DJERBA (Jerba), island off the coast of Tunisia. In ancient times it was an important Phoenician trading center. According to the local tradition, the Jewish settlement there is very old. It maintains that the Jews came there during the reign of *Solomon and founded the present al-Ḥāra al-Kabīra (the "Big Quarter"). A family of priests fleeing Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E. is said to have transported one of the Temple gates to Djerba. It is believed to be enclosed in the Bezalel synagogue, known as al-Gharība (the "extraordinary") of the Ḥāra al-Ṣaghīra (the "Small Quarter"), which is situated in the center of the island. The Gharība was a much frequented place of pilgrimage. The Jewish population consisted mainly of kohanim (priests) with a small sprinkling of others, although there were no levites among the residents. According to tradition, the absence of levites on the island is the result of a curse against them by *Ezra because they refused to answer his request to send levites to Ereẓ Israel (cf. Ezra 8:15), and they all died. The history of the Jews of Djerba includes three serious persecutions: in the 12th century under the *Almohads; in 1519 under the Spanish; and in 1943 under the Nazis. In 1239 a colony of Jews from Djerba settled in *Sicily, where they obtained concessions to cultivate henna, indigo, and the royal palm groves. It was common for the male Jewish population of Djerba to look for livelihood abroad, but they kept returning to the island, where their families had remained. Exchange of goods
N. Slouschz, Travels in North Africa (1927), 251–68; R. Lachmann, Jewish Cantillation and Song in the Isle of Djerba (1940); R. Brunschwig, La Berbérie orientale sous les Hafṣides, 1 (1940), 399; Pinkerfeld, in: Cahiers de Byrsa, 7 (1957), 127–88; A.N. Chouraqui, Between East and West (1968), index S.V. Djerba. ADD. Bibliography: American Jewish Year Book, 1972, 1978, 1985, 1994; H.Z. Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa, 2 vols. (1974–81), index; A.L. Udovitch and L. Valensi, The Last Arab Jews: The Communities of Jerba, Tunisia (1983); B. Haddad, Sefer Jerbah Yehudit (1978); Y. Mazouz, Yahadut Jerbah (1979); R. Attal, "Djerba, centre de diffusion du livre hébraïque," in: M. Abitbol (ed.), Communautés juives des marges sahariennes du Maghreb (1982), 469–78; G. Memmi, Une île en Méditerranée (1992); Les Juifs de Jerba: 25 siècles d'histoire (1990).
[David Corcos /
Rachel Simon (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.