AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies


SYNOPSIS The old Jewish communities in the Maghreb go back to some time after Nebuchadnezzar s armies destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Following the Muslim conquest of Moroccan territory, commencing in 681C.A, the Jews who were defined as people of the Book, submitted to a contract called the dhimma. Thus, they were according to Islamic law and tradition labelled dhimmis. The fact that they had a dhimma contract implied that they were protected on certain terms on Islamic land. The dhimma set the Jewish and Muslim populations apart from one another by enforcing codes of conduct, dress and other limitations on the Jews. In this study I am concerned with some selected aspects of Jewish life in Morocco from 1780 to the establishment of the French protectorate in 1912. The pre-colonial times constituted the last period of what is perceived to be traditional Jewish life in Morocco. During this period the Jews made up the only non-Muslim community in the country. The main objectives of my thesis have been to investigate to what degree the dhimmi status was applied, and how it affected the life of the indigenous Jews. As this is a vast field, I have concentrated on some areas that had a major impact on people s lives. The Moroccan judicial system for instance, strongly affected all Jews living there. On account of their dhimmi status they did not enjoy the same rights as Muslims, especially in litigations between Muslims and Jews. Jews were not permitted to testify in the shari a court of law, and were therefore not able to defend themselves. To be able to do business and make a living under this unpredictable and unjust judicial system, Jews had to pay for protection by hireing powerful Muslim patrons. In addition, many Jews eagerly tied themselves to European consuls and merchants to come under the jurisdiction of a European country. Concerned European nations made several attempts at helping the Jews out of their dhimmi status, but to no avail. The Jewish communities were not detached from the political, economic and social realities of Morocco. Morocco was a country ruled by the sultan, his henchmen, families, tribes, clans and various changing confederacies who were often involved in internal strife. Law and order of sorts was maintained through a complicated system of alliances and continuously ongoing feuds. I have found that during times of turmoil the situation for the Jews worsened for two main reasons. The dhimma laws were often more vigorously enforced during times of strife, and the sultan often failed to fulfil his obligation to provide protection. Secondly, feuding groups united by turning their anger towards the Jews, who became the scapegoats. To have a common external enemy evidently helped the adversaries to re-establish their feeling of unity.