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The Jewish community of Morocco dates back to the period before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. Under Roman rule, Jews suffered continual harassment. This torment ended temporarily with the fall of the Roman Empire, when the Vandal King Generich permitted Moroccan Jews equal citizenship. They engaged in navigation, maritime commerce, vinegrowing, and agriculture, and flourished for a time. But the era of prosperity soon ended. Under Arab rule during the 10th century, there was an upsurge of Jewish cultural and religious life. Such famous Talmudic scholars as Isaac Alfasi and Moses Maimonides lived in Morocco. The notorious mellahs, or ghettos, whose cramped and twisted streets came to symbolize Moroccan Jewish degradation to second-class citizenship, were originally instituted in the 13th century to protect Jews from Muslim mob attacks. These ghettos have continued into the 20th century.

Jews’ expulsion from Spain in 1492 brought a great influx of Jews to Morocco, where they introduced European traditions of art, culture, and commerce. The Jewish community witnessed another cultural resurgence in the 16th century, when Morocco became the home of many noted Jewish scholars. But Jews remained second-class citizens, always subject to Moslem violence. War with France and Spain in the 19th century further inflamed Moslem fanaticism, and the mellahs became the scene of brutal, unprovoked attacks. With French and Danish occupation of Morocco in 1912, conditions took a turn for the better. The worst abuses ended, corporal punishment was abolished, the observance of the Sabbath was recognized, and compulsory military service was ended.

General Arab antagonism to the State of Israel created a rising feeling of insecurity among Moroccan Jews. There was a large-scale shift of the Jewish population from villages and small towns to the larger cities which offered greater protection. In addition, since 1948, almost 300,000 Jews have emigrated to Israel.

In 1956, France and Spain relinquished their protectorate, and Morocco achieved its independence. In 2007, there were about 5,000 Jews in the country. Casablanca has the largest Jewish community of any Moslem city. Other important centers were Tangier, Meknes, Fez, and Tetuan. A number of welfare, religious, and educational institutions operate in Morocco, aided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

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