Moroccan Jews - 6th Grade Teachers Guide

The People

Berber Jews in Southern Morocco (Illigh)

Who are the Moroccan Jews? They are generally known as Sephardim, descendants of Jews from Spain. Few live in Morocco today.

Some came to the country over 2,000 years ago with the Phoenicians and later the Romans to seek refuge and participate in trade. They intermarried with the native Berber population. Many came with the Arab Muslims 1300 years ago, again to participate in trade. In 1492, Christopher Columbus went to America. At the same time, both Jews and Muslims were kicked out of Spain by the Christians. Many Jews went to Morocco to live and trade.


Their Lives

Jewish merchant selling flour sifters (Demnate)

The Jews have always been a minority in Morocco, sometimes making up one of every ten Moroccans. 500 years ago, they were forced to live in their own walled portions of cities or towns, called mellahs. They only moved to other parts of the city in the 20th century. They are subjects of and protected by the sultan, who is the leader of both Muslims and Jews. In return for their protection, rich Jews collect money from the population to pay taxes to the Sultan. Jews were excellent metal and jewelry craftsmen. Some would travel throughout Morocco to sell goods while others would sell Moroccan and African products in Europe. They were good money managers. Many Jews lived in poverty. At times, the Sultans had problems controlling the country and would have difficulty protecting the Jews. Nevertheless, most Jews had good relations with Muslim Arabs and Berbers.


The Most Important Historical Events for the Jewish Community

French-speaking class of Jews in northern Morocco  (Alliance Israelite Universelle school in Tetouan)

The biggest changes to the Jewish community occurred when the French took control of the country in 1912. French people took the jobs of Jews, but treated them better than the Muslims. A French Jewish organization set up modern schools throughout Morocco, so Jews became much more educated than Muslims. When Hitler took control of France during WWII, Jews in Morocco were kicked out of French schools and could no longer live in the French neighborhoods. Independence came to Morocco in 1956, after several years of conflict with the French. Many Jews who were nervous about what life would be like after independence left for Israel. Later, others left for France, Canada and the US. The population fell from 300,000 in 1950 to less than 5,000 today.


Anti-Semitism in Morocco

Tourbook on Morocco for Moroccan-born Israelis 

Anti-Semitism exists, particularly in the countryside, but Jews have rarely felt that their lives were in danger. The French and Zionist recruiters for Israel made Jews think there was more anti-Semitism than there really was. On the other hand, even today, Jews feel uncomfortable discussing Israel. For five years, they were not allowed to move to Israel, and they still cannot telephone directly to family members in Israel. Whenever Israel was at war, Jews in Morocco were nervous. Very often, however, the Sultan or King would declare that Jews were his subjects and would remain protected.

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