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Constantine, Algeria

Constantine (ancient Cirta) is an Algerian town. Constantine was named after Emperor Constantine in 313. Latin inscriptions give evidence of a Jewish colony there; its surroundings seem to have been inhabited by Judaized Berbers. The Arab conquest brought little change to Constantine. The Jews maintained their identity; their "elder" (zaken) led his followers to war like an Arab or Berber sheikh. According to the 15th-century rabbis of Algeria, Constantine was one of the most important Jewish communities in Muslim countries. Local scholars in the 15th century included Maimun Najjār, author of Kunteres Minhagot; Joseph b. Minir, called Ḥasid, whose tomb is venerated by Jews and Muslims to the present day and whose works, now lost, were quoted by Joseph Caro ; Joseph b. David; Isaac Kagig (also Kaçiç and Casès); and Samuel Atrani; in the 16th century, the poet Joseph Zimron and Moses Allouche; and in the 18th century, Masʿud Zerbib, author of Zera' Emet (Leghorn, 1715). In the 18th century the community built its quarter. In 1818 the Turks from Algiers attacked Constantine; they pillaged, massacred, and carried off 17 young Jewish girls whom they brought to their commander. The girls were subsequently released. There were then 5,000 Jews in Constantine. After its capture by the French in 1837, many Jews left the city, and two years later the community numbered only 3,436. By 1934 the community grew to 12,000. In that same year on August 3–5, the Muslim population, provoked by the propaganda of the French antisemites, assaulted them. Twenty-five were killed and dozens wounded. When the Jewish resistance was organized, the massacres stopped; but French forces had not intervened, despite the appeals of Muslim leaders. The Vichy government severely persecuted this community in 1940 despite its large number of heroes in the two world wars.

[David Corcos]

Traditional Jewish education prevailed in Constantine for hundreds of years. In 1849 the Consistory of Constantine was instituted coordinating Jewish community life. The 1870 Crémieux decree that granted French citizenship to Algerian Jews further accelerated the incorporation of Jews into the French school system, placing the talmud torah under strict supervision. The Alliance Israélite Universelle, which strove to combine French modernity with Jewish tradition, started operating educational institutions in Constantine in 1902. The influence of French culture led to a gradual decline in the use of the local Judeo-Arabic dialect in favor of French. An intensive effort to preserve traditional Jewish culture and the Judeo-Arabic language was conducted by Rabbi Joseph Renassia (1879–1962), who wrote and translated over a hundred volumes in Judeo-Arabic.

[Ofra Tirosh-Becker (2nd ed.)]

During the Algerian FLN (Front de libération nationale) terrorist attacks in the late 1950s grenades were often thrown into the Jewish quarter. In 1962, when Algeria received its independence, there was a massive exodus of the Jewish community, which then numbered 15,000–20,000 – mostly to France and Israel. The local talmud torah with its 800 students closed down in July of that year. The synagogues were turned into the general headquarters of the FLN. By the end of the 1960s only a few Jewish families remained in Constantine.

[Robert Attal]


A. Chouraqui, Between East and West (1968), index; E. Mercier, Histoire de Constantine (1903); M. Eisenbeth, Judaïsme nord-africain … Constantine (1931); R. Brunschwig, Berbérie orientale sous les Hafṣides, 1 (1940), 384ff., 406ff., 418–9, 421ff.; M. Ansky, Juifs d'Algérie (1960), 67–70; A. Hershman, R. Isaac bar Sheshet Perfet and His Times (1943); Hirschberg, Afrikah, index; L'Arche, no. 66 (1962), 11. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Abitbol, From Crémieux to Pétain, Antisemitism in Colonial Algeria, 1870–1940 (1993), index (in Hebrew); S. Schwarzfuchs, Les Juifs d'Algérie et la France, 1830–1855 (1981), 243–60, index; S. Ettinger (ed.), Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Artzot ha-Islam, Vol. 1 (1981), 121–96, 329–30, Vol. 2 (1986), 301–468, 479–82; Y. Charvit, "Ha-Ḥinnukh ha-Yehudi be-Konstantin (Algeria) be-Idan shel Temurot (1837–1939)," in: Asufot 14 (2002), 315–57; idem, Elite Rabbinique d'Algérie et Modernisation (1995).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.