Occupations and Professions of Moroccan Jews

Occupations and Professions Prior to the Twentieth Century

Moroccan Jewish Blacksmith

The occupations and professions available to Moroccan Jews have been dependent upon changing economic opportunities and the political environment. While they helped them earn income, they also helped them forge Moroccan Jewish culture. The Jews of Morocco were respected for their skill in handicrafts, embroidery and metalwork, as well as their ability to market their products and imported goods. Over the centuries, a few Jews with family contacts in European ports were favored by the Sultan (the former title of the King) and given a monopoly over the import and export trade. Taxes from these activities as well as loans from the Jewish merchants often sustained the monarchy. However, until the twentieth century, many Jewish families lived close to poverty. Others were unemployed and depended upon the few rich Jews for charity.

Jews who lived among the Amazigh people in the South and mountain areas gained their living from the trans-Saharan caravan trade until ocean transport of goods became more profitable in the 18th century. The Sultan’s control of these areas was not always strong, leading to insecure conditions. Many Jewish men traveled among Amazigh villages as peddlers. Amazigh leaders protected them from harm. As the economic base of the regions deteriorated, many Jews migrated to the towns and cities, particularly Marrakesh, Agadir and Essaouira.

Moroccan Jewish Goldworkers in Casablanca

Until the twentieth century, the livelihood of Jewish men in the cities focused on handicrafts and commerce. Many were small entrepreneurs, running their own production sites and shops. Most Jewish women remained in their homes, embroidering and sewing clothes and producing other domestic products for their own use and sale.

Jewish Traders in Mazagan (El Jadida)

Cultural restrictions made it difficult for Jews to become farmers. However, many Jews purchased agricultural products wholesale and sold them in the cities and towns.

Occupations and Professions in the Twentieth Century Before Independence

The creation of schools by the French-sponsored Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU) in the late 19th and early to mid-20th century raised the educational levels of many Jews, particularly those in the cities. Since there were no similar efforts to educate Arabs and Amazigh, Jews became more educated than Muslims. European traders and consular representatives relied upon a few well-educated Jews to represent them in their dealings with the monarchy, government and Muslim and Jewish traders.

Jewish Knife Grinders (1933)

The declaration of the French and Spanish protectorates in 1912 and the establishment of the Tangier International Zone in 1923 opened up many opportunities for educated Jews, especially before large numbers of Europeans moved to Morocco. Many Jews moved into the newly built European cities, where they opened stores and restaurants and provided services such as tailoring, hair-cutting and shoe-making. Some invested in factories that refined agricultural products. A few who attended French schools had the skills to enter professions, such as lawyers, teachers, and doctors. First Jewish men and then Jewish women found employment with governmental bodies. As more Europeans moved to Morocco, they competed with Jews for some of these economic opportunities.

During World War II in August 1941, the Vichy Government of France enacted laws that discriminated against Moroccan Jews. It set quotas on the number of Jewish doctors and lawyers, ejected students from French schools and forced many Jews living in the European quarters to move to the mellahs (Jewish quarters). After American soldiers took control of Morocco in November 1942, the US ended these restrictions in early 1943.

After the Free French took control of Morocco, Moroccan nationalists became more powerful and put pressure on the French protectorate authorities to give the country its independence, creating an insecure atmosphere. This coincided with efforts by Zionist recruiters to encourage Moroccan Jews to emigrate to the new state of Israel. As a result, beginning in the late 1940s, Jews living in villages and towns moved to Morocco’s cities. Increasing numbers of Jews, particularly those with agricultural trade and handicraft skills, emigrated to Israel.

Occupations and Professions in the Early Years after Independence

Jewish Merchant in Sefrou

Fewer Jews emigrated for five years after Morocco gained its independence in 1956, a period when immigration to Israel was made illegal. According to an analysis of Census data, approximately 94,000 Jews left Morocco between 1950 and 1960. Those Jews who remained in Morocco tended to work in occupations and professions that provided more income than those who departed for Israel. They filled the employment gaps created by the departure of many Europeans, as most Moroccan Muslims, particularly Muslim women, lacked the education and business experience of their Jewish neighbors.

The 1960 Census was the last to provide data on Moroccan Jews. It provides important insights to their occupations and professions before the next wave of emigration to Israel, France, Canada, the United States and South America began. Of all Moroccans in the labor force, only 1% was Jewish. Nationwide, taking into account all ages, 44.5% of Jewish men and 14.4% of women were in the labor force. Between 20 and 64 years of age, the percent of Jewish men in the labor force ranged from 83% to 97%.  For women, it reached 47.5% between ages 20-24 and dropped to the single digits by ages 55-59. Of all women in the labor force, the percentage of Jewish women was about double the percentage of Muslim women. All but 3% of Jews in the labor force were employed. Jews in the rural areas made up only 4% of the Jewish labor force.

Most men worked in handicrafts and retail sales. Most women worked in handicraft, industry and offices or provided services. Almost half of Jewish men and 82% of Jewish women worked on salary. Many Jewish men working in sales were independent workers or employers. Of those women working on salary, 25% worked in the private sector, mostly as handicraft, services and office workers. Of those salaried women working in the public sector, more than half were office employees, while over a third were officer workers, nurses or teachers.

Occupations and Professions in 2020

Albert Devico, owner of the company Aicha,
which makes preserved agricultural products, such as jellies, tomato sauce and oil,
was President of the Jewish Community of Meknes until he died in 2020,
from Morocco Jewish Times, November 24, 2020

In 2020, forty years after most Moroccan Jews emigrated, the Jewish population of about 2,500 is concentrated in Casablanca and has a larger percentage of middle to upper income workers and entrepreneurs than it did in 1960. Many Jews are professionals such as doctors and lawyers, others own shops and restaurants, and a few are industry executives. A larger percentage of Jewish women work outside of the home than in 1960. However, a smaller percentage of Jews work for government, since the educational levels of Moroccan Muslims have improved significantly and the opportunities for government employment have diminished.