The Jews of Morocco represent a remnant of an ancient, thriving community that numbered more than a quarter of a million in 1956. Today the largest community is in Casablanca, home to 5,000 Jews. There are small Jewish communities in Rabat (400), Marrakesh (250), Meknes (250), Tangier (150), Fez (150), and Tetuan (100). The Jews are generally descended from three different groups: Sephardim, Berber Jews, and Ashkenazim.
The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. There were Jewish colonies in the country before it became a Roman province. In 1391 a wave of Jewish refugees expelled from Spain brought new life to the community, as did new arrivals from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and 1497. From 1438, the Jews of Fez were forced to live in special quarters called mellahs, a name derived from the Arabic word for salt because the Jews in Morocco were forced to carry out the job of salting the heads of executed prisoners prior to their public display.
The condition of the Jews did not improve until the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1912, when they were given equality and religious autonomy. However, during World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. By 1948 there were some 270,000 Jews in Morocco. In an atmosphere of uncertainty and grinding poverty, many Jews elected to leave for Israel, France, the United States, and Canada.
The major Jewish organization representing the community is the Conseil des Communautes Israelites in Casablanca. Its functions include external relations, general communal affairs, communal heritage, finance, maintenance of holy places, youth activities, and cultural and religious life. Today most members of the community belong to the upper middle class and enjoy a comfortable economic status.
The Jews no longer reside in the traditional Jewish mellahs, but intermarriage is almost unknown. The community has always been religious and tolerant, and religious extremism of any form never developed. The younger generation prefers to continue its higher education abroad and tends not to return to Morocco. Thus the community is in a process of aging.
In 1992 most of the Jewish schools were closed down and only those in Casablanca-the Chabad, ORT, Alliance, and Otzar Ha-Torah schools-have remained active.
There are synagogues, mikvaot, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants in Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh, Mogador, Rabat, Tetuan and Tangier. The Jewish community developed a fascinating tradition of rituals and pilgrimages to the tombs of holy sages. There are 13 such famous sites, centuries old, well kept by Muslims. Every year on special dates, crowds of Moroccan Jews from around the world, including Israel, throng to these graves. A unique Moroccan festival, the Mimunah, is celebrated in Morocco and in Israel.
There are close ties between Israel and this Arab country, symbolized by the formal visit of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to Morocco immediately after signing the agreement with the PLO in 1993. Aliya: Since 1948, 295,833 Moroccan Jews have emigrated to Israel.
In addition to the Jewish communities, the major sites of pilgrimage for the Jewish traveler are the tombs of the holy sages, scattered around the country. The most popular are Rabbi Yehouda Benatar (Fez), Rabbi Chaim Pinto (Mogador), Rabbi Amram Ben Diwane (Ouezzan), and Rabbi Yahia Lakhdar (Beni-Ahmed).
Conseil des Communautes Israelites du Marcoc
Rue Abou Abdallah Al Mahassibi
Tel. 212 2 22 28 61, Fax. 212 2 26 69 53
52 Bne-Snassen, Souissi, Rabat
Tel. 212 7 734 747, Fax. 212 7 722 155
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database
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