'The Berber Jews,’ he explained, as recorded in a Jewish Chronicle report (18 May 1906),
‘dare not travel , dared hardly do anything except under the protection of some powerful Sheikh or other important personage in the locality. Everyone was practically the serf of someone who protected him. Without this protection the life of the Jew would not be safe, and yet a few dollars might sometimes be considered sufficient “blood-money” for them. Not only could the Jew not leave the place in which he resided unless under this protection, but he was not allowed to take his wife with him under any circumstances; she was kept as a sort of hostage until his return home. Until recent years the sultans of Morocco allowed no Jewesses to leave the country.”Budgett Meakin went on to say:
“There had long been intimate relations between the Jews of Morocco and Palestine ; quite a number of the most famous rabbis of Jerusalem had been supplied by the schools of Fez (which contained the main Jewish settlement in Morocco) and other parts of the country. Up to that time the Jews of Morocco had ... refused to accept many of the teachings of the rabbis [i.e. the Talmudic sages] ... and had for this reason been compared by some scholars with the Karaite Jews. It was not until a later period that they came into contact with the Talmudic section of the country [the Sephardim].”They were subject to discrimination by their Muslim overlords:
‘None of the men were allowed to wear bright colours, and though there was a time when the sultan decreed that they should all wear costumes of bright yellow, they were now only allowed to dress in black; they had to wear a black fez, in contradistinction to the red of the Moors. In some of the districts the men had the curious custom of wearing tufts of their hair on either side of their forehead, and it was a curious fact that one of the tribes reported to be of Jewish origin (the Udála) wore precisely similar “sheaves” on their foreheads. The Jewish costume consisted of a black robe, or gabardine, and black slippers. The women were allowed to wear what they liked, although in the streets in the interior, they covered themselves up; the Jewesses, however, unlike the Moorish women, had no objection to their faces being seen ... He regretted to say that the Jewesses on the coast, whom they were used to see going about in becoming costumes, had taken to the hideous Paris fashions which Western Europeans were compelled to adopt.... The time to observe the sumptuous costume of the Jews was at the family festivities .... [At weddings] everybody who cared to walk in and partake in the festivities was perfectly welcome; and the spread of good things was quite unique. It was the custom for the guests who were quite unable to consume all the delicacies allotted to them to sweep them off the table and carry them away in their pockets! Music was being played while the guests assembled, and there was a general atmosphere of luxury. The ladies invested as much of their money as they could in jewellery, brocade, and other ornaments, which they wore on these occasions. The elaborate dresses, which were of silk and velvet, were decorated with real gold braid; and were handed down from generation to generation.
|A Jewish Wedding in Morocco, by Eugene Delacroix|
The gates of the mellahs were shut at sunset:
“This was not only awkward for the people, but it was also a protection in times of trouble, when it is as well that the Jews should be safe in their quarters. As the Jews contributed a great deal towards the regular and irregular taxation – of which latter there were plenty – and were important traders and successful in commerce generally, they were regarded with jealousy by the Moors, and there was no love lost between them, feeling running sometimes very high. Once or twice when a new sultan had come to the throne, in order to reward the populace and secure their favour, he had issued an edict that a general pillage of the Jews might take place. The last time such an event had occurred was a hundred years ago... but if the present dynasty were upset, or if any of the fanatics were to overthrow the present condition of things in Morocco, the first to feel its effects would be the Jews, who had accumulated great wealth, and thus offered opportunities for pillage.”Budgett Meakin went on to explain that those Moroccan Jews who were not agents for European commercial interests (and therefore not under the protection of European powers) suffered many legal disabilities in Morocco, such as not being permitted to give evidence against a Muslim, and being forbidden to strike a Muslim, even in self-defence.
In this state of dhimmitude there was one way to get ahead:
‘When anyone was decapitated, the Jewish butchers were forced to pickle the head in salt, that was why the Mellah got the name of “salted place,” but it was also known as the “saltless” or “rotten” place.'Oy!