The Jews of Morocco
Murray Zalman - May 6, 2009
The Jewish community of Morocco can be dated back nearly 2,000 years to Roman days when Jews settled in the area as farmers and traders. They seemed to have prospered well there and managed to get along well with the predominant Berbers, some of whom even converted to Judaism. They apparently lived peacefully for hundred of years under Roman rule but this situation deteriorated under the Byzantines and the heavy influence of the Catholic Church. This would grow even worse when the Arabs took over control of Morocco in the 7th century. The Jews in Morocco like other Islamic societies became dhimmis or second-class citizens who had the right to practice their religion but were segregated in special sections of the cities where they lived and forced to pay exorbitant rates of taxation.
Moroccon Jews (Photo: Alfred de Montesquiou)
This status was further spelled out in the 11th century with the Charter of Omar that prohibited Jews from interfering in the Muslim religion, forced them to wear a yellow sash and prohibited them from performing religious rituals in public. The rise of the fiercely Muslim Almohades in 1146 made their lives even more precarious when they gave Jews the ultimatum of converting to Islam or leaving the country. Some Jews did choose to leave but many more simply took their religious practices underground and pretended to be Muslims. Those who remained were often the target of persecution and attacks and there were reports of thousands of Jews killed in Fez, Marrakesh, and the Maghreb region.
The Almohades were finally overthrown in the 15th century and succeeded by first the Merinids and then the Saadites. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal a large wave of Iberian Jews made their way across the ocean to Morocco.
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