History of the Jews in Algeria: Wikis


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The Great Synagogue of Oran was confiscated and turned into a mosque after the ethnic cleansing of all Jews from Algeria.

Jews and Judaism have a rather long history in Algeria, but the country's Jewish population was severely depleted by emigration during the political tensions of the late twentieth century.

Following Algerian independence in 1962, most of Algeria's 140,000 Jews, having been granted French citizenship in 1870, left with the pied-noirs for France. The 10,000 or so who remained largely resided in Algiers, and to a lesser extent Blida, Constantine, and Oran. In the 1990s, the trials of civil war led most of the thousand-odd remaining Jews to emigrate. A decisive event was the rebel Armed Islamic Group's 1994 declaration of war on all non-Muslims in the country, and the Algiers synagogue was abandoned that year.



A Jew of Algiers, late 19th century.

Jews have been present in Algeria at least since late Roman times, probably since the destruction of the First Temple nearly 2600 years ago in 586 BCE; the early Arab chroniclers says that there were some Judaicized Berber tribes before Islam's arrival, notably that of Queen Kahina. Early descriptions of the Rustamid capital Tahert note that Jews were to be found there, as in any other major Muslim city, and some centuries later the Geniza Letters (found in Cairo) mention many Algerian Jewish families.

However, the country's Jewish community was substantially increased following the Reconquista, when the Spanish Inquisition expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492[1]. Together with the Moriscos, they thronged to the ports of North Africa, forming large communities in places such as Oran and Algiers. Some Jews in Oran preserved their Ladino language – 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 initially "provoked" by the Dey's demands that the French government pay its large outstanding wheat debts to two Jewish merchants, Bacri and Busnach.

After the conquest in 1830, the French government rapidly restructured the Ottoman millet system. At the time, the French government distinguished French citizens (who had national voting rights, were subject to French laws, and, for the males, had to go to military service) from Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people, who each kept their own laws and courts. By 1841, the Jewish courts (beth din) had been abolished, and all cases involving Jews were instead heard by French courts. 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."[2] In 1865, liberal conditions were laid down so that Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people could become French citizens if they requested it. This facility was, however, not much used — since it meant renouncing certain traditional mores and thus was perceived as a kind of apostasy.

In 1870, the French government granted the Jews French citizenship, under the décrets Crémieux of 1870 . (For this reason, they are sometimes lumped together with the pieds-noirs.) This decision was due largely to pressures from prominent members of the French Jewish community, which considered the North African Jews to be "backward" and wanted to forcefully bring them into modernity. Within a generation, most Algerian Jews had come to speak French rather than Arabic or Ladino, and embraced many aspects of French culture. After WW2, and the subsequent struggle for independence, the great majority of Algeria's 140,000 Jews left the country for France together with the pied-noirs.


Under the Vichy regime

Departures of Jews from Algeria

The Algerian Nationality Code of newly independent Algeria, promulgated in 1963, granted citizenship only to Muslims, requiring that only those individuals whose fathers and paternal grandfathers had Muslim personal status could become citizens of the new state. All Jewish and Christian residents were driven into exile, even though the Jewish community was considered indigenous to Algeria, as it had been in Algeria longer even before Islam and could trace its presence to Roman times, around 2600 years ago starting in the year 586 BCE. [1]

Geographical distribution

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 Ghardaia and Setif; one smaller town, Messad, had a Jewish majority. The Jews who remained after the Revolution lived mainly in Algiers, with some families in Blida, Constantine, and Oran.


According to the Jewish Encyclopaedia ("Costume"):

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 Jews of Algerian origin

Most of those listed below left Algeria for France at the time of Algeria's independence, and are French citizens.

See also


  1. ^ Algerian Nationality Code, Law no. 63-69 of Mar. 27, 1963, section 34

External links


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