Morocco used to contain one of the world’s largest non-Ashkenazi Jewish populations, but it has significantly decreased like all other Muslim countries. However, it still has the largest Jewish population in North Africa, with 2,100 Jews. 

Moroccan Jewry dates back about 2,000 years, to when the area was ruled by Christian and Pagan Berber/Amazigh tribes. In the 7th century CE, the Islamic caliphate conquered this region, and Islam slowly became the dominant religion. Under this regime, Jews were dhimmis, or second-class citizens, although they had certain rights as “people of the book.” Moroccan Jews traditionally speak various languages, including Judeo-Moroccan Arabic, Ladino, or French — although most Moroccan Jews now live in Israel and speak Hebrew as their native language.

Like in other parts of North Africa, the ascension of the Almohad dynasty significantly harmed the Jewish population. Many were killed, and others were forced to convert to Islam. In addition, their previous rights as “people of the book” were heavily restricted.

Later, many Spanish Jews made their way to Morocco after the Spanish expulsion. They greatly influenced the culture of Morocco — today,  a Moroccan Jew’s last name reveals their origin, whether that is Berber, Arabic or Spanish. Morocco is also known for the most famous Jewish pirate of all time, Shmuel Palache, a privateer who primarily attacked Spanish ships.

Morocco changed hands many times, under countries including Spain and France. The French already had a large influence in the country by the early 20th century because of the Paris-based “Alliance Israélite Universelle,” which operated many schools in the area and taught French to Moroccan Jews.

The territory later came under the control of Vichy France during World War II. While the Moroccan King famously defended his Jewish subjects from the Nazis, Jews still suffered humiliation. By 1948, it was estimated that 265,000 Jews lived in the country.

Antisemitic attitudes in the country remained high following WWII, with several riots targeting Jews during this period. When Morocco declared independence in 1956, immigration to Israel was suspended, although it was permitted again seven years later, allowing 100,000 Jews to make it to Israel. As a result, Moroccan Jews played a very significant role in the early years of the Jewish state.

Today, Morocco is considered one of the most tolerant environments for Jews in the Middle East, but tensions still exist. Morocco is also one of the Arab countries to have normalized relations with Israel in the past few years.

Moroccan Jewish Language



Comments are closed