Algeria

Jews lived in Algeria from the pre-Roman period to the early 1960s. There is no Jewish community left in Algeria today.


History

The Jewish presence in Algeria can be traced back to the first centuries of the Common Era. In the 14th century, with the expulsion of Jews from Spain, many Spanish Jews moved to Algeria, dramatically increasing the size of the community. The Jews in Algeria spoke the Berber language, especially in the eastern part of Algeria, in the Kabyle lands, and prayed in Berber.  By the 17th and 18th centuries they spoke Berber, Arabic, Spanish, Ladino, Italian, and Hebrew with some communities speaking Judeo-Arabic as their daily language.  In Oran, they preserved the Spanish dialect of Ladino into the 19th century.

Most Algerian Jewish communities were subject to dhimmi status, imposed by the Turks in the 16th century on all non-Muslim groups living under Muslim rule. For example, non-Muslims in Algeria – and other parts of the Ottoman Empire – could not ride horses, bear arms, or be in a physically superior posture or social situation to Muslims.

The situation of Algerian Jewry improved dramatically after the country came under French rule in 1830. They gradually adopted French customs, and were granted full French citizenship in 1870.

In 1845, a number of Algerian Jewish consistories came into existence, the principal one sitting in the capital of Algiers, and two provincial consistories in Oran and in Constantine. These functioned under the Central Consistory of France, in order to provide the Jews of Algeria the same religious, social and cultural programs available to the Jews of France. French rabbis, mainly from Alsace, were sent to serve the communities in Algeria.

In August 1936, delegates from the Jewish Community of Algeria took part in the founding plenary assembly of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva.  In February of 1948, the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Algeria formally affiliated with the WJC and became a member of the WJC European Executive. In October 1948, the WJC opened a North Africa Office in Algiers, headed by Jacques Lazarus.

During the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962), both the French authorities and the Algerian nationalist movement appealed for support from Algeria’s Jews, but on the whole they remained neutral. However, when Algeria attained independence in 1962, citizenship was only given to residents whose father or paternal grandfather were Muslims. With no legal protection, most of Algeria's 130,000 to 140,000 Jews left for France. After Houari Boumediene came to power in 1965, Jews were persecuted in Algeria, facing social and political discrimination and heavy taxes. In 1967-68 the government seized all but one of the country's synagogues and converted them to mosques.

After the independence of Algeria, Jews were forbidden from pilgrimage to most of the holy sites in North Africa, the Mausoleum of Alnaqua. In 2003, under the rule of current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a plan was set, in collaboration between France and Algeria, to reopen the Jewish synagogues and burial sites in Algeria.

With the expulsion of Jews from Algeria, both the WJC Office and the Federation of Jewish Community of Algeria were closed in 1962. The last official visit of WJC representatives to Algeria took place in 1961, with the WJC Delegation visiting the Jewish communities of Algiers, Constantine and Oran. In February 1964, a General Assembly of the Jewish Communities of Algeria was held in Oran. The WJC played a critical diplomatic role in facilitating the emigration of Algerian Jews.

In 2006, the Algerian parliament passed a law assuring freedom of religion, which led to the authorization of an official Jewish association in Algeria. Moreover, in 2005, in response to a request from France, the Algerian authorities allowed the relaunching of the pilgrimage season for Jewish delegations from Europe. Jewish delegations began to visit various historical and religious sites, and to conduct pilgrimages to the mausoleum of Ephraim Alnaqua, the 15th century founder of the Jewish community of Tlemçen. In 2014, Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Eissa declared his intent to reopen the closed Jewish synagogues, affirming that the Algerian constitution guaranteed freedom of religion and promising governmental protection. However, he subsequently retreated from this position, claiming that the Jews themselves were not enthusiastic about reopening the synagogue.

Today there are no functioning synagogues in Algeria; Jewish cemeteries are wrecked and abandoned; and Young Algerians have no idea that more than 130,000 Jews once lived in their country.

 

The Years of the Holocaust

One of the first moves of the pro-German Vichy regime was to revoke the Crémieux Decree, thereby abolishing French citizenship for Algerian Jews. This decision affected some 110,000 Algerians. Algeria, under the control of Vichy France at the time, was introducing a series of anti-Semitic laws which stripped Jews of their French citizenship, barred Jewish children from public schools, and prevented Jewish doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and other professionals from working in their trades. After liberation by the US, UK and Free French in 1942, the Crémieux Decree was reinstated, but the community remained deeply shaken.

Demography

The number of Jews living in Algeria is unknown, but historians estimate that the country’s Jewish population is made up of a handful of people, practicing in secret.

jewish media

L'information juive, which first appeared in October 1948, was founded by Jacques Lazarus, Director of the WJC Office in Algeria. The last issue published in Algeria appeared in March 1962, but from September 1963 it reappeared published in France, where it gave voice to the Jewish Immigrants and the difficulties they faced in the course of their integration in France following decolonization. It ceased publication in 2013.

Information for Visitors

In 1962, the synagogues were converted into Mosques or abandoned, like in Ghardaya. After Algerian independence, pilgrims were also banned from entering the site of Ephraim Alnaqua’s tomb in Tlemçen.

Israel

Israel and Algeria do not have diplomatic relations. Algeria denies entry to any citizen holding an Israeli passport or any other visa from Israel. Since 1948, more than 25,000 Algerian Jews have emigrated to Israel.

updated

 

January 2018

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