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JEWISH HERITAGE

The presence of Jews in Morocco stretches back more than 2,000 years which makes it a trove of Jewish history. Allow us to take you through this journey of discovery to see the treasures left behind.

KING MOHAMMAD THE V AND JEWS

This picture of King Mohammad the V (third from the right), right after his return from exile in Madagascar, visiting with three Grand Rabbis and two prominent members of the Jewish community. The current King’s grandfather, Mohammad V, is loved and remembered in Morocco for being the King who led the country to independence. For the Jews of Morocco, he is also remembered for protecting the Jewish population from deportation during WWII, when the French protectorate would have handed the Jews over to the Germans. The King insisted that the Jews were his citizens and therefore under his protection.

MUSEUM OF MOROCCAN JUDAISM

In Casablanca the Museum of Moroccan Judaism is the only museum of its kind in the Arab-speaking world and one of two museums devoted to Judaism in a Muslim country. The city is home to approximately 3000 Jewish residents, has 30 synagogues, and several Jewish/Hebrew schools. The museum has a permanent display that relates to the history, culture, and artifacts associated with Moroccan Jewry. A variety of different exhibits showcase pieces from around the country. Music and literature are also included. Instead of focusing on differences between the faiths, the museum is a study in what unites the various religions of Morocco.

JEWISH MOFLETAS

Mofletta (Hebrew: מופלטה‎, also Mufleta, Mofleta, Moufleta etc.) is a Maghrebi Jewish pancake traditionally eaten during the Mimouna celebration, the day after Passover.
Mofletta is a thin crêpe made from water, flour and oil. The dough is rolled out thinly and cooked in a greased frying pan until it is yellow-brown in color. It is usually eaten warm, spread with butter, honey, syrup, jam, walnut, pistachios or dried fruits.
The Mimouna holiday, brought to Israel by the Jewish communities of Maghreb, notably Jews in Morocco, is celebrated immediately after Passover. In the evening, a feast of fruit, confectionery and pastries is set out for neighbors and visitors, and mofletta is one of the dishes traditionally served.

DAFINA: MOROCCAN JEWISH SHABBAT MEAL

Dafina or skhina, is a very special kosher dish, born of a religious prohibition: Jews cannot light a fire on Saturdays.
This Saturday begins Friday evening at dusk and also ends at dusk on Saturday evening.
Skhina is a very rich, complete dish, including meat, cereals, greens, carbohydrates, and various vegetables, gently simmered from dusk, so the next day at noon. It has a smoky aftertaste due to prolonged cooking and all the elements, including the meat, melt in your mouth.

JEWISH PILGRIMAGE TO MOROCCO (HILOULA)

The Moroccan Jewish community celebrates a religious event called Hiloula which main purpose is to pray for a good life and the resolution of problems. During the event, members of the Jewish community pray at the tomb of the saint, light candles, and touch the memorial stone. There are thousands of Jews from all over the world visiting Morocco each year. They wish to perform their pilgrimage to the tombs of their saints and pay respect to their ancestors and the land.

Hiloula of Saint Rabbi Nessim Ben Nessim Essaouira

The celebration of Hiloula of Saint Rabbi Nessim Ben Nessim takes place at the village of Ait Bayoud (Essaouira province) each May. It is a time when many Jews from all over the world, as well as members of the local Moroccan Jewish community, gather together.

Mausoleum of Rabbi Amram Ben Diwane Ouazzane

The pilgrimage of Hiloula is celebrated each year in May at the Mausoleum of Rabbi Amram Ben Diwane (Asjen, Ouazzane).

Hiloula Rabbi David Benbaroukh Taroudant

Hundreds of Jews are visiting Taroudant each year to honor the memory of Rabbi David Benbaroukh Cohen Azogh and to reconnect with their origins.

JEWISH SYNAGOGUES IN MOROCCO

TEMPLE BETH-EL IN CASABLANCA
Casablanca is home to the largest Jewish population of Morocco, and the Temple Beth-El is definitely the centerpiece of this Jewish community. With its impressive glass windows, it is one of the city’s most famous historical treasures.
IBN DANNON SYNAGOGUE IN FES
The city of Fes had a large Jewish community back in the 17th century, so it comes as no surprise that the Ibn Dannon synagogue is the city’s most famous Jewish site. With the help from American Express and the World Monuments Fund, the synagogue was refurbished about 20 years ago.

THE SLAT LAZAMA SYNAGOGUE IN MARRAKECH
Follow a narrow street to find the tiny blue-and-white Lazama synagogue in Marrakech. Originally built in the 15th century, this beautiful synagogue boasts a nice riad-style courtyard.
CHAIM PINTO SYNAGOGUE ESSAOUIRA
Although the Jewish community is not active nowadays in Essaouira, the lovely Chaim Pinto Synagogue is still active. It is used when Jewish tour groups and pilgrims are visiting Essaouira.
SYNAGOGUE SLAT LKAHAL MOGADOR ESSAOUIRA
It is believed that the Synagogue Slat Lkahal Mogador was built by Jewish hands. It is here where the Jewish population of the town had both social and religious assemblies. Classes of Talmud were held here and young people visited the synagogue to sing songs written by Rabbi’s poets.
TALMUD TORAH SYNAGOGUE MEKNES
Although it’s no longer a place for learning, the Talmud Torah synagogue in Meknes is a gorgeous small synagogue filled with many hanging lights. It used to serve as a religious school for young boys who visited this place to learn about the Talmud and get some elementary education in Hebrew.

JEWS AND MELLAH

The term “Mellah” is used to describe the area of a city in which Jewish residents live. There is some dispute among academics about the meaning of the word. Some claim that it simply denotes a Jewish area of the city, while others attribute it to the Arabic word “mel’ha” or salt. Historically Jewish residents were tasked with salting the dismembered heads of enemies captured in conflict leading to this possible connection. The first mellah was established in Fez in 1438 to protect Jewish residents from invaders. This walled area was located near the palace to better protect residents and to provide access to the palace. Many Jewish Moroccans served as advisors, ambassadors, and other political positions. Although Jewish residents were protected they did not have the same rights as Muslim citizens. There were restrictions on the trades they could enter and in some cases where they could live.

One interesting way to tell whether the homes were Jewish owned or Muslim owned can be discovered in construction techniques. Muslim-owned homes may have an exterior-facing window while Jewish-owned ones typically had exterior-facing windows with balconies that opened to the street. After Moroccan independence and the emigration of a large percentage of Morocco’s Jewish population, the traditional mellah disintegrated. Some cities retain some remnants of the past such as a cemetery or synagogue but very few Jewish residents remain.

 

Mellah through the years:

  • 1438: The first mellah is established in Fez.
  • 1465: A majority of the Jews of Fez are massacred by Muslim thugs.
  • Mid 16th century: A mellah is established in Marrakech
  • 1682: A mellah is established in Meknes.
  • Early 19th century: Across Morocco, Jews are forced to settle in mellahs, many newly established.
  • Mid 20th century: Large-scale emigrations of Jews from Morocco to Israel; houses and property are abandoned, usually without compensation, and left for the Muslim locals. The mellahs become Muslim neighbourhoods.

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