Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Historical Overview of Jews in Morocco

Jews have lived in Morocco for thousands of years. Jewish nomadic tribes integrated into all aspects of Moroccan life even before the Mohammedan conquest of Morocco, which occurred in the 7th century.

While life under Muslim rule was relatively stable, there were varying amounts of persecution. The Jews were, at times, forced to live in mellahs (similar to European ghettos), suffered burdensome taxation and were required to wear identifying articles of clothing. However, at the times of the Spanish Inquisition, the North African coast proved to be an important refuge for persecuted Spanish Jews, leading to a tremendous increase in the Jewish population of Morocco. At the time, the old-time Moroccan settlers were classified as toshavim (resident) while the newcomers were called m’gorashim (refugees). The latter primarily spoke Spanish, the former maintained a Judeo-Arabic language.

The fate of the Jewish community depended largely on the ruler in power.  Some rulers severely oppressed their Jewish subjects, others had mercy on them, and still others maintained the status quo. Throughout Moroccan history, there were Jews who achieved high ranks at court, often serving as ambassadors to European countries. The personal successes of individuals did not, however, translate to better living conditions for their brethren.

The Jews of Morocco remained second class citizens until 1864, when Sultan Mohammad IV granted them equal rights. By this time, Morocco was being heavily influenced by France (although some areas were under the influence of Spain). In 1862, The first Alliance Israelite Universelle school had opened in Tetouan, Morocco. The mission of the Alliance was the emancipation of the Jewish people through education. 

The majority of Moroccan territory became a French protectorate in 1912. When the Nazi controlled Vichy government took control of France, Morocco’s Sultan Mohammed V refused to impose the anti-Semitic laws as he was instructed.

Following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jews of Morocco faced several violent riots. Tens of thousands of Moroccan Jews moved to Israel, and while Zionist organizations actively encouraged emigration, many Jews chose to stay.

On November 18, 1956, Morocco successfully separated from France. Jews continued to live peacefully, some even becoming Members of Parliament. However, Jewish-Arab discord increased greatly after the 1967 Six Day war. More and more Jews emigrated, and there is today only a relatively  small Jewish population left in Morocco.

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