CASABLANCA


CASABLANCA (Ar. Dār al-Baiḍā), largest city and harbor of (former French) *Morocco, known as Anfa during the Middle Ages. The city was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1468, and its Jewish community was dispersed. Moses and Dinar Anfaoui (i.e., "of Anfa") were among the signatories of the taḳḳanot of Fez in 1545. In 1750 the Rabbi Elijah Synagogue was built, but it was only in 1830 with the arrival of Jewish merchants, principally from *Mogador, Rabat, and *Tetuan, that the community really developed. At the beginning of the 20th century there were 20,000 inhabitants, of whom 6,000 were Jews. There were then two synagogues, eight talmud torah schools, and four private schools. The first *Alliance Israélite Universelle school, founded in 1897, was supported by the local notables. After the plunder in 1903 of Settat, an important center of the region, the community received 1,000 Jewish refugees. Later, Casablanca was itself devastated by rebellious tribes, and a large number of its inhabitants were massacred in August 1907. Among the Jews, there were 30 dead, others gravely injured, and 250 women and children abducted. By 1912 Casablanca had become the economic capital of Morocco and, thereby, an important center for the Jews of Morocco, as well as for their coreligionists all over North Africa and Europe. The Casablanca community distinguished itself in all spheres by the intensity of its activities. Many of its members held high positions in commerce, industry, and the liberal professions.

Urbanization and Growth of the Community

The process of urbanization in Morocco during the 20th century turned Casablanca into both the country's major economic center and the place of the chief concentration of its Jews. The new Jewish population was young. Many Jewish immigrants to Casablanca were like the Muslims who were moving from agriculture to modern professions, but they resembled no less the city's European residents: the more skillful Jews became agents for French commercial companies; others joined the ranks of the French bureaucracy or became suppliers to its administration and army or telephone and telegraph companies. Casablanca required numerous officials, lawyers, notaries, technicians, and manual workers. In all these fields, Jews had to compete with other groups. Socioeconomic differences were expressed in residential areas as well. The more affluent lived among the Europeans in Casablanca's new quarters, the poor resided in the suburbs, in the medīna or the Muslim quarters. Among the Jews immigrating to Casablanca from 1850 to the early 20th century were those from the villages in the Middle Atlas who had suffered from the arbitrary rule of the Ḳāids or the internecine quarrels of the Berber tribes. In 1931 Jews numbered close to 20,000 (out of a total population of 163,000), almost as many as the longer established community in Marrakesh. In 1936–51 their number grew by more than 90% (while the number of Muslims tripled), but most continued to live in their own *mellah – both for socioeconomic reasons and because they felt safer there.

The upper class of Casablanca's Jewish community founded numerous philanthropic societies to care for the needs of their coreligionists who arrived in successive groups from the interior of the country. The new arrivals, who were often without any means of livelihood, gathered in the mellah district of the ancient medina and lived in great poverty. The "community council" provided them with various kinds of support, the funds for which were collected from a tax on meat and from private donations. The schools of the Alliance also provided free education. During World War II the anti-Jewish policies of the Vichy government restricted the rights of the Jews, especially in Casablanca, where a Gestapo office was active, and even deprived them of their livelihood until the landing of the Allies in 1942. A transit camp was later set up near Casablanca for about 3,000 Jewish refugees from Spain, Malta, Libya and Greece, most of whom migrated to the U.S. After the liberation of Morocco, many Jews from the interior, often only the men, were attracted to Casablanca by the city's prosperity. For more than 35 years the community was led by Yahia Zagury (d. 1944). Principal spiritual leaders of the community had included Hayyim Elmaleh (d. 1857), David Ouaknin (d. 1873), Isaac Marrache (d. 1905), Moses Eliakim (d. 1939), and Ḥayyim Bensussan. A bet din continued to deal with matters of personal status, ritual slaughter, and supervision of the cemeteries. Rabbis continued to encourage the community and, in some cases, to stand up for the poor, R. David Danino, who devoted most of his writings to remonstrate with the rich about their indifference to their less fortunate brethren. Among the well-to-do were immigrants from Algeria, who had their own synagogues, like the splendid Beth-El.

[David Corcos /

Shalom Bar-Asher (2nd ed.)]

From 1945

The Zionist movement intensified its activities among Jews in Muslim lands following the end of World War II, including Morocco, the largest Jewish community among those lands. Plans were drawn up to bring to Ereẓ Israel not only Jews from the 19 towns but also from the Sahara desert and the Atlas mountains, where about a third of Morocco's Jews were living. Transit camps were set up throughout Morocco in 1947–48 and Zionist groups established in the towns increased their activity as Morocco's independence drew near.

Between 1948 and 1968 tens of thousands of Moroccan Jews went to Casablanca, either to settle there or to await emigration. Numerically, the drop in population resulting from the emigration was offset by the constant influx of Jews from the provinces so that the population figures of the Jews in the town hardly changed until 1962. In 1948 the number of Jews in Casablanca was estimated at about 70,000; while census reports indicated that 74,783 Jews in 1951 (34% of Moroccan Jewry) and 72,026 Jews in 1960 (54.1% of the total Jewish population of Morocco) lived in Casablanca. However, in 1964 the number of Jews in Casablanca was estimated at only about 60,000 out of the 85,000 Jews in Morocco. There followed a large-scale exodus of Jews from the town; their numbers were not replenished by new arrivals. Out of a total of 50,000 Moroccan Jews there remained an estimated 37,000 in Casablanca in 1967 and no more than 17,000 out of a total population of 22,000 Jews in the following year. Until Morocco gained its independence, Casablanca Jews did not enjoy equal rights, and in 1949 only 600 of the 70,000 Jews in Casablanca had the right to vote in municipal elections. From 1956, however, when all Moroccan Jewry acquired equal rights, Jews in Casablanca voted and were elected in municipal elections. In 1964 three Jewish representatives sat on the Casablanca City Council, and in 1959 Meyer Toledano was elected deputy mayor. From 1948 to 1968 there were several instances of attacks on Jews, particularly on the eve of Moroccan independence (1956) and to a lesser extent after the Six-Day War of June 1967. The authorities did their utmost to protect the Jewish population.

R. Ḥayyim ben Shushan officiated as the head of the bet din and afterwards, for 23 years, R. Shalom Mashash, one of the greatest Sephardi poskim, until his death in 2003. Among the best-known rabbis of his bet din were R. Moses ben Malka, R. Isaac Hazan, and R. Makhluf Abihatsira.

As the largest Jewish community in North Africa, Casablanca had many communal institutions, including schools of Alliance Israélite Universelle, Otsar ha-Torah (which had 2,079 pupils in 1961), Em ha-Banim, and *ORT. There was also a rabbinical seminary, Magen David, founded in 1947. A total of 15,450 pupils attended Casablanca Jewish educational establishments in 1961 but most of these institutions closed after 1965. The community had many charitable organizations, administered by the community committee. The *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee carried out social and professional activities in the city, starting in 1949. Its representative was a lawyer, Helen Cazès ben Attar, a prominent leader of Casablanca's Jews who later was a strong Zionist activist. *WIZO also had an office in town. All these were closed down in 1957 after Morocco became independent, but the Joint, as an American institution, was permitted to resume its activities, which it did until the early 1990s.

In 2005, around 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco. Regular community activities were held only in Casablanca: a community center and a primary school (named after Maimonides), of whose pupils 20% had to be Arabs by government order. A Chabad school operated as well. Some 30 minyans were active, but most of the synagogues were only partly attended. The city's Jews consisted mostly of businessmen and elderly people, while the young preferred to get an education in Europe or Israel; many of these did not return home. The city has become a starting point for Israelis coming on "roots tours" or on business.

[Hayyim J. Cohen /

Shalom Bar-Asher (2nd ed.)]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

B. Meakin, Land of the Moors (1901), 179–83; N. Leven, Cinquante Ans d'Histoire… (1920), 83–86; J.L. Miège, Maroc, 2 (1961), 178–83; 3 (1962), 26–28; 4 (1963), 377–81; (index). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Bauer, American Jewry & the Holocaust (1981), 202–5; D.F. Eickelman, Knowledge and Power in Morocco (1985), 72–79; M. Laskier, The AIU and the Jewish Communities of Morocco 1862–1962 (1987), 100–47.


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