OFRAN (Ifrane), the provincial capital of the Centre Sud region, north central Morocco, is situated in the Middle Atlas Mountains. It is Morocco's winter and summer premier resort area. According to Judeo-African tradition Ofran is regarded as the first site of Jewish settlement in Morocco. Many legends have been created about the ancient community of Ofran, whose first members are said to have arrived from Ereẓ Israel before the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. A Jewish kingdom was set up there which was governed by the Afriat family – then named Efrati. The Jews of this kingdom are said to have belonged to the tribe of Ephraim – one of the lost Ten Tribes of Israel. Indeed, in the modern era the Afriat family administered the affairs of the community of Ofran and of all the communities of the region.
The Jewish cemetery of Ofran is very old, and there are many tombstone inscriptions dating from the Middle Ages. Local tradition ascribes some of them to the first century B.C.E. Pilgrimages were made from every part of Morocco to this cemetery, which contains the remains of revered rabbis and martyrs.
According to local traditions there was a terrible persecution following the destruction of the community by the Byzantine Christians (sic). Other persecutions have been historically proven, the last of which took place in 1792 when the pretender Bou-Hallais, who sought to be proclaimed sultan, arrived in Ofran. He seized 50 Jewish notables and gave them the alternative of converting to Islam or death by fire. Under the guidance of their leader, Judah Afriat, they jumped one after the other into the huge furnace which had been lit for the occasion. Judah Afriat remained to the end in order to encourage those who faltered. The remains of these martyrs, known as the Nisrafim ("Burnt Ones"), were piously gathered and interred in the cemetery of Ofran. The account of their martyrdom was copied on parchment and circulated throughout the country. A popular etymology explains the name Ofran as a combination of efer ("the ashes of ") and the letter nun (= 50). Their descendants were greatly esteemed and to the present day they commemorate the anniversary of the event (the 17th of Tishri) by refraining from lighting fires in their homes.
The community of Ofran was prominent and wealthy and a large part of the trans-Sahara trade passed through its hands. After 1792 its members dispersed. They played an important role in the community of *Mogador, especially the members of the Afriat family, and during the 19th century they established a commercial house in London. For more than 50 years the Afriat house was the most important family in Anglo-Moroccan trade. The community of Ofran was reorganized in the 19th century by a few Jewish families of the region (58 families in 1820, 34 in 1883, 122 persons in 1936, and 141 persons in 1951). The community never regained its former prosperity but its members nevertheless lived in security until 1955, when they all immigrated to Israel.
J.M. Toledano, Ner ha-Ma'arav (1911), 3–5, 95, 219; J. Ben-Naim, Malkhei Rabbanan (1931), S.V. Judah Afriati; V. Monteil, in: Hesperis, 35 (1948), 151–62; A.I. Laredo, Berberes y Hebreos en Marruecos (1954), 126–44.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.