Two Thou­sand Years of Jew­ish Life in Morocco

Haim Zafrani

  • Review
By – July 9, 2012

Through­out his long and pro­lif­ic career, Pro­fes­sor Haim Zafrani has large­ly pub­lished in French, depriv­ing the Eng­lish read­er of his vast schol­ar­ship on the lan­guages, thought, lit­er­a­ture, and cul­ture of the Jews of Moroc­co. He begins this Eng­lish- lan­guage com­pendi­um on Moroc­can Jew­ish life and cul­ture by recount­ing sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly the mytho­log­i­cal ori­gins of Moroc­can Jew­ry — name­ly, that Jews first came to Moroc­co with King David’s gen­er­al in pur­suit of the Philistines and that lat­er, local Berber tribes con­vert­ed to Judaism. Mov­ing to a dis­cus­sion of the para­me­ters of Jew­ish life as dhim­mis or non-Mus­lim peo­ple of the book,” who in exchange for their sub­or­di­na­tion to Mus­lim dom­i­na­tion are pro­tect­ed, Zafrani focus­es most of the book on the pre-mod­ern peri­od, illus­trat­ing how Moroc­can Jew­ry amal­ga­mat­ed Sephar­di and indige­nous cul­tures to cre­ate a unique Jew­ish soci­ety. The book pro­vides impor­tant cov­er­age of rab­binic thought and intel­lec­tu­al life, Moroc­can life-cycle cus­toms and tra­di­tions, edu­ca­tion for boys and girls, and a dis­cus­sion of com­mu­nal struc­ture and lead­er­ship. Inclu­sion of such top­ics as the ety­mol­o­gy of names depict­ing occu­pa­tions, ori­gin and loca­tion, along with illus­tra­tive trav­el accounts and sam­ples of Judeo-Mus­lim poet­ry adds fas­ci­nat­ing nuances to this snap­shot of a soci­ety that no longer exists, its descen­dants found only part­ly today in Casablan­ca but also in France, Israel and Canada. 

Ree­va Spec­tor Simon is Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. She is co-edi­tor and con­trib­u­tor to The Jews of the Mid­dle East and North Africa in Mod­ern Times (Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003).

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