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.