Mohamed Chtatou

Jewish-Muslim Conviviality in Morocco (3/4)

The Wedding

The Jewish wedding is celebrated in the presence of two witnesses and conducted by a rabbi. The bride and groom are reunited under a bridal canopy, the houppa חוּפָּה, symbolizing the new home of the couple. The marriage is sealed by the reading of the ketubah כְּתוּבָּה, the marriage contract, a legal document written in Aramaic, signed by both parties before witnesses, and given to the bride. The ceremony concludes with the breaking of a glass, a symbolic gesture performed by the groom in memory of the destruction of the Temple. [i]

In the case of Muslim marriage, a contract is concluded in front of two witnesses, in the presence of a judge, câdî قاضي, or legal authority, after the recitation of verses of the Qurân, Sura IV 3 authorizes marriage with up to 4 wives, [ii] provided that they are able to support themselves. Verse 20, of the same Sura also takes precautions for women, such as the ketubah. [iii]

In the Maghreb, marriage is preceded by a ritual common to both traditions: laïlat al-henna  ليلة الحنا, the night of the laying of henna. The celebration consists in blessing the union with a ritual intended to ensure abundance and fertility.

On the Moroccan Jewish Henna night, Danny Azoulay writes: [iv]

‘’When talking about a Jewish henna/ hina, it is a vision of the Moroccan Jewish henna party that immediately comes to mind: brightly colored garments, Fez hats, tables of marzipan candies, dates and special pastries, authentic Moroccan music blasting while family and friends dance with infectious enthusiasm. And, of course, a fair amount of “lululululu”.

The bride and groom dress in lavish kaftans and jellabiyas, according to Moroccan wedding traditions, and very often have several costume changes through the evening. They are the king and queen for the day and are often carried into the hall on elaborately decorated ottomans and seated on thronelike chairs. Guests are encouraged to change into the brightly-colored traditional clothes provided by the host. Gifts (usually gold jewelry) are given to the bride and groom by the families.

Finally, the mud-like henna paste is generously applied by the bride’s mother or grandmother: in a circular shape, on the palms of the bride and groom. Afterward, the palms of the hands of all the guests will be hennaed one by one- and they, too, will be blessed with good luck. Henna is said to protect the couple from the evil eye and to bless them with luck, health, and fertility. In Morocco, the Jewish henna party would have taken place on the days preceding the wedding and may have gone on for several days. But, today, in Israel, the henna party will take place a week or even two, beforehand. There are those who incorporate the ceremony into the wedding, itself.’’

Carrying the bride and groom on a chair is also a ritual common to both Jewish and Muslim weddings in Morocco. This practice has its origin in ancient Egypt. Indeed, Egyptian traditions reached the Maghreb long before the arrival of the Arabs, through trade and commerce but especially through migration. The Jewish populations settled in Morocco before the arrival of Islam, and those who had fled from Egypt have brought this tradition. Among the Muslims of Morocco, this practice is called al-camariyya العمارية.

Morocco, a holy land for the Jews

The Jews never completely left Morocco. They were not driven out, even though they left en masse and the country was emptied of Jews like the rest of the Arab world. In spite of this, the door has always remained open.

There were always Muslim families who took care of the maintenance of the places of worship and the Jewish sanctuaries. It is a difficult status to identify. They were always called “the guardians“. At that time, Jewish rabbis and beadles lived there, and these Muslims assisted them. When they left, the Jews entrusted them with the keys to the sanctuaries and the memory that goes with it.

The guardians are very humble Muslims, very much penetrated by the sacredness of the task of guarding the tombs of a religion that is not their own. They are the guardians of the memory.

There was no collective return, but there are individual returns. There is a kind of small trend among people: they say they want to go and grow old and die in Morocco. It’s very symbolic. Because the link remained and the departure was accompanied by a lot of nostalgia. [v]

On the nostalgia of Moroccan Jews, Emanuela Trevisan Semi writes: [vi]

‘’In Israeli public space feelings of nostalgia towards Morocco have found various forms of expression, starting as early as 1986, when a statue was unveiled to Mohammad V in Ashkelon, a city with a significant Jewish-Moroccan presence. However, it was in the year 2000 that Israeli public life began to set up places of remembrance connected with Morocco. André Levy has written that it is as if the Jews had never left Morocco, at least as far as the unbreakable bonds binding them to the king of Morocco are concerned. The Moroccan flag flies next to the Israeli flag in the pamphlets published by the National Committee for the Memory of Hassan II, a body formed three days after the king’s death (on 23rd July, 1999) and whose office is in Jerusalem. The committee has set up an association whose aim is to further the memory of the king of Morocco in Israel by giving the name of Hassan II to seventy Israeli public places such as squares, roads, shopping centres, parks and gardens. The museum of the Jews of Morocco (Centre mondial du Judaïsme d’Afrique du Nord- David Amar) located in the middle of an Oriental/Andalusian garden (in the ancient Moghrabi quarter of Jerusalem) is in strict Morocco style. The “Moroccanisation” of Israeli public life continues with the re-establishment of the worship of those saints already celebrated in Morocco by Jews and Muslims together. Netivot, the place of residence of the charismatic leader Baba Sali, has become a new centre of Moroccan religiosity while Baba Sali’s son has had a sanctuary built in memory of his father’s death in Moorish style. Netivot has then became one of the country’s principal religious centres, a place where genealogies of Moroccan saints have been revived.’’

Many people look at this common history with both tenderness and sadness, as if the exodus of the Jews had collectively amputated a part of their identity. It sometimes seems more difficult to deal with the bright side of this past. [vii]

Simone Bitton, director of the documentary ”Ziyara” [viii] on Jewish memory in Morocco, in an interview with Soulayma Mardam Bey for L’Orient-Le Jour admits:

”En tant que juifs arabes, notre grand traumatisme vient du fait de sentir que notre identité est en train de disparaître. Je ne souhaite cela à personne. Je fais partie des dernières personnes au monde à se définir ainsi parce que je porte en moi ces deux identités. Des gens comme moi, il n’y en aura bientôt plus, et ce, non pas pour des raisons idéologiques, mais tout simplement parce qu’il n’y a plus de juifs dans le monde arabe. Nous ne disparaissons pas par le massacre, mais par l’histoire, ce qui ne veut pas dire que nous n’en avons pas. Les gens dans mon film répètent que le judaïsme fait partie de leur identité en tant que musulmans marocains. C’est une chose qu’ils ressentent très profondément. Et moi je peux dire que l’islam fait partie de mon identité de juive marocaine. Le judaïsme fait partie de l’identité arabe et c’est une chose dont les Arabes d’aujourd’hui devraient d’ailleurs prendre conscience. Cela leur ferait du bien.”

[”As Arab Jews, our great trauma comes from feeling that our identity is disappearing. I don’t wish this on anyone. I am one of the last people in the world to define myself as such because I carry both identities within me. There will soon be no more people like me, not for ideological reasons, but simply because there are no more Jews in the Arab world. We are not disappearing by massacre, but by history, which does not mean that we do not have any. The people in my film repeat that Judaism is part of their identity as Moroccan Muslims. This is something they feel very deeply. And I can say that Islam is part of my identity as a Moroccan Jew. Judaism is part of the Arab identity and this is something that Arabs today should realize. It would be good for them.”]

The Jews of southern Morocco: Jewish-Amazigh intimacy

The Jews began to immigrate to Morocco and settle in the valleys of the south as early as the VIth century BC but also at the beginning of the Christian era. Historical documents attest to the existence of many Jewish communities in the valleys of Draa, in the Sous at Wijjan, Assaka of the Anti-Atlas in Illigh, Ifrane, and in Oued Noun on the Saharan border since the middle age. [ix]

Traditions report that prophets persecuted by Nebuchadnezzar would have fled by the sea to disembark to Massa from where they would have left towards the east inland. Sidi Chanaouel, would have passed by Tamdoult n-Ouaqqa (Bani) where he would be buried at the foot of the mountain. Sidi Daniel would have arrived at Taguemmout (central Anti-Atlas central) [x] where he would be buried. Sidi Ouarkennas would be buried between Tizerht and Issafen.

The Jews were generally bilingual, Arabic and Berber speakers. Some of them were exclusively Berber-speaking. It is in that the Jews seem to have ensured a notable part of the economic activity. Their communities were born and developed in the most commercially active regions. The growth of these communities in these regions appears to be almost parallel to that of the trans-Saharan caravan trade. [xi] It is probably the consequence of one of the important laws of Islam, which expressly forbade usury (ribâ الربا).

The non-Muslims, in this case, Jews, became the official pawnbrokers, in an Islamic state that guaranteed the protection of Jewish communities, as well as their right to practice their religion. However, in most of these areas, particularly in the sub and on the margins of the Sahara, the control of the central government was very lax, if not entirely absent.

Illigh was destroyed by the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Rashid (1631-1672) in 1670 but recovered its political position at the end of the XVIIIth century under Sidi Hashem ben Ali Illighi (died in 1825). Possessing great wealth and great power, he had under his orders fifteen thousand horsemen of the best armed. All the caravans coming from western Sudan find it necessary to ensure his friendship and protection. Thus, the Semlalites “of Illigh” were able to monopolize the trade of the south around the annual moussem [xii] of Sidi Hmad u Musa, which allows one to suggest a close correlation between trade and power in the history of Morocco. The travelers gradually abandoned the Draa and Tafilalt, to the benefit of Souss and Oued noun, practicing trade with the Europeans (Dutch, English, and other nations).

Sources show that the community of the Zaouïa of Sidi Hmad u Musa, as well as the neighboring communities, were closely linked to the leader of the powerful Illigh family who entrusted their Jews with everything flowing towards Sudan and Essouira, especially after 1765, various products (ostrich feathers, gum, ivory, etc.) and the purchase of imported items (sold on the occasion of moussems) as well as financial transactions of usurious nature, which operations were sometimes recorded in deeds written in Hebrew characters. The Jews of Illigh were considered as protected from the zaouia. If they were robbed or killed, the Sharif punished in retaliation the locality to which the criminals belonged. Recent studies on Illigh and on its Jews show that the social ties between them and the inhabitants were very narrow, they seem to have ensured a significant part of economic activity.

The Jews of southern Morocco faced the upheavals of the XVIIth to the XIXth centuries and despite the impassable gap of religion and residential segregation, daily relations of tolerant good neighborliness do not exclude eruptions of savage violence in times of crisis. All this is in the context of an essentially rural country, fiercely isolated and withdrawn, suspicious of anything that comes from outside non-Muslims.

The manuscripts available attest to the relations between Muslims and Jews in Illigh, Ifran, Oued Noun, and elsewhere in southern Morocco during this period of change, which coincided with the great upheavals of the XVIIth, XVIIIth, and XIXth centuries and the eruption of the West and its civilization in a quasi-medieval society. [xiii]

The two communities remained faithful to their local, historical, and geographical environment. They were an integral part of the sociocultural, and linguistic landscape, living in a kind of identity difference, but they remained uncompromising about their faith and beliefs. One must note the absence of a hermetic barrier between the two communities, one can even speak sometimes of a total absence of any differentiation in the habitat. The deterioration of the inter-community climate has never reached during this period the stage of an open confrontation of a religious or ethnic nature, nor has it generally exceeded the limits of isolated incidents such as the case  (which is not confirmed by any text ) of a certain Bouhlassn (the man with the stick) who attacked the Jews of Ifran around 1790, who pretended to be Moulay Yazid and tried to convert them by force before the head of the House of Illigh, their traditional protector in the region, could intervene.

Essaouira, city of cultural commonality                

The privileged position of Mogador has made it, during its long history, a place of accosting of merchant ships and conquering frigates. In the city of Mogador, the French were doctors, and civil servants. The Arabs ran the craft stores and the great merchant families were Jewish, heirs to the Tujjar as-Sultan تجار السلطان, “the king’s merchants’’. They had flocked from all over Morocco in 1765 at the request of Sultan Mohammed III. The sultan had decided to establish in this city the great port of his kingdom and to make it the point of connection with the caravans coming from Africa. Thanks to a system of tax exemptions, a dozen trading houses were immediately established. In the middle of the XIXth century, Mogador had a large population of Jews living in the Mellah, the Jewish quarter located in the northern part of the old city. Later, those who could afford it moved to the beautiful mansions in the kasbah around Moulay Hicham Square. [xiv]

Essaouira was officially founded in 1765 by the Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah (1721-1790) later known as Mohammed III to provide the capital Marrakech with a new port and to weaken the Souss revolt by suffocating the port of Agadir (capital of the Souss region). This decision of geopolitical order also testifies to the will to make Essaouira the first new city planned in Morocco, a city populated by immigrants of all horizons and all confessions. Its founder had thus allocated a territory to each “ethnic group”: Chbanates, Ahl Agadir, Laalouj, Beni Antar, Bakher, and Tujjâr as-sultân (literally the Jew traders or merchants of the sultan).

The Jewish families that came to settle in Mogador were as follows: [xv]

– Sumbal and Delvante from Safi ;

– Corcos and De la Mar from Marrakech;

– Aflalo and Pénia from Agadir;

– Lévy-Yuly, Lévy-Bensoussan, Anahory from Rabat;

– Aboudarham from the city of Tetouan.

The promising beginnings of the city’s economic development attracted other Jewish families from across the seas:

– De Lara, from Amsterdam;

– Akrich, from Livorno;

– Cohen-Solal and Boujnah, from Algeria.

Then came other families, from which came the “Sultan’s merchants”:

– the Cohen-Macnin, Sebag, Pinto, Belisha of Marrakech ;

– the Hadida and Israel, from Tetouan;

– the Méran of Safi and the Guedalla of Agadir.

The latter were for the most part Jews of Andalusian origin sheltered in the kasbah known as the “mellah“, while their other co-religionists (artisans, shopkeepers, peddlers) lived in the lower town. Although some authors trace the origin of a large number of Jewish families in the mellah of Essaouira to the Souss, including those of Rabbi Haïm Pinto and Rabbi Ed-Dery who lived in Agadir.

The Judeo-Berber etymology of Mogador (the name given to Essaouira by the Portuguese who came in the sixteenth century), according to Omar Lakhdar, asserts the presence of a Jewish community before the foundation of the new city by the Sultan.

From the outset, the Souiri mellah was distinguished by a very dense cultural and spiritual life. It developed its own identity based on a religious vocation. Spread out over two hectares, the mellah had at least sixteen synagogues and numerous cultural structures. Daily life was punctuated by the relatively “orthodox” religious practice in these mellahs, which included the exclusive presence of the Talmudic school, public mikvehs מִקְוֶה / מקווה (ritual baths) which welcomed great rabbis of international spiritual renown.

The whole city had up to 47 synagogues. This shows the importance of the religious dimension in the Jewish community of Essaouira, which was at one time more important in number than the Muslim community. When Essaouira’s port activities were at their peak, in the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries, the city had as many as 16,000 Jews among 22,000 to 25,000 inhabitants. Currently, there are four synagogues, maintained by private finance.

In his speech on April 14, 2013, King Mohammed VI reiterated his desire to preserve and enhance the Moroccan Jewish heritage: [xvi]

[“It is precisely this Hebrew particularity that constitutes today, as enshrined in the new Constitution of the Kingdom, one of the secular tributaries of the national identity, and that is why We call for the restoration of all Jewish temples in the various cities of the Kingdom, so that they are no longer just places of worship, but also a space for cultural dialogue and renewal of the founding values of Moroccan civilization.”]

‘’C’est précisément cette particularité hébraïque qui constitue aujourd’hui, ainsi que l’a consacré la nouvelle Constitution du Royaume, l’un des affluents séculaires de l’identité nationale, et c’est pourquoi Nous appelons à la restauration de tous les temples juifs dans les différentes villes du Royaume, de sorte qu’ils ne soient plus seulement des lieux de culte, mais également un espace de dialogue culturel et de renouveau des valeurs fondatrices de la civilisation marocaine.’’

A dynamic of coexistence and cooperation was created between the Jews, the Muslims, and the Christian community. However, the role of the Jewish merchants remained predominant. As soon as the first families of Jewish merchants were established, links were created between them. These were not only business relationships but also marriage alliances that strengthened the cohesion of these families.

From the middle of the XVIIIth century, the arrival of foreign merchants, mainly European, necessitated the establishment of consulates where Jews were employed as consuls, vice-consuls, and interpreters. With the mixing of cultures, the atmosphere in the city became cosmopolitan.

A genealogical study of the great Mogadorian families through time shows that they were all linked by marriage. This phenomenon creates closed clans and real dynasties. This can be seen in the genealogy of one of the first great tujjâr families of the sultan, the Guedalla, from Agadir, who were involved in international trade. They allied themselves with the Pintos, the Del Mar, the Aflalo, and, in England, with the Montefiores, the Sebag-Montefiores and even with the De Lara (who came to settle in Mogador towards the end of the XVIII century), and Cevi families from Amsterdam, who linked up with the Serfatys.

Jacob Guedalla (born around 1690) was the first to receive a building permit in the Casbah (Dar Parey) and the only Jew to be accepted in the Commercio. [xvii] Part of the family emigrated to Amsterdam in Holland and part to England.

The first consular agent who settled in Mogador in 1763 was the Danish consul. Salomon Corcos was appointed in 1823 as the consular agent of Great Britain in Marrakech. In January 1862, Abraham Corcos was appointed vice-consul of America and the West Indies in Mogador. After his death in 1883, his son Meir succeeded him. Joseph Elmaleh and his son Reuben were vice-consuls of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Mogador.

A known phenomenon, which also existed in other societies, was the absence of marriages between members of different social classes. So much so that many members of the community, both men and women, remained single all their lives. The local poet Rabbi David Elkaim wrote a searing poem about this in which he expressed his indignation. [xviii]

After many decades of development and wealth, Mogador was in for a continuous decline as reported by Sideney S. Corcos: [xix]

[”At the beginning of the 19th century several factors acted to the detriment of the economy: Europe imposed a blockade on exports because of frequent epidemics, the Napoleonic wars, and the policy of Sultan Moulay Slimane (1792-1822), which slowed down trade with Europe. As a result, the commercial activity of Mogador dropped considerably, leading to other departures, either to Casablanca or Agadir, or across the Atlantic. For example, in 1800 and 1801 the merchants David Ben-Shabbat, Haïm Délavant, and Shemuel Benadon arrived in London from Mogador. Some turned to other directions, such as the Azores and Canary Islands, including the Zafrani, Shabbat, Sebag, Attia, Ben Shimol, Ben Soussan, Amzaleg, Sabah, Azencot, Elmaleh families, and even the grandson of the rabbi, the saintly Haïm Pinto, or finally to Gibraltar and Portugal (Benchabat and Chriqui families) in the middle of the nineteenth century.”]

”Au début du XIXe siècle plusieurs facteurs agissent au détriment de l’économie : l’Europe impose un blocus sur les exportations à cause des épidémies fréquentes, des guerres napoléoniennes et de la politique du sultan Moulay Slimane (1792-1822), qui freine le commerce vers l’Europe. En conséquence, l’activité commerciale de Mogador chute considérablement, poussant à d’autres départs, soit vers Casablanca ou Agadir, soit outre-Atlantique. Par exemple en 1800 et 1801 arrivent à Londres de Mogador les commerçants David Ben-Shabbat, Haïm Délavant et Shemuel Benadon. Certains se tournent vers d’autres directions, comme les îles Açores et les îles Canaries, dont les familles Zafrani, Shabbat, Sebag, Attia, Ben Shimol, Ben Soussan, Amzaleg, Sabah, Azencot, Elmaleh et même le petit-fils du rabbin, le saint Haïm Pinto, ou enfin vers Gibraltar, et le Portugal (familles Benchabat et Chriqui) au milieu du  XIXe siècle.”

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

End notes:

[i] Delacroix, Eugène. “A Jewish Wedding in Morocco’’, in Journey to the Maghreb and Andalusia, 1832: The Travel Notebooks and Other Writings, University Park, USA: Penn State University Press, 2019, pp. 56-59.

[ii] وَاِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ اَلَّا تُقۡسِطُوۡا فِى الۡيَتٰمٰى فَانْكِحُوۡا مَا طَابَ لَـكُمۡ مِّنَ النِّسَآءِ مَثۡنٰى وَثُلٰثَ وَرُبٰعَ​ ​ۚ فَاِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ اَلَّا تَعۡدِلُوۡا فَوَاحِدَةً اَوۡ مَا مَلَـكَتۡ اَيۡمَانُكُمۡ​ ؕ ذٰ لِكَ اَدۡنٰٓى اَلَّا تَعُوۡلُوۡا ؕ‏

(4:3) If you fear that you might not treat the orphans justly, then marry the women that seem good to you: two, or three, or four.4 If you fear that you will not be able to treat them justly, then marry (only) one,5 or marry from among those whom your right hands possess.6 This will make it more likely that you will avoid injustice.

[iii] Katz, Jonathan G. ‘’Conversion, intermarriage and the legal status of Jews in French Protectorate Morocco’’, The Journal of North African Studies, 23:4, 2018, pp 648-674.

[iv] Azoulay, Danny. ‘’The Jewish Henna Ceremony’’, Danny Azoulay, April 30, 2020.

[v] Hachkar, Kamal. Tinghir Jérusalem: Les échos du Mellah. 2013. Documentary film.

Kamal Hachkar explores the 2000-year-old Mellah in his family’s village of Tinghir, Morocco, and follows the trail of the town’s once substantial Jewish population to its emigres and descendants in Israel. In the film, he weaves back and forth between his city’s old Jewish quarter and Israel, where he meets Sephardic Jews who still hold tight to their Moroccan identity. Presents the story of a long-term collaboration between Jews and Muslims that eventually fell apart. As Hachkar tries to understand exactly what happened, he simultaneously seeks a better way forward.

[vi] Trevisan Semi, Emanuela. ‘’Shared Memories and Oblivion: Is Israeli Jews’ Nostalgia for Morocco Shared by the Muslims in Morocco?’’ in Memory and Forgetting among Jews from the Arab-Muslim Countries. Contested Narratives of a Shared Past, ed. Emanuela Trevisan and Piera Rossetto, Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of the Fondazione CDEC, n. 04, November 2012.

[vii] Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’Emigration Of Jews Of Morocco To Israel In 20th Century – Analysis’’, Eurasia Review,

March 5, 2018.

[viii] Bitton, Simon. Ziyara, documentary. France, 2020, 99 minutes.

Synopsis : “Ziyara” means visiting the saints, a popular practice common to Jews and Muslims in Morocco. Today the Jews are almost all gone, but their saints are still there. The director goes to meet their guardians, humble and magnificent Muslim protectors of her Jewish memory. The wound of separation is still open, the echo of the wars in the East hovers silently over the encounter, but the camera reweaves the link, collects anecdotes, smiles, hospitality and blessings, carrying the film towards a new complicity between the film maker and the filmed.

[ix] Matoušková, Eva, Karel Pavelka, Tobiáš Smolík, and Karel Pavelka Jr. “Earthen Jewish Architecture of Southern Morocco: Documentation of Unfired Brick Synagogues and Mellahs in the Drâa-Tafilalet Region”, Applied Sciences 11, no. 4: 1712, 2021.

[x] Dartois, Marie-France. Agadir et le Sud marocain : A la recherche du temps passé- Des origines au tremblement de terre du 29 février 1960. Paris : Editions de Courcelles, 2008, p. 64.

Synopsis : The author lived her childhood in Morocco, in Agadir, before the earthquake of February 29, 1960. The sweet memory she kept of this small town and its region encouraged her to go in search of the past time and to revive the Souss el-Aqça of the old authors through memories, memory and history. Agadir is located in this amazing place where the Western Atlas and the sunset join the ocean. Renowned for its fertility, its wealth, exposed to all the covetousness, the Souss has shown independence on the fringe of the central power, sometimes constituting ephemeral principalities. If its hard-working populations have been preserved from outside influences for centuries, they have nevertheless established privileged commercial relations with the Sahara and the prestigious Sijilmassa, a great place of passage for caravans transporting gold from Sudan. Agadir may have been a prehistoric site, probably a Phoenician trading post, but for centuries it was a simple fishing village. Occupied by the Portuguese who created the fortified town of Santa Cruz in the 16th century, it was the port of the Saadians at the origin of their power and wealth. Agadir later became a fishing village guarded by a superb qasba before being reborn at the beginning of the 20th century to become a beautiful city bordering the ocean, at the mouth of the oued Souss, brutally destroyed in 1960 by an earthquake.

[xi] Anglade, Eric. ‘’The lost destiny of Jews from South East Morocco’’, Sudestmaroc, December 24, 2020.

[xii] Moussem : religious thanksgiving celebration of a patron saint in Morocco.


Sous, largest province in Morocco, including the southern slopes of the Grand Atlas, the valley of the Oued Sous, the Anti-Atlas, the Noun (to the Atlantic Ocean), and the southern Darʿa. Early legends mention the existence of two pre-Islamic Jewish kingdoms in the Sous: one in Ofran (Ifrane) and the other in the Darʿa. The Jews always lived dispersed in the Sous; in some of its regions they found secure, if remote, shelter. The larger urban centers did not attract great numbers of Jews, not even the ancient capital, Taroudant; however, the small community of this town, although relegated to quarters outside the city walls, for many centuries imposed its own takkanot and minhagim upon the numerous Jewish centers and communities of the Sous.

There were many wars and political upheavals over the centuries, and towns such as Tiyout and Tidsi, seats of prosperous Jewish communities, passed out of existence; in many localities, ancient cemeteries remain as the only sign of Jewish life. The Marabout movement of the 15th and 16th centuries severely damaged the Jewish community. Forced conversions eliminated all aspects of Jewish life from territories where the Jews had formerly been numerous, with traces remaining only in names such as Aït-Mzal and Aït-Baha, and in the land of the Ammeln, where some of the present-day tribes are still called by names such as Aït-Aouday (“Tribe of the Jews”). In the Aït-Jerrar, Ida-ou-Milk, Chtouka, Aït-Ba Amran, and other places there are parts of Berber tribes that may well have once been Judaized or even Jews. In about 1510 the survivors of the persecutions joined together in Tahala, where they remained until 1957 when they left en masse for Israel, as well as in other centers of the Anti-Atlas where they met with different fates. By the 17th century, the Jews of the important center of Illigh had become an influential community; 100 years later the Jewish populations suffered during a series of rebellions and upheavals, and their synagogues, like those of Agadir, were destroyed around 1740. About 1792 Bou-Hallais gave the Jews of Ofran the choice of conversion or death. In the 19th century the occupation of the Sous by the central government offered the opportunity to pillage and massacre the Jewish population. In 1840 the Jewish village of Tatelt was destroyed, and 40 years later Tillin suffered the same fate; in 1882 the Jewish quarter of Goulimine was pillaged, and in 1900 the soldiers of the Makhzen razed the quarter of Ouijjane. In some instances, the Jews resisted fiercely and succeeded in saving many of their settlements and in some cases, they even went on the offensive.

[xiv] Lakhdar, Omar. Mogador : mémoire d’une ville. Editions géographiques, 2009.

[xv] Corcos, Sidney S. “La communauté juive de Mogador-Essaouira : Immigrations et émigrations, recherche généalogique et onomastique”. Abécassis, Frédéric, et al.. La bienvenue et l’adieu | 3 : Migrants juifs et musulmans au Maghreb (XVe-XXe siècle). Casablanca : Centre Jacques-Berque, 2012. (pp. 123-156).

[xvi] ‘’SM le Roi adresse un message aux participants à la cérémonie d’inauguration, après rénovation, d’une synagogue à Fès’’,, April 14, 2013.


[xvii] The Commercio was the first “commercial court” founded by European merchants in Mogador to settle disputes that might arise between them.

[xviii] Chetrit, Yossef. Le mariage juif traditionnel au Maroc. Haifa : University of Haifa, Faculty of Humanities, 2003.

[xix] Corcos, Sidney S. “La communauté juive de Mogador-Essaouira : Immigrations et émigrations, recherche généalogique et onomastique”, op. cit.

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.
Related Topics
Related Posts