Security of the Jewish Community

Moroccan Guards at Ben Ahmed Hiloula

Since the first Jews arrived in Morocco about 2,500 years ago, almost all Amazigh and Arab tribal, regional, national and royal leaders have had a special interest in assuring the security of the Jewish community. When Jews were used as scapegoats for complaints against government abuse, the authorities took strong steps to protect them from attack. By guaranteeing the safety of the Jews, Moroccan leaders believed they were contributing to the stability of their regimes.

After the arrival of Islam in the eighth century, Moroccan Muslim leaders viewed Jews as a protected people, dhimmi, as laid out in the Quran and Islamic traditions. In return for paying taxes and swearing allegiance to Muslim rulers, Jews were given the authority under Muslim law to manage their own affairs. Almost all Moroccan Muslim leaders took seriously their responsibility to protect the Jews.

Sultans of the Almohad Dynasty (1147-1248) were the major exception to the tradition of protecting the Jews. They did not accept the dhimmi contract with the Jews, deported many of them, closed down synagogues and forced some Jews to convert to Islam.

Moroccan sultans rarely exercised complete control of all of the country’s geographic area. In areas outside of the sultan’s control, Amazigh tribal leaders provided protection to Jews living among them, some of whom were Amazigh whose ancestors converted to Judaism. In these tribes, Amazigh families provided protection to Jewish families. These protection pacts allowed Jewish merchants to travel safely between Amazigh communities.