From The Beginning To The Arab Conquest

The Roman City of Volubilis – Arch of Caracella

The beginnings of the Jewish community in Morocco are the subject of many legends. Some say that Jews arrived after the destruction of the First Temple of Solomon. Others have reported that Jews came overland from Yemen to found a kingdom in Morocco’s desert oases. It is generally agreed, however, that Jews arrived with Phoenician traders hundreds of years before the Christian era. The two peoples lived together in some of the coastal settlements that are today known as Tangier, Rabat and Essaouira.

Jews were clearly part of the Roman cities that developed in the first century. Many of them moved into Morocco by migrating westward along the Mediterranean coast from the large Jewish center in Carthage (Tunisia). Traces of Jewish life can be found in Volubilis, the large excavated city near Meknes. Volubilis was the most Western settlement of the Roman Empire.

Other Jews moved inland from Cyrenaica (Libya), converted Amazigh tribes, and established settlements in the foothills, mountains and desert oases of Algeria and Morocco. Some of these Jews did not recognize the authority of the Talmud, as evidenced by the writings of religious leaders in Sijilmassa, near today’s desert oasis town of Rissani.

By the seventh century, the Byzantine Roman hold on Morocco was extremely weak. Amazigh tribes resisted the invading Arab armies. A Jewish woman, the Kahena (the Priestess), is reputed to have led the Amazigh resistance in Algeria and Morocco and slowed down the Arabs’ westward movement through burning crops and evacuating villages. By the year 732, the Arabs had established an empire extending to Morocco and Spain.

Volubilis Oil Lamp in Form of Menorah
By Sambasoccer27 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,