By visiting Morocco today, the role that Jewish citizens have played in this society is not exactly in-your-face. It is instead rather hidden from plain view. But the right tour guide (such as Deluxe Kosher Tours, of course) can help to introduce you to this fascinating historical Jewish community, and the role that Moroccan Jews have played throughout Jewish history.
Morocco is, by majority, an Arab country, and until the middle of the 20th century, Jews and Arabs existed symbiotically here. Jews have been a vital part of Moroccan society since they first arrived in the country about 2,000 years ago. During the spread of the Roman empire, a number of Jews settled in present-day Morocco.
Throughout history, Moroccan leaders have shown special interest in assuring the security of the Jewish community. By doing so, different leaders believed that this greatly contributed to the stability of their regimes. Together, Berbers, Arabs, and Jews have built the country that today is Morocco. Although these groups lived in separate cultural worlds, they developed mutually supportive roles within urban society.
For the country of Morocco as a whole, Jews were always a tiny minority. It is estimated that in the late 15th century, following the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain, there were 80-100,000 Jews out of a total population of approximately 4 million. Jews at that time made up only about 3.5% of the population.
Under Islam, Jews were considered to be dhimmis, a protected but disdained people. Within certain limits, Islamic law allowed the free exercise of Judaism and gave Jews the right to practice their traditions, hold property, govern their community, and enforce their own civil law system. Under the rules governing dhimmis, Jews must recognize Islamic sovereignty, show respect for Islam, exercise their religion discretely, refrain from proselytizing, pay special taxes and wear special clothing. These laws were rarely applied to the T, but they remained written as law until the French made Morocco a Protectorate in 1912.
Shortly thereafter in 1952, the Jewish population reached its height, numbering more than 200 thousand. During the 1960s, however, the majority of Jews emigrated from the country, leaving a small population of only about 5,000. In a country with a total population of 24 million, this is indeed a small minority. The creation of the state of Israel marked a steep decline in the number of Jews living in Morocco. Today, as much as 15% of Jews living in Israel are of Moroccan decent.
Today, the majority of Jews living in Morocco reside in the city of Casablanca. Casablanca is the country’s Jewish religious and communal life, with several synagogues and community organizations. For more details and photos of Morocco’s fascinating Jewish history, please visit the Jewish Morocco blog here.