History of the Jews in Algeria

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The History of the Jews in Algeria refers to the history of the Jewish community of Algeria, which dates to the 1st century CE. In the 14th century, many Spanish Jews moved to Algeria; among them were respected Jewish scholars, including Isaac ben Sheshet (Ribash) and Simeon ben Zemah Duran (Rashbatz).[1]

Following Algerian independence in 1962, almost all of Algeria's Jews emigrated. Those who remained resided mostly in Algiers, while some settled in Blida, Constantine, and Oran. In the 1990s, the trials of Algerian Civil War led to the emigration of most of the remaining Jews. Two decisive events were the rebel Armed Islamic Group's 1994 declaration of war on all non-Muslims in the country, and the abandonment of the Algiers synagogue that year.


A Jew of Algiers, late 19th century

There is evidence of a Jewish presence in Algeria since at least the late Roman period.[2] The presence of Jews there since the first centuries of the common era is attested by epitaphs. Early descriptions of the Rustamid capital, Tahert, note that Jews were found there, as they would be in any other major Muslim city. Centuries later, the Geniza Letters (found in Cairo) mention many Algerian Jewish families.

In the seventh century, an addition to the Jewish population was made by Jewish immigrants fleeing from the persecutions of the Visigothic king Sisebut[3] and his successors escaped to the Maghreb and settled in the Byzantine Empire. Whether they influenced the Berber population, making converts among them, is an open question. The same century, Islamic armies conquered the whole Maghreb and Iberian peninsula. The Jewish population is placed under the Muslim domination.

Later Jewish settlers forced from Spain by the persecutions of Catalonia, Valencia and Balearic Islands in 1391 and the Spanish Inquisition in 1492[4] took refuge in Algeria. Together with the Moriscos, they thronged to the ports of North Africa, mingled with native Jewish people and formed large communities in places such as Oran, Mostaganem, Bejaïa and Algiers while penetrating into the cities of the interior such as Tlemcen and Constantine with the permission of the Muslim authorities. Some Jews in Oran preserved Ladino language—and which was a uniquely conservative dialect of Spanish—until the 19th century.

Jewish merchants did very well financially in late Ottoman Algiers; the French attack on Algeria was provoked by the Dey's demands that the French government pay its large outstanding wheat debts to two Jewish merchants. In between the 16th and 17th century Jews from Livorno in Italy started settling in Algeria. They were highly involved in commercial trading and exchanges between Europe and the Ottoman Empire, reinforcing the Jewish community. Later again in the 19th century, many Sephardic Jews from Tetouan settled in Algeria.

In 1830, the Algerian Jewish population was between 15 and 17,000. 6,500 Jews lived in Algiers where they made up 20% of the population, 2,000 in Oran, 3,000 in Constantine and 1,000 in Tlemcen.[5] After their conquest, the French government rapidly restructured the Ottoman millet system. While Muslims resisted the French occupation, some Algerian Jews aided in the conquest, serving as interpreters or suppliers.[6] At the time, the French government distinguished French citizens (who had national voting rights and were subject to French laws and conscription) from Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people, who each kept their own laws and courts. By 1841, the Jewish rabbinical courts (beth din), which the French Jews deemed corrupt,[dubious ] were placed under French jurisdiction—the Consistoire Central of Paris. Regional Algerian courts--consistoires—were put in place, operating under French oversight.[6] In 1845, the communal structure was thoroughly reorganized, and French Jews were appointed as chief rabbis for each region, with the duty "to inculcate unconditional obedience to the laws, loyalty to France, and the obligation to defend it".[7] Such oversight was an example of the French Jews' attempt to "civilize" Jewish Algerians. This marked a change in the Jewish "relationship with the state," as they were separated from the Muslim court system, where they had previously been dhimmis, or protected people. As a result, French Jews attempting to settle in Algeria were met with some resistance, ranging from rioting to refusal to allow French Jewish burials in Algerian Jews' cemeteries.[6] In 1865, liberal conditions were laid down in the Senatus-Consulte so that Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people could become French citizens if they requested it. Few did so, however, since French citizenship required renouncing certain traditional mores, and thus was perceived as a kind of apostasy.

The French government granted the Jews French citizenship in 1870 under the décrets Crémieux. For this reason, they are sometimes incorrectly categorized as pieds-noirs. This decision was due largely to pressures from prominent members of the liberal, intellectual French Jewish community, which considered the North African Jews to be "backward" and wanted to forcefully bring them into modernity. Thus the French Jews advocated for a more European mindset for their Algerian counterparts. Within a generation, most Algerian Jews came to speak French rather than Arabic or Ladino despite initial resistance, and they embraced many aspects of French culture. In embracing "Frenchness," the Algerian Jews joined the side of the colonizers, although they remained "other". Although some took on more typically European occupations, for example, "the majority of Jews were poor artisans and shopkeepers catering to a Muslim clientele."[6] Moreover, conflicts between Jewish religious law and French law produced contention at first, particularly surrounding domestic issues, such as marriage. http://cjs.ucsc.edu/events/joshua-schreier/

The Holocaust in Algeria, Under the pro-Nazi Vichy regime[edit]


Great Synagogue of Oran, confiscated and turned into a mosque

In 1931, whereas Jews made up less than 2% of Algeria's population, the largest cities of Algeria—Algiers, Constantine and Oran—had Jewish populations of over 7%, as did many smaller cities such as Blida, Tlemcen and Setif.

Following the Revolution and Algerian independence, all but 6,500 of the country's 140,000 Jews left the country. Some 130,000 took advantage of their French citizenship and moved to France along with the pied-noirs. Moroccan Jews who were living in Algeria and Jews from the M'zab Valley in the Algerian Sahara who did not have French citizenship as well as a very small number of Algerian Jews from Constantine emigrated to Israel.[8] Since 1948, about 28,000 Algerian Jews have immigrated to Israel.[9]

The Jews who remained after the Revolution lived mainly in Algiers, with some families in Blida, Constantine, and Oran.

Traditional dress[edit]

Jewish women in Algeria, 1851

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia,[10]

A contemporary [in 1906] Jewess of Algiers wears on her head a "takrita" (handkerchief), is dressed in a "bedenor" (gown with a bodice trimmed with lace) and a striped vest with long sleeves coming to the waist. The "mosse" (girdle) is of silk. The native Algerian Jew wears a "ṭarbush" or oblong turban with silken tassel, a "ṣadriyyah" or vest with large sleeves, and "sarwal" or pantaloons fastened by a "ḥizam" (girdle), all being covered by a mantle, a burnus, and a large silk handkerchief, the tassels of which hang down to his feet. At an earlier stage the Algerian Jewess wore a tall cone-shaped hat resembling those used in England in the fifteenth century.

Notable Algerian Jews[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Jews of Algeria, Jewish Virtual Library". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. 2000-09-05. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  2. ^ Karen B. Stern, Inscribing devotion and death: archaeological evidence for Jewish populations of North Africa, Bril, 2008, p.88
  3. ^ "Algeria". JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  4. ^ http://www.sephardicstudies.org/decree.html |title=The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews - 1492 Spain |publisher=Sephardicstudies.org |date= |accessdate=2012-06-10
  5. ^ http://books.google.fr/books?id=A9UUAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA166&lpg=PA166&dq=juifs+de+constantine+en+1830&source=bl&ots=CvE7CN6QTs&sig=GsJ1q4_MVS9BvkSsIom0bXonGkA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=twrgUYLVGMOU0AWBioDoAQ&ved=0CFQQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=juifs%20de%20constantine%20en%201830&f=false
  6. ^ a b c d Friedman, Elizabeth. Colonialism & After. South Hadley, Massachusetts: Bergen, 1988. Print.
  7. ^ Stillman, Norman. "The Nineteenth Century and the Impact of the West / Social Transformations". The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times. The Jewish Publication Society. Archived from the original on August 28, 2006. Retrieved January 5, 2012. 
  8. ^ http://books.google.ca/books?id=qV67-V0kiREC&printsec=frontcover&dq=North+African+Jews+Algeria&hl=en&sa=X&ei=k82yUte4C-iOyAGJ-ICADg&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=North%20African%20Jews%20Algeria&f=false
  9. ^ Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries - Jewish Virtual Library]
  10. ^ "Costume". JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 

External links[edit]