FEZ, city in *Morocco, one of the most important in the Islamic world; founded by Idrīs I in 789, it became the capital of the kingdom in 808 under Idrīs II. The first inhabitants of Fez were pagan Berber\s, but it also included Christians and Jews. Idrīs II then admitted a large number of Jews who paid him an annual tax of 30,000 dinars. He assigned them a quarter, the al-Funduk al-Yahūdī. This community rapidly became influential and respected. Thus, when the ruler Yaḥyā – as it is told – became infatuated with a Jewess and forced his way into the public baths where she was at the time, there was an uprising in the town (c. 860).
A center of civilization, Fez also became a commercial center of prime importance, largely the result of the presence of the Jews, who from there traveled widely. Its position also encouraged a considerable development of the intellectual and religious life of the community: its yeshivot attracted such scholars as Judah *Ibn Quraysh in the 9th century. During the 10th–11th centuries its rabbis maintained a regular correspondence with *Sura and *Pumbedita. To Palestine went scholars such as David b. Abraham *Alfasi, author of a dictionary, R. Solomon b. Judah (d. 1051), who became head of the Jerusalem Academy, and to Spain grammarians of the stature of *Dunash b. Labrat and Judah Hayyūj. R. Isaac *Alfasi's (c. 1015–1105) most extended period of teaching was in Fez, where he wrote his long summary of the Talmud and answered queries on halakhah addressed to him from all over the world. Only in his old age did he arrive in Spain. During this golden era, which lasted several centuries, three grave events occurred: a section of the community was deported to Ashir (*Algeria) in about 987; 6,000 Jews were massacred in May 1035 by a fanatic who conquered Fez; and the town was ruthlessly sacked in 1068 by the *Almoravides. In about 1127 a pseudo-messiah, Moses Dari, brought some afflictions upon the community. In 1165 the official recognition of a new *Almohad monarch resulted in severe changes which went as far as forced conversion. Refusing to submit to this, the dayyan R. Judah ha-Kohen ibn Shushan was burnt alive and *Maimonides and his family, who had been living in Fez as refugees from Spain for five years, permanently left the country for *Egypt. In 1244 the Merinides established themselves in Fez, which once more became the capital of the kingdom. In 1275, there was an insurrection against the Jews, who were particularly well treated by the new masters, and it was the Merinide sultan himself who saved the community. The community lived in freedom and prosperity; its commerce, especially with Aragon, was of considerable importance; learning and science flourished. However, with
One of the first Hebrew presses was set up in Fez, by Samuel b. Isaac Nedivot and his son Isaac who had learned their Hebrew printing in Lisbon. From 1516 (?) to 1524 they printed 15 Hebrew books.
The community, which numbered about 10,000, consisted of "Spanish exiles" (megorashim) and "natives" (toshavim). The former, by issuing takkanot based on Judeo-Spanish custom, became entirely detached from the latter; serious friction broke out between these two elements, but the megorashim finally gained the upper hand. Their descendants instituted the Purim de Los Christianos to commemorate the defeat of the Portuguese at the battle of al-Qaṣr al-Kabīr in 1578; they held the office of *nagid, established in Fez at the beginning of the 16th century, and their yeshivot were headed by scholars including Nahman b. Sunbal (d. after 1556), Samuel Ḥagiz (d. after 1596), Judah Uzziel (d. 1603), and Saul Serrero (d. after 1622). Their high standard was maintained over a lengthy period due to such personalities as Samuel Sarfaty (d. 1713), Judah ibn *Atar, and Ḥayyim ibn *Atar of *Salé. Scholars of the mellah recorded accounts of the events which they had witnessed. These. are valuable for the study of Moroccan history, and provide an insight into the psychology of the Jewish masses of the town living in a closed society.
During the same period many scholarly works were written in the mellah. Rabbis of Fez went to teach in communities abroad and became their spiritual leaders; this was the case, for example, with Isaac b. Abraham Uzziel, Aaron *Ibn Ḥayyim, and Jacob *Ḥagiz. Certain families, such as the Ibn Danāns, were the leading dayyanim of Fez for several generations and their authority was recognized by the Jews of the whole country. The preeminence of Fez only ended after the death of Jacob *Ibn Zur in 1753. Rabbis of Fez found refuge, whenever their communities were struck by a calamity, in the small town of Sefrou, near Fez. During the 18th and 19th centuries, rabbis of the Hota, Abitbol, and Elbaz families attracted many disciples from other parts of Morocco. A short while after its conquest by the Saʿdī Sharīfs (in 1550), Fez lost its political and economic importance. As a result, the Jewish community was deserted by its wealthiest and most influential elements and gradually fell into poverty. To secure Fez, where he was enthroned (in 1665), Moulay Rashīd, the founder of the Alawīte dynasty, entered the town by way of the mellah, where the Jews enabled him to spend the night. Having destroyed the bastion of the power of his enemies, the Zāwiya of Dila, this sultan in 1668 transferred the rich Jewish community of Dila with all its belongings to Fez: these 1,300 families changed the composition of the mellah, which lost its Spanish character and became more prosperous. In the period of anarchy, between 1720 and 1750, a few of them barely managed to obtain monopolies, e.g., over tobacco or the minting of coins; many of them continued to practice such traditional crafts as goldsmithing, the manufacture of gold thread, lace making, embroidery, and tailoring. But the community mostly lived in a state of spiritual and intellectual seclusion. In 1790 Moulay Yazīd destroyed its synagogues, ordered the plunder of the mellah, and expelled its inhabitants. The return of the Jews was authorized in 1792 by Moulay Suleiman, but the mellah was reduced to a quarter of its former size. Moreover, the Udayas stationed in New Fez (Fez al-Jadīd) persecuted the Jews; however, when these soldiers rebelled the sharif did not hesitate to bombard New Fez and the defeated Udayas were dispersed (1832). In commemoration of this deliverance the community instituted the "Purim del Kor" ("of the cannonballs"), celebrated every year on Kislev 22. Life in the mellah improved and the interest in studies was reawakened by such remarkable men as Abner Sarfaty (d. 1884) and Isaac ibn Danān (d. 1900). The community possessed many schools, five yeshivot, and an important benevolent society. A French school, which received the financial support of the notables of the community, was founded in 1884 by the Alliance Israélite Universelle.
In 1912, two weeks after the establishment of the French Protectorate, a revolt broke out in Fez. The mellah with a population of 12,000 was completely ransacked and set on fire by the mob; about 45 were killed and 27 were wounded. Under the pretext of munitions smuggling, the French military authorities had previously confiscated all the weapons of the Jews, who were left defenseless. The Sharīf received them within the precincts of the palace and ordered the distribution of food and clothes among them. From 1925 many Jews established themselves in the new town of Fez, together with the Europeans; it was only the poor and some Orthodox families who remained in the mellah where in 1942 the Vichy laws sought to reintegrate all those who had left it. In 1947 there were 22,484 Jews living in Fez and its surroundings. These included several physicians, lawyers, industrialists, and owners of agricultural estates. The traditional occupations disappeared with modernization, and commerce came under Muslim domination, with the exception of the precious metals and cereals businesses in which the Jews retained the leading role.
R. Le Tourneau, Fès avant le protectorat (1949); G. Vajda, Un recueil de textes historiques judéo-marocains (1951); Hirschberg, Afrikah, index; A. Chouraqui, Between East and West (1968), index; D. Corcos, Les Juifs de Maroc et leur Mellahs (1970), passim; idem, in: JQR, 54 (1963/64), 271–87; 55 (1964/65), 53–81, 137–50; idem, in: Sefunot, 10 (1965), 43–111; Bentov, ibid., 413–82. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Elboim, Ha-Edah ha-Yehudit be-Fez (1972) H. Bentov, "Umanim u-Ba'alei Melakhah be-Fez," in: Sefunot, 10 (1965), 413–82; idem, "Kehal ha-Toshavim be-Fez min ha-Me'ah ha-Tet-Zain …," in: Mi-Mizraḥ u-mi-Ma'arav, 5 (1986), 79–108; S. Bar-Asher, Ha-Kehillah ha-Yehudit be-Maroco (1981); idem, Yehudei Sefarad u-Portugal be-Maroco (1492–1753) (1991); A. Mamman, "Fez, Ereẓ Ẓemiḥato shel Meḥkar ha-Lashon ha-Ivrit ba-Magreb," in: Brit, 3 (1988), 14–16; D. Ovadya, Fez va-Ḥakhameha, 1–2 (1979); M. Amar, "Takannot Fez ve-Takkanot Mo'eẓet ha-Rabbanim be-Maroco," in: Sefer ha-Takannot, ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri be-Kehillot Maroco (1980), 9–55; D. Bensimon-Donath, L'évolution de la femme israëilite à fes (1962); L. Brunot and E. Malka, Textes judéo-arabes de Fes; (1939); idem, Glossaire judéo-arabes de Fes (1940); J. Gerber, Jewish Society in Fez 1450–1700 (1980); E. Bashan, "Yehudei Fez 1873–1900 al pi Te'udot Ḥadashot," in: Asufot, 15 (1993), 1–168; J. Tedgui, Ha-Sefer ve-ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Fez (1994).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.