Morocco’s Religious Past, Part II

The Jewish people living along the coast of Morocco played an important role in helping the Portuguese establish trade routes with North Africa. However, they also helped the Moors from Andalucia in their quest to re-capture Safi along the coast.

Jewish residents all over Morocco were well educated and were viewed as quite talented in the arts, handicrafts, and the European-influenced method of commerce. To some effect, this contributed to the development and eventual rise of the Alaouite Dynasty, which came to power in the mid-1600s.

Jews, however, were persecuted under Moulay Rashid. When he rose to power in Marrakech in 1670, non-Muslims in the city were not treated well or humanely. Moulay Rachid tore down synagogues, levied heavy taxes, and expelled Jews from the Berber region of Souss. Moulay Ismail, his successor, was also cruel to non-Muslims in the area, even though he allowed the reconstruction of Jewish Synagogues.

Into the 1700s, conditions remained practically unchanged for those under Moulay Mohammed III. Moulay Ali, his son who was supposed to inherit the throne, but lost it to his ruthless brother, opposed the treatment of non-Muslims and announced that the Jews should be treated well.

The 1800s did bring some better treatment to Moroccan Jews. In 1859, when war broke out with Spain, the Moors plundered Jewish homes. Britain was an essential element in Christian and Jewish protection in their politics. The Sultan, Mohammed IV, granted the Jews equal rights of Justice. Following, Moulay Hassan I confirmed the edict. Local magistrates didn’t always support the laws.

During the Nazi-controlled Vichy government of 1940, the Jews in Morocco were ordered to wear yellow Stars of David and were to be excluded from public places. Sultan Mohammed V would not comply with the racist laws, but invited Jewish Rabbis to the 1941 throne celebrations. About 265,000 Jews lived in Morocco in 1948.

A plethora of Jewish peoples left Morocco for Israel in the mid-1900s. Emigration continued and increased throughout the years. When Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956, many Jews had political positions in the government. By the latter 1960s, Morocco had about 60,000 Jews residing in the country. And, by 1971 the Jewish population dwindled down to 35,000. As of 2004 approximately, 4,000 Jews remained in Morocco.

By Carole Morris