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Demnat, Morocco

DEMNAT (Fr. Demnate), town in the High Atlas Mountains of *Morocco , 70 miles (110 km.) east of the city of *Marrakesh . Demnat had an important Jewish community whose members settled there in the early 12th century. Living in a Berber-Muslim milieu, Demnat's Jewry engaged in agricultural activities, producing some of the best wine in Morocco, but were also craftsmen and artisans specializing in leather goods. Partial modernization and the spread of French language and culture gradually became embedded in Demnati Jewish life from the early 1930s due to the colonial presence as well as the work of the coeducational school of the *Alliance Israélite Universelle , founded in 1932. Many of the boys and girls who frequented this school subsequently adopted French names such as Robert, Jacques, Marcelle, Alice, and Jacqueline.

Judeo-Berber coexistence in Demnat remained harmonious, with no major violence against the Jews until the mid-19th century. From the early 1860s and into the mid-1880s, however, Jewish-Muslim relations were exacerbated as Jews faced a pogrom (1864) and were exposed to undue humiliations by the local governor, who instigated abuses (1884–85). Owing to the efforts of the Alliance teachers in *Fez , the French minister plenipotentiary in *Tangier , L.C. Féraud, was informed of the situation in Demnat and contacted Sultan Hasan I over the matter. Féraud's intercession led to the issuance of two zahirs (sultanic decrees) ordering cessation of the abuses. From the contents of the zahirs – for the year 1885 – it can be seen that the Jews had been compelled to buy goods from Muslims against their will, were recruited to work without receiving wages, had to give away their farm animals without receiving payment, and had to give up some of their most valuable products, particularly leather goods.

The status of the Jews improved markedly once again under French colonial domination. In the early 1950s, on the eve of communal self-liquidation and aliyah, conducted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine, 1,800 Jews were living in Demnat. The tides of radical nationalism, and the Moroccan struggle for independence from France beginning in August 1953, which took on a violent character in 1954–55, only hastened Jewish departures. By the early 1960s only a few Jews remained there.

Sources:C. de Foucauld, Reconnaissance au Maroc (1888); P. Flamand, Un mellah en pays berbère: Demnate (1952); M.M. Laskier, The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco: 1862–1962 (1983); M.M. Laskier, "Aspects of Change and Modernization: The Jewish Communities of Morocco's Bled," in: M. Abitbol (ed.), Communautés juives des marges sahariennes du Maghreb (1982), 329–64.

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

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