Moroccan Jews (Arabic: اليهود المغاربة al-Yehud al-Magharibah, Hebrew: יהודים מרוקאים Yehudim Maroka'im) are the Jews who live or lived in the area of North Africa known as Morocco. The first Jews migrated to this area after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem and settled among the Berbers. They were later met by a second wave of migration from the Iberian peninsula in the period immediately preceding and following the 1492 Alhambra Decree, when the Jews were expelled from kingdoms of Spain, and soon afterwards, from Portugal as well. This second immigration wave deeply modified Moroccan jewry, who largely embraced the Andalusian Sephardic liturgy, making the Moroccan Jews switch to a mostly Sephardic identity.
- Communities today
- Religious observance
- Religious customs
- Notable Moroccan Jews
At its peak in the 1940s, Morocco's Jewish population exceeded 250,000, but following Operation Yachin this number has been reduced to approximately 5,000. The vast majority of Moroccan Jews now live in Israel, where they constitute the second-largest Jewish community (approximatively 1 million). Other communities are found in France, Canada, Spain, the United States and South America, mainly in Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.
Moroccan Jews constitute an ancient community, immigrating to the region as early as 70 CE. Until the 1950s the majority of Morocco's Jews were still living in Morocco. In accordance with the norms of Islamic legal system, Jewish Moroccans had separate legal courts pertaining to "personal law" under which communities (Muslim sharia, Christian Canon law and Jewish halakha law abiding) were allowed to rule themselves under their own system. After Israel's independence in 1948, and due to domestic strife in the 1950s, the next several decades saw waves of Jewish emigration to Israel, France and Canada. Moroccan Jews emigrated for a variety of reasons. Some have emigrated to Israel for religious reasons, some faced persecution, and others left for better economic prospects than they faced in post-colonial Morocco. With every Arab-Israeli war, tensions between Arabs and Jews would rise, sparking more Jewish emigration. By the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the majority of Morocco's Jewish population had emigrated.
A small community of around 2,000-2,500 Jews live in Morocco today. However, in a rapidly increasing trend, young men from the community are emigrating to Israel and France.
As a protectorate of France, parts of Morocco were heavily influenced by French culture, while the same is true of the portions of the country that belonged to Spain. Traditionally, the Jews were classified as being French-Moroccan or Spanish-Moroccan depending on where in Morocco they lived, and remnants of these classifications can be felt today. These differences are reflected in language, foods, last names and even liturgy.
Early photographs of Moroccan Jewish families, taken in the early 20th century by German explorer and photographer, Hermann Burchardt, are now held at the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.
Moroccan Jewry has developed as a hybrid of the many cultures that have shaped Morocco itself, namely Jewish, Arab, Berber, French and Spanish.
Even before the arrival of Sephardi Jews to Morocco, Moroccan Jews performed and developed the traditions of the Andalusian classical music and introduced it into their Liturgical music. In his book "Jews of Andalusia and the Maghreb" on the musical traditions in Jewish societies of North Africa, Haim Zafrani writes: "In Spain and Morocco, Jews were ardent maintainers of Andalusian music and the zealous guardians of its old traditions ...."
Traditional Henna parties usually take place within the week before a special occasion, such as a wedding, Bar and Bat Mitzvah, or baby showers. During pre-wedding Henna parties, the Matriarch of the family (often the grandmother) smudges henna in the palm of the bride and groom to symbolically bestow the new couple with good health, fertility, wisdom, and security. The henna is believed in Moroccan tradition to protect the couple from demons. The grandmother covers the henna, a dough-like paste produced by mixing crushed henna plant leaves with water, in order to lock in body heat and generate a richer color. Normally, the henna will dye skin orange for up to 2 weeks. In Moroccan folklore, the bride is exempt of her household duties until the henna completely fades. After the bride and groom are blessed with the henna, the guests also spread henna on their palms to bring good luck.
Although most Moroccan Jews tend to dress in styles of their adopted countries, traditional Moroccan clothing is sometimes worn during celebrations (Mimouna, weddings, Bar Miṣvas, etc.) or even during more intimate gatherings, such as Shabbat dinner. Men usually wear a white jellaba (jellabiya) cloak while women wear more ornate kaftans.
Mimouna is celebrated by many Moroccan Jews on the night following the last day of Passover. It has spread to be an almost national holiday in Israel where it is particularly prelavent in the city of Haifa.
Many Rabanim have passed through and sojourned in Morocco leaving behind great influence. In 2008, a project to preserve Moroccan Torah and the words of its Ḥakhamim was initiated. DarkeAbotenou.com was created by a few members of the Toronto Sephardic Community; devoting their time and effort to increasing global awareness of the customs and laws that Jews of Morocco live with every day. Daily emails are sent in both English and French containing the customs, laws, and traditional liturgy of both the French and Spanish parts of Morocco. This daily publication is currently broadcast in both English and French.
The observer of a typical Moroccan Jewish prayer service will note the presence of Oriental motifs in the melodies. However, unlike the tunes of Eastern rites (Syrian, Iraqi, etc.), which were influenced by Middle Eastern sounds, Moroccan Jewish religious tunes have a uniquely Andalusian feel. Furthermore, just as Eastern liturgical melodies are organized into Maqams, Moroccan liturgy can be classified by Noubas. The Moroccan prayer rite itself is also unique among Sephardic customs. The Moroccan nusach has many unique components but has also incorporated numerous Ashkenazic customs due to the country's proximity and exposure to Europe. Some customs of the Moroccan nusach include: