In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section North Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Modern Period
  • Reference Sources
  • Religion and Culture
  • Literature and Art
  • Family, Women, and Youth
  • Linguistics
  • Names
  • Press
  • Periodicals
  • Emigration to Israel
  • Libya

Jewish Studies North Africa
Rachel Simon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 December 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0078


Jewish communities have existed in North Africa (comprising Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) since Antiquity. This article focuses on the period since the introduction of Islam to the region in 7th century. The indigenous Jews were later joined mainly by those exiled from the Iberian Peninsula, mostly since the late 15th century. Jews lived mainly in the urban centers, often in their own neighborhoods, but they also lived in the rural countryside, performing important roles in the economic life as craftsmen, peddlers, and merchants (even in international trade), and at times fulfilling political and diplomatic roles. The condition of the Jews was influenced by their status under Islam as “Protected People,” as well as by specific political, social, and economic conditions. External political developments in the modern era also had an impact on the Jews of North Africa, starting with the colonial ambitions of France, Britain, and Italy in the region since the early 19th century, followed by the region’s states gaining independence, mostly in the 1950s to early 1960s, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

General Overviews

Most of the scholarly study of North Africa as a region does not cover all five North African countries and is often limited to the Maghreb (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco). Hirschberg 1974–1981 is still the most comprehensive work chronologically and deals with the Maghreb and Libya. Stillman 1979 provides a concise survey that deals with the whole region (7th to early 19th centuries) and provides important sources. Goitein 1967–1993 is based on the Cairo Geniza documents and provides important information based on the contacts of Cairean Jews with North African Jews. Slouschz 1944 is both a historical study and travel report from the early 20th century. Chouraqui 1998 focuses on the late Muslim and colonial periods, Bashan 1996 examines social and economic issues, Gottreich and Schroeter 2011 examines Jewish culture and society as such (and in relation to external impact) and Deshen and Zenner 1996 deals with Jewish-Muslim relations.

  • Bashan, Eliezer. Sefer mi-Mizraḥ Shemesh ‘ad Mevo’o: Peraḳim be-Toldot Yehude ha-Mizraḥ ṿeha-Magreb: Ḥevrah ṿe-Khalkalah: Mimizrah Shemes àd Mevo’o: Studies in the History of the Jews in the Orient and North Africa. Lod, Israel: Orot Yahadut ha-Magreb, 1996.

    An examination of social and economic issues related to the Jews of North Africa. Among the topics discussed are the attitude toward Palestine, attempts to reach social justice, relations between communities, the status of women (including their economic activities), economic life, Jews in the diplomatic service in Morocco, and relations between Jews and Muslims.

  • Chouraqui, André. Histoire des Juifs en Afrique du Nord. Monaco, France: Editions du Rocher, 1998.

    A survey of North African Jews and their communal life, focusing on the Muslim and colonial eras. Much attention is given to cultural issues; population trends; the intellectual, social, economic, political impact of the West; and the impact of nationalism on the mass Jewish emigration following the establishment of the state of Israel and the Maghrebi struggle for independence.

  • Deshen, Shlomo, and Walter P. Zenner, eds. Jews among Muslims: Communities in the Precolonial Middle East. London: Macmillan, 1996.

    Collection of articles on Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, with specific articles on Morocco, Tunisia, and Tripolitania. Among the topics dealt with are the transition from traditional to modern times, communal life, social structure, relations with Muslim neighbors and colonial authorities, religious life with special reference to women, folk songs, and education.

  • Goitein, Shlomo Dov. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967–1993.

    A pioneering work based on Cairo Geniza documents examining the medieval Mediterranean society. The study deals with the Jewish communities and the surrounding gentile societies. Among the main issues examined are economic life, communal organization, education, interfaith relations, daily life, family life, the home, and the individual. A volume of cumulative indexes covering text and notes is included.

  • Gottreich, Emily, and Daniel J. Schroeter, eds. Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.

    From the proceedings of a conference held in 2004 in Tangiers, with participants from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Israel, and the United States. The conference covered Jewish culture and society in North Africa (mainly Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) and the impact of the Muslim society and the French. Among the topics examined are education, literature, economic and social life, saint veneration, emigration, and women.

  • Hirschberg, Haïm Zeev. A History of the Jews in North Africa. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1974–1981.

    Hirschberg’s study is the widest examination geographically and chronologically on Maghrebi Jews: it covers the region from Morocco to Libya and from Antiquity to the 1950s, discussing developments in communal organization, economic and spiritual life, and the implications of political changes on the Jews. For the period from the 16th century on, the countries are treated separately.

  • Slouschz, Nahum. The Jews of North Africa. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1944.

    A description of Slouschz’s travels in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco (1906–1914) in which he visited major urban centers and smaller hinterland communities and benefited from the information provided by indigenous Jewish scholars. The book examines the history of the communities, their organization, social, economic, and cultural life and customs.

  • Stillman, Norman A. The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1979.

    A comprehensive examination and documentation of Jewish life in Arab lands from the rise of Islam in the 7th century until the beginning of modernization in the 19th century. The survey and the sources (which are all annotated and published in English) follow the same chronological order. Extensive bibliography and an index are included.

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