GABÈS (Ar. Qābis; the ancient Tacapae), maritime town in *Tunisia, situated in a luxuriant palm forest. Gabès was an important commercial and industrial center. Under Arab rule the Jews were farmers and manufacturers, who wove silk and exported – mainly precious cloth; they gained considerable wealth as a result of their trade with Sicily, the Orient, and the interior of Africa. Some of them were merchants of worldwide importance. In Gabès many Jews devoted themselves to poetry and music, and their intellectual leaders, such as the Ibn Jamaʿ family, succeeded in converting their academy into a religious center whose importance was comparable
During the Hafisit period Gabès was an economic and administrative center of its region. We do not have any real information about Jewish life in Gabès before the middle of the 19th century. In 1858 Benjamin the Jewish traveler found out about 100 families in Gabès but this is the only information about the Jewish community. A French explorer of the Sahara and the Tuareg, Henri Duveyrier (1840–1892), visited Tunisia in 1860, and his observations on the Jewish community of Gabès were of great importance. Jews lived in both parts of the ancient town, Menzel and Jara. Some Jews came from Leghorn and integrated into the autochthonous community. Their economic life was based on the Trans-Sahara trade, maritime commerce, and agriculture. Some Jews enjoyed European citizenship.
During the French protectorate the Jewish community grew to 1,271 in 1909 and more than 3,300 in 1946. Thus the community became one of the largest in south Tunisia. Most Jews came from *Djerba and the south. The French developed the port, the industry, and the minerals in the region of Gabès. Jews took part in those new economic opportunities. The Jewish community of Gabès was based on Djerba rabbinical authority. The rabbis came from Djerba and were committed to takkanot from Djerba. Gabès became the northern frontier of the Djerba periphery. For example, owing to its French nature, the Alliance Israélite Universelle could not open a school in Gabès. The rabbis in Djerba strongly opposed the Alliance initiative. Moreover, Rabbi Haim Khuri, the most famous sage in the 20th century, was born in Djerba and immigrated to Gabès, where his influence on Jewish life in Gabès was of great importance. He was the author of the books Bene Moshe, Derekh Haim, and Maẓa Hayyim. He was buried in Beersheba, and his grave became a holy place at which his sons organize a hillula every year. In 1909 the French created the communal committee, La Caisse de Secours et de Bienfaisance, as in all other large towns in Tunisia. Simon Seror was the president of the committee between the two World Wars and Haouti Zana was president after World War II. Jews sent their children to talmud torahs and some of them even to French schools, which provided the only modern education.
The only Zionist activity in Gabès was the creation of the Zionist association Ḥerut Zion just after World War I but Jews contributed to the national funds. As far as we know, Jews lived in coexistence with the Muslims. For example, at the fish factory of the Journo family, Arabs and Jews worked together in friendly relations. The only exception was the riot of May 20, 1941, in which seven Jews were killed and about 20 were wounded. After World War II and as a result of the German occupation, Zionist activity was stronger than before the war. All political trends took part in Zionist activity: Betar, Ẓeʿirei Ẓion (a Marxist group), Torah va-Avodah, and others. Even a self-defense group was created but had little importance.
[Haim Saadoun (2nd ed.)]
R. Brunschwig, La Berbériè orientale sous les Hafsides, 2 vols. (1940–47), index; Hirschberg, Afrikah, index; S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, 1 (1967), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Ben-Sasson, "The Jewish Community of Gabès in the 11th Century, Economic and Residential Patterns," in: M. Abitbol (ed.), Communautes juives des marges sahariennes du magrhreb (1982), 265–84; D. Vitalis, Juifs du Sud, note du voyages (April 1950); "Gabès," in: I. Abramski-Bligh, Pinkas ha-Kehillot (1997), 306–18.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.