There are records of Jews in what is now Morocco during the Diaporra following the Roman suppression of the Jewish Revolt (1st century AD). Jews after the Islamic conquest becamed dhimmis
or second-class citizens who were forced to live in ghettos known as mellah. There was a degree of toleration during the Islamic era, but punctuated by periods of persecution, including massacres. One such attack occuured in Fez in which 6,000 Jews were killed (1033). The largest attacks occurred in Fez and Marrakesh when over 100,000 Jews were killed (1146). There was another attack in Marrakesh (1232). There were also periods of toleration during whic Jews even received important appointments (13th-15th centuries). Many Jews expelled from Spin and Portugal souught refuge in Morocco (15th century). Some stayed in Morocco, others settled in provinces of the Ottoman Empire. France occupied Morocco creating aprotectorate (1912). This brought French law to Morocco which ended the legal decrimination of Jews. This changed again after the fall of France (June 1940). The Vichy regime issued anti-Semetic laws which applied in Morocco. Many Jews were interned in work ca,ps. King Muhammad prevented deportation of Moroccan Jews to NAZI death camps. Some Jews with French passports were deported. The Allies landed in Morocco as part of Operation Torch (November 1942). This precented the NAZIs from proceeding furher against Moroccan Jews. Morocco at the time had over 250,000 Jews, the largest Jewish population in the Arab world outside of Palestine. After Israel declared independence and the Arab states invaded, Arabs rioted in Oujda and Djerada, killing 44 Jews. About 18,000 Jews emigrated, most but not all to Israel (1948-49). Jewish emigration slowed down after 1949, but continued at a few thousand annually during the 1950s, gradually reducing the Moroccan Jewish community.
Jews are believed to have reached Morocco in ancient times. Some may have traveled with Phoenician traders who dominated the Mediteranean and even entered the Atlantic. The first substantial Jewish community appears to have come after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem (586 BC). With the defeat of Carthage, North Africa came under Roman control.
The Jews of North Africa (including what would lter become Morocco) maintained ties with the Jews of Judea/Israel which later became part of the region that the Romans renamed Syria Palaestina after the last Jewish revolt (around 135 AD). [Wasserman]
Jews lived in the Roman province of Mauretania (essentially modern Morocco). They did not rise in revolt against Emperors Trajan and Hadrian. More Jews reached Mauretania during the Diaspora following the Roman suppression of the Jewish Revolt (70 AD). They were permitted to live as a destinct religious community as was the cases in other provinces of the Empire.
The Jews were were reportedly involved in agriculture, cattle-raising, and artisan trades. They organized into tribal groups and were governed by their own tribal chiefs. Moroccan Jews involved in commerce began to trade with Berber nomads living in remote inland areas, including the Atlas Mountains. Jews gradually established both economic and commercial ties with Berbers. Some Berbers accepted Judaism. Berber spirituality affected Jewish ritualas well, including a strong belief in demons and saints. Jews under Roman rule paid a tax to imperial authorities. One source mentions a capitation tax of 2 shekels. The Jews appear to have prospered during the Roman era. In the later phases of imperial rule with Constantine sand the establishment of Christianity, the Romans began issuing decrees against other religions, including the Jews.
After the fall of Rome, German tribes established their authority over various ares of the Empire. The Vandals gained control over much of North Africa. The Vandals seized control of Mauretania (429).
Jews under the Vandals also seemed to have prospered. The Vandals and other Germanic tribes do not seem to have had the anti-Semitic attitides of those more connected with the Christian Church.
The Byzantines overthrew the Vandals (534). This brought a brief era of Byzantune fuke. Church councils of Africa began to address the question of the Jews, in part because of their prosperity, as well as the wider question of religious diversity. Wiithin the Byzantine Empire, Jews were held in cotempt. Justinian codified the various measures issued concerning the Jews. The Justinian edict of persecution for North Africa was aimed at the Jews as well as non-conformist Christions (the Arians and Donatists), and other dissenters. Many Jews from Iberia fled to Mauretania when the Christianized Ostergoths began legislating against Jews.
Byzantine rule in Morocco was ended by invading Arabs (682). Arab historians report that some Berber tribes in Roman Mauretania had adopted Judiasm. Historians are not sure if these were non-ethnic Jewish converts or Berber tribes which had inter-married with Jewish settlers. We are ot entireky sure why Berber tribesmen did not adopt Christianity, but may have been associated with resistance to Roman/Vandal/Byzantine domination. Juduasm may have been less threaening than Christianity. These and other Berber tribesmen fought the Arab invaders. Damia/Kahina, a Berber Jewish woman led resistance to the Arabs in the Aures (eastern spurs of the Atlas) in a doomed stand against Arab general Hasan ibn an-Nu'man. Except for the Jews, the inhabitants of Morocco, both Christian and pagan, relativekly quickly accepted the new religion brought by their conquerors. Berber Muslim troops were used extensively by the Arabs in their subsequent conquest of Visigoth Spain (begining 711).
Roman Mauretania came under the authotity of the Islamic Caliphate in Baghdad. The Caliphate made a legal distinction between "Believers" and "Infidels." There was a special category for Jews and Christians, who were deemed "People of the Book". They became dhimmis, a kind of second-class citizens. They did not have the sae right as Muslims, but they did have some legal standing and were allowed to practice their religion. The Muslim leader Al Mawardi codified twelve laws that goverened Jewish life in Islamic nations--the Pact of Omar. There were certain detailed provisions. Jews and Christians were not allowed to touch the Holy Koran, speak of the Prophet demeaningly, touch Muslim women, or take any action that would turn a Muslim against Islam. Muslims required Jewish dhimmi to wear a yellow sash, prohibited them from building a synagogues that rose above a Mosque, own horses, or drink wine in public or perform religious rituals in public. Over time varitions of these provisions developed in different Muslim states, but the basic privisions were widely followed throughout the Islamic world. An important aspect of dhimmi was jizy or tax payments. The dhimmi were also required to pay a head tax (djezya) and a property tax (kharaj). Muslims commonly forced Jews to live in ghettos which were called mellahs. This was an Arabic-language term based on the word for salt. (Muslims commonly forced Jews to salt the heads of executed prisoners before they were put on public display.) The mellahs were commonly crowded, and poverty stricken areas. As in Europe with the Ghettos this discouraged the assismilation of Jews. Jews developed their own community institutions, including schools. Jews had a higher literacy rate and tended to be better educated than Muslims. Thus despite the restraints on Jewish life, Jews often excel in commerce, diplomacy, medicine, and other aread. Muslim rulers often turned to Jews to take advantage of these skills. In addition as second-class citizens without ties to groups in the Muslim society and competing loyalties, rulers could often trust them more than fellow Muslims.
Morocco became essentially independent of the Calophate under the rule of Idris ibn Abdallah (788). He and his descendents are known as the Idrisids. Idris claimed to be a descendant of Ali.
Idris' military campaigns involved the Jewisg tribes, although accounts of the campaign are more legendary than based on verifiable sources. Idris first conquered Tangier and Volubilis. He apparently wanted to gain the support of the Jewish tribes who continued to support the Caliph. He therefore attacked some of their major cities (Temesna, Chellah, and Magada). To avoid further attacks, Jews in several towns (Tadla, Fazaz, and Shawiya) decided to joined Idris. The Jews were led by general Benjamin ben Joshaphat ben Abiezer. The combined army achieved some important victories, but theJews withdrew because so many of their bretheren resisting Idris were being killed.
Idris renewed attacks on Jewish settlements and forced them to aggree to a peace settlement in which they had to pay an annual capitation-tax. There are also reports of Jewish women subjected to indignities.
Idris reportedly allowed Jews to settle in various cities of his new realm by paying a capitation-tax.
Idris II permitted Jews to settle in a special quarter of Fez, founded as his capital (808). The Jews had to pay a tax of 30,000 dinars. Most Jews after the Islamic conquest began to live in ghettos known as mellah.
There was a degree of toleration during the Islamic era, but also periods of persecution, including massacres. One such attack occuured in Fez in which 6,000 Jews were killed (1033). The largest attacks occurred in Fez and Marrakesh when over 100,000 Jews were killed (1146). Some accounts mnention much higher mortalities. This occurred as the result of the military seizue of power by the Almohads. There was another attack in Marrakesh (1232).
The Almohads after the death of Muhammad Ibn Tumart the Mahdi seized power in a bloody military campaign (1146). They had a very different attitude toward non-believers. The Idrisids had accepted the relatively tolerant Koranic attitude toward the people of the Book. The Almohads wanted an end to this toleration and conversion, by force if necessary. The Almohads forced Jews and Christians to either convet or be expelled. Many Jews not willing to face the uncertaintly of expullsion either converted or pretended to convert. Thus whole cities and areas were emptied of proifessing Jews and Christians (Ceuta, Meknes, the Draa River valley , Fez, and Segelmesa). One observer writes that no remnant of Israel remained from Tangier to Mehdia. Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur, the third Almohad ruler, doubted the sincerity of the converts. He decteed that they must wear destinctive garments, notably a yellow cloth head-covering. Yellow was often a color associated with required Jewish clothing, presumably because it was a bright color that stood out. Subsequent Almohad rulers continued to persue the principle of destinctive dress for Jews. This appears to have been a factor in the declining status and prosperity of Moroccan Jews. It also made them vulnerable to physical attacks.
The Merinids were a Berber people originating in the southeast of modern Morocco. The Hilali, another tribe, expelled them (1224). by another tribe, Conflict began with the with the Almohads (1145). The Almohads generally prevailed in these encounters (until 1169). At this time the Merinids began to overcome Almohad forces. Under the command of Abu Yahya ibn Abd al-Haqq, the Merinids took the norther city of Fes (1248). They made it their capital. This was also the beginning of theur dynaty.. The Merinid leadership from Fes declared the war on the Almohads and obtained the support of Christian mercenaries. They seized Marrakech (1269). By this time they had control of most of the Maghreb fincluding Moricco, Algeria and even some of Tunisia.
The later Merinid period uas unstabile (1465-72). The last of the Moroccan possessions in Al Andalus were lost as the Christian Reconquista in Spain reached in final srage. Ceuta had already been lost to Portugal, and the Spanish and Portuguese campaigned constantly in Morocco. Despite the on again od=ff again fighting, commercial relations continued.
The Wattasids like the Merinids originated in the Berber Zenatas. The two dynasties were actually related families. The Merinids had recruited many viziers from the Wattasids. It was these viziers who seized control (1465).
The Wattasid sultans, however, only were able to control northern Morocco. Southern Morcco was controlled by the Saadi dynasty who eventually managed to overcome the Wattasid in the north.
Spain had been a rare center of toleration in Europe where Christians, Jews, and Muslims coexisted in a relative tolerant environment. This began to change as the Reconquista neared completion.
Christians killed large numbers of Jews in Seville (1391). There were also killings in Majorca. Spanish and Portuguese Jews found refuge in Morocco. These Jews of Iberian origins are known as Sephardic Jews.
The Sephardim found new homes in countries of the Mediterranean basin, North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, including its Christian Balkan possessions as well as Egypt, Palestine and Syria. Others found refuge the Netherlands, the West Indies, and North America. Morocco was one of the places to which the Sephardim fleed. The influx of Spanish Jews who settled in cities caused a variety of problems. The Muslim majority population complained of rising prices. The Jews already there primarily eaked out a living in handicrafts and small-scale commerce. Many lived in
poverty, barely tolerated by their Muslim neigbors, and were not in a position to assimilate large numbers of new arrivals. Many local rulers took advantage of the refugees. There were a range of atacks.
Jews in Alcazarquivir were robbed of their possessions. Jewish women were raped in Sale (1442).
Much larger numbers of Jews reached Morocco and other areas of North Africa after Spain and Portugal expelled the Jews (1492 and 96). Some Jews starved. Some returnedcto Spain. Large numbers sought relief in Fez. A fire destroyed much of the Jewish quarter. This was followed by a famine in which perhaps 20,000 Jews perished. Many Jews had attempted to remain in Spain and Portugal by converting or pretending to convert. The converted Jews were known as Maranos. Some decided to join their bretheren rather than risk denouncement to the Inquisition. Portuguese King Manuel I (1495-1521) prohibited the Maranos from emigrate without royal permission (April 20 and April 24, 1499). Even so, some managed to reach Morocco. Portugal at the time was actively persuing maritime trade and building an overseas empire. An part of that empire became ports along the Moroccan coast. The Jewish population of Safi had played an important role in the port's properity. The Portuguesec seized it (1508). The Moors besiged the city in an effort to retake it (1510), but Portuguese Jews broght relef supplies by sea. The Portugese allowed the Jews to practice their religion in Safi. The same transpired in Asilah. Jews reportedly helped ina diplomatic role to mediate betwen the Moors and Portuguese in Morocco. The Moors defeafeated King Sebastian and his army at Alcazarquivir (1578). This ended Portuguese rule in Morocco. Jews in Fez and other towns purchased the Portuguese knights that survived from the Moors. They were treated hospitably and many released upon the promise that they would reimburse the Jews who saved them from the Moors. The Sephardic Jews were much more educated and sophisticated than the existing Jewish population. Many retained the Spanish language as their native tounge. They became the leading element in Moroccan Jewery. Their abilities in commerce and foreign languages, arts, and handiccrafts played an important role in the proisperity of Morocco under the Alaouite Dynasty (1666- ). The conversion of Jews in Portugal had placed Jews under the purview of the Holy Inquisition. The conversos or baptized Jews at first attracted little attention. No special effort was made to minister to the Conversos or provide religious instruction. The Conversos and their descendents became known as marranos. This term arose in Spain and Portugal to describe the Christian descendants of the conversos. (It was a pejorative term derived from te word for swine.) Gradually the Inquisition began to give attention to reports that the marranos were continuing to practice Judaism. Pope Paul III promoted the Inquisition in Portugal, causing many Maranos to emigrate (1536).
The Moroccan Saadis dynasty began ruling in the south (1509). Sultan Mohammed ash-Sheikh extended control to the north (1554). Before conquering Marrakech, Taroudant hd been their capital. Two of their most important achievements were finally ousting the Portuguese from coastal areas in Morocco and esisting Ottoman control. Saadian rule finally ended with the reign of Sultan Ahmad el Abbas (1659).
Morocco's current ruling dynasty, the Alaouites, came to power in the 17th century. Moroccan Jews suffered during the fighting which brought the Alaouite Dynasty to power. Moulay Rashid military campaigns united the different regions of Morocco. He desired to create a vast state in northwestern Africa. Al-Raschid took Marrakech (1670). He publically burned prince Abu Bakr's Jewish councilor and governor along with the Prince and his entire family. This was reportedly to terrorize the Jews. He also destoyed the synagogues. He expelled Jews from the Berber region of Sus. He extracted huge taxes from the Jews. He appointed Joshua ben Hamoshet to head the Jews and collect taxes from them. This was a Jew to whom he owed money. Al-Raschid demanded the Jews to supply wine to the Moorish Christian slaves. Moulay Rashid was succeeded by his brother Ismail (Moulay Ismail) (1672). Ismail is considered to be cruelst figures in Moroccan history. He had some Jewish advisors. He appointed his favorite Jewish advisor, Joseph Toledani, to be his minister. Tolendani negotiated a peace treaty with the Netherlands, a major naval power at the time. Ismail allowed the synagogues destroyed by Al-Rashid to be rebuilt, but demanded heavy takes. He threatened to force conversion to Islam if the Messiah did not come within a set period of time. Jews to placate gave him a large ransome. Ismail was known for his ability to essentially extort money. He would allow aspirants to purchase the position of court favorites. One of the most notable such incidents affected Maimaran, the man Ismail appointed to rule Moroccan Jews. Moses ibn 'Aar wanted the position. Ismail led the two men pay money for each other's head. He then called then fools and forced then to reconcile. Ibn 'Aṭṭar subsequently married Maimaran;s daughter and shared the Jewish rulership. Aṭṭar helped negotiate a treaty with Britain (1721). Morocco at the time was extremely backward. At a time in which Europe ws entering the modern afe, Morocco was still largely feudal.
Mohammed III (1757-89) attempt to begin to modernize the country and introduce European culture and learning. Mohammed's a Jew, Elijah ha-Levi. It was dangerous to displease the Sultan, especially for a Jew. Levib once fell into displeasure and Mohammed gave him as a slave to a Tunis smuggler before restoring his position. With the death of Mohammed (1789), his sons struggled for the throne. The victor was Yazid who was furious that Jews had supported his brother. The result was a dreadful perceution Jews throughout Morocco. When Yazid entered Tetouan, he had the richer Jews tied to the tails of horses and dragged through the streets. Many Jews were killed in other ways or robbed. The women were raped. Yazid had the Spanish consul, Solomon Hazzan, executed. The Jews of Tangier, Asilah, and Alcazarquivir tp avoid attacks had to pay a huge ransome. Yazid especially despised Elijah who had advised his father. Elijah had often disputed with Yazid in council. Elijah to protect hiself converted, butdied under mysterious circumstances.
Attacks occurred in other cities, including Rabat and Meknes, The worst attcks occurred in Fez. At Mogador a conflict developed over Jewish garb. A local magistrate ordered the Jews to pay 100,000 piasters and provide three shiploads of gunpowder. Many were arrested and beaten daily until the ransome was met.
Jews from the city fled to Gibraltar and other places willing to accept them. Some were killed in Mogador and others saved themselves by converting. Throughout the 19th century as European Jews were emancipated and laws restricting Jewsish life were repealed in Europe, the situation of Moroccan Jews did not change. Seveal serious incidents occurred when Jewish communities in various cities were attacked and dispoiled of their possessions.
France and Spain just before World War I seized Morocco (1912). The whole affair caused an international incident. The Sultanate was not ended, but the Sultan was forced to sign treaties with France and Spain putting Morocco under their protection. France seized most of the country. Spain obtained the Northern coast and adjacent mountain areas. Tangier was comverted into an international city. The Sultan was not forced to step down, but was required to put the royal seal on any major policies or laws issued by the colonial powers. Spain played a similar role as France in dividing Jews and Muslims under its protectorate. Most Moroccan Jews, unlike the Muslim population, welcomed the French Protectorate. And Jews were caught in the crossfire in fighting betweem Moroccan troops and French forces when the began to occupy the country. Muslims in the Fez attacked the mellah in retaliation. The Protectorate brought elements of secular French law to Morocco. Under Muslim rule, Moroccan Jews and Chrustians had the status of dhimmi, essentially tolerated vassals. The condition of the Jews did not improve until the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1912, when Jews and Christians were given equality and religious autonomy. Jews for the first time became Moroccan citizens. Morocco unlike Algeria did not become an actual part of France as the nominal ruler was still the Sultan. Moroccans thus remained subjects of the Sultan rather than citizens of France as was the case in Algeria. The the political equality the Jews received under the Protectorate was therefore tenous because of Koranic passages which are the basis of the dhimmi system.
Morocco had the largest Jewish population in the Arab world outside of Palestine, often estimated at about 250,000 people. Morocco in 1940 was a French protectorate, nominally rulled by the Sultan. After the fall of France (June 1940), a French Government was established in an unoccupied zone with a capital at Vichy. This Government while not totally controlled by the Germans, but collaborated with them in many ways. One of these was the Holocaust. A Vichy law of October 4. 1940 provided that "foreign nationals of the Jewish race" would be detained in "special concentration camps". The Sultan of Morocco wa a French client, however, the German victory provided an opportunity to expand his perogarives against a weakened France. The role of Mohammad V is a matter of historical debate. He had earlier ordered the detention of various persons who could be used as forced labor. These camps were primarily set up for European Jews, not Moroccan Jews. One report indicated that there were 12 such camps set up in Morocco. Conditions in these camps were harsh, although the fate of the interned Jews in Morocco was apparently better than that of the Tunisian Jews in concentration camps. The situation of Jews was "precarious," especially European Jews. The Sultan attempted to protect Moroccan Jews, however, Vichy regulations imposed in Morocco included severe limitations on Jews, including work as professionals and education for children. There were forced relocation to the "mellahs" (Moroccan ghettos) as well as financial extortions, land expropriation, exclussion from holding public office, and a variety of other regulations. We know of no actual deportations of Jews from Morocco. These restrictions were only ended by the Allied Torch landings, but not right away. The Jews were not immediately released because Eisenhower allowed Admiral Darlan to retain Vichy's authority. After Laval's assasination, General de Gaulle finally ended all Vichy influence in Morocco and abrogated the Vichy race laws (June 3, 1943).
Morocco had the largest Jewish community in North Africa, variously estimated at 0.25-.30 million. After Israel declared independence and the Arab states invaded, Arabs rioted in Oujda and Djerada, killing 44 Jews. About 18,000 Jews emigrated, most but not all to Israel (1948-49). Jewish emigration slowed down after 1949, but continued at a few thousand annually during the 1950s, gradually reduciing the Moroccan Jewish community to a few thousand. Several factors explain the exit of Moroccan Jews. It is probably true that Moroccans did not share the exterme anti-Semitism of many Europeans. It is not true, however, that there was no anti-Semitism in Morocco. The Vichy experience undoubtedly alerted many Moroccan Jews to their vulnerability. And the hoistility and scattered violence after Israel declared independence was a further factor. Limited economic opportunity and fear of the future after France granted Moroccon independence were further factors. A major tuning point was when the Moroccan Government attemoted to ban Jewish emigration (1956). The Isrealis helped Moroccan Jews to emigrate ilegally, Legal emigration resumed (1963). Since that time about 0.1 million Moroccan Jews have eigrated to Israel.
The Allies landed in Morocco as part of Operation Torch (November 1942). This precented the NAZIs andcVichy from proceeding furher against Moroccan Jews. Morocco at the time had over 250,000 Jews, the largest Jewish population in the Arab world outside of Palestine. After Israel declared independence and the Arab states invaded, Arabs rioted in Oujda and Djerada, killing 44 Jews. About 18,000 Jews emigrated, most but not all to Israel (1948-49). Jewish immegration slowed down after 1949, but continued at a few thousand annually during the 1950s, gradually reduciing the Moroccan Jewish community. Zionist organizations promoted further emigration, seeking to expabd Isrrael's population. They focused on the relatively poor and conservatibe south where many Jews wee involved with agriculture.
Morocco achieved independence (1955). Jews at the time held political positions. There were three Members of Parliament and a Minister of Posts and Telegraphs. Emmigration increased with independence. Jewish emigration to Israel increased from 8,171 (1954) to 24,994 (1955) and increasing even more the following year (1956). The Suez War inflamed anti-Isreali feeling and he Government banned further Jewish emigration (1956). Authorities felt that allowing Jewish immigration was strenthening Israel.
The Goverment quietly relaxed emigration laws to allow Jews to leave. This allowed more than 80,000 Jews to reach Israel (1961-63). This significantly reduced Morocco's Jewish population. There were about 60,000 Jews left in Morocco at the time of the Six Days War (1967). Tenons between Arabs and Jews increased and emigration continued. Many Moroccan Jews at this time went to America and Europe.
This left about 35,000 Jews in Morocco (1971). While the Jewish community is now very small, the Government continues to protect the remaining Jews. The King has a Jewish adviser, André Azoulay. Jewish schools and synagogues receive government financial support. Some Islamists devilver vituperative anti-Semetic sermons. The public is generally hostile to Jews and there have been attacks on Jews. Al-Qaeda's bombed a Jewish community center in Casablanca. There are about 5,000 Jews left in Morocco. Most Moroccan Jews live in Casablanca, but are also small communities in Fez and other cities.
Wasserman, Anne. E-mail message, June 29, 2012.
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