Moroccan Jews


An Article by Fettah

 The Jews of Morocco represent a remnant of an ancient,thriving community, which numbered over a quarter of a million in 1956. The largest community is in Casablanca, home to 5,000 Jews. There are small Jewish communities in Rabat (400), Marrakesh (250), Meknes (250), Tangier (150), Fez (150), and Tetuan (100). The Jews are generally descended from three different communities: Sephardim, Berber Jews, and Ashkenazim.
History: The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. There were Jewish colonies in the country before it became a Roman province. Under the Romans the Jews enjoyed civic equality. In 429 the Vandal King Genserich conquered North Africa. In the 7th century many Jews fled Visgothic Spain and introduced modern culture, industry and commerce. Several Berber tribes adopted Judaism and controlled a vast area, but they were eventually subdued by Arab invaders. The Jews lived in peace until the 11th century.
Visitors to the tomb of Rabbis David and Moshe, Atlas Mountains In a 1033 pogrom in Fez thousands of Jews were murdered and the women were dragged off into slavery. When the liberal Almoravids came to power in 1062, conditions for Jews improved, but when the Almohades took over in the middle of the 12th century Jews were forced to embrace Islam or emigrate. It was during that time that Jews were forced to wear a particular costume a precursor of the Jewish badge. After the ouster of the Almohades in the 14th century the situation of Jews stabilized.
In 1391 a wave of Jewish refugees expelled from Spain brought new life to the community, as did new arrivals from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and 1497. From 1438, the Jews of Fez were forced to live in special quarters called mellahs, a name derived from the Arabic word for salt because the Jews in Morocco were forced to carry out the job of salting the heads of executed prisoners prior to their public display.
Under Moslem rule Jews had the status of dhimmi, protected vassals. The condition of the Jews did not improve until the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1912, when they were given equality and religious autonomy. However, although their situation was endangered during World War II when France was ruled by the antisemitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented their deportation. By 1948 there were some 270,000 Jews in Morocco.In the face of a prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty and grinding poverty, many Jews elected to leave for Israel, France, the US and Canada. When Morocco gained independence in 1956, Jews became Moroccan citizens and were given equal rights and freedom of movement. However, legislation restricted their right to emigrate. Largely thanks to intervention by the WJC, the government allowed Moroccan Jews to leave. In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, the conditions worsened and many middle-class Jews emigrated.
Community: The major Jewish organization representing the community is the Conseil des Communautes Israelites in Casablanca. Its functions include external relations, general communal affairs, communal heritage, finance, maintenance of holy places, youth activities, and cultural and religious life. There are also regional committees which deal with the religious and social welfare needs of the community. The welfare organization in Casablanca is responsible for medical aid to the needy and hot meals for underprivileged Jewish pupils.
The majority of the community belongs to the upper-middle-class and enjoy a comfortable economic status. Some have served as special advisors to the King or as ministers. In the 1993 elections, four Jews were included in the list of 2,042 candidates for the 330 seats of the Moroccan parliament. The existence of a vibrant Jewish community in Israel, which maintains its Moroccan heritage, forms a living bridge between the two countries.
Generally, there are no antisemitic expressions in the government or in the media, but antisemitic motives have been used to express anti-Israel sentiment on specific events. The rise of Islamic fundamentalist elements has initiated some anti-Jewish activity in Morocco. The Jews no longer reside in the traditional Jewish mellahs, but intermarriage is almost unknown. The community has always been religious and tolerant, and religious extremism of any form never developed. The young generation prefers to continue its higher educationabroad and tends not to return to Morocco. Thus the community is in a process of aging.
Culture and Education: In 1992, most of the Jewish schools were closed down and only those in Casablanca the Chabad, ORT, Alliance and Otzar Ha-Torah schools have remained active. Alongside some 1,700 Jewish pupils, Moslems account for 30% of the student body. The Chabad movement also runs a youth movement called Ufaratzta.
Religious education is given in the Lycee Yeshiva, Kollel of Casablanca and in the Lycee Seminaire of Rabat. Since 1963, there has been no Jewish newspaper in Morocco.
According to Jewish tradition, a beautiful 16-year-old girl named Solika was coveted by the Moslem ruler. She refused to marry him or convert to Islam, and was stoned to death. Her martyrdom is venerated by the community, and the mausoleum of Solika the Righteous at the Jewish cemetery of Fez is a place of pilgrimage. Religious Life There are synagogues, mikvaot, old-age homes and kosher restaurants in Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh, Mogador, Rabat, Tetuan and Tangier. The Jewish community developed a fascinating tradition of rituals and pilgrimages to the tombs of holy sages. There are 13 such famous sites, centuries old, well kept by Moslems. Every year, on special dates, crowds of Moroccan Jews from around the world, including Israel, throng to these graves. A unique Moroccan festival, the Mimunah, is celebrated in Morocco and in Israel.
Israel: There are close ties between Israel and this Arab country, symbolized by the formal visit of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to Morocco immediately after the signing the Agreement with the PLO in 1993.
Aliya- Since 1948, 295,677 Moroccan Jews have immigrated to Israel.
In addition to the Jewish communities, the major sites of pilgrimage for the Jewish traveller are the tombs of the holy sages, scattered around the country. The most popular are Rabbi Yehouda Benatar (Fez), Rabbi Chaim Pinto (Mogador), Rabbi Amram Ben Diwane (Ouezzan), and Rabbi Yahia Lakhdar (Beni-Ahmed).