SAFI, formerly Asfi, Atlantic seaport, provincial capital, and province, Tansift region, western *Morocco. It was originally settled by the Canaanites and absorbed such groups as the Carthaginians, who named the city Asfi, Romans, Jews who arrived from Palestine, Goths, and, after 640 C.E., the invading Arab Muslims. The Portuguese conquered and occupied Safi at the beginning of the 16th century and held on to it until 1541, building a citadel around it. Since then Safi was dominated by the Sharifian dynasties – the Sa'dis and Alawites. Safi became a prosperous port serving as a link between vital commercial arteries for parts of southern and western Morocco, and as the port for the export goods of important inland cities like *Marrakesh. The city's prosperity reached its zenith in the first half of the 17th century. Nevertheless, this port is still blessed to this day with burgeoning textile and chemical (phosphate-based) industries. It also conducts major fishing and sardine canning activities.
Safi's Jewish community maintained vital trade relations with Majorca and Portugal during the 14th and 15th centuries. Its Jews were entrusted with overseeing business affairs in the trade conduits between Morocco, Portugal, and Guinea. Numerous exiles (megorashim) from the Iberian Peninsula settled there in 1492 and 1497. Even though Portugal expelled its Jews, in Safi and other parts of Morocco, the occupiers – the Portuguese – collaborated with the expellees – the Jewish refugees – in commercial activity.
Under the rule of the Portuguese, the Jews were assured that they would neither be exiled from Safi nor be compelled to accept Christianity. The Portuguese monarchy elevated a number of Jews to prominence, such as interpreters, officials, counselors, and trade negotiators. After the retreat of Portugal and the ascendance of the *Sa'dis (the 1540s), the position of the Jews improved markedly. Moreover, with the penetration of British trade and political influence into Moroccan towns along the Atlantic coast, among them Essaouira (*Mogador) and Safi, beginning in the 17th century, the port of Safi was often leased to Jewish merchants, who gradually cultivated a monopoly of the commercial transactions with Europe and the Americas. Among the noted Jewish families engaged in trade were the *Palaches, Xérès, Corcos, and *Chriqui-Delevante.
On the eve of World War I there were approximately 2,500 Jews in Safi out of no more than 25,000 inhabitants. The community managed to remain large (over 3,600 in 1936 and 4,500 in 1951) throughout the French protectorate era. After Moroccan independence in 1956, its numbers dwindled to 1,434 in 1960 and fewer than 700 in 1968. This was attributed to migration to parts of Europe, Canada, and aliyah to Israel.
D. Corcos, "Safi," in: Sefunot, 10 (1964); H.Z. Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa, 1–2 (1974); M.M. Laskier, The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco 1862–1962 (1983); J.-L. Miège, Le Maroc et l'Europe 1830–1894, 1–4 (1961–63); J.M. Toledano, Ner ha-Ma'arav (1911).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.