Community in Algeria - World Jewish Congress

Algeria's Jewish community is among the oldest in the world. The social and cultural contours of the modern Jewish Algerian community began to emerge after the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, as Jews from across the Iberian Peninsula settled in western Algeria and formed intellectual and commercial ties with Jews from the Middle East, establishing new communal institutions.

After centuries of war and colonization, only a few hundred Jews remained in Algeria by the 1980s. Shortly thereafter, Algeria's Jewish presence came to an end.

WJC Affiliate


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 and prayed in the Berber language, especially in the Kabyle lands, located in the eastern part of Algeria. 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 well 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 fate of the Jews of Algeria changed dramatically after 1830 when France began to occupy the Algerian territory from the Ottoman Empire. In 1848, it annexed the Algerian territory and turned it into the crown jewel of its colonial empire. French colonial rule in Algeria (1830–1962) transformed Jewish culture, society, and politics. The French government, as part of its efforts to make Algeria French, encouraged the migration to the colony of hundreds of thousands of Christian European settlers while at the same time denying Algeria’s majority Muslim population (numbering about four million in 1900) French citizenship and civil rights. The Jews were perceived and treated as an intermediate group between European settlers and Algerian Muslims. On the one hand, French settlers and colonial officials cast them as primitive and corrupt “natives.” On the other, the same French elites assumed that, unlike Muslims, Jews could eventually become as “civilized” as the Jews of metropolitan France and therefore worked to integrate them into French settler society.

Anti-Jewish social and administrative discrimination led to violence on several occasions. In 1897 and 1898, the so-called “Anti-Jewish Crisis” dramatically disturbed Jewish lives. During the episode, anti-Jewish leaders organized violent anti-Jewish riots and harmful boycotts of Jewish businesses. Meanwhile, anti-Jewish municipal leaders purged the Jews from the civil service and the liberal professions and eliminated budgets reserved for schools, healthcare, and other welfare services in the ethnically-segregated urban areas in which Jews lived. Anti-Jewish leaders used classic antisemitic tropes, as well as Orientalist metaphors, to denounce so-called Jewish “corruption.” They then demanded that the French government restore the superior legal and social status of Christian settlers in the colony by disenfranchising the Jews and equating their legal status to that of the Muslim “natives.” The Anti-Jewish Crisis coincided with and was influenced by the Dreyfuss Affair in France; this fact ultimately precipitated the end of the crisis. French senior officials in Paris identified the Algerian anti-Jewish movement as anti-democratic and subversive and used state power to forcefully dismantle it and secure Algerian Jews’ legal status as French citizens. 

In August 1936, delegates from the Jewish Community of Algeria took part in the founding plenary assembly of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) 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 overall, they remained neutral. However, when Algeria attained independence in 1962, citizenship was only given to residents whose fathers or paternal grandfathers were Muslims. With no legal protection, most of Algeria's 130,000 to 140,000 Jews left for France. After all of that, pilgrims were also banned from entering the site of Ephraim Alnaqua’s tomb in Tlemçen.

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 1962, the synagogues were converted into mosques or abandoned, like in Ghardaya.  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.

The Years of the Holocaust

The dual French vision and treatment of Algerian Jews as both insiders and outsiders defined the experience of Algerian Jewry in the modern era. As French citizens, the Jews received education, economic opportunities, and access to welfare and political rights that allowed them to embrace modern French culture and experience upward class mobility. Yet, as people cast as “natives” and “Orientals,” the Jews also suffered from racism and antisemitism and remained socially and residentially segregated. Yet, despite the rapid growth of the Jewish-French middle class, the majority of the Jewish population in Algeria remained poor and still very much detached from French society and culture.

Social discrimination and anti-Jewish municipal policies limited lower-class Jews’ access to welfare and education and curtailed their opportunities to integrate into settler workplaces and middle-class social circles. The Jews’ uneven access to French opportunities was particularly visible in the city of Constantine. There, most Jews remained extremely poor, continued to use Judeo-Arabic as their daily language, were excluded from the modern liberal economy, and were confined to the overcrowded and indigent “Jewish Quarter” adjacent to the city’s “Arab Quarter”.    

After several decades of relative peace, antisemitism surged in the 1930s and further intensified after the eruption of World War II. In the summer of 1934, anti-Jewish riots erupted in Constantine, resulting in the deaths of three Muslims and 25 Jews, including several women and children. The Constantine-born French-Jewish historian Benjamin Stora described in his autobiography Les clés retrouvées (2016) the growing distance between Jews and Muslims under French colonial rule. Stora affirmed that the boundaries “between the Jewish and Muslim communities were porous” but that “it was communal separation which prevailed and which then, we know, created a problem in this country. The Jews lived among themselves, with their customs and beliefs, as did the Muslims and Europeans”.   

In October 1940, France’s fascist Vichy regime fulfilled the long-standing desire of antisemitic settlers to repeal the Crémieux Decree and strip the Jews of their French privileges and rights. In 1943, after the liberation of Algeria by British and American forces, both the Decree and the status of Algerian Jews as French citizens were restored.   


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.

Community Life

In contrast to the North African Jewish Diasporas of Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, the Jewish Algerian diaspora is predominantly found in France and not in Israel, a testament to the unique history of Algerian Jewry and to its members’ deep attachment to French society and culture. After 1962, just like non-Jewish pied noirs, the Jews who came to France from Algeria rapidly integrated into metropolitan French society, where they experienced great social and cultural success. Numerous French Jews of Algerian origin or background became prominent figures in French intellectual, political, or cultural milieus. 

Religious and Cultural Life

After Algeria achieved independence, Jews were forbidden from pilgrimage to most of the holy sites in North Africa, including 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.

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 2006, the Algerian parliament passed a law assuring freedom of religion, which led to the authorization of an official Jewish association in Algeria.

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.

Jewish Education

During the Ottoman Empire era, rabbinical leaders, educators, and civil officials (known as muqaddams) lost much of their social authority and cultural prestige, as well as their ability to control and regulate Jewish schooling and synagogues. In addition, Jews were legally forced to send their children to secular French schools and serve in the French army, which further undermined the financial condition and social status of precolonial Jewish communal institutions and customs. These social developments together with the legal equality that Jews enjoyed as citizens transformed Jewish lives; a rapidly growing number of Jews obtained French high school diplomas or university degrees, which allowed them to enter French middle-class economic sectors. Some Jews also used the opportunities made available to them to leave Algeria for the metropole, where they could earn more prestigious academic degrees and experience success in the liberal professions or French artistic milieus.  

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 in September 1963, it reappeared and was 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
Relations with 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.

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