Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry
Throughout History, since more than 2000 years and until today, Jews have been living in Morocco. Today, in spite of its reduced numbers, the Moroccan Jewish community remains the most important one living in an Arab country.
All along this historical period in which the national Moroccan entity and identity built up themselves, the importance of Jewish settlements has been more or less significant both in terms of numbers and in terms of geographical presence in all the country.
Historical facts about their remote origins remain speculative. Evidence of their presence exists since the Roman period. Arab Historians will describe later on the Jewish Berberian tribes as part of the original people â€œ Toshavimâ€ living in the area before the Arab conquests.
In the historical run, Jewish population was faced both with periods of difficulties and periods of convivial relations as a minority living in a majority Moslem country. Their statute was one of a Dhimmi, statute given to the people of the Book, to be understood in its double dimension of protection and submission, it has been in evolution with time until its final abolition when Jews acquire full citizenship.
In the 14th and 15th century persecution and expulsions from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and 1497 brought different waves of Jewish refugees and injected new life to the existing communities; the Jewish communities in Fez, and later in other towns, started to concentrate in special quarters called â€œmellahsâ€ creating in different cities a physical separation of the communities to be added to the prevailing already ones in both religious and economic activities.
Languages spoken were that of the country, to which one should add the languages of the newcomers mainly Spanish. Many newly immigrated Jews and their descendants continued to use Spanish dialects known as Haketia. Their skills in European commerce, arts and handicrafts coupled with their development. Different ways of life developed according to the rural and urban regions and historical periods.
A huge cultural heritage is to be mentioned throughout the IX century and until the 20th century. Writers, poets, grammarians, doctors and musicians, mystics and commentators, produced a huge literature all along time culminating in those periods in which the Arab culture was flourishing and afterwards
The 19th century and the 20th one principally introduced profound and rapid changes in the Moroccan communities.
Since the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1912, second world war , the main movements of decolonization and national movements of liberation of the country, the creation of the state of Israel were to introduce in a very short historical period an amazing change in that communities and an exodus of the majority of the Jewish population.
During World War II, with Morocco still under the French protectorate and therefore subjected to the anti-Semitic policies of the Vichy government, King Mohammed V prevented the deportation of Moroccan Jews from the country. By 1948 there were some 270,000 Jews. In 1956, Morocco attained independence from France. In an atmosphere of political uncertainty, cultural closeness and economic poverty, many Jews left the country. The main reasons for these departures are very composite and still subject for debate among historians.
The Jews living today in Morocco represent but a small fraction of an ancient important and rooted community. In 1956 they numbered more than a quarter of a million. Between the creation of Israel in 1948 and today, Jews left the country. Since 1948 Moroccan Jews have emigrated to Israel, Europe mainly and Canada, Latin American countries and elsewhere. Long after their departure, they went on keeping a very strong emotional link with the country and part of them and sons come back to the country for visiting and for pilgrimage.
Today, the Community counts with some 3000 souls, the largest community is in Casablanca,. There are smaller Jewish communities in Rabat, Marrakesh, Agadir, Meknes and FÃ¨s Tangier and Tetuan.
The major Jewish organization representing the Community is the Conseil des Communautes Israelites, with quarters in Casablanca. Its functions include external relations, general communal affairs, communal heritage, financial support, maintenance of holy places, youth activities and promoting cultural and religious life.
Morocco's Jews today no longer reside in the traditional mellahs. The majority of the community belongs to the upper middle class and enjoys a comfortable economic status.
But there is still a significant part of poor and very aged people who are being taken care of for all its needs by the Community. The younger generation however, tends to continue its higher education abroad. Thus the community is in a process of aging. There are active Jewish schools (kindergarten, primary and secondary) in Casablanca, operating within the frameworks of Alliance Israelite Universelle, Ittihad maroc and Otzar Ha-Torah.
Moroccan Jews are historically religious and close to tradition people. Many prominent Rabbis have passed through and sojourned in Morocco leaving behind their great influence. There are synagogues, mikvaot, old-age homes and kosher restaurants in Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh, Essaouira, Rabat, Tetuan and Tangier.
The Jewish community developed a fascinating tradition of rituals and pilgrimages to the tombs of holy sages. There are 13 particularly famous sites, some of them centuries old. Every year on special dates, crowds of Moroccan Jews from around the world, throng to these graves. Sometimes pilgrimage is also kept by local Muslims. A unique Jewish -Moroccan festival, the Mimouna, is celebrated in Morocco and in all Moroccan Jewish communities elsewhere, on the night and day immediately after Passover.
Contacts between Morocco and Israel are worth being mentioned, especially the meeting with Yitzhak Rabin. King Hassan II invited Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres for talks in 1986, and became the second Arab leader to host an Israeli leader. Following the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, Morocco started to develop economic ties and political contacts with Israel. In September 1994, Morocco and Israel announced the opening of bilateral liaison offices. When King Hassan II died in 1999, Israel's the Moroccan-born Foreign minister David Levy flew to Rabat for his funeral. The foreign offices were closed, however, in 2000 following a renewed Israeli-Palestinian round of violence.
Jewish well known figures have, since very remote times, played an important role at the national level. Without forgetting those not mentioned here, let us remind but the nearest ones, Dr Benzaquen, AndrÃ© Azoulay and Serge Berdugo.
Sites of Jewish interest include numerous famous Holy places , centers for pilgrimage â€”with the most popular being the burial spots of Rabbi HaÃ¯m Benatar (Fez), Rabbi Chaim Pinto (Essaouira), Rabbi Amram Ben Diwane (Ouezzane ), Rabbi Yahia Lakhdar (Ben-Ahmed); Rabbi Itshak Abuhatsera in Gourrama, Rabbi Itsak Bengualid in Tetuan, Rabbi David Oumoshe a Agouim prÃ¨s de Ouarzazate and so many others.
Fez is one of the best preserved medieval cities in the world with a vibrant Jewish heritage . The recently restored Ibn Danan Synagogue, is part of the UNESCO patrimony; The Synagogue of Toshavim newly restored and other prestigious synagogues in different cities ( Tanger, Marrakech, Meknes and others) have been rehabilitated and preserved.
Two hundred cemeteries have been restored all across the country, from the deep Atlas mountains to the big cities. The Jewish Museum in Casablanca is the unique Jewish Museum in an Arab country.
Thanks to the Council of Communities and the Foundation for Jewish Cultural Patrimony of Morocco, dozens of sites are being restored and immaterial patrimony being collected in order to save objects and documents, they perpetuate the memory of a splendid community of a beautiful country.
The past is not forgotten, patrimony is restored and transmission active, the present is still alive, itâ€™s worth enhancing this reality in a world of tensions between the Arab world and Israel.
Hope, responsibility and perseverance are invested for a possible future for the last structured Jewish Community in an Arab -Islamic country. Itâ€™s worth perpetuating it, it is a vibrant community both in Morocco and wherever Moroccan Jews live, they keep alive memory of their life and a strong link to the country. They bare testimony of both conviviality and possible ways to live together in peace. And they have spread their culture, rituals and traditions in all the countries in which they settled
And the new Moroccan Constitution, adopted in 2011 recognizes the HebraÃ¯c contribution to the Moroccan identity. That is a beautiful stone for a bridge worth being consolidated.
Conseil des CommunautÃ©s IsraÃ©lites du Maroc
PRESIDENT : Serge BERDUGO