History of the Jews in Algeria

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 15th century, many Spanish Jews emigrated to Algeria following expulsion from Spain and Portugal; 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, having been granted French citizenship in 1870, left with the pied-noirs. The vast majority moved to France, and the rest moved to Israel. 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. A decisive event was the rebel Armed Islamic Group's 1994 declaration of war on all non-Muslims in the country. That year, the Algerian Jews abandoned their last synagogue, the Great Synagogue of Algiers.

Today, most Jews in France are of North African origin, and consequently, most of the recent immigration from France to Israel consists of Jews of North African origin.[2]


Early Jewish history in Algeria

A Jew of Algiers, late 19th century

There is evidence of Jewish settlements in Algeria since at least the Roman period.[3] Epitaphs have been found in archecological excavations that attest to Jews in the first centuries of the common era. Berber lands were said to welcome Christians and Jews very early from the Roman Empire, contributing by conversion and migration. Jewish settlement in North Africa and the Mediterranean was reinforced by the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem by Titus in 70, and thereafter by the Kitos wars in 117 AD. Early descriptions of the Rustamid capital, Tahert, note that Jews were found there, as they would be in any other major Muslim city of North Africa. Centuries later, the Geniza Letters (found in Cairo) mention many Algerian Jewish families.

Muslim dominance era

In the seventh century, Jewish settlements in North Africa were reinforced by Jewish immigrants came to North Africa after fleeing from the persecutions of the Visigothic king Sisebut[4] and his successors. They escaped to the Maghreb and settled in the Byzantine Empire. Whether they influenced the Berber population, making converts among them, is an open question. In that century, Islamic armies conquered the whole Maghreb and Iberian peninsula. The Jewish population was placed under the Muslim domination, along with other minorities. North Africa passed under Muslim dominant side and Berber populations of constant cultural exchanges with Al Andalus and the Near East.

Later many Sephardic Jews forced from Spain by the persecutions of Catalonia, Valencia and Balearic Islands in 1391 and the Spanish Inquisition in 1492[5] took refuge in Algeria. Together with the Moriscos, they thronged to the ports of North Africa, mingled with native Jewish people. In the 16th century there large Jewish communities in places such as Oran, Bejaïa and Algiers. Jews were also present in the cities of the interior such as Tlemcen and Constantine and as far as Touggourt and M'zab in the south, with the permission of the Muslim authorities. Some Jews in Oran preserved Ladino language—which was a uniquely conservative dialect of Spanish—until the 19th century.

Jewish merchants did 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. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, richer Jews from Livorno in Italy started settling in Algeria. Less numerous but they became 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 especially Oran contributing to a new community.

French Algeria

In 1830, the Algerian Jewish population was between 15,000 and 17,000, most congregated in the coastal area. Some 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.[6] 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.[7]

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" peoples, who each were allowed to keep their own laws and courts. By 1841, the Jewish rabbinical courts (beth din), were placed under French jurisdiction, linked to the Consistoire Central of Paris. Regional Algerian courts--consistoires—were put in place, operating under French oversight.[7]

In 1845, the French colonial government reorganized communal structure, appointing French Jews (who were of the Ashkenazi tradition) 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".[8] Such oversight was an example of the French Jews' attempt to "civilize" Jewish Algerians, as they believed their European traditions were superior to Sephardic practices.

This marked a change in the Jewish "relationship with the state." They were separated from the Muslim court system, where they had previously been classified as dhimmis, or protected minority people. As a result, Algerian Jews resisted those French Jews attempting to settle in Algeria; in some cases, there was rioting, in others the local Jews refused to allow French Jewish burials in Algerian Jews' cemeteries.[7] In 1865, the Senatus-Consulte liberalized rules of citizenship, to allow Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" peoples in Algeria to become French citizens if they requested it. Few did so, however, because French citizenship required renouncing certain traditional mores. The Algerians considered that a kind of apostasy.[7]

The French government granted the Jews, who by then numbered some 33,000,[9] French citizenship in 1870 under the décret Crémieux, while maintaining an inferior status for Muslims who, though technically French nationals, were required to apply for French nationality and undergo a naturalization process.[10] For this reason, they are sometimes incorrectly categorized as pieds-noirs. The decision to extend citizenship to Algerian Jews was a result of pressures from prominent members of the liberal, intellectual French Jewish community, which considered the North African Jews to be "backward" and wanted to bring them into modernity.

Within a generation, despite initial resistance, most Algerian Jews came to speak French rather than Arabic or Ladino, and they embraced many aspects of French culture. In embracing "Frenchness," the Algerian Jews joined the colonizers, although they were still considered "other" to the French. Although some took on more typically European occupations, "the majority of Jews were poor artisans and shopkeepers catering to a Muslim clientele."[7] Moreover, conflicts between Sephardic Jewish religious law and French law produced contention within the community. They resisted changes related to domestic issues, such as marriage.[11]

French anti-Semitism set down strong roots among the expatriate French community in Algeria, where every municipal council was controlled by anti-Semites, and newspapers were rife with xenophobic attacks on the local Jewish communities.[12] In Algiers when Émile Zola was brought to trial for his defense, in his book, J'accuse of Alfred Dreyfus in 1898. Over 158 Jewish owned shops were looted and burned and two Jews were killed, while the army stood by and refused to intervene.[13]

Under French rule, some Muslim anti-Jewish riots still occurred, as in 1897 in Oran.[14]

Great Synagogue of Oran, turned into a Mosque

In 1931, whereas Jews made up less than 2% of Algeria's total population, they were more represented in the largest cities: Algiers, Constantine and Oran, which each had Jewish populations of over 7%, as did many smaller cities such as Blida, Tlemcen and Setif. By the mid-thirties, François de La Rocque's extremist Croix-de-Feu and, later, French Social Party movements in Algeria proved active in trying to turn Muslims against Algerian Jews by publishing tracts in Arabic, and were responsible for inciting the former in the 1934 Constantine pogrom, in which from 25-34 Jews were killed and some 200 stores were pillaged.[12][15]

Holocaust in Algeria, under the Vichy regime

One of the first moves of the pro-German Vichy regime was to revoke the effects of the Crémieux Decree, thereby abolishing French citizenship for Algerian Jews, and affected some 110,000 Algerians. Under Admiral Darlan and General Giraud the antisemitic legislation was applied more severely in Algeria than France itself, under the pretext that it enabled greatly equality between Muslims and Jews and considered racial laws a condition sine qua non of the armistice. Giraud himself in promulgating the cancellation of Vichy statutes on March 14, 1943, retained exceptionally the decree abolishing citizenship rights for Algerian Jews, in so far as he attributed France's defeat to the Jews.[10] His decision was overruled, on appeal, by the CFLN in October of that year.

After WW2

In the Algerian War, most Algerian Jews took sides with France, out of loyalty to the Republic which had emancipated them, against the indigenous Independence movement, though they rejected that part of the official policy which proposed independence for Algeria. Some Jews did join the FLN fighting for independence, but a larger group made common cause with the OAS, secret paramilitary group.[16]

The FNL published declarations guaranteeing a place in Algeria for Jews as an integral constituent of the Algerian people,[17] hoping to attract their support. Algerian Muslims had assisted Jews during their trials under the Vichy régime in WW2, when their citizenship rights under the Crémieux Degree had been revoked.[16][17] Memories of the 1934 pogrom, and incidents of violent Muslim assault on Jews in Constantine and Batna, together with arson attacks on the Batna and Orleanville synagogues, play a role in decisions to turn down the offer.

In 1961, the Moazbite Jews, who had been excluded from the Cremieux Decree, were also given French citizenship.[18]

Following a 1961 referendum, in the 1962 Évian Accords secured Algerian independence. Some Algerian Jews had joined the Organisation de l'armée secrète, which aimed to disrupt the process of independence with bombings and assassination attempts, with targets including de Gaulle and Jean-Paul Sartre.[19] Although final appeals were made in Algeria to the Jews to remain, between 100-120,000 Algeria Jews chose to leave the country,[20] most not exercising the option of the Law of Return[21] abandoning their property to join in an emigration outflux of roughly 1,000,000 people. A small minority of Jews, some 7,000, elected to emigrate to Israel.[16] Earlier, however, from 1948 onwards, some 28,000 Algerian Jews had opted to immigrate to Israel.[22][23]

Independent Algeria

After Algeria gained its independence, according to its 1963 Nationality Code, it authorized citizenship only to Muslims. It extended citizenship only to those individuals whose fathers and paternal grandfathers were personally Muslim.[24] Ninety-five percent of the country's 140,000-strong indigenous Jewish population went into exile after the passage of the law, with only 6,500 remaining in Algeria.

Some 130,000 took advantage of their French citizenship and moved to France along with the pied-noirs, settlers of European ancestry. 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 small number of Algerian Jews from Constantine, emigrated to Israel at that time.[25]

After Houari Boumediene came to power in 1965, Jews were persecuted in Algeria, facing social and political discrimination and heavy taxes. In 1967-68 the government seized all but one of the country's synagogues and converted them to mosques. By 1969, fewer than 1,000 Jews were still living in Algeria.[26] Only 50 Jews remained in Algeria in the 1990s.[26]

Traditional dress

Jewish women in Algeria, 1851

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia,[27]

A contemporary [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 [also spelled burnoose], 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

See also


  1. "Jews of Algeria, Jewish Virtual Library". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. 2000-09-05. Retrieved 2012-06-10.
  2. http://www.terredisrael.com/ISRAEL_ALYA1.php
  3. Karen B. Stern, Inscribing devotion and death: archaeological evidence for Jewish populations of North Africa, Bril, 2008, p.88
  4. "Algeria". JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2012-06-10.
  5. http://www.sephardicstudies.org/decree.html |title=The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews - 1492 Spain |publisher=Sephardicstudies.org |date= |accessdate=2012-06-10
  6. https://books.google.com/books?id=A9UUAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA166
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Friedman, Elizabeth. Colonialism & After. South Hadley, Massachusetts: Bergen, 1988. Print.
  8. 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.
  9. Paula Hyman, The Jews of Modern France, University of California Press, 1998 p.83.
  10. 1 2 Patrick Weil, How to Be French: Nationality in the Making since 1789, Duke University Press 2008 p.253.
  11. , University of California Santa Cruz
  12. 1 2 Samuel Kalman,The Extreme Right in Interwar France: The Faisceau and the Croix de Feu, Ashgate Publishing 2008 pp.210ff.
  13. Hyman p.105.
  14. Algeria, 1830-2000: A Short History. Cornell University Press. 2004. pp. 10–. ISBN 0-8014-8916-4.
  15. Sharon Vance (10 May 2011). The Martyrdom of a Moroccan Jewish Saint. BRILL. p. 182. ISBN 90-04-20700-7. Muslim anti Jewish riots in Constantine in 1934 when 34 Jews were killed
  16. 1 2 3 Pierre Birnbaumn, 'French Jews and the "Regeneration" of Algerian Jewry,' in Ezra Mendelsohn (ed.)Studies in Contemporary Jewry: Volume XIX: Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilege, Studies in Contemporary Jewry, Vol. XIX Oxford University Press/Hebrew Institute of Jerusalem 2004 pp.88-103 p.97:'A larger group... took up arms towards the end of the war, with the opposing French terror group, the Organisation Armée Secréte (OAS), even though this group contained members of some of the most antisemitic and reactionary of French Algerian circles.'
  17. 1 2 Naomi Davidson, Only Muslim: Embodying Islam in Twentieth-Century France, Cornell University Press 2012 p.136:'It is because the FLN considers Algerian Jews as sons of our country that we hope the leaders of the Jewish community will have the wisdom to contribute to the construction of a free and truly fraternal Algeria. The FLN is convinced that leaders will understand that it is the duty and of course in the interest of the entire Jewish community not to remain "above the fray", to condemn without fail the dying French colonial regime, and to proclaim their choice of Algerian nationality.'
  18. Sung-Eun Choi (19 November 2015). Decolonization and the French of Algeria: Bringing the Settler Colony Home. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 84–. ISBN 978-1-137-57289-9.
  19. Sung-Eun Choi (19 November 2015). Decolonization and the French of Algeria: Bringing the Settler Colony Home. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-137-57289-9. Jewish participation in the OAS has been widely acknowledged by historians, though just how many actually joined the organization and why, remain difficult to know exactly
  20. Martin Evans,Algeria:FRance's Undeclared War, Oxford University Press, 2012 p.324.
  21. Jacques Amar, 'The Law of Return;: A National Solution to an International Issue, 1945-1967,' in Françoise S. Ouzan, Manfred Gerstenfeld (eds.),Postwar Jewish Displacement and Rebirth: 1945-1967, BRILL, 2014 pp.34.45 p.40.
  22. Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries - Jewish Virtual Library]
  23. http://www.cbs.gov.il/publications12/1483_immigration/pdf/tab05.pdf
  24. Algerian Nationality Code, Law no. 63-69 of Mar. 27, 1963, section 34
  25. 1 2 "Algeria", Jewish Virtual Library
  26. "Costume". JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2012-06-10.

External links

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