History and Migration > Jewish migration
History of the Jews in Morocco
Moroccan Jews constitute an ancient community. Before the founding of Israel in 1948, there were about 250,000 Jews in the country, but fewer than 7,000 or so remain.
Berber Jews, also named Maghrebim, are the Berber Jewish communities inhabiting the region of the Maghreb in North Africa. The region coincides with the Atlas Mountains in what today is Morocco, and Tunisia.
Between 1950 and 1970 most emigrated to France and to Israel. Some 2,000 of them, all elderly, still speak Judeo-Berber. Today, the indigenous Berber Jewish community no longer exists in Morocco.
Under the Romans
When the Jews began to disperse throughout the Roman empire after the dissolution of the Jewish state in 70, many settled in Mauretania including part of modern-day Morocco. These settlers engaged in agriculture, cattle-raising, and trades. They were divided into bodies akin to tribes, governed by their respective heads, and had to pay the Romans a capitation-tax of 2 shekels.
Under the dominion of the Romans and after 429 of the Vandals the Mauretanian Jews increased and prospered to such a degree that Church councils of Africa found it necessary to take a stand against them. The Justinian edict of persecution for North Africa, issued after the Vandal rule had been overthrown and Mauretania had come under the dominion of the Byzantines (534), was directed against the Jews as well as the Arians, the Donatists, and other dissenters.
In the 7th century the Jewish population of Mauretania received as a further accession from Iberian peninsula those who wished to escape west-Gothic legislation. At the end of the same century, at the time of the great Arab conquests in northwestern Africa, there were in Mauretania, according to the Arab historians, many Jews.
Arab Conquest and the Idrisids (703-1146)
It was a supposedly Berber Jewish woman Dahiyah, or Damia, better known as Kahina, who aroused her people in the Aures, the eastern spurs of the Atlas Mountains, to a last although fruitless resistance to the Arab general Hasan ibn an-Nu'man. As in the Hellenic lands of Christendom, so also in Mauretania, Judaism involuntarily prepared the way for Islam; and the conversion of the Berbers to Islam took place so much the more easily. Berbers also accepted Islam while others were persuaded by the fact that the other side had been successful. The Jews were largely accepted.
However, the theory of massive judaization of the Berber population is called into question by the recent study on the mtDNA (transmitted from mother to children). In the study carried out by Doron et al. indicate that Jews from north Africa lack typically North African Hg M1 and U6 mtDNAs. Hence, the lack of U6 and M1 chromosomes among the North African renders the possibility of significant admixture between the local Arab and Berber populations with Jews unlikely.
When, at the end of the 7th century, Morocco came under the dominion of the Arabs, another incursion of Arab Jews into Morocco took place. The Moroccan Jews, like all other Jews in the Islamic empire, were subject to the Pact of Omar, which defined the status of dhimmi. The dependence of Morocco upon the Caliphate of Baghdad ceased in 788, when, under the Idris ibn Abdallah (known as Idris I), the dynasty of the Idrisids, the descendants of Ali, was founded and proclaimed its independent rule over Morocco. The Jews undertook a political role in the history of the subjection of Morocco to Idris I. After he had conquered Tangier and Volubilis, he wished to induce the Jewish tribes, which were inclined to remain faithful to the caliph of Bagdad, to join his army. To make them more pliant to his wishes he caused them to be attacked and robbed in some of their cities, as in Temesna, Chellah, and Magada, whereupon the Jews of Tadla, Fazaz, and Shawiya joined Idris' army under their general Benjamin ben Joshaphat ben Abiezer. After the combined army had met with some successes, the Jews withdrew, because they were horrified at the spilling of blood among those of their own tribesmen who were hostile to Idris. The victorious Idris, however, took revenge by again falling upon them in their cities. After an unsuccessful resistance they had to conclude a peace with him, according to which they were required to pay an annual capitation-tax. Later traditions attribute even still greater indignities inflicted on the Jewish women of Morocco by Idris. Idris II, successor of Idris I, allowed the Jews to settle in a special quarter of his capital, Fez (founded in 808), in return for a tax of 30,000 dinars; in one of the many versions of the narrative of the founding of the city a Jew is mentioned. Moreover, at the end of the 7th century, under Idris I, Jews could settle in different cities of the realm by paying the above-mentioned capitation-tax.
Under the Almohads (1146-1400s)
The tolerance of the jizya (the tax demanded of dhimmis) paying Jews and Christians in the cities of Morocco came to an end under the intolerant dynasty of the stern Almohades, who came into power in 1146. Jews and Christians were compelled either to accept Islam or to leave the country. Here, as in other parts of North Africa, many Jews who shrank from emigrating pretended to embrace Islam. As for example, we can quote names like Benchekroun (initially Chokron or Choukroun or Chekroun depending on the pronunciation), El Kohen and Kabbaj, that were Jews. Maimonides, who was staying in Fez with his father, is said to have written to the communities to comfort and encourage his brethren and fellow believers in this sore time of oppression. In the above-mentioned elegy of Abraham ibn Ezra, which appears to have been written at the commencement of the period of the Almohads, and which is found in a Yemen siddur among the ?inot prescribed for the Ninth of Ab, the Moroccan cities Ceuta, Meknes, the Draa River valley, Fez, and Segelmesa are especially emphasized as being exposed to great persecution. Josef ha-Kohen relates that no remnant of Israel was left from Tangier to Mehdia. Moreover, the later Almohads were no longer content with the repetition of a mere formula of belief in the unity of God and in the prophetic calling of Muhammad. Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur, the third Almohad prince, suspecting the sincerity of the supposedly converted Jews, compelled them to wear distinguishing garments, with a very noticeable yellow cloth for a head-covering; from that time forward the clothing of the Jews formed an important subject in the legal regulations concerning them. The reign of the Almohads on the whole exercised a most disastrous and enduring influence on the position of the Moroccan Jews. Already branded externally, by their clothing, as unbelievers, they furthermore became the objects of scorn and of violent despotic caprice; and out of this condition they have not succeeded in raising themselves.
An account by Solomon Cohen dated January 1148 AD describes the Almohad conquests:
"Abd al-Mumin ... the leader of the Almohads after the death of Muhammad Ibn Tumart the Mahdi ... captured Tlemcen [in the Maghreb] and killed all those who were in it, including the Jews, except those who embraced Islam. ... [In Sijilmasa] One hundred and fifty persons were killed for clinging to their [Jewish] faith. ... One hundred thousand persons were killed in Fez on that occasion, and 120,000 in Marrakesh. The Jews in all [Maghreb] localities [conquered] ... groaned under the heavy yoke of the Almohads; many had been killed, many others converted; none were able to appear in public as Jews."
The Merinids and the Saadites
After the Almohads, the Merinids ruled in Morocco until they were overthrown by the Saadites in the 15th century. During the murderous scenes which were enacted in 1391 in Seville and were repeated in a large part of and then across the sea in Majorca, the Spanish Jews were glad to seize the first opportunity to emigrate to in order to escape the persecution in Spain. A hundred years later, when the Jews were driven out of Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1496, the sudden inroad upon Morocco and the whole of north Africa was repeated on a very much larger scale. This unexpected flood of Spanish immigrants, which soon caused overcrowding in the larger cities of Morocco, aroused uneasiness both among the Muslims, who feared an increase in the price of necessities, and among the Jews already settled there, who had hitherto barely succeeded in gaining a livelihood by following handicrafts and in petty commerce. In addition to this unfriendly reception, the newcomers had to endure much from both great and small rulers eager for booty, as well as from the Moorish population In Sale, in 1442, many Jewish women were raped; and in Alcazarquivir, the Jews were robbed of all they possessed. Many died of hunger and some returned to Spain; most fled to Fez, where new trials awaited them. A terrible conflagration occurred in the Jewish quarter of that city, from which the historian of these events, Abraham ben Solomon of Torrutiel, then eleven years of age, escaped. A famine broke out soon after the fire, during which more than 20,000 Jews died in and around Fez. Notwithstanding these untoward events, the secret Jews or Marranos who were left in Spain and Portugal and who were determined to remain true to their faith under all circumstances so little feared the dangers and trials of removing to a foreign country that Manuel I, King of Portugal (1495-1521), felt obliged to forbid the Jews to emigrate without express royal permission. This prohibition was contained in two ordinances dated respectively April 20 and April 24, 1499. Nevertheless, with the aid of money and the exercise of shrewdness many Marranos succeeded in escaping to Africa. A certain Gonçalo of Loulé was heavily fined because he secretly transported Neo-Christians from to Larache on the coast of Morocco.
A new group of Marranos was brought to Morocco through the definite establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal under in 1536. But in spite of all the suffering which Portugal had brought upon the Jews, there yet remained enough patriotism in the hearts of her rejected Jewish sons to cause them to help their former oppressors to preserve their old possessions on the Moroccan coast and to gain new ones. Through the strategy of a Jewish physician the Portuguese in 1508 succeeded in conquering the old seaport town of Safi, which had a large number of Jewish inhabitants and which, chiefly through them, had become an important commercial center. Two years later, in the same city, upon the reconquest of which the Moors had been steadily intent, was besieged by a large Moorish army. Thereupon two Portuguese Jews, Isaac Bencemero and a certain Ismail, brought assistance to the besieged with two ships manned by coreligionists and equipped at their own cost. In Safi, the Jews were allowed to live as such by Emanuel's permission; also in Asilah after 1533, which had long been a Portuguese possession. In the quarrels which afterward took place between the Moors and the governors of Azamur in , Abraham ben Zamaira and Abraham Cazan, the most influential Jew in Azemmour in 1528, served the Portuguese as negotiators. The Jews Abraham and Samuel Cabeça of Morocco also had dealings with the Portuguese generals. When, in 1578, the young king Sebastian with almost his whole army met death, and Portugal saw the end of her glory, at Alcazarquivir, the few nobles who remained were taken captive and sold to the Jews in Fez and Morocco. The Jews received the Portuguese knights, their former countrymen, into their houses very hospitably and let many of them go free on the promise that they would send back their ransom from Portugal. The numerous newly immigrated Jews, whose descendants have faithfully adhered to the use of their Spanish dialect, Ladino and Haketia, down to the present day, and who far surpassed the older Jewish inhabitants of Morocco in education and in intellectual acquirements, come into the foreground in the following period of the history of Judaism in Morocco. With their skill in European commerce, in arts and handicrafts, much of which had hitherto been unknown to the Moors, and with their wealth, they contributed largely to the great rise and development of the Moroccan kingdom under the reign, who began to rule in 1666.
Under Moulay Rashid and Moulay Ismail
The Jews suffered much during the great conquests of Moulay Rashid, who united the separate parts of Morocco into one single state, and wished to add to it all northwest Africa. According to Chénier, when Al-Raschid took the city of Marrakech in 1670, at the desire of the inhabitants he caused the Jewish councilor and governor of the ruling prince Abu Bakr, together with the latter and his whole family, to be publicly burned, in order to inspire terror among the Jews. He also tore down the synagogues of the city, expelled many Jews from the Berber region of Sus and treated them tyrannically. His demands on the Jews in the way of taxes were enormous; he had them collected by Joshua ben Hamoshet, a rich Jew, to whom he was under obligations for various services and whom he appointed chief over the Jews. He even ordered the Jews to supply wine to the Christian slaves.
Moulay Rashid's successor was his brother Ismail (Moulay Ismail) (1672), known as one of the most cruel of tyrants. On his accession he appointed his Jewish favorite and adviser Joseph Toledani, son of Daniel Toledani, Moulay Raschid's councilor, to be his minister, in which capacity Joseph concluded a peace between Morocco and Holland. Under Ismail's rule the ruined synagogues were rebuilt. He oppressed the Jews with heavy taxes. One day, he threatened to compel them to accept Islam if their Messiah did not come within a definite time. The Jews understood the hint and satisfied his pious zeal with a very large sum of money. The Jews, who served as tax-collectors on the whole coast, used to give Ismail yearly a golden riding-outfit as a "present," as an inducement to keep them in office, and a hen and a dozen chickens fashioned in gold as a tax for the whole Jewish community. Ismail had another way of securing money: for a certain sum he would sell to an aspirant for honours the position and wealth of one of his favorites. In one such transaction Maimaran, who was chief ruler over the Jews of the realm, feared a rival in Moses ibn 'A??ar, and offered the sultan a certain sum for his head. Ismail then let Moses ibn 'A??ar know how much had been offered for his head, whereupon Ibn 'A??ar offered double the sum for the head of his opponent. The sultan took the money from both, called them fools, and reconciled them to each other, whereupon Ibn 'A??ar married a daughter of Maimaran, and shared with him the Jewish rulership. The same Moses ibn 'A??ar was Moorish plenipotentiary in the making of a compact with Great Britain in 1721.
In the eighteenth century
The condition of the Jewish community was unchanged under Mohammed III (1757-89), who distinguished himself by his attempt to introduce European culture into his kingdom. His eldest son, Moulay Ali, gouvernor of Fez, courageously opposed his father's suggestion to impose a tax upon that city in favor of his other brothers, which tax was to be paid by the Jewish community. He stated that the Jews of Fez were already so poor that they were unable to bear the present tax and that he was not willing to increase still further their excessive misery. His minister was the Jew Helija ha-Levi, who had at one time fallen into disgrace and had been given as a slave to a smuggler of Tunis, but had been restored to favour. The accession to the throne of Yazid, on the death of Mohammed III in 1789, led to a terrible massacre of the Moroccan Jews, having refused him their support in his fight with his brother for the succession. As a punishment the richer Jews of Tetouan, at his entry into the city, were tied to the tails of horses and dragged through the city. Many were killed in other ways or robbed. Jewish women were raped. The Spanish consul, Solomon Hazzan, was executed for alleged treachery, and the Jews of Tangier, Asilah, and Alcazarquivir were condemned to pay a large sum of money. Elijah, the minister of the former king, who had always opposed Yazid in the council, quickly embraced Islam to avoid being persecuted; but he died soon after. The cruelty of the persecutors reached its climax in Fez. In Rabat, as in Meknes, the Jews were ill-treated. In Mogador, strife arose between the Jews and the city judge on the one hand, and the Moorish citizens on the other; the dispute was over the question of Jewish garb. Finally the Jews were ordered to pay 100,000 piasters and three shiploads of gunpowder; and most of them were arrested and beaten daily until the payment was made. Many fled beforehand to Gibraltar or other places; some died as martyrs; and some accepted Islam. The sanguinary events of the year 1790 have been poetically described in two ?inot for the Ninth of Ab, by Jacob ben Joseph al-Mali? and by David ben Aaron ibn Husain .
From the second half of this century various accounts of travels exist which give information concerning the external position of the Jews. Chénier, for example, describes them as follows:
"The Jews possess neither lands nor gardens, nor can they enjoy their fruits in tranquillity. They must wear only black, and are obliged when they pass near mosques, or through streets in which there are sanctuaries, to walk barefoot. The lowest among the Moors imagines he has a right to ill-treat a Jew, nor dares the latter defend himself, because the Koran and the judge are always in favour of the Mohammedan. Notwithstanding this state of oppression, the Jews have many advantages over the Moors: they better understand the spirit of trade; they act as agents and brokers, and they profit by their own cunning and by the ignorance of the Moors. In their commercial bargains many of them buy up the commodities of the country to sell again. Some have European correspondents; others are mechanics, such as goldsmiths, tailors, gunsmiths, millers, and masons. More industrious and artful, and better informed than the Moors, the Jews are employed by the emper or in receiving the customs, in coining money, and in all affairs and intercourse which the monarch has with the European merchants, as well as in all his negotiations with the various European governments."
There were, indeed, quite a number of such Jewish officials, negotiators, treasurers, councilors, and administrators at the Moroccan court, whom the European is inclined to call "ministers," but whom in reality the ruler used merely as intermediaries in extorting money from the people, and dismissed as soon as their usefulness in this direction was at an end. They were especially Jews from Spain, whose wealth, education, and statesmanship paved their way to the court here, as formerly in Spain. One of the first of such ministers was Shumel al-Barensi, at the beginning of the sixteenth century in Fez, who opened the "state career" to a long succession of co-religionists ending in the 19th century with Masado ben Leaho, prime minister and representative councilor of the emperor in foreign affairs. It would be erroneous to suppose that these Jewish dignitaries of the state succeeded in raising the position and the influence of their fellow believers, or that they even attempted to do so. They were usually very glad if they themselves were able to remain in office to the end of their lives.
Moroccan Jews were employed also as ambassadors to foreign courts. At the beginning of the 17th century Pacheco in the Netherlands; Shumel al-Farrashi at the same place in 1610; after 1675 Joseph Toledani, who, as stated above, concluded peace with Holland; his son Hayyim in England in 1750; a Jew in Denmark. In 1780 Jacob ben Abraham Benider was sent as minister from Morocco to King George III; in 1794 a Jew named Sumbal and in 1828 Meïr Cohen Macnin were sent as Moroccan ambassadors to the English court
In the nineteenth century
The 19th century, which brought emancipation to the Jews of most lands, left those of Morocco on the whole in their old state of sad monotony and stagnation. Every new war in which Morocco became involved in that century with any foreign country sacrificed the Jews of one district or another of the sultanate to the general depression and discontent which an unsuccessful war usually calls forth in political and commercial life. The war with France in 1844 brought new misery and ill treatment upon the Moroccan Jews, especially upon those of Mogador (known as Essaouira). When the war with Spain broke out in September 22, 1859, the Moors had nothing more fitting to do than to plunder the houses of friendly Jewish families in Tetuan. Most of the Jews saved their lives only by fleeing. About 400 were killed. A like result followed the conflict with Spain in 1853 in consequence of the violent acts of the cliff-dwellers in Melilla.
Montefiore's journey to Morocco
In 1863 Sir Moses Montefiore and the Board of Deputies of British Jews received a telegram from Morocco asking for help for nine or ten Jews who were imprisoned at Safi on suspicion of having killed a Spaniard. Two others had already been executed at the instigation of the Spanish consul; one of them publicly in Tangier, the other in Safi. Sir Moses, supported by the English government, undertook a journey to Morocco to demand the liberation of the imprisoned Jews and, as he said in a letter to the sultan, to move the latter "to give the most positive orders that the Jews and Christians, dwelling in all parts of Your Majesty's dominions, shall be perfectly protected, and that no person shall molest them in any manner whatsoever in anything which concerns their safety and tranquillity; and that they may be placed in the enjoyment of the same advantages as all other subjects of Your Majesty,". Montefiore was successful in both attempts. The prisoners were liberated; and on February 15, 1864, the sultan published an edict granting equal rights of justice to the Jews.
This edict of emancipation was confirmed by Mohammed IV's son and successor, Moulay Hasan I, on his accession to the throne 1873, and again on September 18, 1880, after the conference in Madrid. Such edicts and promises of a similar nature made from time to time to the Alliance Israélite Universelle, even if they are seriously intended, are, however, absolutely useless, since they are not carried into effect by the local magistrates, and if they were they would cause the old, deeply rooted hatred of the population to burst forth into flames. Thus, for example, the sultan Sulaiman (1795-1822) decreed that the Jews of Fez might wear shoes; but so many Jews were killed in broad daylight in the streets of that city that they themselves asked the sultan to repeal the edict. According to a statistical report of the Alliance Israélite Universelle for the years 1864-80 no less than 307 Jews were murdered in the city and district of Morocco, which crimes, although brought to the attention of the magistracy upon every occasion, remained unpunished.
Class of Jewish pupils at the Alliance School for Girls, Tangier, 1919.
In 1940, the Nazi-controlled Vichy government issued antisemitic decrees excluding Jews from public functions and imposing the wearing of yellow Star of David. Sultan Mohammed V refused to apply these racist laws and, as a sign of defiance, insisted on inviting all the rabbis of Morocco to the 1941 throne celebrations. Similarly, after WWII, Si Ahmed Belbachir Haskouri, in his capacity as the "Eminence grise" and Secretary General of the "makhzen government" of Spanish Morocco, was concerned about the fate of the Jewish citizens of Morocco as well as in the rest of the world. The implications of the partition of Palestine would have far reaching implications on the Jewish communities in Morocco and in the colonized Arab World. Belbachir had continuously assured the European Jews residing in Tangier and in Spanish Morocco of his ironclad protection such as for those who were connected to the French resistance against the Nazis. Belbachir constantly consulted with his Jewish connections, friends and associates such as Eli Cohen, the interpreter-antiquarian of Tangier, Gaston Perez of the Thami El Glaoui 's court, Isaac Salama, the multi-millionnaire head of the Jewish community in Spain and the Grand Rabbi of Spanish Morocco. Belbachir had a major meeting in Tetuan, in 1947 with the heads of the jewish communities in Spanish Morocco under the leadership of Haim Cohen. The former commissioned from the latter a thorough socio-political research of the state of the jewish community in Spanish Morocco; this was eventually presented in writing in the Spanish language to Belbachir on the 17th of November 1947.
In 1948, approximately 265,000 Jews lived in Morocco. Between 12,000 and 17,000 live there now, mostly in Casablanca, but also in Fes and other main cities.
In June 1948, soon after Israel was established and in the midst of the first Arab-Israeli war, riots against Jews broke out in Oujda and Djerada, killing 44 Jews. In 1948-9, 18,000 Jews left the country for Israel. After this, Jewish emigration continued (to Israel and elsewhere), but slowed to a few thousand a year. Through the early fifties, Zionist organizations encouraged emigration, particularly in the poorer south of the country, seeing Moroccan Jews as valuable contributors to the Jewish State.
In 1956, Morocco attained independence. Jews occupied several political positions, including three Members of the Parliament of Morocco and a Minister of Posts and Telegraphs. However, emigration to Israel jumped from 8,171 in 1954 to 24,994 in 1955, increasing further in 1956. Beginning in 1956, emigration to Israel was prohibited until 1963, when it resumed. In 1961, the government informally relaxed the laws on emigration to Israel and when Mohammed V died, Jews joined Muslims in a national day of mourning. Over the three following years, more than 80,000 Moroccan Jews emigrated there. By 1967, only 60,000 Jews remained in Morocco.
The Six-Day War in 1967 led to increased Arab-Jewish tensions worldwide, including Morocco. By 1971, the Jewish population was down to 35,000; however, most of this wave of emigration went to Europe and North America rather than Israel.
Despite their current small numbers, Jews continue to play a notable role in Morocco; the King retains a Jewish senior adviser, André Azoulay, they are well represented in business and even a small number in politics and culture, Jewish schools and synagogues receive government subsidies. However, Jewish targets were attacked in the Casablanca attacks in May 2003. King Hassan II's invitations for Jews to return have not been taken up by the people who emigrated.
As of 2004, Marrakech had an aging population of about 260 Jews, most over the age of 60, while Casablanca has between 3,000 to 4,000 Jews. Meanwhile the State of Israel is home to nearly 1,000,000 Jews of Moroccan descent, around 15% of the nation's total population.
The Grand Synagogue in Tunis
History of the Jews in Tunesia
Tunisia has had a Jewish minority since Roman times. In 1948 the Jewish population was an estimated 105,000, but by 1967 most Tunisian Jews had left the country for France and Israel, and the population had shrunk to 20,000. As of 2004 an estimated 1,500 still remain, particularly on the island of Djerba (noted for its synagogues), comprising the country's largest indigenous religious minority.
A tradition among the descendants of the first Jewish settlers were that their ancestors settled in that part of North Africa long before the destruction of the First Temple in the 6th century BCE. Though this is unfounded, the presence of Jews there at the appearance of Christianity is attested by the ruins of an ancient Jewish synagogue (dating back to the 3rd-5th century CE) found by the French captain Prudhomme in his Hammam-Lif residence in 1883. After the dissolution of the Jewish state a great number of Jews were sent by Titus to Mauretania, and many of them settled in Tunis. These settlers were engaged in agriculture, cattle-raising, and trade. They were divided into clans, or tribes, governed by their respective heads, and had to pay the Romans a capitation tax of 2 shekels. Under the dominion of the Romans and (after 429) of the fairly tolerant Vandals, the Jewish inhabitants of Tunis increased and prospered to such a degree that African Church councils deemed it necessary to enact restrictive laws against them. After the overthrow of the Vandals by Belisarius in 534, Justinian I issued his edict of persecution, in which the Jews were classed with the Arians and heathens.
In the seventh century the Jewish population was largely augmented by Spanish immigrants, who, fleeing from the persecutions of the Visigothic king Sisebut and his successors, escaped to Mauritania and settled in the Byzantine cities. These settlers, according to the Arabic historians, mingled with the Berber population and converted many powerful tribes, which continued to profess Judaism until the reign of the founder of the Idrisid dynasty.
The theory of berber population massive judaization is called into question by the recent study on the mtDNA (transmitted from mother to children). In the study carried out by Doron et al indicate that Jews from north Africa lack typically North African Hg M1 and U6 mtDNAs. Hence, the lack of U6 and M1 chromosomes among the North African renders the possibility of significant admixture between the local Arab and Berber populations with Jews unlikely.
Besides, another study on Djerba (a Tunisian island) population indicate the same results but based on Y chromosom.
Al-Kairuwani relates that at the time of the conquest of Hippo Zaritus by Hasan in 698 the gouvernor of that district was a Jew. When Tunis came under the dominion of the Arabs, or of the Arabian caliphate of Baghdad, another influx of Arab Jews into Tunis took place. Like all other Jews in Islamic countries, those of Tunis were subject to the ordinance of Umar ibn al-Khattab.
In 788, when Imam Idris proclaimed Mauritania's independence of the caliphate of Baghdad, the Tunisian Jews joined his army under the leadership of their chief, Benjamin ben Joshaphat ben Abiezer. They soon withdrew, however; primarily, because they were loath to fight against their coreligionists of other parts of Mauritania, who remained faithful to the caliphate of Baghdad; and secondarily, because of some indignities committed by Idris against Jewesses. The victorious Idris avenged this defection by attacking the Jews in their cities. After an unsuccessful resistance peace was concluded, according to the terms of which the Jews were required to pay a capitation-tax and to provide a certain number of virgins annually for Idris' harem. The Jewish tribe 'Ubaid Allah preferred to migrate to the East rather than to submit to Idris; according to a tradition, the Jews of the island of Gerba are the descendants of that tribe. In 793 Imam Idris was poisoned at the command of Harun al-Rashid (it is said, by the gouvernor's physician Shamma, probably a Jew), and about 800 the Aghlabite dynasty was established. Under the rule of this dynasty, which lasted until 909, the situation of the Jews in Tunis was very favourable. As of old, Bizerta had a Jewish gouvernor, and the political influence of the Jews made itself felt in the administration of the country. Especially prosperous at that time was the community of Kairwan, which was established soon after the foundation of that city by 'Ukba ibn Nafi', in the year 670.
A period of reaction set in with the accession of the Zirite Al-Mu'izz (1016-62), who persecuted all heterodox sects, as well as the Jews. The persecution was especially detrimental to the prosperity of the Kairwan community, and members thereof began to emigrate to the city of Tunis, which speedily gained in population and in commercial importance.
The accession of the Almohade dynasty to the throne of the Maghreb provinces in 1146 proved very disastrous to the Jews of Tunis. In pursuance of a fanciful belief, of which there is no trace in Muslim tradition, the first Almohade, 'Abd al-Mu'min, claimed that Mohamed had permitted the Jews free exercise of their religion for only five hundred years, and had declared that if, after that period, the Messiah had not come, they were to be forced to embrace Islam. Accordingly Jews as well as Christians were compelled either to embrace Islam or to leave the country. 'Abd al-Mu'min's successors pursued the same course, and their severe measures resulted either in emigration or in forcible conversions. Soon becoming suspicious of the sincerity of the new converts, the Almohades compelled them to wear a special garb, with a yellow cloth for a head-covering.
According to their statutes, a man who had lost two wives could marry only a widow; on the other hand, if a woman lost two husbands she was called a "husband-killer" and was not allowed to remarry. This prohibition included also a woman who had been twice divorced. Male twins were always named Perez and Zerah; female twins, Sarah and Rebekah; a male and female, Isaac and Rebekah.
Under the Hafsites and the Spanish (1236-1857)
Under the Hafsite dynasty, which was established in 1236, the condition of the Jews greatly improved. Besides Kairwan, there were at that time important communities in Mehdia, Kalaa, the island of Gerba, and the city of Tunis. Considered at first as foreigners, the Jews were not permitted to settle in the interior of the last-named city, but had to live in a building called "Funduk"; later, however, a wealthy and humane Muslim, Sidi Mahrez, who in 1159 had rendered great services to the first Almohade, 'Abd al-Mu'min, obtained for them the right to settle in a special quarter of the city proper. This quarter, called the "Hira," constituted until 1857 the ghetto of Tunis; it was closed at night. In 1270, in consequence of the defeat of Saint Louis of France, who had undertaken a crusade against Tunis, the cities of Kairwan and Hammat were declared holy; and the Jews were required either to leave them or to embrace Islam. From that year until the conquest of Tunis by France (1857), Jews and Christians were forbidden to pass a night in either of these cities; and only by special permission of the governor were they allowed to enter them during the day.
That the Jews of Tunis, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, were treated more cruelly than those of the other Barbary States may be surmised from the fact that, while refugees from Spain and Portugal flocked to Algeria and Morocco, only a few chose to settle in Tunis. Indeed, the Tunisian Jews had no rabbis or scholars worthy of mention, and had to consult those of Algeria or Morocco on the most ordinary religious questions. Their communal affairs were directed by a council, nominated by the gouvernment, the functions of which consisted in the administration of justice among the Jews, and, more especially, in the collection of the Jewish taxes. Three kinds of taxes were imposed upon the Tunisian Jews: (1) a communal tax, to which every member contributed according to his means; (2) a personal or capitation tax; and (3) a general tax, which was levied upon the Muslims also. In addition to these, every Jewish tradesman and industrial had to pay an annual tax to the gild to which his trade or industry belonged. In spite of all these exactions, however, the commerce of the country was in Jewish hands, and even the government was compelled to have recourse to Jewish merchants for the exploitation of the various monopolies; after the thirteenth century it adopted the policy of entrusting to a Jew the post of receiver of taxes. This functionary, who bore the title of "caid," served also as an intermediary between the government and the Jews, and his authority within the Jewish community was supreme. The members of the council of elders, as well as the rabbis, were nominated at his recommendation, and no rabbinical decision was valid unless approved by him.
During the Spanish occupation of the Tunisian coasts (1535-74) the Jewish communities of Bizerta, Susa, Sfax, and other seaports suffered greatly at the hands of the conquerors; while under the subsequent Turkish rule the Jews of Tunis enjoyed a fair amount of security, being practically guaranteed the free exercise of their religion, and liberty to administer their own affairs. They were, however, always exposed to the caprices of princes and to outbursts of popular fanaticism. Petty officials were allowed to impose upon them the most difficult drudgery without compensation. They were obliged to wear a special costume, consisting of a blue frock without collar or ordinary sleeves (loose linen sleeves being substituted), wide linen drawers, black slippers, and a small black skull-cap; stockings might be worn in winter only. They might ride only on asses or mules, and were not permitted to use a saddle.
From the beginning of the eighteenth century the political status of the Jews in Tunis steadily improved. This was due to the ever-increasing influence of the political agents of the European powers, who, while seeking to ameliorate the condition of the Christian residents, had to plead also the cause of the Jews, whom Muslim legislation classed with Christians. Joseph Azulai, who visited Tunis in 1772, described in glowing terms the influence at court of the caid Solomon Nataf. Forty-two years later the United States consul to Tunis, Mordecai M. Noah, gave the following account of the situation of the Tunisian Jews: ("Travels in Europe and Africa," p. 308, New York, 1819).
"With all the apparent oppression, the Jews are the leading men; they are in Barbary the principal mechanics, they are at the head of the custom-house, they farm the revenues; the exportation of various articles, and the monopoly of various merchandise, are secured to them by purchase, they control the mint and regulate the coinage of money, they keep the bey's jewels and valuable articles, and are his treasurers, secretaries, and interpreters; the little known of arts, science, and medicine is confined to the Jews. . . . If a Jew commits a crime, if the punishment affects his life, these people, so national, always purchase his pardon; the disgrace of one affects the whole community; they are ever in the presence of the bey, every minister has two or three Jewish agents, and when they unite to attain an object, it cannot be prevented. These people, then, whatever may be said of their oppression, possess a very controlling influence, their friendship is worthy of being preserved by public functionaries, and their opposition is to be dreaded."
Mohammed Bey (1855-1881)
During the long reign of Ahmad Bey the Jews enjoyed a period of great prosperity. His successor, Mohammed Bey, inaugurated his reign in 1855 by abolishing the drudgery formerly imposed upon the Jews; the caid Joseph Scemama, with whom the bey was on very intimate terms, probably used his influence in behalf of his coreligionists. In the same year, however, Mohammed Bey, being very religious, caused the execution of a Jew named Batto Sfoz on a charge of blasphemy. This execution aroused both Jews and Christians, and a deputation was sent to Napoleon III., asking him to interfere in their behalf. After two years of diplomatic negotiations a man-of-war was sent to enforce the demands of the French government. Mohammed Bey yielded, and issued a constitution, according to which all Tunisians, without distinction of creed, were to enjoy equal rights. The following articles of this constitution were of special interest to the Jews: (§ 4) "No manner of duress will be imposed upon our Jewish subjects forcing them to change their faith, and they will not be hindered in the free observance of their religious rites. Their synagogues will be respected, and protected from insult." (§ 6) "When a criminal court is to pronounce the penalty incurred by a Jew, Jewish assessors shall be attached to the said court." The constitution was abrogated in 1864 in consequence of a revolution, which entailed great suffering on several Jewish communities, especially on that of Sfax; but the constant fear of foreign interference rendered the government very circumspect in its treatment of the Jews.
The Jews Of Tunisia during World War II, 1940-45
“The history of the Holocaust in France's three North African colonies (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) is intrinsically tied to France's fate during this period. The first anti-Jewish law (Jewish Statute) was passed on October 3, 1940. It defined Jews residing on the French mainland (known as the “metropole” or “metropolitan France”) and in Algeria by race, quotas (numerus clausus) limited the number of Jewish lawyers, doctors.” France’s possessions of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in North Africa were considered part of Europe, as per French and German document relevant to the Final Solution to the Jewish question. “The Jews of North Africa were relatively fortunate because their distance from German concentration camps in central and eastern Europe permitted them to avoid the fate of their co-religionists in Europe. … Immediately after the Allied landings in Algeria and Morocco, the Germans occupied Tunisia. On November 23, 1942, the Germans arrested Moises Burgel, the president of the Tunis Jewish community, and several other prominent Jews. ”
Tunisia under Vichy
Following the armistice in June 1940, Tunisia came under Vichy's rule, and anti-Jewish legislation was implemented.
Nazi-Occupied Tunisia, November 1942-May 1943
Tunisia was the only Arab country to come under direct Nazi occupation during World War II; Morocco and Algeria were governed by Vichy France. When the Nazis arrived in Tunisia in November, , the nation was home to some 100,000 Jews. According to Yad Vashem, the Nazis imposed policies including forcing Jews to wear the Yellow badge (Star of David), fines, and confiscation of property. More than 5,000 Jews were sent to forced labour camps, where 46 are known to have died; an additional 160 Tunisian Jews in France were sent to European death camps. The First Arab Rescuer Tunisia, however, was home to Khaled Abdelwahhab, the first Arab nominated for the Israeli Righteous Among the Nations award.
Jews of Tunisia after the Holocaust
After independence in the 1950s, Tunisia's Jewish Community Council was abolished by the government and many Jewish areas and buildings were destroyed for "urban renewal." There were three large waves of departures with any furniture they can salvage and 5 dinars($5.00) per person.
• 1956 : independence of Tunisia
• 1961: Bizerte war where the Tunisian army, after provoking the French troops, demand the restitution of the last French army base. The Bizerte crisis ignited a sudden blaze of antisemitism. Arrest of 30 Jewish merchants; Israeli emissaries and local Zionists were subjected to arrests and interrogation. Jews accused of being unpatriotic. The Jews were also subjected to obvious de facto discrimination and legal inducement and restrictions on business. Immigration became an unavoidable necessity; many left to France or Israel.
• 1967 : The Six Days War
By 1967, the country's Jewish population was fleeing, over 40,000 had left for Israel, leaving 20,000. During the Six-Day War, Jews were attacked in riots, and, despite government apologies, 7,000 Jews immigrated to France.
In 1985, Yasser Arafat's offices in were bombed by the Israeli Air Force in retaliation for the murder of three Israelis in Cyprus, an attack that killed over 70 people and leveled the entire PLO complex.
As of 2004 the Jewish community in Tunis supports three primary schools, two secondary schools, a yeshiva, and the . The Jewish community in Djerba supports one kindergarten, two primary schools, two secondary schools, a yeshiva, and a Rabbi. There is also a Jewish primary school and synagogue in the coastal city of Zarzis. The Jewish community also supports two homes for the aged, several kosher restaurants and four other rabbis. Most Tunisian Jews observe the laws of kashrut.
The most famous synagogue in Tunisia is the El Ghriba synagogue in the village of Hara Sghira on Djerba. The current building was constructed in late 19th or early 20th century, but the site is believed to have had a synagogue on it for the past 1,900 years. Tunisian Jews have for centuries made an annual pilgrimage to the synagogue on Lag Ba'Omer. On April 11, 2002, a truck full of explosives was detonated close to the synagogue, killing 21 people (of whom 14 were German tourists and 2 Frenchmen), and wounding over 30, in the Ghriba Synagogue Attack. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.
Chief Rabbi Chaim Madar was the chief rabbi of Tunisia's Jewish community, a community dating back to 586 BCE. He was the spiritual leader of this community until his death in 3 December 2004. His funeral services were held at the Beit Mordekhai Synagogue in La Goulette, Tunis, and the El Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba.
History of the Jews in Algeria
Jews and Judaism have a rather long history in , but the country's Jewish population was severely depleted by emigration during the political tensions of the late twentieth century.
Following in 1962, most of Algeria's 140,000 Jews, having been granted French citizenship in 1870, left with the pied-noirs for France. The 10,000 or so who remained largely resided in Algiers, and to a lesser extent Blida, Constantine, and Oran. In the 1990s, the trials of civil war led most of the thousand-odd remaining Jews to emigrate. A decisive event was the rebel Armed Islamic Group's 1994 declaration of war on all non-Muslims in the country, and the Algiers synagogue was abandoned that year.
Jews have been present in Algeria at least since late Roman times, probably since the destruction of the First Temple nearly 2600 years ago in 586 BCE; the early Arab chroniclers says that there were some Judaicized Berber tribes before Islam's arrival, notably that of Queen Kahina. Early descriptions of the Rustamid capital Tahert note that Jews were to be found there, as in any other major Muslim city, and some centuries later the Geniza Letters (found in Cairo) mention many Algerian Jewish families.
However, the country's Jewish community was substantially increased following the Reconquista, when the expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492. Together with the Moriscos, they thronged to the ports of North Africa, forming large communities in places such as Oran and Algiers. Some Jews in Oran preserved their Ladino language – a uniquely conservative dialect of Spanish – until the 19th century. Jewish merchants did very well financially in late Ottoman Algiers; the French attack on Algeria was initially "provoked" by the Dey's demands that the French government pay its large outstanding wheat debts to two Jewish merchants, Bacri and Busnach.
After the conquest in 1830, the French government rapidly restructured the Ottoman system. At the time, the French government distinguished French citizens (who had national voting rights, were subject to French laws, and, for the males, had to go to military service) from Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people, who each kept their own laws and courts. By 1841, the Jewish courts (beth din) had been abolished, and all cases involving Jews were instead heard by French courts. In 1845, the communal structure was thoroughly reorganized, and French Jews were appointed as chief rabbis for each region, with the duty "to inculcate unconditional obedience to the laws, loyalty to France, and the obligation to defend it." In 1865, liberal conditions were laid down so that Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people could become French citizens if they requested it. This facility was, however, not much used — since it meant renouncing certain traditional mores and thus was perceived as a kind of apostasy.
In 1870, the French government granted the Jews French citizenship, under the décrets Crémieux of 1870 . (For this reason, they are sometimes lumped together with the pieds-noirs.) This decision was due largely to pressures from prominent members of the French Jewish community, which considered the North African Jews to be "backward" and wanted to forcefully bring them into modernity. Within a generation, most Algerian Jews had come to speak French rather than Arabic or Ladino, and embraced many aspects of French culture. After WW2, and the subsequent struggle for independence, the great majority of Algeria's 140,000 Jews left the country for France together with the pied-noirs.
Under the Vichy regime
Departures of Jews from Algeria
The Algerian Nationality Code of newly independent Algeria, promulgated in 1963, granted citizenship only to Muslims, requiring that only those individuals whose fathers and paternal grandfathers had Muslim personal status could become citizens of the new state. All Jewish and Christian residents were driven into exile, even though the Jewish community was considered indigenous to Algeria, as it had been in Algeria longer even before Islam and could trace its presence to Roman times, around 2600 years ago starting in the year 586 BCE.
In 1931, whereas Jews made up less than 2% of Algeria's population, the largest cities of Algeria – Algiers, Constantine, and Oran – had Jewish populations of over 7%, as did many smaller cities such as Ghardaia and Setif; one smaller town, Messad, had a Jewish majority. The Jews who remained after the Revolution lived mainly in Algiers, with some families in Blida, Constantine, and Oran.
Jewish girls from Tripoli
History of the Jews in Lybia
Jews have lived in Libya since the 3rd century BC, when Cirenaica was under Greek rule. During World War II, Libya's Jewish population was subjected to anti-Semitic laws by the Fascist Italian regime and deportations by German troops. After the war, anti-Jewish violence caused many Jews to leave the country, principally for Israel. Under Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, who has ruled the country since 1969, the situation deteriorated further, eventually leading to the emigration of the remaining Jewish population. The last Jew of Libya, Rina Debach, left the country in 2003.
During the Greco-Roman period Libya corresponded approximately with Cyrene and the territory belonging to it. Jews lived there - including many that moved there from Egypt; Augustus granted Cyrene's Jewish population certain privileges through Flavius, the governor of the province. At the time, they had close contact to the Jews in Jerusalem. In 73 BC during the First Jewish-Roman War in Iudaea Province, there was also a revolt by the Jewish community in Cyrene led by Jonathan the Weaver, which was quickly suppressed by the governor Catullus. Jonathan was denounced to the governor of Pentapolis. In vengeance, the Romans then killed him and many wealthy Jews in Cyrene. In 115, another Jewish revolt broke out not only in Cyrene, but also in Egypt and Cyprus. Several Libyan Jews from this period are known today, such as Jason of Cyrene, whose work is the source of the Second Book of Maccabees, and Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross of Jesus as Jesus was taken to his crucifixion.
Italian colonization and World War II
In 1911, Libya was colonized by Italy. By 1931, there were 21,000 Jews living in the country (4% of the total population of 550,000), mostly in Tripoli. The situation for the Jews was generally good. But, in the late 1930s, the Fascist Italian regime began passing anti-Semitic laws. As a result of these laws, Jews were fired from government jobs, some were sent away from government schools, and their citizenship papers were stamped with the words "Jewish race." Despite this repression, 25% of the population of Tripoli was still Jewish in 1941 and 44 were maintained in the city. In 1942, German troops fighting the Allies in North Africa occupied the Jewish quarter of Benghazi, plundering shops and deporting more than 2,000 Jews across the desert. Sent to work in labour camps, more than one-fifth of this group of Jews perished.
After World War II
Some of the worst anti-Jewish violence occurred in the years following the liberation of North Africa by Allied troops. From November 5 to November 7, 1945, more than 140 Jews were killed and many more injured in a pogrom in Tripoli. The rioters looted nearly all of the city's synagogues and destroyed five of them, along with hundreds of homes and businesses. In June 1948, anti-Jewish rioters killed another 12 Jews and destroyed 280 Jewish homes. This time, however, the Libyan Jewish community had prepared to defend itself. Jewish self-defense units fought back against the rioters, preventing dozens of more deaths.
The insecurity which arose from these anti-Jewish attacks as well as the founding of the state of Israel led many Jews to emigrate. From 1948 to , and especially after immigration became legal in 1949, 30,972 Jews moved to Israel. On December 31, 1958 the Jewish Community Council was dissolved by law. In 1961, another law required a special permit to prove true Libyan citizenship, which was, however, denied to all but six Jewish inhabitants of the country.
By 1967, the Jewish population of Libya had decreased to 7,000. After the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Libyan Jews were once again the target of anti-Jewish riots. During these attacks, rioters killed 18 people and more were injured. Leaders of the Jewish community then asked King Idris I to allow the entire Jewish population to "temporarily" leave the country; he consented, even urging them to leave. Through an airlift and the aid of several ships, the Italian navy helped evacuate more than 6,000 Jews to Rome in one month. The evacuees were forced to leave their homes, their businesses and most of their possession behind. Of these 6,000, more than 4,000 soon left Italy for Israel or the United States. The ones who remained created a Jewish community in Rome, which now consists of 15,000 people, including many from Libya and their descendants who have a large influence on the community.
By the time Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi came to power in 1969 only about 100 Jews remained in Libya; under his rule, all Jewish property was confiscated, all debts to Jews were canceled and emigration for Jews was legally prohibited. Still some Jews succeeded in leaving the country and by 1974, only 20 Jews lived in Libya. In 2002, the last known Jew in Libya, Esmeralda Meghnagi, died and it was thought that the long history of Jewry in Libya had ended. In the same year, however, it was discovered that Rina Debach, a then 80-year old woman, who was born and raised in Tripoli, but thought to be dead by her family in Rome, was still living in a nursing home in the country. With her ensuing departure for Rome, there were no more Jews in the country.
In 2004, Gaddafi indicated that the Libyan government would compensate Jews who were forced to leave the country and stripped of their possessions. In October of that year he met with representatives of Jewish organizations to discuss compensation. He did, however, insist that Jews who moved to Israel would not be compensated. Some suspect these moves were motivated by his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, who is considered to be the likely successor of his father. In the same year, Saif had welcomed Jews back into the country, saying that they are Libyans, that should "leave the land they took from the Palestinians." On December 9, Gaddafi also extended an invitation to Moshe Kahlon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset and son of Libyan immigrants, to Tripoli.