ORAN (Ar. Waharan), seaport on the Mediterranean coast, the second largest city in *Algeria and a key trading and industrial center. Oran as a city (and an administrative unit or region since the 1870s known as a department), is located in western Algeria and is contiguous to the border with *Morocco at a point where Algeria is closest to the Spanish coast. Oran was founded in the 10th century by Andalusian merchants and incorporated into the Kingdom of Tlemcen, serving as its main seaport since the 15th century.
Jews began settling the area mainly in 1391, when they arrived there as refugees from Spain (first wave of expulsion). This population swelled in 1492 and 1502, when Oran afforded refuge to Jewish and Muslim expellees from Spain in the wake of the fall of Granada. As was the case with other parts of the Maghreb in the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, where Spanish and Portuguese influences became supreme, the Spaniards conquered Oran in 1509. Initially the Spanish forces were inclined to expel the Jews from the city, but refrained from doing so in the final analysis. For the next 300 years or more Spain and its colonists remained in control of Oran. Although Jews had been forced to leave Spain (after 1492), the Spanish authorities in Oran learned to tolerate local Jewry and some of the latter engaged in influential trade activity, until the 1760s
In 1669 or 1670, however, the Spanish Queen Maria of Austria expelled the overwhelming majority of the Jews of Oran and its environs. The expellees resettled in Nice, then under the suzerainty of the Dukes of Savoy; from there they made their way to Italian Livorno and reinforced the thriving community that existed there. Jews did return to Oran at the beginning of the 18th century, when the Muslims, led by the Bey of Mascara, captured the city from the Spaniards. But the Spaniards regained control of the area in the 1730s, although this time there was no indication that Jews were barred from Oran. Spanish rule lingered into the last decade of the 18th century and abandoned it in the wake of a devastating earthquake of the early 1790s. Authority passed once again to Muslim hands. This "restoration" period proved advantageous to the Jews. The Muslim authorities now invited Jews from nearby Mostaganem, Mascara, and Nedrona to settle in Oran. The arrival from Morocco of additional Jews only strengthened the Jewish community, transforming it into the second largest Algerian community after Algiers. Many among the Jews plunged into trade activity between the port of Oran and British-controlled Gibraltar, Malaga, and Almeria, as well as Italy and France.
The Jewish community was presided over by a mukkadem, or *nagid, an administrative head. His functions were diversified by local leaders (*parnassim or tovei ha-ir). All disputes among Jews, including marriages and divorce, were decided by the dayyanim (religious judges), the noted exception being criminal matters or disputes between Muslims and Jews, which were referred to the Muslim Shari'a courts run by the qadis. By then the Ottoman Empire was well entrenched in Algeria, in charge of parts of *Algiers and Oran.
Ottoman Turkish rule collapsed in 1830 following the French conquest of Algeria. The French administration gradually removed the Jews from the jurisdiction of both the Muslim and Jewish courts, in the latter case including matters relating to personal status. This applied to Oran. The community of Oran, like those in the regions of Algiers and *Constantine, was administered from the 1840s by a consistoire, a new communal administrative apparatus modeled on the French-Jewish community leadership bodies. The consistoire, which encouraged Jews to modernize, orient themselves to new professions such as agriculture, and send their children to French-type schools, was led by a president and a dozen lay and rabbinic leaders elected by local notables.
From the French occupation of 1830 until France achieved stability over its domination of Algeria (the 1870s), the Jewish community of Oran thrived and its synagogues mushroomed throughout the region. In addition to talmudei torah religious schools, French schools emerged in the community as early as the late 1840s, while in subsequent years Jewish youths frequented French public schools. This was all the more so once France granted Algerian Jewry French citizenship collectively in the spirit of the Crémieux Decree of October 24, 1870. Jews could now serve in the French army and participate in local municipal elections as well as elections to choose local representatives among the European settlers to the French parliament. The Muslims shunned French privileges of naturalization fearing it would run counter to their religious obligations and personal status matters ingrained in the Shari'a. It was then that the local Jewish press in the French language had its inception, though Oran's Jews still continued to disseminate publications in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic as well.
During the latter half of the 19th century, Oran's Jewry consisted of a heterogeneous population that included indigenous Jews who originated from Mascara, Mostaganem, and Tlemcen. They were reinforced by immigrants from Algiers and Moroccan Jews – émigrés from the mountainous Rif area in northern Morocco, and other northern and western Moroccan regions such as *Tetuan, Figuig, Tafilalet, Oujda, and Debdou. Oran's Jews spoke a variety of jargons, among them Moroccan Judeo-Arabic (a mélange of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic expressions), Algerian Judeo-Arabic, and Tetuani Judeo-Spanish known as Hakitia – resembling somewhat the Ladino of Sephardi Jews in *Turkey, the Balkans, and *Egypt. Increasingly, however, French became the dominant language among Oran's Jews after World War I.
Until modernization crept in after World War I, Jews engaged in the traditional occupations of crafts and worked as tailors, goldsmiths, carpenters, and shoemakers. By the 1950s numerous Jews had entered the liberal professions. Others established themselves as large-scale merchants and exporters of cereals and cattle to Spanish Malaga and Algeciras, British-controlled Gibraltar, and France.
The Dreyfus Affair and later manifestations of an antisemitic nature in metropolitan France affected the Jews of Oran and the rest of French Algeria. These led to riots and assaults on Jews and their properties. The emergence of the Vichy regime in France (1940) meant that pro-German French influences extended to that country's colonial possessions. Algerian Jews, including those of Oran, were subjected to discriminatory racial laws, stringent quotas in government employment, expulsion of their students and teachers from the public schools, and the temporary abrogation of the Crémieux Decree, leaving the Jews without citizenship status. After the liberation of Algeria by Allied Forces in November 1942, the Crémieux Decree was reestablished. Then, in November 1954, the Algerian war of Muslims against lingering French colonial rule placed the Jews of Oran, Algiers, and Constantine between the hammer and the anvil. They were placed in the awkward position of having to choose between support for the Muslims or for the French. They chose neutrality, even though it was quite evident to the Muslim rebels that deep in their hearts the Jews remained loyal to France and to its colonial policies. From spring 1956 until France granted Algeria national independence in July 1962, the situation of the Jews deteriorated and they were frequent victims of violence. In 1962, of the nearly 30,000 Jews in Oran (out of some 140,000 Algerian Jews), the great majority emigrated to France with only several thousand at the very most making aliyah. In 1963, a year after Algeria's independence, only 850 Jews dwelt in the region of Oran. The Great Synagogue, the most impressive symbol of the Oran community, was transformed into a mosque in the mid-1970s. By 2005, there were apparently no Jews left there.
R. Ayoun, "Problématique des conflits internes de la communauté juive: Simon Kanoui, président du Consistoire Israélite d'Oran," in: Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, 9, B3 (1986), 75–82; J.I. Israel, "The Jews of Spanish Oran and Their Expulsion in 1669," in: Mediterranean Historical Review, 9:2 (1994), 235–55; M.M. Laskier, North African Jewry in the Twentieth Century: The Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria (1994); Museum of the Jewish People: Bet ha-Tefutsoth: The Database of Jewish Communities: The Jewish Community of Oran, Algeria; G. Nahon, "Le Consistoire Israélite d'Ooran et le décret du 16 septembre 1867: documents et correspondances," in: Michael, 5 (1978), 98–129; J.-F. Schaub, Les Juifs du Roi d'Espagne (1999); S. Schwarzfuchs, Les Juifs d'Algérie et la France 1830–1855 (1981).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.