Mohamed Chtatou

Jewish-Muslim Conviviality in Morocco (2/4)

Food, and its conviviality lasting effect

The migratory phenomena lead one to evoke the processes of acculturation and integration, as well as to work on the concepts of multiculturalism, and interculturality and to demonstrate in which term a kitchen is a place of exchanges and transmission. Imbued with its Moroccan origins and strongly attached to the values of Judaism, Moroccan Jewish cuisine is a model of fusion between two communities, not to say two religions. [i]

For centuries, Jews have been present in Morocco and religious gatherings, whether Muslim or Jewish, were between these two communities, where each was proud to share their gastronomic know-how with the other.

It is important to discuss cultural and religious symbols in order to study the similarities in Moroccan Jewish-Muslim culinary art through the coexistence of Jews and Muslims in Morocco for centuries.

Food and cooking represent a specific area of intercommunity exchange. As such, it is important to note the similarities in culinary terminology. For example, the stuffed meat (beef/veal, lamb/sheep, pigeon, chicken…) is called pastilla, b’stilla, bestel in both Jewish and Muslim cuisines. In Morocco, this dish has been introduced in the most festive menus of the respective religious calendars. [ii]

More often than not, Jews and Muslims exchanged recipes and some ingredients when shopping at the market. Women played an important role in these exchanges: they were the ones who prepared the menus, sometimes together, in the inner courtyards of some houses with several families. Jewish and Muslim women could also meet to prepare certain foods.

Jewish and Muslim kitchens in Morocco use many of the same ingredients such as spices and herbs such as cumin, coriander, saffron, red pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, parsley, or mint … Olive oil and peanut oil are widely used in both cuisines, as well as honey in pastries.

Two shared vegetables that appear in the Maghrebi kitchens without distinction of religion are cardoon and chard. Cardoon is used in stews in the traditional Shabbat dish: t’fina or dafina, [iii] cooked for several hours from Friday to Saturday.

The culinary invention of North Africa, the couscous carrying luck or good fortune (baraka) بركة . In Muslim communities, it is at the heart of almost all major holidays of the Muslim religious calendar. It is also found on the tables of Jewish festivities: it is a dish frequently served on Friday night dinners to open the Shabbat.

The concept of social justice (tzedakah , zakât)

The concept of social justice, tzedakah צדקה in Hebrew, and zakat زكاة in Arabic occupy an essential place in Jewish and Muslim life, between purely free giving and concern for social redistribution. The Jewish notion of tzedakah finds its source in biblical teachings. [iv]

In concrete terms, the Bible designates the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner as beneficiaries of social justice. The Bible also shows great concern for the solicitude towards the wage earner of any condition. The Talmud’s discourse on tzedakah lends redemptive powers to it. In addition, great attention is paid to the ethical question of how to dispense social justice while preserving the dignity of the recipient.

The Islamic notion of charity is present in the Qur’ânic teachings. The Qur’ân encourages Muslims to do good works, including zakât, which also means redemption and purification. Zakât is to be applied to those in need such as the poor, the travelers, the indebted, the captives, and the orphans.

In Islam as in Judaism, the notion of redemption is therefore strongly associated with zakât. For example, in the Middle Ages, men practiced zakât when they were ill, in the hope of being healed. In Arabic, there is an expression that translates as “He was healed by zakât.’’ In Hebrew, the equivalent is: “tzedakah saves from death צדקה תציל ממות כפשוטו.” [v]

In both religions, the gift made in secret is considered a moral act of great moral value, and great merit is associated with giving to loved ones, and to one’s neighbors.

Ritual slaughter among Jews and Muslims

This practice, called shehita שְׁחִיטָה, consists in cutting the throat of the animal in order to make it pure and fit for consumption while inflicting as little suffering as possible, in order to make it kosher. [vi] The act itself must be performed by a shohet שוחט, a ritual slaughterer. The shohet must be highly trained. Before the killing, he must recite the blessing for the slaughter. The incision must be very precise it is done with a special knife called halef. [vii] This knife is made of steel and is equal to twice the width of the animal’s neck so that the incision is made without interruption to reduce the animal’s suffering as much as possible. Thereafter, the bleeding must be complete and certain fatty parts are considered unfit for consumption according to Jewish belief. The killing of the animal must be perfectly executed to be kosher. An incorrectly slaughtered animal is called nevela נְבֵלָה (the equivalent of “carrion” in English) or treifa טְרֵפָה (equivalent to “torn”).

Kosher means “valid, conforming” and halâl حلال means “licit, legitimate”. The meaning is therefore close. In their common meaning, they refer to the status of foods permitted to Jews and Muslims respectively. The Torah forbids the consumption of mammals that do not ruminate and that do not have a split hoof, reptiles, seafood, insects, fish without scales or fins, or birds of prey. It also prohibits meat and milk, blood, and certain fats. The Torah strictly regulates slaughter and requires the verification of all internal organs.

The rules of halâl حلال are defined in the Qur’ân. The Qur’ân explicitly prohibits pork, blood, and un-slaughtered animals. [viii] The Qur’ân also requires man to abstain from alcohol, although it does not explicitly forbid it. The Qur’ân requires the name of God to be spoken at the time of slaughter.

The Islamic Sharîa allows the Muslim to eat the meat of slaughtered animals undertaken by a shohet but disallows any meat of Christian origin.

The practice of circumcision

For both religions, the practice of circumcision finds its source in the history of Abraham.[ix]

In Judaism, in accordance with the act practiced by the patriarch on his son Isaac, eight days after his birth, the Jewish boy must be circumcised as a sign of a perpetual covenant between God and his people. The act of cutting the foreskin of the newborn takes place during a ceremony where ten adult men are present. The operation is performed by a mohel מוֹהֵל, a person specialized in the realization of this rite. According to tradition, circumcision removes a part of the man so that he experiences the lack.

For people of the Jewish faith, male circumcision is mandatory as it is prescribed in the Torah. In the Book of Genesis, it is described as a mark of the covenant of the pieces between Yahweh and the descendants of Abraham: [x]

‘’And God said unto Abraham: ‘And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any foreigner, that is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.’’

Among Muslims, the first son of Abraham, Ismael, an ancestor of the Muslims, was circumcised on the same day as his father. He was 13 years old, the age at which Muslim boys should be circumcised. However, in practice, they are often circumcised much younger. Although there is no Qur’ânic text prescribing it, it is strongly recommended and systematically practiced.

Transmission of religion

According to Hebrew law (halakha הלכה ‘’way’’), [xi] membership in the Jewish people is due to matrilineal descent, which means that it is the mother who determines whether or not the child is Jewish. Judaism conforms to the concept of Mater semper certa est, i.e. the idea that one is always absolutely certain of the identity of the mother of a child, but one is more difficult to be sure of the identity of the father. [xii]

Therefore, a child born to a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is Jewish, while a child born to a non-Jewish mother is not. How can it be considered that religion is actually transmitted through the mother? What about the influence of the father? In many societies, the social identity of the child is primarily determined by the identity of the father (e.g. transmission of the family name).

However, Judaism considers that there is an “identity of being beyond the simple “social identity“’’. The “being” would only become complete after the pregnancy of the woman. It is therefore intrinsically linked to the mother who has allowed life to come to fruition.

It is worth noting that some liberal, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jewish movements in Europe, and the United States, not out of denial of the rules of the Torah, but out of a desire to adapt to the modern age. They have decided and considered, since the 1980s, that the transmission by the father is worth the transmission by the mother of children of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. However, they recommend the conversion of the non-Jewish mother to Judaism.

On the other hand, there are as many ways to define oneself as a Jew as there are Jews. There are Orthodox Jews, believers, secularists, agnostics, and atheists. Each one lives his Judaism in his own way.

Among Muslims, the tradition is that Islam is transmitted through the father, hence the fact that there is no problem for a Muslim to marry a non-Muslim woman since the children will be educated according to the religion of the father. On the other hand, the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man is seen as problematic, even forbidden, unless he converts to Islam. The Qur’ân sheds little light on this subject, as it was not of great concern at the time when it was transcribed.


The jewels were worn by Jewish women, but also by Amazigh/Berber women. They reflect the importance of Jewish jewelry artisans,[xiii] who were almost the only ones to make jewelry in Morocco until the XXth century. Their production was aimed at both Jewish, and Muslim women.

The jewels of the Jewish women of the mellahs were largely similar to those of the Amazigh/Berber women. It was common to wear several necklaces made of large hollow balls. Voluminous bracelets were common: often hinged, they were decorated with green or yellow enamel. Women wore very large rings as earrings. [xiv]

Jewish and Amazigh/Berber women also shared the wearing of the mahdour, a head ornament of 15 to 20 centimeters high mounted on a frame of rigid fabrics, with straps of fixing. The whole thing is held together by silver bars.

In the North of the Atlas, Muslims were not allowed to work with gold and silver, because of this prohibition, until the middle of the XXth century, the jewelers in the cities were practically all Jewish. The Jewish artisans worked in the mellah [xv], and Muslims went directly to them to make their purchases and order special jewels.

In the more remote rural or mountainous areas, Jewish villages often had one or more jewelery artisans. In this case, they would go to the weekly suks (market) themselves, with a case of jewelery, in order to resell their production.

Accessories were not reserved exclusively for women. Men also wear headgear, which allows for determining their religious affiliation. Thus, Jews wear the kippah כיפה [xvi] and Muslims wear the white sheshiya.

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter at @Ayurinu



[i] Gans Perez, Hélène. Marrakech la rouge. Les Juifs de la Médina. Genève : Editions Metropolis, 1997.


[iii] Dafina (also skhina, tafina, tafna, matfun) is a traditional dish in the Jewish cuisine of Morocco. This dish is traditionally eaten during Seouda Shenit, the second meal of Shabbat, which takes place on Saturday around noon. Moroccan dafina is usually made with beef, potatoes, chickpeas, eggs and wheat. Sometimes rice is also included. There is also a dafina called Pessa’h (Jewish Passover) made of peas (without chickpeas, rice or wheat). At the table, salt, pepper and cumin are added. However, there are several local varieties, such as the dafina from Constantine, which is prepared with spinach.

Cf. Amar, Rosa. Cuisine juive marocaine. La cuisine de Rosa. Paris : Jean-Paul Gisserot, 2005.

[iv] Tzedakah, tzedaka, tsedaqa or tzedaqa (Hebrew: צדקה) refers in Judaism to the religious principle of almsgiving. The root of the word is that which designates “justice” in Hebrew ( צדק; pronounced “tsedek“).

Cf.  Dosick, Wayne D. Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition, and Practice. London: HarperCollins, 1995.


[v]  DeGroot, Jacquelyn. ‘’Jewish Philanthropy: The Concept of Tzedakah’’, Learning to Give.

‘’In the Hebrew language the closest word to philanthropy is tzedakah.  While the word is used interchangeably for charity, tzedakah is seen as a form of social justice provided by the donor as well as those who utilize the support to do their work and those who allow the support into their lives.  As is the case with justice, this critical social responsibility cannot be done to someone – rather, it must be done with someone. In Hebrew, the word meaning “to give” is Natan. In Hebrew and in English, the word can be read forward and backward, so when we think about philanthropy and idea of “to give” it is also about “to receive.”’’

[vi] Shehita (Hebrew: שְׁחִיטָה “occision”) is the Jewish rite of slaughter by jugulation that renders animals (livestock, game, and fowl) pure, fit for food consumption, and, anciently, for offering before God. Fish and insects permitted for consumption are exempted. The act is performed by a shohet, a duly authorized specialist trained in the laws of shehita. He cuts the trachea, esophagus, carotid arteries and jugular veins with a special knife and the slaughtered animal is hung upside down so that it bleeds. An improperly slaughtered animal has the status of nevela (“carrion”); an animal that has died without slaughter or is unfit for slaughter (even if the defect that makes it unfit was discovered after slaughter) has the status of treifa (“torn”). Both are unsuitable for slaughter.

Cf. Jewish EncyclopediaShehitah. New York: Jewish Encyclopedia (Funk & Wagnalls), 1906.

[vii] Telushkin, Shira. ”Man of Steel: How a Kosher Slaughterer Turned Knife-Making Into an Art”, Tablet, February 24, 2014.


[viii] Sûrat al-Ma’ida 5:3:

حُرِّمَتۡ عَلَيۡكُمُ الۡمَيۡتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحۡمُ الۡخِنۡزِيۡرِ وَمَاۤ اُهِلَّ لِغَيۡرِ اللّٰهِ بِهٖ وَالۡمُنۡخَنِقَةُ وَالۡمَوۡقُوۡذَةُ وَالۡمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَالنَّطِيۡحَةُ وَمَاۤ اَكَلَ السَّبُعُ اِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيۡتُمۡوَمَا ذُ بِحَ عَلَى النُّصُبِ وَاَنۡ تَسۡتَقۡسِمُوۡا بِالۡاَزۡلَامِؕ ذٰ لِكُمۡ فِسۡقٌؕ اَلۡيَوۡمَ يَـئِسَ الَّذِيۡنَ كَفَرُوۡا مِنۡ دِيۡـنِكُمۡ فَلَا تَخۡشَوۡهُمۡ وَاخۡشَوۡنِؕ اَ لۡيَوۡمَ اَكۡمَلۡتُ لَـكُمۡ دِيۡنَكُمۡ وَاَ تۡمَمۡتُ عَلَيۡكُمۡ نِعۡمَتِىۡ وَرَضِيۡتُ لَـكُمُ الۡاِسۡلَامَ دِيۡنًاؕ فَمَنِ اضۡطُرَّ فِىۡ مَخۡمَصَةٍ غَيۡرَ مُتَجَانِفٍ لِّاِثۡمٍۙ فَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ‏‏ 

Forbidden to you are carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, the animal slaughtered in any name other than Allah’s, the animal which has either been strangled, killed by blows, has died of a fall, by goring or that devoured by a beast of prey – unless it be that which you yourselves might have slaughtered while it was still alive – and that which was slaughtered at the altars. You are also forbidden to seek knowledge of your fate by divining arrows. All these are sinful acts. This day the unbelievers have fully despaired of your religion. Do not fear them; but fear Me. This day I have perfected for you your religion, and have bestowed upon you My bounty in full measure, and have been pleased to assign for you Islam as your religion. (Follow, then, the lawful and unlawful bounds enjoined upon you.) As for he who is driven by hunger, without being wilfully inclined to sin, surely Allah is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.

[ix] Le Bars, Stéphane. ‘’Débat sur la circoncision: pourquoi les juifs et les musulmans s’inquiètent-ils?’’, Le Monde, October 18, 2013,

[x] Genesis Chapter 17 בְּרֵאשִׁית


[xi] Halakha (Hebrew: הלכה “Way”, Halokhe according to the Ashkenazi pronunciation, plur. halakhot) groups together all the prescriptions, customs, and traditions collectively referred to as “Jewish Law”.

Essentially based on the Hebrew Bible and, in rabbinic Judaism, on the Talmud, Halakha guides the ritual life or beliefs of those who follow it and the many aspects of their daily life. Based on the achievements of previous generations and the discussions and debates on the problems of the present generation, it is subject to many variations between the various Jewish communities and factions, due to their dispersion in time and space.

It is, until the modern era, the pillar, and cement of many Jewish communities, which are governed by its civil and religious rules. With the advent of Haskala and the emancipation of the Jews, they found themselves citizens of countries practicing the “separation of Church and State”, and it became “optional” for many. New currents emerged which departed from the traditional model, renamed Orthodox, to propose alternatives that were more flexible and less faithful to the sources, while the currents which remained observant stuck to the laws in force up to that point, and even no longer tolerated the slightest change or novelty. The modern state of Israel, as a “Jewish state”, relies in part on Orthodox Halakha in some areas of family and personal status, notably in the laws of marriage and divorce.

Cf.  Katz, Jacob. Divine Law in Human Hands – Case Studies in Halakhic Flexibility. Detroit, Michigan, USA: Magnes Press, 1999.

[xii] Shaye J. D. Cohen. “The Origins of the Matrilineal Principle in Rabbinic Law.” AJS Review, vol. 10, no. 1, 1985, pp. 19–53. JSTOR,

[xiii] Malul, Chen. ‘’The story behind the professions of Moroccan Jews, including a look at some unique photographs documenting Jewish artisans in Morocco in 1953’’, The Librarians, January 2, 2022.

[xiv] Stewart, Courney A. ‘’Remarkable Berber Jewelry at The Met’’, The Met, December 4, 2017.

[xv] Calvo-Serrano, J.; García-Carrillo, F. & Santiago-Zaragoza, J. M. Mellah. ‘’The Jews Quarter at the Medinas of Morocco. A New Interpretation of the Minority’s Space in The Islamic City’’, Procedia Engineering, 161, 2016, pp. 1322-1329.

[xvi] The word yarmulke comes from the Hebrew root (k.f) kaf (כ) which means “palm” or even “spoon” or “dome”/”vault” in architecture, “that which covers”, i.e. a curved object.

In Yiddish, the word yarmulke comes from the Aramaic yira malka which means “fear of the King” and the headgear is called kappe, a root found in the German word “kepi”.

In the second and fourth centuries, the word kippa appears in the Talmud, simply to designate a head covering5. The custom of covering the head thus begins at the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Talmud records that “Reb Houna, son of Reb Yehoshua, did not walk four cubits with his head uncovered, for the sake of the Divine presence.

The first person to wear a head covering was Reb Nachman bar Yitzchak (en) of Babylon, whom his mother intended to protect from his evil and frivolous tendencies.

The Talmud states that the purpose of wearing a yarmulke is to remind us that God is the Supreme Authority “over us” (Kiddushin 31a).

It was not until the medieval period that legislation on the wearing of the yarmulke began. Rabbi Israel Isserlein (en) considers in his book Troumat Hadechen that there is no formal prohibition to walk around bareheaded, it is just good to cover the head. In contrast, Rabbi Joseph Karo legislates in the Shulhan Arukh (Hebrew: שולחן ערוך “table set”) that it is forbidden to walk more than 4 cubits (about 2 meters) bareheaded.

About the Author
Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of “MENA region area studies” at Université Internationale de Rabat -UIR- and of “Education” at Université Mohammed V in Rabat, as well. Besides, he is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, American, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islamism and religious terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism. During 2015 he worked as Program Director with the USAID/CHEMONICS educational project entitled: “Reading for Success: A Small Scale Experimentation” in cooperation with the Moroccan Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP). He recently taught cultural studies to Semester abroad students with AMIDEAST, IES and CIEE study abroad programs in Morocco insuring such courses as: “Introduction to Moroccan Culture,” “Contemporary North African History,” “Arab Spring,” “Amazigh Culture,” “Moroccan Jewish Legacy,” “Community-Based Learning” (internship with civil society organizations). He is, also, currently teaching “Communication Skills” and “Translation and Interpreting” to master students at The Institute for Leadership and Communication Studies –ILCS- in Rabat, Morocco and supervising several Fulbright students in areas of religion and culture in Morocco. He has taught in the past some courses in universities in the USA, Spain, France, Italy, England and Greece.
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