Moroccan Jewish Religious Beliefs

Religious beliefs and practices are an important, if not the most important, aspect of Moroccan Jewish culture. They provide the basis for Moroccan Jewish identity, even if few Moroccan Jews have been scholars of Jewish writings or abided by all aspect of Jewish law and traditions. Living in a Muslim-majority country among Arabs and Berbers who maintained a strong belief in supernatural spirits and mystical approaches to Islam had a strong influence on the religious beliefs and practices of Moroccan Jews.

Jewish Religious Beliefs

A Page from the Talmud

While there is a diversity of Jewish beliefs throughout the world, some beliefs are common among almost all Jewish movements and practitioners. They include: 1) a belief in one God; 2) a respect for the Jewish holy books – the Torah (the first five books of the Jewish Bible), the other Bible books, and the Talmud (rabbinical interpretations of the Torah); 3) an appreciation for rabbinic efforts to encode the Talmud into Jewish law; 4) recognition of the role of rabbis in using these sources to guide Jewish practice and help resolve problems of everyday life.

Sephardic Jewish Religious Beliefs

Shulchan Aruch, the Sephardi Religious Code

Moroccan Jews practice Sephardic laws and customs of Judaism, which is one of two forms of Orthodox Judaism based on the following beliefs: 1) the Torah is the written word of God; 2) the Talmud is the oral Torah dictated by God to Moses and preserved by Israelite religious leaders; 3) the interpretation of religious law codified by Joseph Karo in his 16th century book “Shulchan Aruch” is correct. Ashkenazi laws and practices, which constitute the other form of Orthodox Judaism, are based on the same beliefs, but follow Moses Isserle’s 16th century interpretation of the Shulchan Aruch. Today, we associate Sephardic Jewish orthodoxy with the exiles from 15th-16th century Spain and Portugal, while we link Ashkenazi Jewish orthodoxy to Jews from other parts of Europe.

Moroccan Jewish Religious Beliefs

Jews have inhabited Morocco for about 2,500 years, likely before the Jewish Bible was canonized. Successive waves of Jewish immigrants brought with them the Torah, the Bible, and the Talmud. Between the 10th and 12th century CE, some Jews in Morocco called Karaites questioned the divine origin of the Talmud and accepted only the Bible. Most Moroccan Jews accepted the legitimacy of the Talmud, however.

The Zohar

Before the arrival of Jewish exiles from Spain (megorashim), many inidigenous Moroccan Jews (toshavim) embraced mystical interpretations of the Torah, collectively called the Kabbalah. The Jewish exiles brought with them the most authoritative kabbalistic writing, the Zohar, which was assembled in Spain in the 13th century. Since then, the Zohar and its kabbalistic approach to Judaism, has been a key part of Moroccan Jewish thought and practice. Many Moroccan rabbis who are now considered saints were kabbalistic scholars.

Sephardic Judaism in Morocco differs slightly from the way it is practiced in other parts of the world. When the Jewish exiles arrived, they attempted to impose their laws and traditions on the indigenous Jews. Over the centuries, most indigenous practices disappeared, but some still remain officially, such as acceptance of bigamy under certain circumstances.