MARRAKESH


MARRAKESH, one of the former capitals of *Morocco, situated at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains. They city was founded in the latter half of the 11th century by the *Almoravid dynasty. A Jewish community was established there soon thereafter, coming from different parts of southern Morocco. Many were subsequently barred from inhabiting the city while others were persecuted by the *Almohads in the 12th century and had to disperse. A Jewish community was revived there during the course of the 13th century but Jews faced further persecution, death, and expulsion. Only under the Merinid dynasty in the latter half of the 13th and 14th centuries were Jews permitted to resettle in Marrakesh and their numbers grew in the late 15th century through the arrival of Sephardi refugees expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. Nevertheless, the main group of Marrakeshi Jews originated from the Atlas Mountains. Iberian Jews (Spanish and Portuguese), however, took control of communal affairs. From 1557 onward, the Sa'di dynasty concentrated all the Jews in a Jewish quarter of their own, known as the mellah. While the Jewish community numbered approximately 25,000 in mid-16th century, thousands perished throughout that century in epidemics. The Sa'di sultans, who were descendants of the Prophet *Muhammad and originated from the Arabian Peninsula, enlisted the Jews of Marrakesh as their trade agents and entrusted to them the management of local industries. With the ascendance of the Alawite dynasty in the latter half of the 17th century, its sultans, also descendants of the Prophet, did not always display tolerance toward the Jews of Morocco. This was evidently the case with Sultan Mulay Isma'il, who in the 1670s exposed the Jews of Marrakesh to horrible atrocities.

In the 18th century Marrakesh lost its status as the central capital of Morocco in favor of *Fez. Notwithstanding, commercially and economically, the city preserved its position as a vital center for southern Morocco. There were flourishing yeshivot in Marrakesh and bustling activity by talmudic scholars belonging to the prominent Corcos and Pinto families, as well as kabbalists. The Jews under the Alawite sultans in the late 18th and throughout much of the 19th centuries played a preponderant role in the local economy and their social and political situation improved markedly. There were efforts by fanatical Muslim leaders to forcibly convert Jews to Islam, but the intervention of international Jewish organizations such as the Paris-based *Alliance Israélite Universelle (which also opened schools in Marrakesh at the beginning of the 20th century) and European consuls stationed in Morocco, foiled their efforts.

Under the leadership of Si Madani al-Glawi, the governor of Marrakesh and its environs, who belonged to the "great families" connected with the Alawite dynasty and the makhzan (Moroccan government), the Jews of southern Morocco enjoyed much influence. In 1908–09, while entrusted by the makhzan to bolster Alawite influence in the south and Marrakesh, Glawi, who then served as the sultan's chief minister (grand wazir), bestowed on the Marrakeshi Jewish elite considerable economic and social privileges. He also lifted exorbitant taxes imposed on the Jews of Marrakesh and Taroudant in the period immediately preceding his rise to power. Glawi maintained intimate social and economic ties with the leader of the Jewish community in Marrakesh – the illustrious Joshua Corcos of the influential *Corcos family. The latter community president was perhaps the most important Moroccan Jewish leader in many centuries.

Under French colonial domination (1912–1956), in which the French protectorate collaborated with the Alawite dynasty in managing Moroccan affairs, the position of the Jews improved immeasurably. They were now exposed to modern ideas through French education, employment in private and public administration, and the liberal professions. Zionist influences penetrated the community in the interwar years like other political currents prevalent in the modern Jewish world.

Until 1920 the Jewish quarter of Marrakesh was the largest in Morocco. The 1920s and 1930s changed this. Although the Jewish population of Marrakesh was greater than in Fez or *Tangier, *Casablanca on the Atlantic coast emerged steadily as the largest and most important Jewish community through internal migrations from all parts of the country. Thus, if in 1912, 15,700 Jews dwelt in Marrakesh (compared to 7,000 in Casablanca), and 25,646 in 1936 (compared to 38,806 in Casablanca), in 1951, five years before the end of French colonial presence, the Jews of Marrakesh numbered 18,500 whereas Casablanca Jewry was 75,000 strong. The reason for the decline in the Marrakeshi Jewish population was attributed to internal migration to Casablanca and other coastal cities and to aliyah under the auspices of the Jewish Agency. As in other major Moroccan cities, Jewish bodies such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the ORT vocational network, the Alliance Israélite Universelle, educational departments of Oẓar ha-Torah, and the Jewish Agency extended their activities and offered vital services. These efforts either helped those Jews who stayed behind to improve their lot, or facilitated their integration into French, Canadian, and Israeli societies. In 2005, there were several dozen Jews left in Marrakesh.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

J. Benech, Essai d'explication d'un mellah (1940); D. Corcos, Studies in the History of the Jews of Morocco, Introduction by Eliyahu Ashtor (1976); H.Z. Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa, 2 vols. (Eng. translation) (1974); M.M. Laskier, The Allliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco: 18621962 (1983); C.R. Pennell, Morocco since 1830: A History (2000); N.A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times (1991).

[Michael M. Laskier (2nd ed.)]


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