Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Saturday 19 February 2011

Getting Ahead as a Jewish Dhimmi in Old Morocco ...

In May 1906 a British writer and traveller called J. Budgett Meakin gave a talk on his impressions of Moroccan Jewry to the East London Communal League at the East London Synagogue. He revealed that he was not as interested in the Moroccan Jews whose Sephardi ancestors had migrated from Europe, and who tended to be merchants and traders in coastal areas, as in the older Moroccan Jewish community of the interior, whose forebears had lived in the country for over one thousand years. These were the Jews who fascinated him most. Their ancestors had fought the invading Muslim conquerors of North Africa; some had been converted to Islam themselves.

 '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
Unlike the homes of Muslims, whose passageways had a bend in them so as to prevent passers-by looking into the courtyard and seeing the women, the homes of Jews had no such restrictions. The mellahs (Jewish quarters) tended to have poor drainage, and since refuse piled up in the streets, “the roads in the Mellah were always increasing in height – sometimes the middle of the street was a couple of feet higher than the sides.”

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.'


  1. Hi again, Juniper!
    Budgett Meakin also wrote a book about Morocco.

  2. Thanks Daphne and a very appropriate painting on the top. When one sees these beautiful odalisque, Orientalist paintings (I'm a collector), the models were always Jewesses. No Muslim family would allow their wives or daughters to pose for these European painters.
    Even today in Morocco, it's almost impossible to get the Berber women to pose in photographs.

  3. Thank for the comment, Michelle - that's interesting.
    I have another post in the works about Moroccan Jewry - will put it up in due course.

  4. See Dafina =

    I have found your site very pleasant and very inspirational to read

  5. Many thanks for your comment and link, db.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.