Morocco

Morocco has the largest remaining Jewish community in North Africa, dating back more than two millennia to the pre-Roman Jewish colonies of Mauretania Tingitania. The Jews of Morocco represent a remnant of an ancient, thriving community that numbered more than a quarter of a million peopleat its peak in the late 1950s. The Conseil des Communautés Israélites du Maroc (Council of Israelite Communities of Morocco) is the Moroccan affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

Conseil des Communautés Israelites du Maroc

Telephone: 212 522 48 78 51/ 522 29 57 52
Fax: 212 522 48 78 49
Leah Benhamou
Assistant
Email: ccimsec@gmail.com

Secretary General: Serge Berdugo

 



History

There has been a Jewish presence in the territory of modern-day Morocco for more than 2,000 years, dating back to beforethe establishment of Roman control. The local community was bolstered by an influx of Jewish refugees fleeing the 1391 Spanish massacres, followed by further waves of immigration due to the expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492. Beginning in the 15th century, the Jews of Fez were forced to live in special quarters called “Mellah.” (This name, derived from the Arabic word for salt, was used because the Jews in Morocco were forced to carry out the job of salting the heads of condemned prisoners prior to their public exhibition.)

Jewish social conditions did not materially improve until they were granted equality and religious autonomy following the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1912. The Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime rolled back these recently granted freedoms during the Second World War but were prevented from deporting the Jews due to intervention by King Mohammed V.

By 1948 there were some 270,000 Jews in Morocco and, due in large part to thepolitical uncertainty and grinding poverty, many Jews elected to leave for Israel, France, the United States, and Canada. Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the community dwindled significantly. The World Jewish Congress played a critical diplomatic role during the 1950s and 1960s in enabling Moroccan Jews to emigrate to France, Israel and elsewhere is described in by 1971 only 25,000 Jews remained, and Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola estimated that there were 2,300 Jews in Morocco as of 2015.

Since the ascension to the throne of Mohammed VI in 1999 there has been a significant improvement in the Kingdom’s attitude toward its Jewish community. In 2010, the King announced a new initiative to restore Jewish cemeteries in Morocco. The following year a new constitution was approved which recognized the rights of religious minorities, including the Jewish community. In 2013 the Varzea cemetery in the Island of Cape Verde was restored with the crown’s support and three years later the King attended the rededication ceremony of the Ettedgui Synagogue in Casablanca. The rededication of the Synagogue followed the re-opening of the El Mellah Museum, which chronicles the history of Moroccan Jewry.

 

The Years of the Holocaust

In August 1941, the French Vichy regime promulgated laws discriminating against Moroccan Jews.The new laws set quotas on the number of Jewish doctors and lawyers, expelled students from French schools and relocated Jews into the Mellah. The Moroccan Sultan Mohammed V pushed back, telling Jewish leaders that in his opinion Vichy laws singling out the Jews were inconsistent with Moroccan law. He believed that Jews should be treated equally with Muslims and that the Jews and their property remained under his protection. Due to his strong opposition, Vichy administrators did not implement the discriminatory laws. In November 1942, following the arrival of American troops, the French closed off several Mellah and the Vichy laws were revoked. In April 2017, a ceremony organized by the Jewish community in New York praised King Mohammed VI as a “role model” of religious coexistence “for the entire world.”

Demography

The Jews of Morocco represent a remnant of an ancient, thriving community that numbered more than a quarter of a million in 1956. Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola estimated that there were 2,300 Jews in Morocco as of 2015. Today the largest community is in Casablanca, which is home to 1,000 Jews. There are small Jewish communities in Rabat (400), Marrakesh (250), Meknes (250), Tangier (150), Fez (150), and Titian (100). The Jews are generally descended from three different groups: Sephardim, Berber Jews and Ashkenazim.

Community Life

In 1936, in Geneva, Isaac Pinto represented the Jewish Community of Morocco at the WJC Plenary in Geneva. In December 1947, the Jewish Community of Tangier became an affiliate of the WJC. In October 1955, the four principal Moroccan Jewish organizations - the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco, the WJC Central Moroccan Committee, the Alliance Israelite Universelle and the Organization of Former Pupils of the Alliance in Morocco - set up a Committee of Coordination. In November 1979, at the WJC Executive Meeting in Chicago, the Conseil des Communautés Israélites du Maroc (Central Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco) officially became a WJC affiliate.

The Jewish community of Morocco is traditionally religious and while Jews no longer reside in their own segregated districts intermarriage is almost unknown. The Conseil des Communautés Israelites is headquartered in Casablanca where it works both to coordinate domestic Jewish life and advocate for Jewish communal interests.

Religious and Cultural Life

There are synagogues, Mikvaot, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants in Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh, Mogador, Rabat, Tetuan and Tangier. Moroccan Jews are known for making pilgrimages to the tombs of holy sages and there are 13 such famous and ancient pilgrimage sites which are maintained by local Muslims.Crowds of Moroccan Jews from around the world, including Israel, throng to these graves every year. A unique Moroccan festival, the Mimouna, is celebrated by many Moroccan Jews on the night following Passover. It has practically become a national holiday in Israel.

Jewish Education

In 1992, most of the Jewish schools were closed and only those in Casablanca (kindergarten, primary and secondary) - the Chabad, ORT, Alliance, and Otzar Ha-Torah schools - have remained active. Morocco recognizes its country’s Jewish cultural, artistic and literary heritage, which is taught in several Moroccan universities.

Information for Visitors

Morocco is noted for its ancient synagogues, many of which have been restored. One synagogue of note is the Ibn Danan Synagogue, a 16th century house of worship in Fez, which was renovated in 1999 with help from UNESCO. There are also ancient synagogues in Tangiers, Marrakesh and Meknes. In 2016 the El Mellah Museum, the only Jewish Museum in the Arab world, was re-opened in Casablanca. Those with Moroccan roots may be interested in visiting some of the 200 Jewish cemeteries across the country which have been renovated in recent years.

Of significant interest to the traveler are the pilgrimage sites at the tombs of Morocco’s great rabbis such as Rabbi Yehouda Benatar (Fez), Rabbi Chaim Pinto (Mogador), Rabbi Amram Ben Diwane (Ouezzane) and Rabbi Yahia Lakhdar (Ben-Ahmed).

 

Israel

Unlike most other Arab states, Morocco established diplomatic links with Israel in the early 1990s following the signing of the Oslo Accords. In 1994 Israel opened a Liaison Office in Rabat although diplomatic relations were severed following the start of the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000. Nevertheless, commercial relations and tourism have not been cut off and Israelis travel regularly to Morocco.

updated

 

February 2018

Receive news updates
in your inbox from the WJC