Jewish Emigration from Morocco

Party Held by Zionist Movement Activists,
Tetuan, Spanish Morocco 1950
ANU Museum of the Jewish People Photo Archive, courtesy of Avraham Zarfati, Netania

Why did almost the entire Jewish community leave Morocco between 1950 and 1970, given that Jews have lived in Morocco for over 2,000 years? In 1950, there were 250,000 – 300,000 Jews. In 1971, there were 35,000. Today, there are less than 2,500. What forces were so powerful that they could cause a people to give up its homeland and much of its culture within such a short period of time?

The 35 million Moroccan Muslims maintain contradictory views of Moroccan Jews. While many of them believe Jews are essential for Morocco’s progress, they strongly oppose Jewish solidarity with Israel. Many Muslims make pilgrimages to the tombs of Jewish saints. While almost all Muslims have good relations with Jews and treat them warmly, among themselves they share insults about the Jews. Intermarriage is extremely rare. Some of these feelings are expressed in the unsolicited letter I received about my website on the Jews of Morocco:

“Dear Mr. Gold,  It was with a great pleasure and delight that I read through your website. Your effort shed some light about a part of the Moroccan history that is not well known for the public. I believe that the massive Jewish migration outside Morocco, no matter what the reason is, was a major loss to the country. I hope that something would be done to keep those ties that the Moroccan Jews have towards their country of origin. Keep on the good work, good luck in your future investigations, and all the best.   Regards, A Moroccan”

The Jewish views of Muslims are almost the mirror image of the Muslim views of Jews. To Jews, Muslims are good neighbors and can be good business partners. Jews welcome Muslims to their homes for the holiday of Mimuna, a Moroccan Jewish holiday at the end of Passover. Nevertheless, among themselves, they share insults about the Muslims. Some of these insults are exactly the same as those Muslims proclaim about Jews. The feelings of many Jews were expressed by Rabbi Benaroche of Kenitra, when he was interviewed for a magazine article:

“He sees no racism in Morocco. His parents and grandparents always told him that Jews and Muslims lived in peace in Morocco. Between the peoples, they said there was fraternity, friendship, and love. The Rabbi believes this.”  (Younes Benkirane, “Rabby Benarroch – Nous sommes tous les enfants d’Abraham,” Kalima, 1988)

Given that 95 percent of the Jewish community left Morocco for good over a thirty-year period, it appears that neither Jews nor Muslims are telling the full truth about their relationships. To understand the exodus of Moroccan Jews, we need to understand the interests of Jewish, Arab and Amazigh (Berber) Moroccans; French and Spanish colonial powers; Zionist groups; and Jewish religious groups and Jewish secularists. As one analyst put it:

“You cannot compare Moroccan Jewish history with European Jewish history. You must put it into its Moroccan context. Optimistic portrayals don’t explain the emigration, while pessimistic ones don’t explain the thousands of Jews who remain. The fact that emigration took place over a thirty year period shows that neither explanation is correct.” (Simon Levy, “La Communaute Juive Dans L’Histoire du Maroc”, in Juifs du Maroc, Identite et Dialogue, Actes du Colloque International sur la Communaute Juive Marocaine: Vie Culturelle, Histoire Sociale et Evolution, 1980.)

One of the first Alliance Israelite schools in Fez: first half of 20th Century.  
ANU Museum of the Jewish People Photo Archive, Tel Aviv.  

Courtesy of Mr. Boushira, Morocco.