In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jewish Morocco

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Databases, Digital Collections, and Online Sources

Jewish Studies Jewish Morocco
Oren Kosansky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0243


Jewish existence in Northwest Africa extends back to antiquity, but the idea of Moroccan Jews and Jewry is a modern phenomenon that crystallized with the ascendancy of European empire and the nation-state as a dominant political form. Exactly when Jews first arrived is subject to debate, with the earliest material evidence dating to the third century CE Roman settlement. Islamic expansion in the region created new conditions for Jewish political and legal existence, rabbinic culture, Arabic linguistic expression, and regional mobility. The Christian reconquest of Spain contributed to the influx of Sephardic Jews into Moroccan North Africa, which subsequently remained independent from Ottoman control. Beginning in the fifteenth century, Jewish urban quarters known as mellahs manifested the dialectics of autonomy and subordination that pertained to Jews, who as “people of the book” (ahl al-kitab) were protected as dhimmi within shifting parameters set by Islamic polities. Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, Jews in territorial Morocco continued to maintain economic, political, migratory, and rabbinic connections with their coreligionists in Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire. In the modern period, Jews were agents and objects of European hegemony that culminated with the French and Spanish occupation of a partitioned Morocco from 1912 until 1956. In contrast with the Algerian case, Moroccan Jews were never granted French citizenship as a group. It was during this period that a national Moroccan Jewish community was constituted as a cohesive category of representation, diplomatic intervention, and bureaucratic administration. The contradictions of emancipatory liberalism, which fostered hopes of social equality and political citizenship, and colonial domination under European rule were experienced fully by Moroccan Jews, who negotiated fraught affiliations with French modernity, Zionist projects, and anticolonial Moroccan nationalism. The successive waves of 20th-century emigration that attenuated the Jewish population reflected broader patterns of postcolonial movement. International Jewish philanthropy, French colonial schooling, Arab nationalism, Zionist organizing, and regional diplomacy channeled the specific motivations, opportunities, and destinations of Jewish emigrants as part of a broader Moroccan diaspora. The largest waves of migration, directed primarily to Israel, occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. Other significant destinations in the decades that followed included points in Francophone Europe and North America. Alongside the small remaining Jewish population in Morocco, the Moroccan Jewish diaspora has emerged as a critical site for the ongoing construction of Moroccan Jewish identity in its intersecting religious, ethnic, and political forms.

General Overviews

The majority of research on Jewish Morocco has been conducted in the fields of history and anthropology, with significant contributions also coming from folklore, linguistics, sociology, comparative literature, and political science. Jewish-Muslim relations are a major theme in the scholarship. The most recent, comprehensive treatment of Moroccan Jewish history and historiography is Gottreich 2020. Zafrani 2005 is a survey that offers the only English language translation in the author’s prodigious French corpus on Moroccan Jewish history and culture. Levy 2001 covers a long career of work on a variety of linguistic, historical, and sociological topics. Shorter surveys can be found in Schroeter 2000; Laskier and Bashan 2003; and Schroeter, et al. 2010. Important edited collections pertaining exclusively or predominantly to Jewish Morocco include Juifs du Maroc 1980; Boum, et al. 2016; and Chetrit, et al. 2021. Goldenberg 1992 offers an eclectic, illustrated compilation of scholarly and personal essays on a variety of thematically arranged topics.

  • Boum, Aomar, Jessica M. Marglin, Khalid Ben-Srhir, and Mohammed Kenbib, eds. Special Issue: Jews of Morocco and the Maghreb: History and Historiography. Hespéris-Tamuda 51.2–3 (2016).

    This important collection of essays orients readers to major questions, sources, and themes in the field of North African Jewish studies, with an emphasis on Morocco. Sections on memory and gender highlight current concerns that receive much attention in the field. The second volume includes book reviews of recent monographs on Jews in North Africa, including Morocco, and its diaspora.

  • Chetrit, Joseph, Jane S. Gerber, and Drora Arussy, eds. Jews and Muslims in Morocco: Their Intersecting Worlds. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2021.

    A wide-ranging collection of essays from established and emerging scholars in the field. Offers an introduction to new developments in the study of Moroccan Jewish political, cultural, religious, and expressive life.

  • Goldenberg, André, ed. Les Juifs du Maroc: Images et Textes. Paris: Editions du Scribe, 1992.

    A richly illustrated volume of short essays, memoirs, and stories. The volume functions as a condensed encyclopedia of historical periods, places, traditions, languages, and practices of Moroccan Jews past and present.

  • Gottreich, Emily Benichou. Jewish Morocco: A History from Pre-Islamic to Postcolonial Times. London: I.B. Taurus, 2020.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781838603601

    Both a survey of Moroccan Jewish history and an analysis of major themes in Moroccan historiography more broadly. Invites readers to reconsider any simple understanding of the relationship between Muslim majorities and religious minorities in the region

  • Juifs du Maroc: identité et dialogue: Actes du Colloque international sur la communauté juive marocaine, vie culturelle, histoire sociale et évolution (Paris, 18–21 décembre 1978). Grenoble: La Pensée Sauvage, 1980.

    An important intervention in the emergence of postcolonial scholarship that emphasized the social, cultural, and political imbrication of Jews in Moroccan history. Includes reflections on major contemporaneous trends in the scholarship emanating from France and Israel.

  • Laskier, Michael, and Eliezer Bashan. “Morocco.” In The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times. Edited by Reeva S. Simon, Michael M. Laskier, and Sara Reguer, 471–504. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

    A concise survey of Moroccan Jewish history. Treatment of the colonial and postcolonial periods falls within the parameters of modernization theory.

  • Levy, Simon. Essais d’histoire et de civilisation judéo-marocaine. Rabat, Morocco: Centre Tarik Ibn Zyad, 2001.

    A collection of essays spanning the career of a Moroccan Jewish linguist, historian, and public intellectual. Alongside more technical linguistic analyses, the volume offers critical reflections on many conventional assumptions within the field.

  • Schroeter, Daniel J. “Jewish Communities of Morocco: History and Identity.” In Morocco: Jews and Art in a Muslim Land. Edited by Vivian Mann, 25–54. New York: Merrell, 2000.

    A synoptic essay that situates Moroccan Jewish history in Muslim, Sephardic, Mediterranean, and other global contexts.

  • Schroeter, Daniel, Yaron Tsur, and Mohammed Hatimi. “Morocco.” In Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Edited by Norman A. Stillman, 2010.

    Excellent starting point for understanding the broad sweep of Moroccan Jewish history. The short bibliography points readers to other important publications.

  • Zafrani, Haïm. Two Thousand Years of Jewish Life in Morocco. New York: Sephardic House, 2005.

    Survey of Moroccan Jewish history, culture, and society written by the groundbreaking scholar of Jewish Morocco. Introduces readers to the author’s dual attention to internal Jewish developments and the broader Muslim environment. Provides a useful entrée in the author’s extensive French language corpus. Translation of Deux mille ans de vie juive au Maroc (1998).

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