In Emergent Morocco: Emily Benichou Gottreich
Morocco as a protonational entity came into existence in the period stretching from the late fifteenth to the early nineteenth century. During this period its borders became fixed, its cities emerged as world capitals, and its defining political ideologies and institutions, including sharifism, maraboutism, the abīd al-būkhāri, and the makhzen (to name just a few), grew firmly entrenched. Meanwhile, Moroccan Jewish identity, despite its purported timelessness, likewise cohered into its recognizable form as a result of the new geopolitical and spiritual realities. The protonational identities forged during this period would be increasingly challenged by European intervention in the coming centuries, first by the Spanish and Portuguese, then more definitively by the British and French. The consolidation of the Moroccan state on the one hand and the Moroccan Jewish community on the other were not only concurrent processes but also, in many ways, contingent. The current chapter will trace these two processes, which culminated in a distinctive Moroccan culture characterized by unprecedented levels of Muslim-Jewish coexistence and cooperation.
The Sephardic influx
The waning days of the last Zenata Berber dynasties (Marinids r. 1244–1465, Wattasids r. 1472–1554) brought great change to Moroccan society. Hitherto, Moroccans, while certainly not homogenous in terms of class or ethnicity, were nonetheless overwhelmingly of Berber (Amazigh) and/or Arabic culture and language. The majority of the Moroccan population lived in the south and the interior of the country. (Portuguese and Spanish settlements on the Atlantic Page 224 | Top of Articleand Mediterranean seaboards inhibited settlement along the coast.) While most Jews lived simply, interspersed with Muslims in rural areas and villages, a few individuals had managed to ingratiate themselves with the Marinid court in Fez and were invested with greater responsibility and status. All that changed after 1492, however, when the Spanish Crown issued its writ of expulsion, jettisoning its Jews, known broadly thereafter as Sephardim, to be followed in short order by its Muslims. Although the precise number of exiles who sought refuge in Morocco is unknown, their social impact was clearly significant, particularly in the north, where Spanish is still spoken today. The Muslim immigrants were able to integrate into Moroccan society relatively quickly. The Jewish exiles (Heb., megorashim) had a more difficult time of it, a fact that is often glossed over in favor of the positive impact of this “precious” immigration.1 For Moroccan Muslims, the arrival of the Sephardim meant overcrowding, competition for jobs, and increased prices in the souk. Even in the south, where far fewer Sephardim settled, their presence was destabilizing, a fact that lies behind Mawlay ‘Abd al-Ghalib’s creation of a walled Jewish quarter (mellah) in Marrakesh, where the Jews could be better contained and monitored.2 Things were no easier for them in the Jewish microcosm. The Sephardim were a traumatized people, yet they were also extremely proud of their heritage and customs. They were distinguished by language (Haketiya, or Western Ladino), rituals, dress, food, and even aristocratic affectations (consistent with the Spanish emphasis on bloodlines, many prominent Sephardim identified themselves as belonging to the house of David). They were also responsible for bringing the first Hebrew printing press to Morocco, making Fez among the earliest publication centers since the end of the fifteenth century, followed by Tunis and Oran in the eighteenth and nineteenth, respectively. Seeing themselves as the inheritors of the high culture of al-Andalus, the Sephardim resisted mixing with the toshavim, the autochthonous Jewish population of Morocco, whom they derided Page 225 | Top of Articleas foresteros. In the capital cities, they maintained separate quarters from the indigenous Jews, and for a period did not even share the same shkhita (Heb., practices of ritual slaughter), making it impossible for members of the two communities to eat together, let alone intermarry. While many Sephardic practices were eventually assimilated into Moroccan Judaism, for example, the “Castilian Law” forbidding bigamy, integrating the Sephardim themselves was not easy.
Jews as intermediaries in emergent Morocco
The development of the Moroccan state during the sixteenth century provided a small cushion for these upheavals. In 1554 the Saadi dynasty came to power after a successful jihad to dislodge the Portuguese from the Atlantic coasts, something its predecessors had glaringly failed to do. This was followed in 1578 by a definitive Moroccan victory in the Battle of Ksar al-Kabir, which put an end to both the Portuguese threat from the North and Ottoman attempts at expansionism from the East. The relief felt by the Sephardic Jews of Morocco was tremendous. The threat of Christianization, which had hung over their heads for centuries, was now finally over. Jews in the North commemorated the events with a special “Pourim de los Cristianos.”3 Most important, these victories left Morocco free to claim a more influential—and lucrative—calling as the full economic and diplomatic partner of the emerging European powers, namely, England, France, and the Netherlands. Moroccan Jews found unprecedented opportunities in the emerging new world order, which in turn brought certain of them into close contact with the Moroccan Muslim elite. The Sephardim were especially useful middlemen, thanks to their mobility, contacts, and firsthand knowledge of Europe. From their ranks came several of the outstanding diplomats of the era, including the towering figure of Samuel Pallache.4 The Saadi state reached its apex under Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur (r. 1578–1603), who sought to link Morocco both to the Atlantic discoveries,5 and, more successfully, to the trans-Saharan trade. Jewish and Muslim merchants alike profited from the reinvigorated economy. Though Jews tended to dominate the sugar trade and Muslims the slave trade, members of both groups collaborated in all sectors of the Moroccan economy. The most successful merchants bore the title of tujjār al-Sulṭān (sing., tājir; royal merchants), who conducted trade on behalf of the makhzan. The leaders of each individual Jewish community, often themselves members of the tujjār, were given the title shaykh al-yahūd (shaykh of the Jews), in which capacity they acted as intermediaries between the makhzan and their coreligionists on the local level. Jewish merchants were instrumental in introducing new products Page 226 | Top of Articleinto Morocco at this time, including staples like tea, coffee, and tobacco. Eventually entire new cities were built to accommodate the growing mercantile economy. Mogador, later named Essaouira, once a small fishing village, was developed in the eighteenth century and quickly became a central node in Morocco's long-distance trade, much of which was conducted by Jews, who came to comprise nearly half the population.
“Sephardim were especially useful middlemen, thanks to their mobility, contacts, and firsthand knowledge of Europe.”
The emergence of the state and its power to create or consolidate Jewish communities within national boundaries was a primary influence on Muslim-Jewish relations during this period. Undergirding these developments was a movement toward, if not secularism, at least a state-centered religious identity that was less hostile to Jews than at any time previously. In the sixteenth century, Morocco began to move away from a tribal-based power system toward sharifism, which privileged those who could claim descent from Muhammad. Sharifism had functioned as a foil to authority previously, but under the Saadis it became increasingly fused with notions of authority and legitimacy. With this shift came a changed attitude toward the Jews: whereas in earlier periods sharifism had been associated with animosity toward Jews, under the Saadis, the tables had turned to the point that certain Sufi groups rebelled against the Saadis precisely because they were seen as maintaining too close relations with Jews.6 But having conceded sharifism to the makhzan, they had lost an important ideological weapon in the battle.
The centralization that began under the Saadis was lended additional form and meaning by the Alawis, the succeeding sharifian dynasty (r. 1659-today), though the Alawis were able to assert their dominance over Morocco only in fits and starts. The slow collapse of Saadi rule had left Morocco deeply fragmented. While Mawlay Muhammad al-Shaykh was able to hold on to power in Marrakesh until 1655, in the North, various actors took advantage of the power vacuum to assert their independence. Salé functioned as an all but independent state populated by moriscos, Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula (and Spanish Jews), which from 1660 was ruled by the “pirate king” of the North, al-Khidr Ghaylan. Relations between the sharifs and the Sufi ṭarīqa-s were particularly tempestuous, with two rival marabouts, the charismatic head of the zawiya of Dila and the shaykh of Massa, fighting for supremacy. The marabout of Dila conquered Fez in 1641. It fell to Mawlay Rashid to recapture it and overthrow the zawiya, one of his defining acts, which established his position as the true founder of the Alawi dynasty. Jews in Fez and in the area of the zawiya were caught in the crossfire. According to the main Jewish source of the period, the mid-seventeenth century was known as the arba'in san'a diyal fitna, “the forty years of chaos.” It reports that in the year 546 (1645), “all the synagogues were closed and sealed by order of the sodomite of the zawiya,” and subsequently Page 227 | Top of Articledestroyed.7 Compounding the physical destruction, Jews were also subject to excessive taxation. However, it should be kept in mind that all Moroccans, not just Jews, were victims of taxation. Along similar lines, both Jews and Muslims suffered terribly during Morocco's terrible draughts, particularly those of 1603–6 and 1662–69, which resulted in widespread hunger and famine.
“Whereas in earlier periods sharifiharifism had been associated with animosity toward Jews, under the Saadis the tables had turned.”
Sufi groups and Sabbateans
The Sufi challenge had an interesting parallel in Moroccan Jewish society in the form of Sabbateanism, the mystical movement established in the Ottoman Empire by Shabbatai Tsvi, the so-called false messiah, who converted to Islam in 1666 and whose antinomian theology wreaked havoc throughout the Jewish world. Although Shabbatai himself never traveled as far west as Morocco, the introduction of many of the writings associated with the movement and the arrival of some of its main figures allowed Sabbateanism to establish a firm foothold. As in the Ottoman Empire, Sabbateanism found its greatest supporters among the Sephardim, especially the neo-Christians, or conversos. Special centers for reconversion had been established Page 228 | Top of Articlein Morocco in the sixteenth century to help conversos return to Judaism, but they nonetheless remained vulnerable. Decades of living outwardly as Christians had left them with a tenuous grasp on Jewish law and ritual, which they knew in an amalgamated form if at all. Thus Salé, a city dominated by Iberian exiles, both Muslim and Jewish, became the most important center for Moroccan Sabbateanism—Elisha Ashkenazi, the father of Nathan of Gaza, settled in Salé, and one of the movement's most zealous leaders, Ya'akov b. Saʻadun, lived there as well8 —followed by Meknes, also a Sephardic stronghold, where a Sabbatean prophet by the name of Joseph ben Sur emerged in the late seventeenth century.
It is likely that links existed between Sufi groups and Sabbateans in Morocco, as they clearly did in the Ottoman Empire.9 At the very least, we know that the previously mentioned Jewish community living in the area of the Dila zawiya included Sabbateans, suggesting some degree of frequentation.10 Yet it is also true that conversion was a less prominent feature of Sabbateanism in Morocco than elsewhere, either in the form of Sabbateans converting to Islam after 1666 (i.e., following Shabbatai's example) or of Muslims joining the movement. Most important, in Morocco, the traditional Jewish authorities succeeded in controlling and ultimately assimilating the movement into normative Moroccan Judaism. Certain prayers and supplications from Sabbatean works were allowed to enter into the liturgy and prayer books, where they remain today.11 The strong messianic yearning in Sabbateanism was consciously separated from the rest of the theology of the “cult”: it was recognized as an acceptable tenet of Judaism and was allowed to persist. Thus vestiges of Sabbateanism were visible in Morocco as late as 1826: a letter from a British traveler describes an annual event whereby the Jews would select a virgin from their community and enclose her in a crate. They would then watch and wait for her to become pregnant by the Holy Ghost, which meant she would give birth to the messiah. But these behaviors were more indicative of a religious rift.12 Even today, when the rationalist Maimonides is accepted as the ultimate legal source by Moroccan Jews, strong mystical tendencies are still apparent in many aspects of Moroccan Judaism, such as saint veneration or the offering of toys or money to children on Tisha B'Av.13 These concessions are partly responsible for “saving” Moroccan Judaism from the fate of European Judaism, which became split between Haskalah and Hasidism in the post-Sabbatean era, while also rendering it uniquely resilient to European colonial intervention in the religious sphere.
“It is likely that links existed between Sufi groups and Sabbateans in Morocco, as they clearly did in the Ottoman Empire.”
A new order
With the ascension of Sultan Mawlay Ismail in 1672, certain practices that strongly reinforced the vertical relationship between the makhzan and the Jews, as well as Page 229 | Top of Articlechanges that brought Muslims and Jews closer together, were instituted. For example, many ruined synagogues were rebuilt under Mawlay Ismail, bringing new spiritual (and economic) energy to the various communities. The new capital built in Meknes attracted migrants from throughout Morocco, including enough Jews for him to order the building of a mellah there in 1679, the third such entity in Morocco after those of Fez and Marrakesh. Muslim and Jewish craftsmen and artisans were employed for all these projects. At the same time, however, other external forces were working to pull apart Muslim-Jewish ties. Knowing that their appeal to Moroccan Muslims was limited, European powers were quick to identify the potential instrumentality of Moroccan Jews for gaining a political and economic foothold in the country. Jews were used as intermediaries in the ransoming of European captives, treaty negotiations, and the import/export trade.
As a result of increased European intervention, Morocco's port cities began to develop dramatically in the eighteenth century, a process that eventually led to their eclipsing of the traditional inland economic centers. This process was played out on the microcosmic level among the tujjār al-Sul ān, both Jews and Muslims, who emigrated from the inland centers to the coasts to take advantage of the new opportunities. Among the Jews, these included certain members of the Corcos family of Marrakesh, a branch of which grew to great prominence in Essaouira. On the national level, Jewish-Muslim relations continued to ebb and flow, with a particular low point coming in 1790–92, during Mawlay Yazid's “reign of terror” as the country fell into a vicious civil war abetted by the Spanish. The atrocities committed against the Jews during this period were among the last to escape the direct intercession of outside forces, however. As the nineteenth century dawned, European organizations, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and the Anglo-Jewish Association, driven by multifaceted motives, began to take careful notice of the situation of the Jews, and Jewish-Muslim relations, in Morocco, and to take action.
1. The expression comes from Fernand Braudel, “Espangnols et mauresques,” Annales E.S. C. (1947): 4:403.
2. Emily Gottreich, The Mellah of Marrakesh: Jewish and Muslim Space in Morocco's Red City (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 21–25.
3. Purim was originally a biblical celebration commemorating the miraculous rescue of the Jews of Persia, as the Book of Esther recounts. Subsequently, other local Purims were born to commemorate the rescue of a particular community.
4. For a full-length study on Samuel Pallache, see Mercedes Garcia Arenal and Gerard Wiegers, A Man of Three Worlds: Samuel Pallache; A Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
5. Mercedes Garcia Arenal, Ahmad al-Mansur: The Beginning of Modern Morocco (Oxford: One World, 2009).
6. In 1614, the Sufi shaykh Yahya bin “Abdallah rebelled against Mawlay Zaydan in Marrakesh to protest the presence in the court of Jews like Abraham Wa'ish, who was in charge of the treasury, and Samuel Pallache. See Henri de Castries and Pierre de Cenival, Les sources inédites de l'histoire du Maroc, Archives et Bibliothèques des Pays-Bas (Paris: Leroux, 1907), 2:399.
7. Divre ha-yamim shel Fez, fol. 20a, as cited by H. Z. Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa (Leiden: Brill, 1981), 2:237–38. It should be noted that the Jews of the zawiya were resettled in Fez, possibly due to their relative prosperity and political neutrality. Adherents of the marabout were all killed.
8. See the descriptions of Germain Mouette, a Frenchman captured by pirates who was held in Salé from 1670–81, in Relations de captivité dans les royaumes de Fez et de Maroc (Paris: Mercure de France, 2002), 47–49.
9. See Marc Baer, Honored by the Glory of Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 123–24, 129; and Matt Goldish, The Sabbatean Prophets (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 39–40. Both authors also discuss the influence of Christian millenarian movements on the development of Sabbateanism in the Ottoman Empire. This does not appear to have been a contributing factor in Morocco, where indigenous Christian communities ceased to exist after the Almohad period.
10. See Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa, 2:248.
11. Specifically those from the controversial text Hemdat Yamim, which, by the eighteenth century, had become a mainstay of Moroccan Jewish religious tradition.
12. G. R. Beauclerk, A Journey to Morocco in 1826 (London, 1828).
13. Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of Av, normally is a day of intense mourning: it commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem, and, more generally, the sufferings of exile. Sabbateanism, based on a midrashic story that the Messiah was born on this day, transforms the day of mourning and fasting into a celebration of the coming of the Messiah.