An important new book in French drawing on original archive material by the Sorbonne professor Paul Fenton and the historian and human rights campaigner David Littman demolishes the myth that Jews and Muslims lived as equals in the Maghreb. Indeed, it was the collective memory of pre-colonial Jewish suffering which caused the mass Jewish exodus from Algeria and Morocco. Veronique Chemla interviews both authors for her blog.Since this is a topic I never really looked at, I went to my favorite avenue for research - Google Books - and found a few supporting items.
David G. Littman: We have released documents showing that some Muslim authorities were able to demonstrate an understanding favourable to the Jews at different times. Without the protection ("dhimma") of the Sultan, the fate of the Jews would have been even worse.
The publication of these hundreds of emotionally-charged testimonies does not intend to have a political objective. We do not want to stir up old grudges or stymie attempts at interfaith dialogue.
We believe - as Bat Ye'or has stated in her writings - that any dialogue between Jews and Muslims which does not recognize the historical reality of dhimmitude, is fated to be fruitless guff and breaks away from a future based on the acceptance of an equal Other.
As for the allegation that we are pushing an agenda, these 720 pages show the emptiness and futility of polemical and "political" allegations.
Our book does not pretend to be exhaustive, but we challenge those who challenge us to collect as many texts that show that Jews have lived happily and equal to Muslims in North Africa during the period studied.
Magna veritas, and praevalebit / The truth is powerful, and will triumph.
Paul B. Fenton: Some people want us to believe that the Jewish experience in North Africa was a serene idyll disturbed only by the advent of Zionism in the 20th century.
The evidence gathered in our book, from Jewish and non-Jewish sources, is overwhelming: they reveal an uninterrupted catalogue of suffering through the centuries.
We must extinguish once and for all the myth of the "Golden Age". There has never been happy interfaith coexistence and equality under Islam.
Only under the French and Spanish protectorates did Judaism in the Maghreb experience calm and happiness. "The guest only remembers the night before," says the Jewish-Arab proverb. Memories of good times have distorted our historical vision.
However, a collective Jewish memory kicked in the aftermath of decolonization, otherwise one cannot understand why North African Jewry has opted almost entirely to leave its ancestral homeland.
This does not preclude, at the individual level, strong friendships between Jews and Muslims, when they were not troubled by collective hostility.
Letter from Rev. Joseph Wolff, 1839:
I remained the greater part of 1834, and a part of 1835, at Malta, with my wife and child, occupying myself in preparing the journals of 1831 to 1834, for the press; and beside this, in preaching every Sunday evening the Gospel of Christ, in the Church Missionary House, where divine service was celebrated according to the Church of England. I was also much interested in the frequent arrivals of Jews from Morocco, who were on their journey to Jerusalem, where they intended to end their days; they sometimes visited me. Poor people! whenever they entered my house at Malta, they put off their slippers, as they are accustomed, or, rather, compelled to do, when they enter in Morocco the house of a Muhammedan. They informed me, that among the Mnhammedan tribes in Africa, the following came originally from Palestine:
Beraber, who are called Felishtim by the Jews of Morocco; and Yooshe, called Jebusim (Jebusites) by the Jews.
According to the account of the Jews of Morocco there are in the empire of Morocco, and throughout Africa, one million of Jews. In spite of the oppression they are subject to, they have colleges and synagogues.
When the Jews in Morocco are too much oppressed they fly to Tefilaleth, where they are protected by the Bedooeens, and hospitality afforded to them. They informed me that the time of the election of a new Emperor is always a time of trouble to the poor Jews, for every Emperor imposes a new tribute upon them. It is remarkable that several European Christians, who were captured by pirates, sought asylum among the Jews of Morocco, Fez and Mihnas, and embraced Judaism; so that there are several thousands of such Gerim (Strangers) among them. There are also a great many Jews upon Mount Atlas, which mountain is called Szalaw by the Jews of Morocco. The black slaves of Morocco are called by them "The children of Canaan."
The Church of England Magazine, 1844:
The population daily increases, chiefly in consequence of a peculiar and despotic law of the emperor, which does not permit a Jewess to leave the country without the payment of a hundred dollars; six dollars only being paid by n Jew. The reason assigned for the anxiety of the emperor to prevent Jews from emigrating is, that the Jews are the principal artisans, tradesmen, merchants, £c., and the finances of the country are almost solely dependant upon the pecuniary transactions of the ricli Jews, of whom there are not a few....
The Jews of Tangier (2,000 in number) pay the emperor a poll-tax of 1,200 Spanish dollars. This is collected by the chiefs of the Israelites, and is exacted very "fairly, according to the means of each family. The Moorish government employs the Jews in many distinguished posts ; for instance, as commissioners of finance, and commissary-generals ; but all this service performed by them is honorary.
However, the Jews are suffering many humiliating thines. When they pass a mosque, a maraboot, or a dwelling of a saint, and even a Moorish school, in which the koran is usually read, they are obliged to take off their shoes. They are compelled to wear black turbans or caps, and black shoes. The women, however, are allowed to dress in all colours. A Jew cannot ride on a horse, and in a town he cannot ride at all. If a Moor curses, or calls a Jew ill names, the Jewmust not retort ; he may, however, report the case to the cadi, or Moorish judge, and then the Jew generally obtains justice. The emperor never employs a Jew as a soldier. European Jews, however, are treated like Christians ; they are, in fact, subjects of the different consular representatives of Christian powers in this city. I should also mention that the Moors respect the religion of the Jews, their burying places, &c., like those of the Christians. If a Jewish criminal professes Islamism, he is immediately pardoned by government, whatever his crimes may be....
As to the enjoyments of the Jews in this country, you can form no conception. During the month 1 have been here, Jewish society, Doth native and European, has been a succession of feasts. What with weddings and circumcisions, and other minor feasts, there is no end to luxurious living amongst these Mogadore Jews ; and it is surprising to observe how the native Jew is advancing in the luxuries (what some would call the civilization) of European society, a hundred times more rapidly than the Moors.
With all this gaiety and splendour, these people suft'er, nevertheless, many and great humiliations, as I have already mentioned. Even the British Jews, both from London and Gibraltar, find great difficulty in riding a horse or a mule through the streets of Mogadore, the Moors making all native Jews dismount before they enter the gates of the city. It is singular, however, that, because European Jews dress like Christians, the Moors call them Christians, "Ensara." An English Jewess, who had married a Jew of this country, was one day insulted in the street by a Moorish boy. She resented it by striking the boy. The Moors flocked around her, and demanded how she dare to flog a true believer. She replied, she would strike them also if they touched her. The Moors complained to her husband, who defended himself by saying, "My wife, you see, is an Englishwoman !"
Morocco of To-day, 1906:
Mohammedanism is so profoundly impressed on Morocco, with its purely Arab or Berber population, that the Jews, the sole racial element living outside Islamism, are compelled, by force of circumstances, to lead an entirely separate existence.Relative to, say, Czarist russia, the Jews did not have it too bad in the Maghreb. But to say that they had full equality is not close to being true.
In Mohammedan law no one who is not a Mohammedan can live in the territory of Islam without paying a capitation tax, called djezlya. It is under this principle of common law that the Jews have lived and still live in the Maghreb. But this Mohammedan principle of the tax imposed on non-Mussulmans is complicated for them by an idea peculiar to the country, arising from the feudal system, which persists to the present day—the idea, namely, of placing the Jewish population under the rule and protection of the territorial lords.
The Sultans, who have almost succeeded in destroying the feudal system in submissive regions, have been led to substitute, in the case of the Jews of the Blad tl-Makhzen, their sovereign protection for the ancient protection of the feudal lords. The result is that the Moroccan Jews are looked upon as placed under the itmma—that is, the protection, the guarantee of the Sultan. They are supposed to have concluded a dtmma contract with the Sultan, in virtue of which, in exchange for certain obligations, the chief of which is the payment of the djrziya, they are guaranteed the enjoyment of their possessions and their liberty.
The obligations imposed on the Moroccan Jews have been added one after the other. Their centralisation in special quarters, termed Mellahs, was a measure adopted in the thirteenth century to safeguard them from the persecutions of the populace. In the sixteenth century, after the Mohammedan revival which brought the Shcreefian dynasties to power, they were naturally the first to be exposed to the reaction of the religious enthusiasm excited by the progress of Portuguese and Spanish settlements. They were then subjected to a whole series of restrictive measures and vexatious regulations; notably, they were compelled to wear black clothes and black shoes, walk on foot in the streets of the city, and take off their babouchts when they passed in front of a mosque.
The Moroccan Jew assumes, then, a double character. He is a tributary, in virtue of Mohammedan law, whilst he can, at the same time, claim protection in accordance with the feudal principles of the Maghreb. He lives in a quarter which is completely separated from the Medina, and clings to the walls of the Kasbah. In this quarter, which the popular contempt designates by the name of Mellah (Place of Salt), the houses are often the property of the Makhzen, or even of the Habout. In the imperial cities the Pasha of the guich, and not the Governor of the city, is responsible for their security. This security is complete so long as the Sultan's authority rests intact, but is at the mercy of every oscillation of the central power, so that the Mellahs are always the first to suffer in Moroccan agitations. Single Jews are often assassinated in the country, and sometimes a few Mellahs are actually sacked.
...In Morocco the position of the Jewish population is uniformly wretched. Among the Berbers, where it is subject to the most rigorous exactions, it is reduced to the small trades and menial occupations imposed on it by the lords on whom it is dependent. In Arab territory it has had more chance of development, and, at all times, certain individuals have succeeded in raising themselves from the misery of the Mellahs, and in reaching wealth, and even power. None the less, the great mass of the Jewish population continues to live in poverty and squalor. The Mellahs are overpopulated and are devastated by constant epidemics. The majority of the Jews gain a painful living. However, the number of well-to-do merchants, the agents of firms on the coast, is increasing every day. In certain towns, such as Marrakech and Mekinez, the European post-offices are situated in the Mcllah. Several large capitalists have already begun to think of entering into business relations with the Mahkzen, and there is no tribal Kald who does not have at the neighbouring village a Jew whom he calls his chkara (money-bag), who performs the various functions of banker, commissioner, and agent.
This debasing environment naturally produces a debased type of character. The marks of servility abound among the Jews, especially in the small towns of the Haouz, where their very existence is at the mercy of the caprice of local Kai'ds. It is most distressing to see passing Jews on the highways make a profound inclination and kiss the hand of one's servants, showering Ya sidisj(my lord) upon them, and the most obsequious formula.