1961, his library was sold to the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York; unfortunately it was partially destroyed in a fire.
Dunash Ben Labrat
Dunash Ben Labrat (930-990) , poet and linguist. Born in Fez, Morocco, into a distinguished family of Babylonian origin, he studied with Sa’adiah Gaon in Baghdad and served as rabbi and dayyan. Dunash probably lived for a time in Cordoba, Spain. He wrote responsa against Menahem Ibn Saruq’s dictionary of Hebrew grammar, 68 of which are included in his poem Le-Doresh ha-Hokhmot. The disagreements between Dunash and Menahem developed into a controversy between two schools.
As a poet, Dunash applied the Arabic forms of poetry to Hebrew, thus laying the foundation for medieval Hebrew poetry. However, most of his poems are lost and some of them are known only due to the lines he cited in his responsa. Dunash’ religious poems include the Sabbath song Deror Yikra and Devai Hasser and a kerovah for the Day of Atonement.
He died probably in Cordoba, Spain.
Hayyim Gagin

Hayyim Gagin (1450-?) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he left for Spain, probably around 1465, where he first studied with Rabbi Isaac Aboab of Castille and later with Joseph Uzziel. Gagin then returned to Fez and served as head of the bet din. He became involved in a long and vehement dispute which broke out between the community of Fez and the newly established one of Spanish and Portuguese refugees. Gagin described the outcome of this dispute in a lengthy extract entitled Ez Hayyim published in 1911 in J.M. Toledano’s Ner ha-Ma’arav.
Gagin is author of many lamentations, particularly about the expulsion of Jews from Spain. He died in Fez, Morocco.

Abbas, Judah Ben Samuel
Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, he lived most of his life in Aleppo, Syria. About twenty of his piyyutim have been preserved, the most noteworthy of which is a 14-stanza piyyut about the sacrifice of Isaac. In Sephardi communities the piyyut is usually sung before the blowing of the shofar on the High Holidays. Judah Ben Samuel Ibn Abbas also wrote much rhymed prose. He died in Aleppo, Syria.
Isaac Ben Abraham Uziel

Isaac Ben Abraham Uziel (1502-1622) Poet. Born in Fez, Morocco, in 1605 he went to Oran, Algeria, where he served as rabbi. A year later Uziel settled in Amsterdam, Holland, and became first a teacher in the community’s bet ha-midrash and in 1610 first rabbi of the Neveh Shalom congregation.
Some of Uziel’s poems were included in prayer books in North Africa. He died in Amsterdam, Holland.

Ben Naim, Joseph
Rabbi

Born in Fez, Morocco. Editor and compiler of a selection of some important works by Moroccan rabbis, both printed and manuscripts, thus forming one of the largest collections of Jewish religious writings from Morocco. R. Yosef Ben Naim is the author of "Sefer Malke Rabanan" (Jerusalem 1931), a compilation of biographical and bibliographical material about Moroccan rabbis. After his death in 1961, his library was sold to the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York; unfortunately it was partially destroyed in a fire.