ATLAS, mountain range in Morocco and Algeria.


Arabic literary sources tell of some *Berber tribes in the Atlas Mountains which observed the tenets of Judaism: e.g., the Jarawa in the Aurès Mountains of eastern Algeria (see Kahina), the Nafusa, the Fandalawa, and Madyuna (west Algerian tribes), and the Bahlula, the Ghayata, and the Fazaz in the Moroccan Atlas. The Islamization of these tribes is ascribed to Idris the Great (ninth century). It is significant that in Jewish sources there is no mention of these tribes. The *Almohads did not succeed in conquering the Atlas tribes and, apparently, many Jews found shelter among them during the persecutions. Until 1956, many Jewish mellahs existed in the Atlas Mountains and on their slopes. Situated on the main communication routes in their quarters near the Berber villages, these small isolated communities remained closely attached to their faith and traditions. Their primary occupations included small business, peddling, metal crafts (silversmiths and blacksmiths), and wine production. According to legends, these tribes had once been strong enough to sustain themselves and to aid the Berbers in their internecine struggles. Many Jews in the Middle Atlas and in Sous Valley either converted voluntarily to Islam or were forced to convert during the marabout movement in the 16th century. During the 19th century the Atlas communities were finally subjugated and sometimes reduced to semi-slavery. The Jewish communities of the Atlantic Atlas disappeared. Throughout the Atlas region old Jewish cemeteries and sanctuaries served as shrines for both Jews and Muslim Berbers.

[David Corcos]

In Recent Times

In 1948 there were about 10,000 Jews living in the Atlas Mountains area of Morocco. About half were peddlers and artisans, while some engaged in agriculture. They were scattered in many settlements, in which there were often no more than a few dozen families. These Jews were observant, although the majority were illiterate. They lacked teachers in their villages, and frequently they had no contact even with Jewish communities in the area. Some of the villages were so isolated that their very existence was unknown, until they were discovered in the 1950s when the exodus to Israel began. Between 1952 and 1955 dozens of villages in the area were abandoned. In the largest of these, Tamzert, there were 68 families consisting of 340 persons. During this period a total of 532 families (2,914 persons) went to Israel from the Atlas Mountains, the rest, some 5,000 persons, migrating there later. The fact that they possessed no property facilitated their migration, for even the farmers among them did not own land but were tenants in exchange for a quarter of the crops. On the other hand, they were in need of basic medical attention, since many suffered from skin diseases, and from partial or total blindness resulting from trachoma. Almost all immigrants from the Atlas Mountains settled in cooperative villages in Israel and engaged in agriculture.

[Haim J. Cohen]


N. Slouschz, Travels in North Africa (1927), 295 ff., 306 ff.; R. Montagne, Berbères et le Makhzen (1930), 45–46, 66–68, 76–77; L. Poinot, Pélerinages judéomusulmans du Maroc (1948), passim; A.N. Chouraqui, Between East and West (1968), passim; P. Flamand, Diaspora en terre d'Islam (1956), 67–105; Hirschberg, in: Journal of African History, 4 (1963), 313–39; Hirschberg, Afrikah, passim; Corcos, in: Sefunot, 10 (1966), 77, 80 ff., 93 ff.; Minkovitz, in: JJSO, 9 (1967), 191–208; Kohls, in: Megamot, 7 (1956), 345–76 (Eng. summ.).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.