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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Morocco 05: Alawid rule with international relations

Alawid Jewish friendly rule - Jews in sultan governments - international trade of Morocco with European protestant countries - naval bases for the "USA"
              Judaica: Jews in Morocco, vol.12, col.344: Hanukkah lamp
              from Morocco, brass, 17th century. Today the lamp is in
              Tel Aviv in a collection of I. Einhorn. Photo David
              Harris, Jerusalem
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Jews in Morocco, vol.12, col.344: Hanukkah lamp from Morocco, brass, 17th century.
Today the lamp is in Tel Aviv in a collection of I. Einhorn. Photo David Harris, Jerusalem

from: Morocco; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 12

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)




The Jews played a particularly important role in the rise to power of the 'Alawid (Alouite) dynasty of Hasanid descent, which still governed Morocco in the 1960s.

[The legend about a rich Jew with Muslim girls and Mulay al-Rashid - and the reality: Jews of Taza are backing sultan al-Rashid - Jews in the government]

This role has been distorted by a legend which relates that at the time an extremely rich Jew, Aaron Ben-Meshal, governed the region of Taza and, as a tribute, demanded a young Muslim girl from Fez every year. By deceit, Mulay al-Rashid (1660-72) succeeded in assassinating this Jew and seizing his riches; the tolba ("students") assisted him in this exploit. He was thus able to become the first sultan of the 'Alawid dynasty. To this day, this legendary event is celebrated with much pomp by the tolba of Fez.

In reality, Mulay al-Rashid, who lacked financial means, was backed by the Jews of the Taza, which was then an important commercial center and the first place which he had dominated; he employed a faithful and wise Jewish counselor and banker, Aaron Carsinet. In order to gain control of Fez, where he was enthroned, he entered the city through the mellah [[Jewish quarter]], where in secret he spent the night in the house of a notable named Judah Monsano. Mulay al-Rashid subsequently adopted a favorable attitude toward the Jews. His reign was a most prosperous one.

[Sultan Mulay Ismail with Jews in the government]

The Jews also successfully contributed to the rise to power of the brother of Mulay al-Rashid, Mulay Ismail (1672-1727), one of the most outstanding Moroccan monarchs. Mulay Ismail was khalifa ("viceroy") in Meknes when, through one of his Jewish friends, Joseph *Maymeran, he learned of the death of his brother in Marrakesh. The speed with which he received this precious information and the large sum of money which Maymeran lent him enabled Mulay Ismail to have himself proclaimed sultan immediately. It is also related that not wanting to be indebted to Joseph Maymeran, Mulay Ismail had him assassinated. In (col. 336)

fact, he appointed him steward of the palace, a function of considerable importance which was later held by his son Abraham Maymeran, who had become the principal favorite of the sultan. The Toledanos, Ben-Attars, and Maymerans all enjoyed the favors of Mulay Ismail, who during various periods appointed one or the other as shaykh al-Yahud with authority over all the Jews of the kingdom.

[Jewish ambassadors and connections to England and Holland - cruel sultan lets the Jews live better than the Muslims - plagues and inner conflicts]

Moses Ben Attar signed a treaty with England in his name; Joseph and Hayyim Toledano were his ambassadors to the Netherlands and London. Moreover, the Jews who were close to Mulay Ismail wielded their influence over him.

Thus, in spite of his cupidity, violence, and cruelty, the Jews fared better under him than the Muslim masses. The greatest part of his long reign was marked by peace and security, and the Jewish communities were able to develop in every respect. However, during the last years of his reign, years which were overshadowed by plagues and conflicts between his rival sons, the situation of the Jews began to deteriorate.

[The time after sultan Mulay Ismail: chaos, plunder, Jewish drive to the cities - Jewish quarters mostly convert into slums - ruin]

[[...]] The 30 years of anarchy and plunder which followed upon the death of Mulay Ismail exhausted and impoverished the Jewish communities of the interior; they consequently transformed their social framework. The Middle Atlas region was literally drained of its Jews. The departure of the village Jews toward the urban centers changed the aspect of the mellahs [[Jewish quarters]] of Fez and Meknès. These quarters, which had until then been well maintained, were converted into slums, with the exception of a few middle-class streets. Most of the ancient families were ruined and lost all power, only to be replaced by a few parvenus.

[Inner Jewish quarrels - port towns get importance - Rabat, Safi, and Marrakesh replace Fez and Meknès as rabbinical centers]

Some Ben-Kikis and Mamans were sent on diplomatic missions to Europe; their rivalry with the former Jewish bourgeoisie caused controversies within the community; some members of the Levy-Yuly family became "confidants" of the sultans. Slowly, the towns of the interior were abandoned by their leading Jewish elements in favor of the ports, to which the new arrivals were already linked by ancient ties with the Jewish financial circles living there. Rabat, Safi, and especially Marrakesh replaced Fez and Meknès as rabbinical centers.

Mulay Muhammad b. Abdallah (1757-1790) had formally been viceroy of southern Morocco from 1745. He had established security and, with the assistance of Jewish and Christian financial circles, a prosperity unknown in the north of the country reigned there. As under the Sa'dians, Marrakesh once more became the capital and royal residence. Its Jewish community flourished but then entered a period of decline as a result of the avariciousness of the sultan in his old age.

[Safi community for foreign trade - Agadir community for Sahara trade - Mogador community since 1767 - Jewish immigration - Jews in the sultan's government]

The community of Safi took over the leading place in the foreign trade of Morocco, while that of Agadir acquired the monopoly over the trading with the Sahara. These roles later became the privilege of the community of Mogador, which was founded in 1767. The condition of the Jews improved throughout the country. Jews from abroad came to settle in Morocco. Among these were the Attals and Cardosos (Cordoza), who entered the service of the sovereign. Cardoso, however, drew the jealousy of the Attals upon himself and paid for this with his life. The leading favorite of the sultan was Samuel *Sunbal, a scholar, ambassador to Denmark, and the last "sheikh" of Moroccan Jewry.

["Friendship" by Moroccan Jews with the "USA" - "US" ships in the Mediterranean]

Certain Jewish personalities encouraged friendship with the United States, where their relatives had emigrated and with whom they had important commercial ties. Isaac Cordoza Nuñes, an interpreter of the sultan in Marrakesh, and Isaac Pinto, a Moroccan established in the United States, were largely responsible for the signing of a treaty between Morocco and the United States in 1787, whereby the U.S. Congress paid Morocco (col. 337)

for the protection of U.S. shipping interests in the Mediterranean.

Mulay Muhammad entrusted the Jews with all his negotiations with the Christian countries.> (col. 338)

Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Morocco, vol.
                        12, col. 335-336
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Morocco, vol. 12, col. 335-336
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Morocco, vol.
                        12, col. 337-338
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Morocco, vol. 12, col. 337-338
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Morocco, vol.
                        12, col. 343-344
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Morocco, vol. 12, col. 343-344