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The Jewish Community of Tunis

Tunis

In Arabic:  تونس

Capital of Tunisia and its largest city. Located in the northeast of Tunisia.

Jews probably lived in Punic Carthage (which was destroyed in 146 BCE), though there is no hard evidence that can positively prove their presence there. Nonetheless, the Septuagint and the Aramaic Targum of the prophets identifies the "Tarshish" mentioned in the Bible as "Carthage." The province of Africa under Roman rule did include a number of Jewish communities for which there is ample archeological and textual evidence. Jews of the Roman province in Africa during the first centuries CE enjoyed a level of tolerance and freedom that allowed them to both practice their religion, and flourish economically. The Jews of Carthage were particularly wealthy and engaged in maritime trade or agriculture.

Things began to change, however, during the fourth century when Christianity began to dominate religious and political life. Jews were subject to various discriminatory laws that impacted their economic and religious lives. Later, with the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the 8th century, the Jews coexisted peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, and both communities maintained friendly intellectual, social, and business relationships with each other. A major intellectual center of North African Jewry emerged in the city of Kairouan in the northeast of Tunisia. Kairouan had a number of famous yeshivot, led by prominent scholars who maintained close relationships with the geonim of the academies of Sura, Pumbedita, and Palestine. Though Tunis had been chosen in 698 to replace the fallen capital of Carthage, it would not become as important as Kairouan for many years.

In 1159 the Almohad Dynasty invaded Tunisia and conquered Tunis. They killed the inhabitants of the town who refused to convert to Islam. Many Jews converted, while others fled. The situation of the Jews improved considerably, however, under the Hefsid Dynasty (1228-1574). Tunis became the capital city, and many Jews who had been forced to convert returned to Judaism. The synagogues, which had been closed under the Almohads, were reopened and the Jews no longer had to live in fear. Though the community did not enjoy the same level of wealth that it had before the reigns of the Almohads, it was nonetheless able to reestablish profitable business enterprises and some individual members were appointed to important positions within the empire. At the same time, it is important to note that Jews under Hafsid rule were legally classified as "dhimmi," tolerated and protected as "people of the Book," but seen as inferior to Muslims. This meant that the Jews, along with other dhimmi, were required to pay special taxes, and had to wear distinctive badges or clothing that would distinguish them from Muslims. The Jews of Tunis wore special clothing and displayed a piece of yellow cloth on their heads or necks as late as 1470.

In spite of the restrictions imposed on them, the Jews of Tunis were allowed full property rights and could buy and sell property without any special restrictions. The Jewish community was also officially recognized by the government and enjoyed administrative and cultural autonomy. The communities were led by "gedolei ha-kahal," essentially the wealthiest businessmen, and were not elected by the community. These gedolei hakahal were responsible for managing charitable funds, while other community leaders administered the synagogues and religious funds.

During the period of Ottoman rule (1574-1881), the city of Tunis became the cultural and economic center for the Jews of Tunisia and North African Jews more generally. During this period the Jews of Tunis worked as traders, artisans, craftsmen, goldsmiths, jewelers, tailors, shoemakers, and carpenters. They were also appointed to various government positions.

Tunisian Jewry began to flourish economically in the 16th century with the arrival of Jews from Livorno, Italy. The Jews of Livorno turned the "Shuq-el-Grana" into the economic center of the town, and opened three synagogues and two payer houses. Most of what was produced there was sent to Livorno or Marseilles. There was, however, tension between the Jews who were native to Tunisia and those who arrived more recently from Livorno. Ultimately the two communities split in 1710, and the "Grana" (those Jews who had arrived from Livorno) established an independent community, including a cemetery, slaughterhouses, rabbinical court, dayyanim, and chief rabbi. This state of affairs lasted officially until 1899, when the authorities called for the two communities to merge; however, in reality the communities maintained distinctions and distances between them, prompting the authorities to once again intervene and decree that the communities merge in 1944.

The leadership structure of the Tunisian Jewish community remained unchanged for centuries. The community was led by a qa'id, who had considerable authority over the community and was mainly responsible for collecting taxes. The qa'id was usually a member of the native Tunisian community, as opposed to the Livorno community, giving the former considerable power over the community. Additionally, rabbinic leaders tended to be from native Tunisian families, with the exception of Rabbi Isaac Lombroso who was nonetheless a student of prominent rabbis from the native Tunisian community, most notably Rabbi Zemah Sefarti and Rabbi Abraham Tayeb, the well-known "Baba Sidi."

A number of Jewish works were written by the distinguished rabbis of Tunis. The Baba Sidi's grandson, Rabbi Abraham, wrote a commentary on the Talmud and the major commentators Alfasi, Rashi, and Maimonides, called "Chayyei Avraham." His son wrote "Derekh Hayyim." Rabbi Isaac Tayeb also wrote a number of works. Rabbi Uzziel Alhayk was the author of Mishkenot HaRo'im, an encyclopedic rabbinic code that dealt with the internal and public issues faced by Tunisian Jews during the 17th and 18th centuries. Starting in the 17th century Tunis became an important center of Jewish learning, particularly for Talmud and the Kabbalah.

During the 17th century until the beginning of the 19th century, the Jews of Tunis chiefly worked as manufacturers of wool or silk shawls. More than half of the shawls they produced were actually tallitot; during this period Polish Jews could very well have put on a tallit that was originally produced in Tunis.

The population density of the Jewish quarter increased during the 18th century, and the rising cost of housing caused many Jews to leave the city. Modernization, however, brought many Jews from small villages to the city; the Jewish community of Tunis was the first to embrace European emancipation and modernization, especially after the French conquered Tunisia in 1881. In 1878 the first Alliance Israelite Universelle school was founded in the city; this school offered religious studies along with Hebrew, French, and general subjects and served to further promote French influence within the community. On the other end of the modernity spectrum, Talmud Torah and other traditional yeshivahs continued to act as bulwarks against the exposure of the community's youth to the influence of French culture. In 1908 there were 400 children enrolled in the Alliance school, with 800 in the Katab (the traditional local cheder where pupils were taught only in Hebrew and Arabic). The influence of Eastern European maskilim (proponents of the Jewish Enlightenment) was also felt within the city. There were a number of maskilic newspapers and books from Eastern Europe that were published in Tunis in Judeo-Arabic.

After the French established a protectorate in Tunisia, they established a new institution, L'Assemblee des Notables, to lead the Jewish community. The chief rabbi of Tunis would represent all of the Jews of the community, and the French government paid his salary. Later, in 1921, the French decided instead to create the Conseil de la Communaute Israelite. Members of this council were elected; any man who paid his taxes to the community was eligible to vote. Zionist groups, the La Justice party (which sought to promote French influence within the community), and other ideologies sought to exert their influence over the community through the council.

Zionism was a particularly active ideology within Tunisia, in spite of the fact that French authorities forbade any political Zionist activism (cultural Zionist activities were allowed). The first Zionist organization established in the community was Agudat Zion, in 1910. Agudat Zion would publish a Zionist newspaper, "Kol Zion," contribute to Keren Kayemet, and send a representative to the Tenth Zionist Congress. After World War I, Tunisian Zionists established the Tunisian Zionist Federation as an umbrella organization for the city's Zionist activities. Though the Federation was not a strong organization, it nonetheless dealt with the various organizational requirements necessary in helping to spread Zionist ideology to the Jews of Tunisia. The Alliance Israelite Universelle proved to be an opponent of Zionism, instead wanting to see an integration of the Jews into French society. While the Zionists called on alliance schools to teach Jewish history and modern Hebrew, the Alliance emphasized a deep attachment to French culture. In 1921 elections were held for the community assembly. Sixty delegates were elected, among them 14 Zionists. The assembly also elected a board of 12 members with a proportional representation between the Livornoses and the Tunisians.

A number of Zionist youth movements arose during the twenties and thirties. In addition to the Beitar movement, which was the largest of the Zionist youth groups, there was also the Eclaireurs Israelites de France (EIF), the Union Universelle de Jeunese Juive (UUJJ), and HaShomer HaZair.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were 24,000 Jews living in Tunis. By the eve of the World War II their number had increased to nearly 30,000 (30% of the total population).

THE HOLOCAUST

The anti-Jewish legislation imposed by the Vichy government during World War II included the Jews of Tunisia. Jews were removed from public services, forbidden to work in professions such as medicine and law, and many were forced out of their businesses.

The Germans invaded Tunisia on November 8, 1942 and the country remained under German and Italian control until 1943. During the occupation, the Germans established a Judenrat-like committee in Tunis led by Paul Ghez. The Jewish community went through aerial bombardments, both from Allied and German forces. Approximately 4,000-5,000 young Jews were sent to forced labor near the front line, and they were interned in about 30 military camps located along the battlefields. Jewish property was confiscated, buildings such as the Alliance school and the Great Synagogue were closed down and repurposed, and the community was forced to pay a 53 million franc fine. Ultimately the failure of the French government to protect them led the Jews of Tunis, and Tunisia, to feel alienated from France and French culture.

POSTWAR

After the Allies liberated Tunisia, waves of emigration began. The first took place in 1947-48, in spite of the fact that Jews could not legally immigrate to Mandate Palestine. With the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 came more waves of emigration from Tunis, chiefly arranged through the Jewish Agency and Aliyat HaNoar. In 1946 the Jewish community in Tunis numbered 34,200; by 1953 about 15,000 Jews had emigrated from Tunisia.

On March 20, 1956, Tunisia achieved independence. The newly independent country favored allowing its Jews to fully integrate into Tunisian society. All Tunisians, including the Jews, were allowed to vote in elections for the Constituent Assembly, ten Jewish judges were appointed to the country's courts to decide cases dealing with Jewish litigants, and an Interim Committee for the Management of the Affairs of the Jewish Community was established. At the same time, however, in Tunis the Jewish Quarter was destroyed, and the old Jewish cemetery was turned into a public park and the remains were transferred elsewhere. Later, in 1961, Yom Kippur was declared an official holiday, thereby allowing Jews to take the day off from work. Emigration to Israel temporarily decreased.

Nonetheless, the difficult economic situation, and increasing tensions stemming from the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Jewish community of Tunis, and of Tunisia, redoubled their efforts to leave the country. Anti-Jewish riots took place in Tunis in 1967, after the Six Day War. It was at this time that Tunisia underwent a period of Arabization, a development that negatively impacted the Jewish community. In 1971 Rabbi Mazliach Mazuz, who established the Kisei Rachamim yeshiva in Tunis, was murdered on his way home from his morning prayers.

The Jewish population of Tunis continued to decrease. In 1979 there were 3,000 Jews left of the city, most of whom were elderly and had moved from other communities whose Jewish communities were gone, as well as a few rich families who could not, or would not, leave their property behind.

By 2005 there were 1,500 Jews in Tunisia, most of whom lived in Tunis and Djerba.

Place Type:
City
ID Number:
253082
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Gisèle Halimi (born Zeiza Gisèle Élise Taïeb) (b. 1927), lawyer, feminist activist and politician, born in La Goulette, Tunisia. She attended the Lycée in Tunis and then studied law and philosophy at the University of Paris. In 1948 she graduated in law and was admitted to the Paris bar in 1956.  She was a consultant to the Front de Liberation National (FLN) and in particular in 1960 dealt with the case of tortured FLN activist Djamila Boupacha, about which she wrote a book in 1961 to which Simone de Beauvoir contributed a preface. Halimi was also a member of the Russell Tribunal promoted by by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre against suspected American war crimes in Vietnam in 1967 and defended many Basque terror suspects. Halimi promoted lawsuits relevant to women's rights. In 1971 she founded the feminist group Choisir la cause des femmes with Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rostand, Christiane Rochefort and Jacques Monod.  She was instrumental in the legislative reforms to legalize contraception and abortion brought about by Simone Veil in 1974 and 1975 as French Minister of Justice. In 1981 Halimi  was elected to the French National Assembly, where she was an independent socialist in the Isère department until 1984. From 1985 to 1986 she was a French delegate to UNESCO, a French representative to the Executive Committee in 1987 and an adviser to the French delegation to the UN in 1989. In 1995 she was officially commissioned to write a report on equality for women in French politics, which she submitted in 1997.

During her career Halimi was the lawyer of Jean-Paul Sartre (with whom she was also friends), Simone de Beauvoir, Françoise Sagan, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Roberto Matta, among others. She authored sixteen books, including Djamila Boupacha (1962), La cause des femmes (1973), Viol, Le procès d'Aix: Choisir la cause des femmes (1978), Avocate irrespectueuse (2002), Histoire d'une passion (2011).

Halimi was married three times (including to Paul Halimi and Charles Faux, the former secretary of Jean-Paul Sartre). She has three sons. Her son Serge Halimi is the director of the monthly magazine "Le Monde diplomatique".

In 2013 Halimi was named Commandeur de l'ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, after having been an officer in 2006 and a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1997.

Serge Moati (b. 1946), director, producer and actor, born in Tunis, Tunisia, the son of Serge Moati (1903-1957), a member of the Portuguese Jewish community of Tunis (the Grana) and Odette Scemama (1905-1957). He lived in Tunis and studied at Lycee Carnot there until the death of his parents, when he moved along with his sister Nine to Paris, and continued his studies at Lycee Michelet in Vanves, in the southwest outskirts of Paris.  

Moati became famous in 1972 with the film adaptation of François Mauriac's Le Sagouin. He made his breakthrough in 1976 with the thriller Nuit d'or ("The Night of Gold") which stared  Bernard Blier, Marie Dubois, Charles Vanel, Maurice Ronet and Anny Duperey, Klaus Kinski and Elisabeth Flickenschildt. This was followed, among others, by Rossel et la commune de Paris (1977), At the end everything is forgotten (1981), Olympe de nos amours (1989), Le piège (1991) and Une femme dans la tourmente (1995, with Miou-Miou), Une page d'amour (1996, with Miou-Miou and Jacques Perrin), Sapho (1997, with Mireille Darc), Maison de famille (1999, with Marie-Christine Barrault) and Mercenary Hell (2005, with Richard Bohringer). In addition to the feature films, Moati also made a number of documentaries, including Les Mitterrand. As an actor, Moati occasionally appears in his own films, Au bout du chemin (1981), Le Garçon qui ne dormait pas (1994) and Sami, le pion (2002). He published 14 books, including Villa Jasmin (2003), an autobiographic work. He was a counselor of the French President Francois Mitterand.

Serge Moati is the brother of the novelist Nine Moati and the father of the actor Felix Moati.

Michel Boujenah (b. 1952), actor, comedian, film director and screenwriter, born in Tunis, Tunisia. The family moved to France in 1963 and Boujenah grew up in Bagneux near Paris. He started acting as a teenager and wanted to be a theater actor after school. When he was rejected because of his accent at the École supérieure d'art dramatique des Théâtre national de Strasbourg, he founded the theater group La grande cuillère with Paul Allio and Corinne Atlas in the early 1970s and performed in schools and small towns. He also wrote autobiographically inspired plays about the lives of Tunisian Jews, such as the one-man show Albert (1980) and Les magnifiques (1984), which were popular with the public. In 2004, Les magnifiques was continued under the title Les nouveaux magnifiques. Boujenah has been artistic director of the Festival de Ramauelle since 2007.

Boujenah first appeared in a film in 1980, when he played a supporting role in Jan Saint-Hamont's comedy Mais qu’est-ce que j’ai fait au Bon Dieu pour avoir une femme qui boit dans les cafés avec les hommes? ("What did I do, my God, to have a wife that drinks with men in coffee shops?"). His breakthrough in 1984 was the Oscar-nominated comedy Three Men and a Baby by Coline Serreau. In 1985 he was awarded a César for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Michel - one of the three men who gave the title of the film. Boujenah appeared in additional films, among them Freddy the Unsuspecting (1986), Who Stole the Rabbit's Coke? (1987) and The Joker and the Jackpot (1991). Boujenah received a César nomination for Best Actor in 1994 for his role in the French-Tunisian co-production Le nombril du monde. In 2003 Boujenah made his directorial debut with Père et fils and was nominated for a César in the category Best First Feature the following year. With over a million viewers, the comedy was a hit with the public.

Serge Adda (1948-2004), economist, president of the French television company TV5, born in Tunis, Tunisia, the son of Georges Adda (1916-2008), a leader of the Tunisian Communist Party. Adda started working as a researcher at CETEM (Center d'Étude des Techniques Économiques Moderne) in Paris in 1971. Then he was research director of the l'École Spéciale d’Architecture from 1975 to 1978, and director of the Association Développement et Aménagement from 1979 to 1981.  In parallel Adda was a lecturer at the University of Paris from 1974 to 1981 and UNESCO advisor from 1982 to 1989.

Adda moved to Tunis in 1981 serving as an engineer and chief economist with STE SOTINFOR. He returned to Paris and from 1990 to 1997 he was CEO of CANAL + HORIZONS TV company. In April 2001 he became advisor to the President of the CANAL + HORIZONS group. Then Adda was named CEO of TV5 broadcast company in October 2001. In addition, Adda was a lecturer at the University of Paris from 1974 to 1981 and UNESCO advisor from 1982 to 1989 and worked for the African Development Bank. SAdda died in Paris. 

André Scémama (1918-1982), journalist, born in Tunisia. He started his journalistic career at the age nineteen in 1937, when he worked for Radio-Tunis and Tunis-Soir, and then he continued at Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (RTF) the French National broadcaster in Paris. He began working for the French daily newspaper Le Monde in 1951, and then became its Jerusalem reporter from 1955 to 1977. At the end of 1977, after the visit of the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, which had aroused his enthusiasm, he decided to leave Le Monde, having not agreed with the newspaper's reserved position about the Egyptian peace initiative. He continued his journalistic activity as the Jerusalem correspondent for Radio-France and director of French-speaking programs of Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA). He died in Jerusalem, Israel. André Scémama is the father of the Israeli journalist Dan Scemama (1949-2009).

Carthage

In Arabic: قرطاج‎ - Qarṭāj

A commune in Tunis Governorate, Tunisia. Modern Carthage is located in suburban Tunis, about 15 km northeast of the city center, and includes the archeological site of ancient Carthage.

Ancient History

Jewish presence in ancient Carthage is documented since the first cetury CE, when the place was part of the Roman Empire. A jewish cemetery was discovered in the northwestern area of the acient city. More than 200 burial rooms in rock-hewn pits, each containing an average of between 15-20 graves, have been unearthed so far. The archeological discoveries include a  number of Hebrew inscriptions and paintings of Jewish symbols. The Jewish settlement in Carthage apparently flourished after the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, when some refugees from the Land of Israel migrated to the Roman province of Africa.  

After the Muslim conquest of Tunisia, Carthage lost its prominence and the local Jews moved to other places. 

Modern History 

There was no organized Jewish community in Carthage during the French protectorate of Tunisia (1881 - 1956).  Although Jews visited Carthage, particularly during the summer, they preferred to live in other neighborhoods. Following the destructions of  World War 2, Carthage hosted thousands of refugees, including numerous Jews, who fled from other regions of Tunisia and from the city of Tunis. The census of 1946 recorded 1,064 Jews in Carthage - 21,8% of the general population. However, probably all Jews left Carthage after a short period of time and returned to their former places of residence.  

La Marsa

In Arabic: المرسى

A town in far north eastern Tunisia near the capital Tunis. 

Bizerte

Bizerte [Fr], Biserta [Ital], Benzert, Bizerta, Arabic: بنزرت‎‎ Banzart

Bizerte is a port located on the Mediterranean coast in northern Tunisia.

Its origins date back to the 11th century BCE, when the Phoenicians, as traders, widened the natural canal connecting the town with the coast. Known during the Greek and Roman periods as Hippo Diarrhytus or Hippo Zaritus, Bizerta served as an important port on the coast of north Africa.  

 

Early history of Jewish community

There is some evidence of Jewish settlement in Bizerte during the Phoenician, Greek and Roman periods, when the Jews gained their livelihood from fishing, trading and agriculture.  With the dissemination of Christianity throughout the Roman, and later Byzantine, Empire, the Jews were at the forefront of the struggle against the incursion of the new religion into North Africa.

During the Byzantine period up to the time of the Arab invasion in 698 CE, Arab sources state that Bizerte was headed by Jewish governors, one of whom led the army fighting against the invaders. After the Byzantine rulers were overthrown, however, the Jews were demoted to the status of "dhimmi" or second class citizens who could not hold official positions. The Muslim authorities deliberately changed market day to Shabbat, in contrast to the Jewish governors who had always prevented such a move. During or prior to the 12th century pogroms instigated by the Almohad rulers, many Jews of Bizerte probably migrated to other larger communities such as Kairouan.

In 1534 the town was captured by the Spanish who expelled all Jews who remained. 40 years later, with the Ottoman conquest in 1572, the Jews were allowed to return to Bizerte.

 

17th – 19th Century

The next records from Bizerte relate to Italian Jews from Livorno who were descendants of Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition. Trading documents dating from the early 17th century were signed between Bizerte Jews and French and Spanish merchants.  But evidence of an organized community is found more than a century later, in the diaries of the traveler Rabbi Haim Yoseph David Azulai (1724-1806). In the year 1774, Rabbi Haim (known as Hahida), visited Bizerte on his way from Eretz Yisrael to Livorno in Italy, and documents the welcome he received from the head of the community, Samuel Sidbon. He states that a merchant ship from the Tunisian fleet was sent by Samuel to carry Rabbi Haim to Livorno, which reflects the economic status of the leader of the Bizerte community. The Livorno Jews established the first synagogue in Bizerte. The size of the community, however, was described by Rabbi Haim as small. Further evidence from the 18th century exists in the halachic responsa of Rabbi Masoud-Raphael Alfasi, in a question regarding burial rights in Bizerte. Another scholar, Yitzhak Karshani wrote a 7 volume torah commentary in 1780, which hints at the existence of a place of scholarship in Bizerte.

In the early 19th century a Maltese traveler found approximately 500 Jews in Bizerte, where the community centered round the synagogue. There were four rabbis, including the chief rabbi, two who taught the children, and one who was responsible for the synagogue. The community maintained close contact with the Jews of Tunis, the capital, by means of regular animal caravans.

In 1837, a survivor of the earthquake in Tiberias arrived in Bizerte, possibly en route for Morooco. His name was Yisrael Imman, and instead of travelling further, he remained in Bizerte as rabbi and teacher until his death in 1897. His daughter was mother of Yisrael Arky who served as community leader at the turn of the century. Another well know personality during the latter years of the 19th century was Rabbi Meir Shlomo Pariente, descended  from the Livornese Jews, and author of the book Words of  Wisdom (אמרי שפר), published in 1924.

In the latter half of the century the traveler Binyamin the Second writes of 100 Jewish families in Bizerte. The Livornese were the wealthier class as they dealt in international trade. Most of the community earned their living from small local trade with the Muslim population, as well as from crafts. In years of drought the drop in crop yields resulted in poverty for both Jews and Muslims. 

In 1881 Tunisia was taken over by France as a protectorate, a process which brought European influence to Bizerte. A Christian community of Maltese, French and Italians grew and developed in the town. Since the Jews adapted themselves easily to western influence, their economic status improved considerably compared to the Muslims.

 

1881- World War II

With the establishment of  the French government in Tunisia, the Jewish population of Bizerte grew. The port was developed by the French authorities, resulting in improved trading opportunities for Jewish merchants. In 1909 there were approximately 1,000 Jews in the town.

Under French rule there were three major changes in the life of the Jewish community. Firstly, the development of a European neighbourhood outside the old city of Bizerte, where most of the Jews lived until the turn of the century, resulted in the migration of the wealthier Jews from the old city to the new areas. A further development was the strengthening of the social and economic bond with the Jewish community in Tunis the capital. During this period, the Bizerte community for all intents and purposes became a suburb of Tunis. Transportation between the two locations improved, which expanded the opportunities for employment. Jews from Bizerte could travel to work in Tunis, or vice versa. In 1904 the local ruler (Bei) gave the Rabbi of Tunis the authority to appoint the religious leaders of Bizerte, which further cemented the connection between the two communities.

The third important development related to modernization. In 1898 Bizerte became Tunisia's most important military port under French control, which resulted in the establishment of military industries and the consequent increase in demand for labor. Jewish workshops opened dealing in metalwork, painting, ironworking, textiles, shoemaking and sewing. In addition, both retail and wholesale trading increased, which opened further opportunities for the Jews of Bizerte.  

 Between 1881 and 1921 the Jewish population of Bizerte reached 1,522 persons, making then some 12% of the town's total population. From 1923 the French authorities offered the option of French citizenship, which in turn expanded the educational opportunities in academic subjects. Jews began to work in many professions such as law, and many were recruited into the civil service. By 1936, 12% of Jewish employees worked in professional fields. In that year the number of Jews had decreased somewhat, to 1,342 persons, mainly as a result of migration to Tunis.

Community institutions included the synagogue, where religious classes (Talmud torah) were held in the afternoon with the Rabbis Shlomo Pariente and Raphael Cohen. The community committee was founded in 1909 by order of the Bey (local ruler), and its main function was related to charity. The community had a cemetery which was established in the 18th century.  Zionist activity was initiated in 1919, the UUJJ Union Universelle Jeunesse Juive, Jewish scouts movement started activities in 1924.  Four years later, in 1928 the Bizerte branch of the Jewish National Fund was established. The French authorities did not allow the Jews to the collect money for settlement in Israel, nor did they allow the Arabs to send donations to their compatriots. 

There was no Jewish school in Bizerte so the children studied in French schools. It is not clear why no Alliance school was established in the town, despite the requests by the community.  During the 1920's the first adult classes in spoken Hebrew were organized in the synagogue by Rabbi Shlomo Pariente. At first other rabbis demanded that men and women should study in separate groups, but as time went on the opposition decreased and classes were organized twice or three times a week. Occasionally, well- known teachers from Tunis would come to teach in Bizerte.

One of the community's cultural activities was the drama group, which was founded in1926. There was also a musical band which performed until the outbreak of WWII, for Jewish communities in Nabeul, Beja and Tunis. The drama group co-operated with the local Arab group.

Tension between the Jews and Arabs in Bizerta intensified as a result of French rule, as the Jews tended to show support for the European way of life which led to improvement in their socio-economic status compared to the Arabs. Nationalist Arabs founded their own political party which opposed the French, and during the 1930's organized demonstrations and uprisings which had negative repercussions for the Jewish population.

 

World War II 1939 – 1961

With the outbreak of war in 1939 the Axis (Germany and Italy) air force bombed the French military port of Bizerte. The Jewish community supported the French and prayed for their success. In 1940, after France surrendered to the Germans, the Vichy regime was established in Tunisia, with its accompanying anti-Jewish legislation. Implementation of the regulations came into force in Bizerta in September 1941, leading to antisemitic articles in the press, anti-Jewish attitudes in the school, as well as insulting behavior of the Arabs towards the Jews. Many Jews lost their jobs, and their choice of profession was limited. Several Jews joined the French Resistance.

In October 1942 the Allies landed on the Algerian coast. A month later German plans landed in Tunisia, and after German and Italian warships docked in the port, Bizerte fell to the invaders without firing a single shot.  During the 6 months of German occupation (November 1942-May 1943) Bizerte was suffered massive bombing damage from Allied aircraft. In addition to the casualties and injuries incurred, many homes were damaged and the synagogue completely destroyed. A large percentage of inhabitants fled the town, including most of the Jews who escaped to Tunis or other small towns. Bizerta became a ghost town and the Jewish community ceased to function.

The Germans took over the French military base and turned into the largest forced labor camp in Tunisia. The Jews were transported from Tunis, and were subject to extremely difficult work conditions under harsh German supervision. The six months of German occupation resulted in death and injury to camp inmates, both as a result of German cruelty as well as constant Allied bombing.  On May 7th the Allied forces landed on the Tunisian coast, but the camp had been evacuated by the Germans three days earlier.

After war approximately 1,000 Jews returned to a Bizerte in ruins. Some remained in Tunis while others found better opportunities in other towns. With help from the American Joint Distribution Committee and French OZE (Children's aid fund), the community managed to return to some kind of routine. The synagogue was rebuilt only in 1954, close the original site.  Zionist activity resumed in 1944. Bizerte served a port for Aliya Bet activities in efforts to transport Holocaust survivors from Europe to Israel.  After the establishment of the State of Israel many members of the youth movements left for their new home.  The Jews remaining in Bizerte consisted of two groups; one which was Zionist, and the other more inclined towards French culture. Between 1946-1956, the year of Tunisian independence from France, only 15% of the Jews left Bizerte, half for Israel and the others for France. Another 10% left in 1956.

After Tunisia was granted independence Bizerte remained as the only French controlled town with the large naval base. Many of the remaining Jews worked for the French authorities and therefore did not feel the need to leave. It was the crisis of July 1961 that eventually led to the final exodus from Bizerte. In that year the Tunisians demanded that France evacuate Bizerte, and the result was a battle between the French and Tunisians. The French marines captured the port and the new city, but it was clear that they would not remain in Bizerte for long. The Jews who remained were in danger of attacks from the locals who suspected that they supported the French. Those Jews who held French passports were assured of French protection, while the remaining 300 Jews were at risk. The Jewish Agency succeeded in smuggling them out of Bizerte at night with the help of the marines.

After September 1961 no Jews remained in Bizerte. Today the synagogue has been turned into a municipal library.

Hammam-Lif

In Arabic: حمام الأنف‎
Ancient name: Naro

A small town in the Bay of Tunis, some 60 km south-east of Tunis, north Tunisia.

Jews had apparently settled in Hammam-Lif already in the Phoenician period. In antiquity it was known as Naro and was renowned for its thermal springs originating in Mount Bou Kornine. A synagogue of the Roman period has been uncovered and it seems that the ancient Jewish presence there continued until the Byzantine period. A Jewish settlement in Hamman-Lif existed in the 10th and 11th centuries. In the 12th century the Jews of Hammam-Lif suffered at the hands of the fanatic rulers of the Almohades (Muwahidun) dynasty. In the 18th century Jews returned to live at Hammam-Lif. The community expanded following the promulgation in 1857 of the covenant that guaranteed equal rights to all citizens. In 1865 Nissim Shamama, the Jewish qa’id of Tunis, established at Hammam-Lif a yeshiva and bet-midrash.

When the French protectorate over Tunisia was established (1881) more Jews came to the town. In 1909 57 Jews were living at the place. They integrated in trade, particularly in the export of fruit and vegetables and also in the extraction of olive oil and the spinning of wool. In 1921 the local community already had 345 members. In the period between the two world wars the number of Jews at Hammam-Lif again increased, as the town offered good and comparatively cheap housing. Most of them came from the capital Tunis. In 1926 349 Jews were living at Hammam-Lif, in 1931 - 283, in 1936 - 543, and in 1946 - 674 Jews.

Most of the Jews settled in the European quarter of the town, on the highway to Tunis. The majority of the Hammam-Lif Jews continued to work outside the town, mainly in Tunis, but there were Jews of French and Italian citizenship who engaged in medicine or law, as well as government employees, who worked locally.

The Jews of Hammam-Lif were not organised in a proper community. There was no managing committee and no communal institutions. Religious services like kosher slaughter, circumcision, marriage and burial services were provided by the community of Tunis. The local Jews voted in the elections to the managing committee of Tunis and buried their dead at the cemetery of Tunis. There were two small synagogues at Hammam-Lif. One of them was the central synagogue. It was directed in the 1930’s by Rabbi Gez. The other synagogue was directed by Rabbi Fartukh. Both synagogues had a talmud torah attached to them. The majority of the children attended French schools and a French high school at Tunis. The community was strongly influenced by the French culture and lacked any meaningful Jewish activity.

In the course of World War II (1939-1945) the position of the Jews of Hammam-Lif deteriorated because of the hostile policy of the Vichy government in Paris (from June 1940). Jewish officials were dismissed from their posts and professional Jews were forbidden to engage in their vocation. The tension between the Jews and the Arab population intensified and incidents of harassment and robbery occurred. When the German force entered Tunisia, Hammam-Lif was given the status of a “free town”, because the Bey of Tunisia lived there. Consequently, the position of the Jews of Hammam-Lif was not significantly hurt and many Jewish refugees from the neighbourhood came to the town and hid in Jewish houses. The Germans demanded from the Jews of Hammam-Lif to provide them with radio sets, furniture and clothing. Hammam-Lif was heavily bombed by the allies in March 1943, before the final capitulation of the German forces in the region. Hammam-Lif was liberated by the Allied forces on May 10, 1943, not before it was the scene of heavy fighting against the retreating German army. The local Jews were accused of helping the Allied forces. 

The war aggravated the economic condition of many Jews and Jewish world relief organisations like the “Joint” and “Oze” stepped in to assist. The rich members of the community initiated an institute for needy poor children called “Nos Petits”. A Jewish orphanage called “Le Nid” (the Nest) was established at Hammam-Lif in 1950.

Zionist activity started already in the 1920’s and the 1930’s. A branch of the Jewish National Fund was established, whose main activity was the collection of money for Israel. In the early 1930’s a local branch of “Betar” was founded. It came under the direction of the leadership of the movement in Tunis. The Zionist youth movements of Tunis used to organise summer camps at Hammam-Lif, because of its mild climate. The Zionist activity intensified when World War II ended. In 1944 a branch of the Jewish scouts movement was founded, with a summer camp of many participants. Emissaries of the illegal aliyah to Israel and the Jewish Agency came to Hammam-Lif and together with a local branch of the Zion-Deror movement, established in that year, all worked to encourage and organise aliyah. When the state of Israel was established (1948), a few dozen local Jews went to Israel, but an active Jewish community continued to exist at Hammam-Lif until 1956, when Tunisia became independent. In 1956 489 Jews were still living in the place, but the community ceased to exist at the end of the decade. Half of the remaining Jews emigrated to France and the other half to Israel.

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.

Amrus

Al-Amrus; Bab Al-Amrus; Amr Ibn Al-as; in Arabic:  عمرو بن العاص

An urban settlement on the Mediterranean coast, 6 km east of the capital Tripoli, western Libya.

Jews settled in Amrus apparently in the 16th century. In the 18th century they were joined by Jews from Tunis, Tunisia.

The proximity to Tripoli had an influence on the Jews of Amrus. Most of them engaged in trade and crafts but there were also some who cultivated pieces of land in the nearby oasis and marketed their produce. The Jews of Amrus excelled as blacksmiths, they made mainly agricultural tools and horse-shoes. Among the artisans were also saddlers and from the 1920’s also shoemakers and tinsmiths, as well as petty traders.

In 1861 there were 150 Jews and in 1888 - about 500 Jews at Amrus. In 1903 the figure rose to 1,000. The scholar and traveler Nahum Slouschz visited the place in 1906. He found a poor Jewish community, living in a separate crowded quarter, in houses built mostly of clay and some of stone.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were 3 synagogues at the Jewish quarter: the oldest one built by a Jew named Amira, a synagogue built in 1850 with the help of donations from Tripoli, and the synagogue built by the community itself in 1904. In the 1920’s two private synagogues were added, one by the family Makhluf and one by the family Buhnik. Each of the synagogues served also as a Talmud torah. In 1910, for the first time, a cemetery was consecrated at Amrus west of the Jewish quarter. The community had a hevra kaddisha, as well as a shohet (slaughterer), hazzan (cantor), mohel (circumciser), and a teacher for small children. The community of Amrus had no directing committee. A sheikh (elder person) headed the community and he represented the community towards the authorities. In the 1930’s two sheikhs stood at the head of the community: Hawato Makhluf and Abraham Sa’ada, two of the rich members of the community.

The life of the community evolved around the synagogues. The community had a children’s choir called Sighat El-havra (the Youth of the society). On questions of the Jewish matrimonial law, the community referred to the rabbis of Tripoli.

World war ii caused the life of the community to flourish. Many Jews from Tripoli left the capital and moved to Amrus. They stayed there until 1943. Following the defeats of the ruling Italians in 1942, the Jews felt some tension, because of their sympathy to the victorious British. From January 1943 until the end of the war the British occupation brought to the Jews of Amrus considerable relief. Gradually, all the discriminating laws against the Jews which the Italian Fascists had imposed were cancelled.

In 1943 the first branch of the movement “Ben Yehuda” was set up. A Hebrew study circle was started, as well as a circle for the study of Zionism. The members of the movement had a blue and white uniform. Study books were supplied from Eretz Israel.

In November 1945 riots against the Jews of Tripoli broke out. The riots spread to other places in Tripolitania, including Amrus. 38 Jews were killed at Amrus. Property was plundered and houses set on fire. The old synagogue suffered damage. Following the pogrom, the youth of Amrus organized themselves for self defense and bought underground weapons. They were assisted by Jewish soldiers from Eretz Israel who were stationed in the area in units of the British army.

Another pogrom occurred in 1948. There were no casualties but only looting and destruction. The tension between the Jews and Arabs intensified and Jewish international aid organizations rendered help. The American Joint set up in 1948 a public kitchen and the Jewish health society Ose founded a clinic in 1950.

Two synagogues were still functioning in 1950. In one of them was a school. The British authorities, too, set up a school of three classes

for the Jewish children. In 1949 preparations for Aliyah to Israel began but only in 1952 did most of the Jews actually depart.

Tebourba

In Arabic: طبربة

A town in the Manouba Governorate, Tunisia.  

Tebourba is located on the left bank of the Medjerda river, about thirty kilometers west of Tunis, facing the city of Al Battan.

A number of Jews from Tunis settled in Tebourba during late 19th century. The experimental agricultural school for boys opened by Alliance Israélite Universelle in the nearby Djedeida influenced the community of Tebourba. The school not only aimed to farming to Jewish urban youth, but also to disseminate the ideas of “return to the soil” and the “regeneration” of the Jewish people. However, the school was closed after WW1. In 1909 there were 44 Jews in Tebourba. The community ceased to exist in late 1930s.  The synagogue, located on rue de la Ceinture, was destroyed in 1942.

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The Jewish Community of Tunis

Tunis

In Arabic:  تونس

Capital of Tunisia and its largest city. Located in the northeast of Tunisia.

Jews probably lived in Punic Carthage (which was destroyed in 146 BCE), though there is no hard evidence that can positively prove their presence there. Nonetheless, the Septuagint and the Aramaic Targum of the prophets identifies the "Tarshish" mentioned in the Bible as "Carthage." The province of Africa under Roman rule did include a number of Jewish communities for which there is ample archeological and textual evidence. Jews of the Roman province in Africa during the first centuries CE enjoyed a level of tolerance and freedom that allowed them to both practice their religion, and flourish economically. The Jews of Carthage were particularly wealthy and engaged in maritime trade or agriculture.

Things began to change, however, during the fourth century when Christianity began to dominate religious and political life. Jews were subject to various discriminatory laws that impacted their economic and religious lives. Later, with the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the 8th century, the Jews coexisted peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, and both communities maintained friendly intellectual, social, and business relationships with each other. A major intellectual center of North African Jewry emerged in the city of Kairouan in the northeast of Tunisia. Kairouan had a number of famous yeshivot, led by prominent scholars who maintained close relationships with the geonim of the academies of Sura, Pumbedita, and Palestine. Though Tunis had been chosen in 698 to replace the fallen capital of Carthage, it would not become as important as Kairouan for many years.

In 1159 the Almohad Dynasty invaded Tunisia and conquered Tunis. They killed the inhabitants of the town who refused to convert to Islam. Many Jews converted, while others fled. The situation of the Jews improved considerably, however, under the Hefsid Dynasty (1228-1574). Tunis became the capital city, and many Jews who had been forced to convert returned to Judaism. The synagogues, which had been closed under the Almohads, were reopened and the Jews no longer had to live in fear. Though the community did not enjoy the same level of wealth that it had before the reigns of the Almohads, it was nonetheless able to reestablish profitable business enterprises and some individual members were appointed to important positions within the empire. At the same time, it is important to note that Jews under Hafsid rule were legally classified as "dhimmi," tolerated and protected as "people of the Book," but seen as inferior to Muslims. This meant that the Jews, along with other dhimmi, were required to pay special taxes, and had to wear distinctive badges or clothing that would distinguish them from Muslims. The Jews of Tunis wore special clothing and displayed a piece of yellow cloth on their heads or necks as late as 1470.

In spite of the restrictions imposed on them, the Jews of Tunis were allowed full property rights and could buy and sell property without any special restrictions. The Jewish community was also officially recognized by the government and enjoyed administrative and cultural autonomy. The communities were led by "gedolei ha-kahal," essentially the wealthiest businessmen, and were not elected by the community. These gedolei hakahal were responsible for managing charitable funds, while other community leaders administered the synagogues and religious funds.

During the period of Ottoman rule (1574-1881), the city of Tunis became the cultural and economic center for the Jews of Tunisia and North African Jews more generally. During this period the Jews of Tunis worked as traders, artisans, craftsmen, goldsmiths, jewelers, tailors, shoemakers, and carpenters. They were also appointed to various government positions.

Tunisian Jewry began to flourish economically in the 16th century with the arrival of Jews from Livorno, Italy. The Jews of Livorno turned the "Shuq-el-Grana" into the economic center of the town, and opened three synagogues and two payer houses. Most of what was produced there was sent to Livorno or Marseilles. There was, however, tension between the Jews who were native to Tunisia and those who arrived more recently from Livorno. Ultimately the two communities split in 1710, and the "Grana" (those Jews who had arrived from Livorno) established an independent community, including a cemetery, slaughterhouses, rabbinical court, dayyanim, and chief rabbi. This state of affairs lasted officially until 1899, when the authorities called for the two communities to merge; however, in reality the communities maintained distinctions and distances between them, prompting the authorities to once again intervene and decree that the communities merge in 1944.

The leadership structure of the Tunisian Jewish community remained unchanged for centuries. The community was led by a qa'id, who had considerable authority over the community and was mainly responsible for collecting taxes. The qa'id was usually a member of the native Tunisian community, as opposed to the Livorno community, giving the former considerable power over the community. Additionally, rabbinic leaders tended to be from native Tunisian families, with the exception of Rabbi Isaac Lombroso who was nonetheless a student of prominent rabbis from the native Tunisian community, most notably Rabbi Zemah Sefarti and Rabbi Abraham Tayeb, the well-known "Baba Sidi."

A number of Jewish works were written by the distinguished rabbis of Tunis. The Baba Sidi's grandson, Rabbi Abraham, wrote a commentary on the Talmud and the major commentators Alfasi, Rashi, and Maimonides, called "Chayyei Avraham." His son wrote "Derekh Hayyim." Rabbi Isaac Tayeb also wrote a number of works. Rabbi Uzziel Alhayk was the author of Mishkenot HaRo'im, an encyclopedic rabbinic code that dealt with the internal and public issues faced by Tunisian Jews during the 17th and 18th centuries. Starting in the 17th century Tunis became an important center of Jewish learning, particularly for Talmud and the Kabbalah.

During the 17th century until the beginning of the 19th century, the Jews of Tunis chiefly worked as manufacturers of wool or silk shawls. More than half of the shawls they produced were actually tallitot; during this period Polish Jews could very well have put on a tallit that was originally produced in Tunis.

The population density of the Jewish quarter increased during the 18th century, and the rising cost of housing caused many Jews to leave the city. Modernization, however, brought many Jews from small villages to the city; the Jewish community of Tunis was the first to embrace European emancipation and modernization, especially after the French conquered Tunisia in 1881. In 1878 the first Alliance Israelite Universelle school was founded in the city; this school offered religious studies along with Hebrew, French, and general subjects and served to further promote French influence within the community. On the other end of the modernity spectrum, Talmud Torah and other traditional yeshivahs continued to act as bulwarks against the exposure of the community's youth to the influence of French culture. In 1908 there were 400 children enrolled in the Alliance school, with 800 in the Katab (the traditional local cheder where pupils were taught only in Hebrew and Arabic). The influence of Eastern European maskilim (proponents of the Jewish Enlightenment) was also felt within the city. There were a number of maskilic newspapers and books from Eastern Europe that were published in Tunis in Judeo-Arabic.

After the French established a protectorate in Tunisia, they established a new institution, L'Assemblee des Notables, to lead the Jewish community. The chief rabbi of Tunis would represent all of the Jews of the community, and the French government paid his salary. Later, in 1921, the French decided instead to create the Conseil de la Communaute Israelite. Members of this council were elected; any man who paid his taxes to the community was eligible to vote. Zionist groups, the La Justice party (which sought to promote French influence within the community), and other ideologies sought to exert their influence over the community through the council.

Zionism was a particularly active ideology within Tunisia, in spite of the fact that French authorities forbade any political Zionist activism (cultural Zionist activities were allowed). The first Zionist organization established in the community was Agudat Zion, in 1910. Agudat Zion would publish a Zionist newspaper, "Kol Zion," contribute to Keren Kayemet, and send a representative to the Tenth Zionist Congress. After World War I, Tunisian Zionists established the Tunisian Zionist Federation as an umbrella organization for the city's Zionist activities. Though the Federation was not a strong organization, it nonetheless dealt with the various organizational requirements necessary in helping to spread Zionist ideology to the Jews of Tunisia. The Alliance Israelite Universelle proved to be an opponent of Zionism, instead wanting to see an integration of the Jews into French society. While the Zionists called on alliance schools to teach Jewish history and modern Hebrew, the Alliance emphasized a deep attachment to French culture. In 1921 elections were held for the community assembly. Sixty delegates were elected, among them 14 Zionists. The assembly also elected a board of 12 members with a proportional representation between the Livornoses and the Tunisians.

A number of Zionist youth movements arose during the twenties and thirties. In addition to the Beitar movement, which was the largest of the Zionist youth groups, there was also the Eclaireurs Israelites de France (EIF), the Union Universelle de Jeunese Juive (UUJJ), and HaShomer HaZair.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were 24,000 Jews living in Tunis. By the eve of the World War II their number had increased to nearly 30,000 (30% of the total population).

THE HOLOCAUST

The anti-Jewish legislation imposed by the Vichy government during World War II included the Jews of Tunisia. Jews were removed from public services, forbidden to work in professions such as medicine and law, and many were forced out of their businesses.

The Germans invaded Tunisia on November 8, 1942 and the country remained under German and Italian control until 1943. During the occupation, the Germans established a Judenrat-like committee in Tunis led by Paul Ghez. The Jewish community went through aerial bombardments, both from Allied and German forces. Approximately 4,000-5,000 young Jews were sent to forced labor near the front line, and they were interned in about 30 military camps located along the battlefields. Jewish property was confiscated, buildings such as the Alliance school and the Great Synagogue were closed down and repurposed, and the community was forced to pay a 53 million franc fine. Ultimately the failure of the French government to protect them led the Jews of Tunis, and Tunisia, to feel alienated from France and French culture.

POSTWAR

After the Allies liberated Tunisia, waves of emigration began. The first took place in 1947-48, in spite of the fact that Jews could not legally immigrate to Mandate Palestine. With the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 came more waves of emigration from Tunis, chiefly arranged through the Jewish Agency and Aliyat HaNoar. In 1946 the Jewish community in Tunis numbered 34,200; by 1953 about 15,000 Jews had emigrated from Tunisia.

On March 20, 1956, Tunisia achieved independence. The newly independent country favored allowing its Jews to fully integrate into Tunisian society. All Tunisians, including the Jews, were allowed to vote in elections for the Constituent Assembly, ten Jewish judges were appointed to the country's courts to decide cases dealing with Jewish litigants, and an Interim Committee for the Management of the Affairs of the Jewish Community was established. At the same time, however, in Tunis the Jewish Quarter was destroyed, and the old Jewish cemetery was turned into a public park and the remains were transferred elsewhere. Later, in 1961, Yom Kippur was declared an official holiday, thereby allowing Jews to take the day off from work. Emigration to Israel temporarily decreased.

Nonetheless, the difficult economic situation, and increasing tensions stemming from the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Jewish community of Tunis, and of Tunisia, redoubled their efforts to leave the country. Anti-Jewish riots took place in Tunis in 1967, after the Six Day War. It was at this time that Tunisia underwent a period of Arabization, a development that negatively impacted the Jewish community. In 1971 Rabbi Mazliach Mazuz, who established the Kisei Rachamim yeshiva in Tunis, was murdered on his way home from his morning prayers.

The Jewish population of Tunis continued to decrease. In 1979 there were 3,000 Jews left of the city, most of whom were elderly and had moved from other communities whose Jewish communities were gone, as well as a few rich families who could not, or would not, leave their property behind.

By 2005 there were 1,500 Jews in Tunisia, most of whom lived in Tunis and Djerba.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

Tebourba
Amrus
Testour
Hammam-Lif
Bizerte
La Marsa
Carthage

Tebourba

In Arabic: طبربة

A town in the Manouba Governorate, Tunisia.  

Tebourba is located on the left bank of the Medjerda river, about thirty kilometers west of Tunis, facing the city of Al Battan.

A number of Jews from Tunis settled in Tebourba during late 19th century. The experimental agricultural school for boys opened by Alliance Israélite Universelle in the nearby Djedeida influenced the community of Tebourba. The school not only aimed to farming to Jewish urban youth, but also to disseminate the ideas of “return to the soil” and the “regeneration” of the Jewish people. However, the school was closed after WW1. In 1909 there were 44 Jews in Tebourba. The community ceased to exist in late 1930s.  The synagogue, located on rue de la Ceinture, was destroyed in 1942.

Amrus

Al-Amrus; Bab Al-Amrus; Amr Ibn Al-as; in Arabic:  عمرو بن العاص

An urban settlement on the Mediterranean coast, 6 km east of the capital Tripoli, western Libya.

Jews settled in Amrus apparently in the 16th century. In the 18th century they were joined by Jews from Tunis, Tunisia.

The proximity to Tripoli had an influence on the Jews of Amrus. Most of them engaged in trade and crafts but there were also some who cultivated pieces of land in the nearby oasis and marketed their produce. The Jews of Amrus excelled as blacksmiths, they made mainly agricultural tools and horse-shoes. Among the artisans were also saddlers and from the 1920’s also shoemakers and tinsmiths, as well as petty traders.

In 1861 there were 150 Jews and in 1888 - about 500 Jews at Amrus. In 1903 the figure rose to 1,000. The scholar and traveler Nahum Slouschz visited the place in 1906. He found a poor Jewish community, living in a separate crowded quarter, in houses built mostly of clay and some of stone.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were 3 synagogues at the Jewish quarter: the oldest one built by a Jew named Amira, a synagogue built in 1850 with the help of donations from Tripoli, and the synagogue built by the community itself in 1904. In the 1920’s two private synagogues were added, one by the family Makhluf and one by the family Buhnik. Each of the synagogues served also as a Talmud torah. In 1910, for the first time, a cemetery was consecrated at Amrus west of the Jewish quarter. The community had a hevra kaddisha, as well as a shohet (slaughterer), hazzan (cantor), mohel (circumciser), and a teacher for small children. The community of Amrus had no directing committee. A sheikh (elder person) headed the community and he represented the community towards the authorities. In the 1930’s two sheikhs stood at the head of the community: Hawato Makhluf and Abraham Sa’ada, two of the rich members of the community.

The life of the community evolved around the synagogues. The community had a children’s choir called Sighat El-havra (the Youth of the society). On questions of the Jewish matrimonial law, the community referred to the rabbis of Tripoli.

World war ii caused the life of the community to flourish. Many Jews from Tripoli left the capital and moved to Amrus. They stayed there until 1943. Following the defeats of the ruling Italians in 1942, the Jews felt some tension, because of their sympathy to the victorious British. From January 1943 until the end of the war the British occupation brought to the Jews of Amrus considerable relief. Gradually, all the discriminating laws against the Jews which the Italian Fascists had imposed were cancelled.

In 1943 the first branch of the movement “Ben Yehuda” was set up. A Hebrew study circle was started, as well as a circle for the study of Zionism. The members of the movement had a blue and white uniform. Study books were supplied from Eretz Israel.

In November 1945 riots against the Jews of Tripoli broke out. The riots spread to other places in Tripolitania, including Amrus. 38 Jews were killed at Amrus. Property was plundered and houses set on fire. The old synagogue suffered damage. Following the pogrom, the youth of Amrus organized themselves for self defense and bought underground weapons. They were assisted by Jewish soldiers from Eretz Israel who were stationed in the area in units of the British army.

Another pogrom occurred in 1948. There were no casualties but only looting and destruction. The tension between the Jews and Arabs intensified and Jewish international aid organizations rendered help. The American Joint set up in 1948 a public kitchen and the Jewish health society Ose founded a clinic in 1950.

Two synagogues were still functioning in 1950. In one of them was a school. The British authorities, too, set up a school of three classes

for the Jewish children. In 1949 preparations for Aliyah to Israel began but only in 1952 did most of the Jews actually depart.

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.

Hammam-Lif

In Arabic: حمام الأنف‎
Ancient name: Naro

A small town in the Bay of Tunis, some 60 km south-east of Tunis, north Tunisia.

Jews had apparently settled in Hammam-Lif already in the Phoenician period. In antiquity it was known as Naro and was renowned for its thermal springs originating in Mount Bou Kornine. A synagogue of the Roman period has been uncovered and it seems that the ancient Jewish presence there continued until the Byzantine period. A Jewish settlement in Hamman-Lif existed in the 10th and 11th centuries. In the 12th century the Jews of Hammam-Lif suffered at the hands of the fanatic rulers of the Almohades (Muwahidun) dynasty. In the 18th century Jews returned to live at Hammam-Lif. The community expanded following the promulgation in 1857 of the covenant that guaranteed equal rights to all citizens. In 1865 Nissim Shamama, the Jewish qa’id of Tunis, established at Hammam-Lif a yeshiva and bet-midrash.

When the French protectorate over Tunisia was established (1881) more Jews came to the town. In 1909 57 Jews were living at the place. They integrated in trade, particularly in the export of fruit and vegetables and also in the extraction of olive oil and the spinning of wool. In 1921 the local community already had 345 members. In the period between the two world wars the number of Jews at Hammam-Lif again increased, as the town offered good and comparatively cheap housing. Most of them came from the capital Tunis. In 1926 349 Jews were living at Hammam-Lif, in 1931 - 283, in 1936 - 543, and in 1946 - 674 Jews.

Most of the Jews settled in the European quarter of the town, on the highway to Tunis. The majority of the Hammam-Lif Jews continued to work outside the town, mainly in Tunis, but there were Jews of French and Italian citizenship who engaged in medicine or law, as well as government employees, who worked locally.

The Jews of Hammam-Lif were not organised in a proper community. There was no managing committee and no communal institutions. Religious services like kosher slaughter, circumcision, marriage and burial services were provided by the community of Tunis. The local Jews voted in the elections to the managing committee of Tunis and buried their dead at the cemetery of Tunis. There were two small synagogues at Hammam-Lif. One of them was the central synagogue. It was directed in the 1930’s by Rabbi Gez. The other synagogue was directed by Rabbi Fartukh. Both synagogues had a talmud torah attached to them. The majority of the children attended French schools and a French high school at Tunis. The community was strongly influenced by the French culture and lacked any meaningful Jewish activity.

In the course of World War II (1939-1945) the position of the Jews of Hammam-Lif deteriorated because of the hostile policy of the Vichy government in Paris (from June 1940). Jewish officials were dismissed from their posts and professional Jews were forbidden to engage in their vocation. The tension between the Jews and the Arab population intensified and incidents of harassment and robbery occurred. When the German force entered Tunisia, Hammam-Lif was given the status of a “free town”, because the Bey of Tunisia lived there. Consequently, the position of the Jews of Hammam-Lif was not significantly hurt and many Jewish refugees from the neighbourhood came to the town and hid in Jewish houses. The Germans demanded from the Jews of Hammam-Lif to provide them with radio sets, furniture and clothing. Hammam-Lif was heavily bombed by the allies in March 1943, before the final capitulation of the German forces in the region. Hammam-Lif was liberated by the Allied forces on May 10, 1943, not before it was the scene of heavy fighting against the retreating German army. The local Jews were accused of helping the Allied forces. 

The war aggravated the economic condition of many Jews and Jewish world relief organisations like the “Joint” and “Oze” stepped in to assist. The rich members of the community initiated an institute for needy poor children called “Nos Petits”. A Jewish orphanage called “Le Nid” (the Nest) was established at Hammam-Lif in 1950.

Zionist activity started already in the 1920’s and the 1930’s. A branch of the Jewish National Fund was established, whose main activity was the collection of money for Israel. In the early 1930’s a local branch of “Betar” was founded. It came under the direction of the leadership of the movement in Tunis. The Zionist youth movements of Tunis used to organise summer camps at Hammam-Lif, because of its mild climate. The Zionist activity intensified when World War II ended. In 1944 a branch of the Jewish scouts movement was founded, with a summer camp of many participants. Emissaries of the illegal aliyah to Israel and the Jewish Agency came to Hammam-Lif and together with a local branch of the Zion-Deror movement, established in that year, all worked to encourage and organise aliyah. When the state of Israel was established (1948), a few dozen local Jews went to Israel, but an active Jewish community continued to exist at Hammam-Lif until 1956, when Tunisia became independent. In 1956 489 Jews were still living in the place, but the community ceased to exist at the end of the decade. Half of the remaining Jews emigrated to France and the other half to Israel.

Bizerte

Bizerte [Fr], Biserta [Ital], Benzert, Bizerta, Arabic: بنزرت‎‎ Banzart

Bizerte is a port located on the Mediterranean coast in northern Tunisia.

Its origins date back to the 11th century BCE, when the Phoenicians, as traders, widened the natural canal connecting the town with the coast. Known during the Greek and Roman periods as Hippo Diarrhytus or Hippo Zaritus, Bizerta served as an important port on the coast of north Africa.  

 

Early history of Jewish community

There is some evidence of Jewish settlement in Bizerte during the Phoenician, Greek and Roman periods, when the Jews gained their livelihood from fishing, trading and agriculture.  With the dissemination of Christianity throughout the Roman, and later Byzantine, Empire, the Jews were at the forefront of the struggle against the incursion of the new religion into North Africa.

During the Byzantine period up to the time of the Arab invasion in 698 CE, Arab sources state that Bizerte was headed by Jewish governors, one of whom led the army fighting against the invaders. After the Byzantine rulers were overthrown, however, the Jews were demoted to the status of "dhimmi" or second class citizens who could not hold official positions. The Muslim authorities deliberately changed market day to Shabbat, in contrast to the Jewish governors who had always prevented such a move. During or prior to the 12th century pogroms instigated by the Almohad rulers, many Jews of Bizerte probably migrated to other larger communities such as Kairouan.

In 1534 the town was captured by the Spanish who expelled all Jews who remained. 40 years later, with the Ottoman conquest in 1572, the Jews were allowed to return to Bizerte.

 

17th – 19th Century

The next records from Bizerte relate to Italian Jews from Livorno who were descendants of Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition. Trading documents dating from the early 17th century were signed between Bizerte Jews and French and Spanish merchants.  But evidence of an organized community is found more than a century later, in the diaries of the traveler Rabbi Haim Yoseph David Azulai (1724-1806). In the year 1774, Rabbi Haim (known as Hahida), visited Bizerte on his way from Eretz Yisrael to Livorno in Italy, and documents the welcome he received from the head of the community, Samuel Sidbon. He states that a merchant ship from the Tunisian fleet was sent by Samuel to carry Rabbi Haim to Livorno, which reflects the economic status of the leader of the Bizerte community. The Livorno Jews established the first synagogue in Bizerte. The size of the community, however, was described by Rabbi Haim as small. Further evidence from the 18th century exists in the halachic responsa of Rabbi Masoud-Raphael Alfasi, in a question regarding burial rights in Bizerte. Another scholar, Yitzhak Karshani wrote a 7 volume torah commentary in 1780, which hints at the existence of a place of scholarship in Bizerte.

In the early 19th century a Maltese traveler found approximately 500 Jews in Bizerte, where the community centered round the synagogue. There were four rabbis, including the chief rabbi, two who taught the children, and one who was responsible for the synagogue. The community maintained close contact with the Jews of Tunis, the capital, by means of regular animal caravans.

In 1837, a survivor of the earthquake in Tiberias arrived in Bizerte, possibly en route for Morooco. His name was Yisrael Imman, and instead of travelling further, he remained in Bizerte as rabbi and teacher until his death in 1897. His daughter was mother of Yisrael Arky who served as community leader at the turn of the century. Another well know personality during the latter years of the 19th century was Rabbi Meir Shlomo Pariente, descended  from the Livornese Jews, and author of the book Words of  Wisdom (אמרי שפר), published in 1924.

In the latter half of the century the traveler Binyamin the Second writes of 100 Jewish families in Bizerte. The Livornese were the wealthier class as they dealt in international trade. Most of the community earned their living from small local trade with the Muslim population, as well as from crafts. In years of drought the drop in crop yields resulted in poverty for both Jews and Muslims. 

In 1881 Tunisia was taken over by France as a protectorate, a process which brought European influence to Bizerte. A Christian community of Maltese, French and Italians grew and developed in the town. Since the Jews adapted themselves easily to western influence, their economic status improved considerably compared to the Muslims.

 

1881- World War II

With the establishment of  the French government in Tunisia, the Jewish population of Bizerte grew. The port was developed by the French authorities, resulting in improved trading opportunities for Jewish merchants. In 1909 there were approximately 1,000 Jews in the town.

Under French rule there were three major changes in the life of the Jewish community. Firstly, the development of a European neighbourhood outside the old city of Bizerte, where most of the Jews lived until the turn of the century, resulted in the migration of the wealthier Jews from the old city to the new areas. A further development was the strengthening of the social and economic bond with the Jewish community in Tunis the capital. During this period, the Bizerte community for all intents and purposes became a suburb of Tunis. Transportation between the two locations improved, which expanded the opportunities for employment. Jews from Bizerte could travel to work in Tunis, or vice versa. In 1904 the local ruler (Bei) gave the Rabbi of Tunis the authority to appoint the religious leaders of Bizerte, which further cemented the connection between the two communities.

The third important development related to modernization. In 1898 Bizerte became Tunisia's most important military port under French control, which resulted in the establishment of military industries and the consequent increase in demand for labor. Jewish workshops opened dealing in metalwork, painting, ironworking, textiles, shoemaking and sewing. In addition, both retail and wholesale trading increased, which opened further opportunities for the Jews of Bizerte.  

 Between 1881 and 1921 the Jewish population of Bizerte reached 1,522 persons, making then some 12% of the town's total population. From 1923 the French authorities offered the option of French citizenship, which in turn expanded the educational opportunities in academic subjects. Jews began to work in many professions such as law, and many were recruited into the civil service. By 1936, 12% of Jewish employees worked in professional fields. In that year the number of Jews had decreased somewhat, to 1,342 persons, mainly as a result of migration to Tunis.

Community institutions included the synagogue, where religious classes (Talmud torah) were held in the afternoon with the Rabbis Shlomo Pariente and Raphael Cohen. The community committee was founded in 1909 by order of the Bey (local ruler), and its main function was related to charity. The community had a cemetery which was established in the 18th century.  Zionist activity was initiated in 1919, the UUJJ Union Universelle Jeunesse Juive, Jewish scouts movement started activities in 1924.  Four years later, in 1928 the Bizerte branch of the Jewish National Fund was established. The French authorities did not allow the Jews to the collect money for settlement in Israel, nor did they allow the Arabs to send donations to their compatriots. 

There was no Jewish school in Bizerte so the children studied in French schools. It is not clear why no Alliance school was established in the town, despite the requests by the community.  During the 1920's the first adult classes in spoken Hebrew were organized in the synagogue by Rabbi Shlomo Pariente. At first other rabbis demanded that men and women should study in separate groups, but as time went on the opposition decreased and classes were organized twice or three times a week. Occasionally, well- known teachers from Tunis would come to teach in Bizerte.

One of the community's cultural activities was the drama group, which was founded in1926. There was also a musical band which performed until the outbreak of WWII, for Jewish communities in Nabeul, Beja and Tunis. The drama group co-operated with the local Arab group.

Tension between the Jews and Arabs in Bizerta intensified as a result of French rule, as the Jews tended to show support for the European way of life which led to improvement in their socio-economic status compared to the Arabs. Nationalist Arabs founded their own political party which opposed the French, and during the 1930's organized demonstrations and uprisings which had negative repercussions for the Jewish population.

 

World War II 1939 – 1961

With the outbreak of war in 1939 the Axis (Germany and Italy) air force bombed the French military port of Bizerte. The Jewish community supported the French and prayed for their success. In 1940, after France surrendered to the Germans, the Vichy regime was established in Tunisia, with its accompanying anti-Jewish legislation. Implementation of the regulations came into force in Bizerta in September 1941, leading to antisemitic articles in the press, anti-Jewish attitudes in the school, as well as insulting behavior of the Arabs towards the Jews. Many Jews lost their jobs, and their choice of profession was limited. Several Jews joined the French Resistance.

In October 1942 the Allies landed on the Algerian coast. A month later German plans landed in Tunisia, and after German and Italian warships docked in the port, Bizerte fell to the invaders without firing a single shot.  During the 6 months of German occupation (November 1942-May 1943) Bizerte was suffered massive bombing damage from Allied aircraft. In addition to the casualties and injuries incurred, many homes were damaged and the synagogue completely destroyed. A large percentage of inhabitants fled the town, including most of the Jews who escaped to Tunis or other small towns. Bizerta became a ghost town and the Jewish community ceased to function.

The Germans took over the French military base and turned into the largest forced labor camp in Tunisia. The Jews were transported from Tunis, and were subject to extremely difficult work conditions under harsh German supervision. The six months of German occupation resulted in death and injury to camp inmates, both as a result of German cruelty as well as constant Allied bombing.  On May 7th the Allied forces landed on the Tunisian coast, but the camp had been evacuated by the Germans three days earlier.

After war approximately 1,000 Jews returned to a Bizerte in ruins. Some remained in Tunis while others found better opportunities in other towns. With help from the American Joint Distribution Committee and French OZE (Children's aid fund), the community managed to return to some kind of routine. The synagogue was rebuilt only in 1954, close the original site.  Zionist activity resumed in 1944. Bizerte served a port for Aliya Bet activities in efforts to transport Holocaust survivors from Europe to Israel.  After the establishment of the State of Israel many members of the youth movements left for their new home.  The Jews remaining in Bizerte consisted of two groups; one which was Zionist, and the other more inclined towards French culture. Between 1946-1956, the year of Tunisian independence from France, only 15% of the Jews left Bizerte, half for Israel and the others for France. Another 10% left in 1956.

After Tunisia was granted independence Bizerte remained as the only French controlled town with the large naval base. Many of the remaining Jews worked for the French authorities and therefore did not feel the need to leave. It was the crisis of July 1961 that eventually led to the final exodus from Bizerte. In that year the Tunisians demanded that France evacuate Bizerte, and the result was a battle between the French and Tunisians. The French marines captured the port and the new city, but it was clear that they would not remain in Bizerte for long. The Jews who remained were in danger of attacks from the locals who suspected that they supported the French. Those Jews who held French passports were assured of French protection, while the remaining 300 Jews were at risk. The Jewish Agency succeeded in smuggling them out of Bizerte at night with the help of the marines.

After September 1961 no Jews remained in Bizerte. Today the synagogue has been turned into a municipal library.

La Marsa

In Arabic: المرسى

A town in far north eastern Tunisia near the capital Tunis. 

Carthage

In Arabic: قرطاج‎ - Qarṭāj

A commune in Tunis Governorate, Tunisia. Modern Carthage is located in suburban Tunis, about 15 km northeast of the city center, and includes the archeological site of ancient Carthage.

Ancient History

Jewish presence in ancient Carthage is documented since the first cetury CE, when the place was part of the Roman Empire. A jewish cemetery was discovered in the northwestern area of the acient city. More than 200 burial rooms in rock-hewn pits, each containing an average of between 15-20 graves, have been unearthed so far. The archeological discoveries include a  number of Hebrew inscriptions and paintings of Jewish symbols. The Jewish settlement in Carthage apparently flourished after the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, when some refugees from the Land of Israel migrated to the Roman province of Africa.  

After the Muslim conquest of Tunisia, Carthage lost its prominence and the local Jews moved to other places. 

Modern History 

There was no organized Jewish community in Carthage during the French protectorate of Tunisia (1881 - 1956).  Although Jews visited Carthage, particularly during the summer, they preferred to live in other neighborhoods. Following the destructions of  World War 2, Carthage hosted thousands of refugees, including numerous Jews, who fled from other regions of Tunisia and from the city of Tunis. The census of 1946 recorded 1,064 Jews in Carthage - 21,8% of the general population. However, probably all Jews left Carthage after a short period of time and returned to their former places of residence.  

Andre Scemama
Serge Adda
Michel Boujenah
Serge Moati
Gisele Halimi
Levy-Bacrat, Abraham Ben Solomon

André Scémama (1918-1982), journalist, born in Tunisia. He started his journalistic career at the age nineteen in 1937, when he worked for Radio-Tunis and Tunis-Soir, and then he continued at Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (RTF) the French National broadcaster in Paris. He began working for the French daily newspaper Le Monde in 1951, and then became its Jerusalem reporter from 1955 to 1977. At the end of 1977, after the visit of the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, which had aroused his enthusiasm, he decided to leave Le Monde, having not agreed with the newspaper's reserved position about the Egyptian peace initiative. He continued his journalistic activity as the Jerusalem correspondent for Radio-France and director of French-speaking programs of Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA). He died in Jerusalem, Israel. André Scémama is the father of the Israeli journalist Dan Scemama (1949-2009).

Serge Adda (1948-2004), economist, president of the French television company TV5, born in Tunis, Tunisia, the son of Georges Adda (1916-2008), a leader of the Tunisian Communist Party. Adda started working as a researcher at CETEM (Center d'Étude des Techniques Économiques Moderne) in Paris in 1971. Then he was research director of the l'École Spéciale d’Architecture from 1975 to 1978, and director of the Association Développement et Aménagement from 1979 to 1981.  In parallel Adda was a lecturer at the University of Paris from 1974 to 1981 and UNESCO advisor from 1982 to 1989.

Adda moved to Tunis in 1981 serving as an engineer and chief economist with STE SOTINFOR. He returned to Paris and from 1990 to 1997 he was CEO of CANAL + HORIZONS TV company. In April 2001 he became advisor to the President of the CANAL + HORIZONS group. Then Adda was named CEO of TV5 broadcast company in October 2001. In addition, Adda was a lecturer at the University of Paris from 1974 to 1981 and UNESCO advisor from 1982 to 1989 and worked for the African Development Bank. SAdda died in Paris. 

Michel Boujenah (b. 1952), actor, comedian, film director and screenwriter, born in Tunis, Tunisia. The family moved to France in 1963 and Boujenah grew up in Bagneux near Paris. He started acting as a teenager and wanted to be a theater actor after school. When he was rejected because of his accent at the École supérieure d'art dramatique des Théâtre national de Strasbourg, he founded the theater group La grande cuillère with Paul Allio and Corinne Atlas in the early 1970s and performed in schools and small towns. He also wrote autobiographically inspired plays about the lives of Tunisian Jews, such as the one-man show Albert (1980) and Les magnifiques (1984), which were popular with the public. In 2004, Les magnifiques was continued under the title Les nouveaux magnifiques. Boujenah has been artistic director of the Festival de Ramauelle since 2007.

Boujenah first appeared in a film in 1980, when he played a supporting role in Jan Saint-Hamont's comedy Mais qu’est-ce que j’ai fait au Bon Dieu pour avoir une femme qui boit dans les cafés avec les hommes? ("What did I do, my God, to have a wife that drinks with men in coffee shops?"). His breakthrough in 1984 was the Oscar-nominated comedy Three Men and a Baby by Coline Serreau. In 1985 he was awarded a César for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Michel - one of the three men who gave the title of the film. Boujenah appeared in additional films, among them Freddy the Unsuspecting (1986), Who Stole the Rabbit's Coke? (1987) and The Joker and the Jackpot (1991). Boujenah received a César nomination for Best Actor in 1994 for his role in the French-Tunisian co-production Le nombril du monde. In 2003 Boujenah made his directorial debut with Père et fils and was nominated for a César in the category Best First Feature the following year. With over a million viewers, the comedy was a hit with the public.

Serge Moati (b. 1946), director, producer and actor, born in Tunis, Tunisia, the son of Serge Moati (1903-1957), a member of the Portuguese Jewish community of Tunis (the Grana) and Odette Scemama (1905-1957). He lived in Tunis and studied at Lycee Carnot there until the death of his parents, when he moved along with his sister Nine to Paris, and continued his studies at Lycee Michelet in Vanves, in the southwest outskirts of Paris.  

Moati became famous in 1972 with the film adaptation of François Mauriac's Le Sagouin. He made his breakthrough in 1976 with the thriller Nuit d'or ("The Night of Gold") which stared  Bernard Blier, Marie Dubois, Charles Vanel, Maurice Ronet and Anny Duperey, Klaus Kinski and Elisabeth Flickenschildt. This was followed, among others, by Rossel et la commune de Paris (1977), At the end everything is forgotten (1981), Olympe de nos amours (1989), Le piège (1991) and Une femme dans la tourmente (1995, with Miou-Miou), Une page d'amour (1996, with Miou-Miou and Jacques Perrin), Sapho (1997, with Mireille Darc), Maison de famille (1999, with Marie-Christine Barrault) and Mercenary Hell (2005, with Richard Bohringer). In addition to the feature films, Moati also made a number of documentaries, including Les Mitterrand. As an actor, Moati occasionally appears in his own films, Au bout du chemin (1981), Le Garçon qui ne dormait pas (1994) and Sami, le pion (2002). He published 14 books, including Villa Jasmin (2003), an autobiographic work. He was a counselor of the French President Francois Mitterand.

Serge Moati is the brother of the novelist Nine Moati and the father of the actor Felix Moati.

Gisèle Halimi (born Zeiza Gisèle Élise Taïeb) (b. 1927), lawyer, feminist activist and politician, born in La Goulette, Tunisia. She attended the Lycée in Tunis and then studied law and philosophy at the University of Paris. In 1948 she graduated in law and was admitted to the Paris bar in 1956.  She was a consultant to the Front de Liberation National (FLN) and in particular in 1960 dealt with the case of tortured FLN activist Djamila Boupacha, about which she wrote a book in 1961 to which Simone de Beauvoir contributed a preface. Halimi was also a member of the Russell Tribunal promoted by by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre against suspected American war crimes in Vietnam in 1967 and defended many Basque terror suspects. Halimi promoted lawsuits relevant to women's rights. In 1971 she founded the feminist group Choisir la cause des femmes with Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rostand, Christiane Rochefort and Jacques Monod.  She was instrumental in the legislative reforms to legalize contraception and abortion brought about by Simone Veil in 1974 and 1975 as French Minister of Justice. In 1981 Halimi  was elected to the French National Assembly, where she was an independent socialist in the Isère department until 1984. From 1985 to 1986 she was a French delegate to UNESCO, a French representative to the Executive Committee in 1987 and an adviser to the French delegation to the UN in 1989. In 1995 she was officially commissioned to write a report on equality for women in French politics, which she submitted in 1997.

During her career Halimi was the lawyer of Jean-Paul Sartre (with whom she was also friends), Simone de Beauvoir, Françoise Sagan, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Roberto Matta, among others. She authored sixteen books, including Djamila Boupacha (1962), La cause des femmes (1973), Viol, Le procès d'Aix: Choisir la cause des femmes (1978), Avocate irrespectueuse (2002), Histoire d'une passion (2011).

Halimi was married three times (including to Paul Halimi and Charles Faux, the former secretary of Jean-Paul Sartre). She has three sons. Her son Serge Halimi is the director of the monthly magazine "Le Monde diplomatique".

In 2013 Halimi was named Commandeur de l'ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, after having been an officer in 2006 and a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1997.

Hashomer Hatzahir Members in a Hannukah Play, Tunis, Tunisia, 1949
Foundation Conference of He-Halutz, Tunis, Tunisia, 1949
Hashomer Hatzahir Members at He-Halutz Conference, Tunis, Tunisia, 1949
The Synagogue Beadle with family members, Tunis, Tunisia, 1984
President Bourguiba at the Great Synagogue, Tunis, Tunisia, 1957
The French Governor of Tunisia and Charles Haddad, Tunis, Tunisia, 1951
Tombstone of Rachel Cohen, Tunis, Tunisia, 1985
The Last Meeting of the Jewish Community Council, Tunis, Tunisia 1958
"Bnai Avodah" Hachshara Group, Tunis, Tunisia, 1952
View of one of the main streets in Tunis, Tunisia, 1984
Hashomer Hatzahir Choir in Hanukkah Party, Tunis, Tunisia, 1949
End of the year photo of 1st grade pupils of Alliance School, Tunis, Tunisia, 1938-39
Dr. Nataf speaking during President Bourguiba's visit, Tunis, Tunisia, 1957
Group of young boys, members of Youth movement, Tunis, Tunisia, 1947
Rabbi Hayyim Bella'ish (left), Chief Rabbi of Tunis, Tunisia, during WWII
Claire Assous at Alliance School, Tunis, Tunisia, 1915-1916
Purim Celebration at the Jewish Community, Tunis, Tunisia, 1957
Habad School for Girls, Tunis, Tunisia, 1984
Two Jewish girls in traditional clothes, Tunis, Tunisia, c1906
Hashomer Hatzahir members in a Hannukah play,
Tunis, Tunisia, 1949
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Yigal Halamit, Israel)
Foundation Conference of He-Halutz for Hachshara and Kibbutz, Tunis, Tunisia, 1949.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Yigal Halamit, Israel)
Hashomer Hatzahir members at the conference
of the Foundation Committee of He-Halutz Movement,
Tunis, Tunisia, 1949
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Yigal Halamit, Israel)
The synagogue beadle (shamash) with family members,
Tunis, Tunisia, 1984
They live dounstairs in the Synagogue building
Photo: Donna Wosk, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Donna Wosk, USA)
President Bourguiba (Charles Haddad on his left),
standing near the Ark of the Law in the Great Synagogue during a visit to the Jewish Quarter (Hara),
Tunis, Tunisia, 1957
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Charles Haddad, France)
The French Governor of Tunisia (center), the Mayor of Tunis, Sheik El-Medina, and Charles Haddad, President of the Jewish Community, on their way to the Commemoration service of World War I fallen soldiers,
Tunis, Tunisia, 1951
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Charles Haddad, France)
Tombstone of ninteen year old Rachel Cohen
who died in 1899 in La Borgel" cemetery in Tunis,
Tunisia, 1985
The inscription on the tombstone is in Jewish-Arabic
and French
Photo: Eric Taieb
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Eric Taieb)
The last meeting of the Jewish Community Council
after President Bougruiba announced its dissolution,
Tunis, Tunisia, July 15, 1958
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Charles Haddad, France)
"Bnai Avodah" Hachshara group of Hashomer Hatzahir Movement, Tunis, Tunisia, 1952
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Yigal Halamit, Israel)
View of one of the main streets in Tunis, Tunisia, 1984
Photo: Donna Wosk, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Donna Wosk, USA)


(AR.85.18)
Hashomer Hatzahir choir during Hanukkah
celebrations, Tunis, Tunisia, 1949
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Yigal Halamit, Israel)
End of the year photo of the 1st grade pupils
of Alliance School, Tunis, Tunisia, 1938-1939
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of the Assous Family, Israel)
Dr. R. Nataf speaking during President Bourguiba's
visit to the Jewish Community, Tunis, Tunisia, 1957
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Charles Haddad, France)
Group of young boy, members of Youth movement,
Tunis, Tunisia, 1947
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Assous Family, Israel)
RABBI HAYYIM BELLA'ISH (LEFT),
CHIEF RABBI OF TUNIS DURING W.W.II.
(BETH HATEFUTSOTH PHOTO ARCHIVE)
Claire Assous (ne'e Hiyun) at Alliance School,
Tunis, Tunisia, 1915-1916
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Assous Family, Israel)
Purim celebration of the Jewish Community,
Tunis, Tunisia, 1957
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Charles Haddad, France)
Habad school for girls,directed by Rabbi
Pinson's wife, Tunis, Tunisia, 1984
Photo: Donna Wosk, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Donna Wosk, USA)
Two Jewish girls in traditional clothes,
Tunis, Tunisia, c1906
Photo: David Fairchild, USA
(Beth Hatefutosth Photo Archive)
Levy-Bacrat, Abraham Ben Solomon