Jews Under Moroccan Skies: Two Thousand Years of Jewish Life by Rapha'el Elmaleh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a land far far away on the North West coast of Africa there exists an exotic land that is filled with beauty excitement and coexistence. For thousands of years Jews and Muslims have lived side by side with respect and dignity. This would pose a bold contrast to what we see today in the news with Jews and Muslims fighting in Israel and Palestine.
The Jews have been in Morocco for about two thousand years and maybe more. It is rumored that the first Jews came to Morocco along with Phoenician traders. Together they built colonies and formed settlements. The Jews were traders and the Phoenician were ship builders.Upon their arrival they formed alliances with the local berbers. THey intermarried and many Berbers converted to Judaism. More Jews would arrive in successive waves through out various periods of time mostly to escape persecution. Jews also came along with the Romans and helped settle Roman colonies there as well. Of course when the Romans were quelling the Jewish revolt many more Jews would arrive. When Muhammad's armies were marching across the Middle East many Jews fled and went in the direction of Morocco. Eventually the Muslims armies would arrive in Morocco but things would be better for the Jews there then they were in Christian lands. Another wave of Jews came after 1492 when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella forced them to adopt catholicism, leave or die. Many Jews went to Morocco
Queen Dahina, a queen priestess of possible Jewish/Berber origin died trying to fight against the Muslim armies In the end they took over and her two sons converted to Islam and joined the victors. Over the course of time Berbers joined the Arabs and other Jews in cases and adopted Islam. Over the years the Jews and the Muslims would live side by side as neighbors. THey would go over to each others houses and places of worship during religious holiday . It was true brother hood in many instances. There were times of turbulence. THe Almodad of the twelfth century were puritanical Muslims who wanted to convert everyone else or kill them. Much like ISIS today. After them came the Almravids who were more tolerant towards the Jews. Once the Almohads were gone the Jews could return or revert to their old religion. Most political leader protected the Jews and found them to be assets. One leader named Yazid hated the jews and persecuted them mercilessly but once he was gone the new ruler was good to the Jews.
While most of the time people were good with the Jews. At times due to the fact that Jews were favored by an unpopular ruler there would be backlash. This would be cause for the formation of Mellahs or Jewish Ghettoes. THe political leadership would often entrust certain economic matters entirely to the Jews. When foreigner came and conquered parts of Morocco the Jews would benefit as go betweens, trader and even helping the occupiers. This would rebound against the Jews and cause them to bee persecuted.
Morocco gained Independence from France in 1956. THe leader at the time was Muhammad the fifth he protected the Jews during World War II and stated that in Morocco there were no Muslims or Jews just Moroccans, THe Jews were equal with the Muslims. Tensions with Israel and the Palestinians did make several Moroccan Jews feel unsafe and some Muslims attacked the Jews for what went on in Israel. during the 60 and 70s many would leave to AMerica, israel and Europe. Now only a tony remnant remain. Yet some of them are retuning either to retire vacation or live there permanently.
It is a chapter that is not yet finished. What happens in the next few years could be pivotal.
The book has many good points. One is that you get the feel of how closely inter wined Muslims and Jewish live were in Morocco. THey shared the same foods, many customs and Muslsim would even revere certain jewish holy men. It also went vice versa. After many Jew left it was Muslims who maintained and looked after the deserted holy places. Both groups could be very superstitious believing in Witchcraft and the evil eye. THe book at the end does discuss some rituals and specific holidays particulaire to Moroccan Jews. Some times Jews and Muslims got along better then Jews got along together. In Morocco there were two groups of Jews. Toshavvim were there before 1492 and the Mogasharim were the new arrival. The two communities never intermixed. The only drawback with the book is that they did not stick with the timeline but rather jumped back and forth which made it confusing. The authors did an excellent job documenting the Jewish history region by region. Great book and simple to read and understand .
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