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Algiers, Algeria

ALGIERS (Al-Jazair), capital of *Algeria. The small Jewish community in the late Middle Ages was enlarged after 1248 by Jews from the Languedoc and about 1287 by Jews from Majorca. The population of Majorcan Jews increased between 1296 and 1313, when the town enjoyed a short-lived independence. The Majorcan Jews were arms suppliers. Before 1325 the port was visited regularly by Catalans and Genoese, as well as by Jewish shipowners and merchants.

The first Jewish refugees from Spain were warmly welcomed in 1391, but their increasing numbers caused anxiety among the Muslims and the native Jews, who feared their competition. One individual (whose identity cannot be ascertained), himself an immigrant, used his influence to prevent the landing of 45 newcomers and advised that all the fugitives be sent back, as they were accused of being Marranos. The qadi (Muslim religious judge) intervened in their favor. The Spanish Jews prospered greatly and finally became the majority; they separated themselves from the native Jewish community by acquiring a cemetery and synagogue of their own and moving into a separate quarter. The leader of these Jews at first was R. Saul Ha-Kohen *Astruc , a scholar and philanthropist, who served as judge for the whole community. His successors were the famous R. Isaac *Bonastruc , R. *Isaac b. Sheshet (Ribash), and R. Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran ; they instituted the so-called takkanot of Algiers which governed the religious life of Algerian and Tunisian Jews. Because of the school of Isaac b. Sheshet and the Durans, Algiers became a major religious and intellectual center in the 15th century. Many Marranos moved there in order to practice Judaism openly. The large-scale maritime trade of the Spanish Jews at the end of the 14th century gave economic impetus to the city and prepared it somewhat for its future role.

From early in the 16th century, the Turks ruled in Algiers. In order to develop trade, they encouraged the creation of a privileged class. They employed Jews as advisers and physicians; Jews were also responsible for the coining of money and the accounts of the treasury. The mass of the people, Moors and Jews, suffered periodically from the whims of the Janissaries and the cruelty of the militia. In 1706 an outbreak of the plague and a terrible famine reduced many Jewish families to indigence. Then, influenced by false accusations, the bey imposed an exorbitant fine on the community and ordered the destruction of the synagogues, which were saved only by the payment of a further sum. This ruined the majority of the Jews. They commemorated the failure of the Spanish who attacked Algiers in 1541 and 1775 by instituting two "Purims" of Algiers, which were celebrated every year by the whole community. From the 17th century onward, former Portuguese Marranos and many Dutch, Moroccan, and Leghorn Jewish families went to settle there. Proficient in business, many owning their own ships, they gained control of Algerian commerce and extended the system of letters of exchange, and that of concessions and agencies in Europe and the East. These new immigrants intermarried with the older families of the town and settled on the Street of the Livornese, completely separated from the Ḥara ("quarter"). These "Juifs Francs" ("Francos," i.e., free from the obligations of other Jews), or "Christian Jews" (because they wore European garments), were employed by all European countries to ransom Christian prisoners. Many were able diplomats who negotiated or signed various peace and trade treaties. Among these diplomats in the second half of the 17th century were Jacob de Paz, Isaac Sasportas, David Torres, Judah Cohen (d. early 18th century), and Soliman Jaquete (d. 1724). Their families became the aristocracy of the community and were active in promoting its welfare.

Internal strife in the Jewish community appeared only when the kabbalists R. Joshua Sidun, R. Joseph Abulker, R. Aaron Moatti, and above all R. Abraham Tubiana (d. 1792) introduced new rituals in their synagogues in accordance with the theories of R. Isaac *Luria . Members of other synagogues considered this sacrilegious and accused the innovators of promoting a schism. Until the mid-20th century two different rituals were followed in the synagogues of Algiers, that of the mekubbalim, or kabbalists, and that of the pashtanim, or those who followed the original customs of the refugees from Barcelona and Majorca. The intense religious life of the community was stimulated later in the 16th century by eminent scholars such as R. Abraham Tawa, R. Moses Meshash, R. Abraham *Gavison, physician to the famous "beylerbey" (Ottoman governor) Euldj Ali (1568–87), R. Solomon Duran II and his disciple R. Judah Khallas II (d. 1620), R. Solomon Ṣeror (d. 1664) and his grandson Raphael-Jedidiah Ṣeror (d. 1737), the philosopher R. Mas'ud Guenoun (d. 1694), the poet R. Nehorai Azubib (d. 1785), and R. Judah *Ayash , one of the most venerated rabbis of Algiers. Their works, however, were neglected by the new generations, which turned toward other forms of culture.

In the late 18th–early 19th centuries the wealth of certain families added to the enormous influence of Naphtali *Busnach ; this aroused the jealousy of the Janissaries, who assassinated Busnach. The day after Busnach's assassination (June 29, 1805), they sacked Algiers killing between 200 and 500 Jews. Despite this catastrophe, the great families would not forgo their internal disputes nor their fierce competition for power. David Bacri succeeded his partner and relative Naphtali Busnach as head of the community. He was beheaded in 1811 by the dey and replaced by David Duran who represented the opposing families. The latter was in his turn put to death by the dey during the same year, and Joseph Bacri assumed the title of *muqaddam (head of the community). Involved against his will in disputes between the Jewish families, the rabbi of Algiers, R. Isaac Abulker, was dragged to the stake with seven other notables of the town (1815). After the landing of the French in 1830, Jacob Bacri was named "Chef de la Nation Israélite"; he was replaced by Aaron Moatti whose appointment was terminated in 1834.

In 1870 Algerian Jews became French citizens; subsequently antisemitism spread throughout the country manifesting itself in serious pogroms, particularly in Algiers (1884–87, 1897–98). After World War I a Zionist conference, the first in Algeria, was organized at Algiers. Although the Jewish élite was always active in the defense of Judaism, they were loyal French citizens.

The Algiers community was deeply affected by the nationalist struggle for independence. Much of the communal structure ceased to exist. The Great Synagogue in the ancient quarter, ravaged in the Christmas Eve riots of 1960 was only temporarily restored. The Maimonides rabbinical college was closed. During the French army's search of Bab-el-Oued in 1962, in reprisal for the machine-gunning of French soldiers by the local OAS, the synagogue of that quarter was ravaged.

Population Statistics

During the last four centuries the Jewish population of Algiers declined and increased according to the economic and political situation of the capital. In the 16th century it declined from 2,000 to 750 persons, because of the Spanish assaults. In the 17th and 18th centuries the number of Jews rose to 15,000, but then decreased to 7,000 and later, to 5,000. About the same number was found there by the French in 1830. Eight years later there were over 6,000 Jews, but after the antisemitic persecutions of the last decades of the 19th century only 5,000 remained. After 1900, with the defeat of the anti-Jewish party, the Jewish population increased continuously: 10,822 in 1901, 17,053 in 1921, 23,550 in 1931, and 25,591 in 1941. During World War II Algiers received over 1,000 Jewish refugees from Europe; after the uprising against the French in 1954 a large number of Jews from the interior settled in Algiers. Over 95% of this population, numbering about 34,000, left the capital when the declaration of independence was proclaimed in 1962. The vast majority immigrated to France, some went to America, and others to Israel. By 1963 only 2,500 Jews remained in Algiers. In 1969 their number was reduced to a few hundred and at the turn of the century to a few dozen.

For bibliography see *Algeria.

[David Corcos]

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