By: W. Marçais
Country on the coast of North Africa, now a French colony, but formerly belonging successively to Carthage, Rome, the Saracens, and the Ottoman Turks. The claim is put forth by several Jewish Algerian communities that they were established in North Africa at the time of the destruction of the Temple. Though this is unwarranted, the presence of Jews there since the first centuries of the common era is attested by epitaphs ("C. I. L." viii. 8423, 8499; "Bulletin Archéologique du Comité des Travaux Historiques," No. i. xiii. 64), from which two inferences may be drawn: first, that since the Jews mentioned bear Latin names, most of them came from Italy; secondly, that since the proportion of Jewish inscriptions to the great mass of Latin-Algerian inscriptions is very small, the number of Jews was not large. Under the fairly tolerant Vandals the Jews probably multiplied; for Justinian in his edict of persecution respecting North Africa, proclaimed by him after the overthrow of the Vandal empire, mentions them in the same category as Arians and heathens ("Novellæ," xxxvii.).
In the seventh century an important addition to the Jewish population was made by Spanish immigrants, who, fleeing from the persecutions of the Visigothic king Sisebut and his successors, escaped to Mauritania, and settled in the Byzantine cities. Whether they mingled with the Berber population, making converts among them, is an open question, to which, however, Arabic historians give an affirmative answer. Ibn-Kaldûn categorically maintains that several Berber tribes professed Judaism: the Nafusah in IfriḲiyyah (Tunis and a department of Constantine), the Faudalawah, the Fazaz, the Madiunah, the Bahlulah, and the Ghayyathah in the Maghreb al-AḲsa (in the west of the department of Oran and Morocco). The powerful tribes of the Jarua and of the Aurès, whose queen, the Kahina Diḥya, for a long time kept the Arabian generals in check, also practised the Jewish religion. Ibn-Kaldun adds that the existence of Judaism among the Berbers lasted until the reign of the founder of the Idriside dynasty. This prince devoted himself energetically to stamping out all traces of Judaism from his empire; but certain present usages among the tribes of the Aurès, such as house-cleaning at Passover time and Sabbath observance, must be considered as survivals of that religion. Moreover, some contend that certain portions of the tribe of the Henansha (south Constantine), leading in all particulars the pastoral life of the Arabs, still observe the religion of Moses.Arabic Domination.
Under Arabic domination the situation of the Algerian Jews was what that of "the People of the Book" (Ahl-al-Kitab) has always been in Moslem empires. Though they were compelled to pay the poll-tax (jizyah), the regime was relatively tolerant, and they maintained the free exercise of their religion. At the same time they were always exposed to the caprice of a prince or to an outburst of popular fanaticism. On several occasions under Idriside emirs they suffered persecution, but under the Aghlabites they experienced real tranquillity, and even a fair amount of favor. Two Jewish physicians, both named IsḥaḲ ben Amram, appear to have attained a certain standing at the court of Ziyadat-Allah I. and of Ziyadat-Allah III., and to have been the confidants and counselors of those princes. The Almoravide dynasty seems to have left the Jewish communities of the Maghreb in peace; but the fanatical Almohades, who overthrew it (1146), followed a totally different policy toward the Jews. The first Almohade, 'Abd al-Mu'min, made them the object of frequent persecutions. In pursuance of a fanciful belief, of which it is impossible to find the least foundation in Moslem tradition, he pretended that Mohammed had permitted the Jews the free exercise of their religion for only five hundred years, and that if, at the expiration of that time, the Messiah had not appeared, they must be forced into Islam by fair means or foul. His successors pursued the same course, and their severe measures produced either emigration to the east or forced conversions. Becoming suspicious of the sincerity of the new converts, the Almohades, in order to distinguish them from Moslems of longer standing, obliged them to wear a special garb. Under the various dynasties, which after the fall of the Almohades divided the Maghreb among themselves, the Ḥafsides of Tunis, the Banu Ziyan of Tlemçen, and the Marinides of Fez, the situation of the Jews was somewhat improved. At any rate their situation was far better than that of Jews across the Mediterranean in Christian Spain; and the African coast cities became the natural shelter for refugees from Spanish persecutions.Spanish Immigration.
In 1391, in consequence of that terrible uprising against the Jews which steeped Castile, Aragon, Andalusia, and the Balearic Isles in blood, groups of immigrants landed at Algiers, Oran, Mostaganem, and Bougie, penetrated into the cities of the interior, and settled there with the permission of the Moslem authorities. They had to pay a capitation fee of a doubloon for admission into the land. On the whole, they were well received by the Jewish communities already there, but for some time they formed separate groups.
The ancient Algerian Jews were known as "wearers of turbans," the newcomers as "wearers of birettas." Greatly superior to the African Jew in culture and in intellectual and commercial activity, the Spanish Jew soon gained the upper hand, and from the first years of the fifteenth century rabbis who emigrated from Spain are found at the head of nearly all Jewish communities in Algeria: at Algiers, Isaac ben Sheshet Barfat, known by the abbreviation "Ribash," and Simon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran I., similarly called "Raṣhbaẓ"; at Oran, Amram ben Merovas Ephrati; at Constantine, Joseph ben Menir and Maimun ben Saadia Najar; at Medeah, Saadia Darmon; at Tlemçen, Abraham ben Hakin and Ephraim Ankawa; at Bougie, Benjamin Amer, etc.
Henceforth the number of Jews in Algeria continually augmented, the increase being most marked when a large immigration into Africa took place at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492, 1502) four to five thousand of them repaired to Africa. An old chronicler says: "Those who arrived at Oran were so numerous that the Arabs, on seeing their vessels, thought that enemies were descending upon them and killed a number; but afterward the Moslem prince took pity on them, and, through the intervention of an influential Jew of the country named Dodiham, permitted them to land. He had board cabins erected outside the city for them and the cattle they brought with them." The conclusion may be drawn that these new immigrants found in the Algerian citieswell-constituted Jewish communities, full of vitality, by which they were absorbed, despite their own strength and importance; for, in the first place, the division of the Jews into two groups, African and Spanish, that has existed at Tunis up to our own times, ceased in Algeria after the middle of the Turkish period; and, in the second place, Arabic has remained the current speech of the Algerian Jews, while the contrary is the case at Tetuan and Tangiers, where Spanish is the vernacular of the Jews.
At first Algeria did not offer the Jewish refugees from Spain a very secure asylum. When Cardinal Ximenes took Oran in 1509, he overwhelmed the Jews with his impositions; Peter of Navarre, in his conquest of Bougie (1510), pillaged, massacred, and reduced to slavery a considerable number of Jews.Turkish Domination.
But under Turkish domination, from 1519 onward, during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, the Jews in the towns of the regency of Algiers enjoyed a fair amount of security, being practically guaranteed the free exercise of their religion and the liberty to administer their own affairs. However, they were despised, subjected to annoying treatment, forced to pay heavy taxes, and, if they complained, punished with the utmost rigor. In addition they were exposed to arbitrary acts at the hands of petty local tyrants. The pasha of Tuggurt, Mohammed al-Akhal ben Jallab, wished to convert the Jews to Islam by force, and the deys of Algiers on several occasions handed over the houses of the Jews to the populace for pillage. But it was chiefly in the villages occupied by the Spaniards and exposed to the wars between the regency and the Catholic kings that the Jews suffered from active fanaticism—the fanatical hate inspired by the Inquisition. The Spaniards in possession of Tlemçen in 1563 killed or enslaved fifteen hundred Jews there, and in 1669 Taxardo expelled from Oran the Jewish population, proscribed the free exercise of Judaism, and replaced the synagogue by a church dedicated to San Christo de la Patienza. It is no wonder, then, that the Algerian Jews publicly demonstrated their joy on several occasions when the Turks were victorious over the Spaniards. The following curious fact is worthy of mention: Emperor Charles V. sent a Jew of Oran named Jacob Cansino (1556) to represent him at the court of the emperor of Morocco, and to protect the interests of Spanish subjects in that country; the descendants of this Jacob Cansino, Isaac, Ḥayyim, Aaron, and Jacob, in direct succession from father to son, filled the office of consuls of Spain in Morocco until 1666.
In the eighteenth century certain Jewish communities were reestablished or enlarged under the friendly rule of Turkish deys. Among the chief of these is the present community in Oran. In 1792, after the final evacuation of the city by the Spaniards, the dey Mohammed al-Kabir invited the Jews of Tlemçen, of Mostaganem, of Mascara, and of Nedroma to live there. On condition of the payment of certain taxes, and of building within fixed limits, he conceded to them a piece of land between what is now Chateau-Neuf and Saint-André. At Constantine the dey Salaḥ donated to the Jews of the region some land with indefinite boundaries between the SouḲ al-Aseur and the gate of Elḳantara. They established themselves there, erected buildings, and peopled that part of the city up to the desert.
In the seventeenth century a new Jewish element found its way into the chief cities of the regency, especially at Algiers. These Jews from Leghorn, Italy, called Gorneyim, soon attained great importance as social economic factors. It was their commercial activity that brought them to Algiers, and in the course of the eighteenth century they became the bankers of the deys, intermediaries between them and the European powers, and their respected and influential counselors, almost even their ministers.
The organization of the Jewish Algerian communities developed in the course of time. Definite information concerning the system during the Turkish period is in existence, and a short summary may be given. Placed at the head of the community was a muḲaddam selected by the Arabic or Turkish governor of the city or the region. The muḲaddam was the official representative of the community, and the sole legal intermediary with the Moslem authorities for all administrative and financial affairs. He was assisted by a council (ṭobe ha-'ir), appointed by himself, which, apart from its administration of the general affairs of the community, saw to the levying and collecting of the taxes imposed on the Jews of the country. The rabbinical tribunal possessed two judicial functions. In purely religious matters, it settled ritual questions and, if necessary, inflicted penalties, fines (Ḳenas),excommunications (ḥerem), and flogging (malḲot); in civil matters it exclusively pronounced judgment on questions pertaining to personal relations and succession. The muḲaddam executed the sentences. In civil matters other than those involving personal relations, the rabbinical tribunal was not necessarily the sole authority; the Moslem cadi had the same power if the parties concerned were agreed in bringing their differences to him, or when only one of the litigants was a Jew. The administration of religious matters was entrusted to various officials, hierarchical in character, in the following order: gizbar, gabbai, ḥaber. The first had the care of the synagogue and supervised the expenses attendant on the service. In certain cities the title of gizbar was merely honorary and was purchasable through donations. The gabbai and the ḥaber attended to mortuary ceremonies, and the latter took an important part in marriage celebrations. It was his duty to conduct the bride from her parents' home to the residence of her husband.
The revenues of the community were at first derived from taxation on articles of consumption levied on certain trades (the butcher's trade and the sale of Passover bread). Collections and voluntary gifts supplied the rest. There were generally four large collections a year: at the New-year, for the housing of the poor; on Yom Kippur eve, for food for the poor; at Ḥanukkah, for clothes for the poor; at Purim, for defraying the expense of the Passover.
The Algerian Jews were forced to reside in a restricted quarter, analogous to the Ghetto of medieval Europe, and called by various names: ḥarrah and sharah in the provinces of Algiers and Constantine; and in the province of Oran, mellah, which is still the name that it bears in Morocco. Among the tribes, the Jews lived apart under the authority of the sheik. Their situation was wretched and precarious, and more so under Turkish than Arabic domination. Distinction, of course, must be made between the Leghorn or Frankish Jews and the native. The Turks imposed on the latter the most difficult drudgery without compensation, and subjected them to endless annoyances. They were officially obliged to wear a special costume: a shachiah, a skullcap of dark-colored cloth, a gray burnoose, and shoes without heels (tcharpi or bettim). The women dressed in a caftan, without the veil worn by Moslem women to cover their faces. Entrance into the mosques was absolutely prohibited to Jews, and before certain particularly venerated mosques they were compelled to take off their shoes. They were forbidden to ride upon a horse, an animal set apart for Moslems only, and could use only asses or mules; nor were riding-saddles permitted, merely pack-saddles and panniers. Through their muḲaddam, they had to pay to the Moslem authorities the taxes imposed by Islam on "the People of the Book." In certain cities they were subjected also to the same taxation as the Moslems. At Medeah, the gharama, payable by the entire population, was apportioned equally to the Jewish and Moslem communities, the latter numbering six thousand, the former only six hundred.
Religious antagonism and the scorn of the Moslemsfor all those who denied the mission of Mohammed did not, however, create insuperable barriers between them and their subjects. On the contrary, there are still traces of the intercourse that undeniably existed between the two peoples. Unity of language, daily life side by side, and the economic position rapidly attained by the Jew in the slothful Moslem society, greatly contributed to create common usages and observances. It was not rare that rabbis commanded great respect from Arabs, and at the present day (1901) the Jews of the country zealously claim as sainted rabbis a number of highly venerated walis, Sidi Ya'Ḳub (Jacob) and Sidi Yusif (Joseph) at Tlemçen, Sidi Yousha' (Joshua) ben Nun near Honaïn, etc., all bearing Biblical names, whom the Arabs, in consideration of their high qualities, exalted after their death to the dignity of Moslem Marabouts. The tombs of these illustrious personages have become sanctuaries, the resorts of pilgrims of both races, before which they practise the same observances, sometimes highly fanciful. Moreover, every year an Arab of Algiers, a self-constituted guardian of one of these marabouts of disputed origin, goes to the province of Oran to make collections among the Jewish communities, and is generally very successful. In the same category with these facts is the well-known veneration paid by the Arabs to the synagogue of Bona.
The existence among the Jews of a large number of usages and superstitions is to be attributed wholly to Moslem influence. Such are: the custom among women of mutilating their faces on the death of their kindred; belief in the sorcery of the jinn; and confidence in the efficacy of white fowls placed under the sick-bed, etc. These beliefs are widespread, and ministers of religion have difficulty in combating them.
For four centuries the family of the Duran provided heads of the community at Algiers. In other cities, owing to the emigration of 1391, Spanish rabbis in the course of the fifteenth century obtained the leadership of all the Jewries. At Tlemçen was the well-known Ephraim Ankawa (d. 1422); at Oran and Tlemçen, Abraham Abi Zimra, Isaac Abi Zimra, then Alal ben Sidun (fifteenth century), Joseph Alashkar, and Judah Ḥalaẓ (sixteenth century), and the family of the Gavisson, originally from Seville and Granada, who left Spain after 1492. At Constantine is the tomb of Ben Menir, surnamed "HeḤasid," who arrived there probably after the end of the fourteenth century. His successor was Najar, author of various casuistic and juristic treatises.The French Conquest.
The French conquest freed the mass of Algerian Jews from the Turkish yoke. They welcomed it as a veritable deliverance—which it was—and the very day after the entrance of the French troops at Algiers, they became devoted allies of the civilizing power which made an end of Turkish barbarity in that country. The knowledge of the Arabic language possessed by the Jews made their services, of which they were not sparing, extremely valuable to the French. The roll of honor of the military interpreters contains the names of a number of Algerian Jews, some of whom died on the field. According to highly respected authorities, the brunt of the defense of Oran when besieged by Abd el-Kader in 1833 was borne by the Jews. Therefore it is easy to comprehend that from 1830 to 1870 opinion has been shifting in the direction of the assimilation of the Algerian Jews with the French citizens. Magazine articles, various publications, and the resolutions of the general councils did not cease since 1845 to pronounce such an assimilation to be most profitable for the future of French Algeria. And this desire, frequently expressed, naturally found an echo in the various legislative decisions, which, in the forty years before 1870, pretended to regulate the legal status of the Algerian population. In these decisions the statutes concerning the Israelites were always double in character. In the first place they clearly distinguish between Jew and Moslem among the natives: and in the second place, they more and more approximate the Jewish element to the French. To mention instances: after Aug. 10, 1834, the authority of the rabbinical tribunals was considerably restricted; henceforth they decided only on matters of marriage, divorce, and liturgy; and seven years later they were completely suppressed (ordinance of Feb. 28, 1841), though "prétoires" of the Moslem cadis in the meantime continued to be in operation. The decree of March 15, 1860, which in penal matters subjected the natives of the territories of the commando to martial law, was not applicable to the Jews, who, no matter in what part of Algeria they lived, were tried before the criminal courts of the civil law. The Mosaic law in secular matters had been suppressed by the statute of June 16, 1851, and the suppression was confirmed by the Senatusconsulte of 1865, which in addition, according to article 2, admitted native Jews to all the rights of French citizens on the demand of each individual. In 1866 they were granted a special representation in the municipal councils of Algeria. Finally, the decree of Oct. 24, 1870, better known as the decree of Crémieux, was the last stage in the long journey toward the legal assimilation of the Algerian Jews. It naturalized them as a whole, and, conforming to the principles of the Revolution of 1789, suppressed Judaism as a nationality in the new France of Africa, but permitted it to exist as a religionrecognized by the state. Such in the twentieth century is the situation of the Jews of Algeria. They are French citizens, and since 1870 they have made praiseworthy efforts to show themselves worthy of their new status. Their children attend the schools and colleges of Algeria, and every year a number enter the large schools of Paris.Recent Riots.
Within recent years a strange phenomenon has manifested itself—active anti-Semitism attended by mob violence and bloodshed. The political anti-Semitic party had but one aim, to oppress the Jew, to drive him, if possible, from the country. To that end pamphlets were written, speeches were made, special papers, like "L'Algérie Française" and "L'Anti-Juif," were started, anti-Jewish songs were composed, lengthy books were written; all means were devised for making the life of the Jew unhappy. Jewish merchants were boycotted, indigent Jews could not avail themselves of the free hospital service open to others, attempts were made to render them ineligible to public office, and if Jewish children were not actually kept out of the public schools, they did not receive the same treatment as the others.
During February, 1897, an association of students made public manifestations against a Jewish professor recently installed at Algiers; but the signal for unleashing popular hatred was a common brawl at Mostaganem, begun by a party of cyclists from Oran, and ending in violence, pillage, and the complete sacking of the synagogue (May 18, 1897). The evil spread, and the same scenes were enacted at Aïn-Tedeles, Oran, Aïn-Temouchent, and several other places. "A bas les Juifs!" "Mort aux Juifs!" rang through the whole province. Jews were unsafe on the streets; stores and homes were plundered, and many persons were wounded. From this time manifestations continued to be made, disturbances very frequently occurred, and street brawls were the order of the day. Justice, to put it mildly, was tardy; the police were lenient to the anti-Semites, and offenders against Jews received ridiculously small penalties. Hopes were founded on the new governor-general, Lépine, who assumed office at the end of 1897; but his policy was not sufficiently strong, and equally violent riots occurred in Algiers in January, 1898. The leader was Max Régis, elected mayor of Algiers in November, 1898. Other outbreaks occurred in July, 1898; February, April, and September, 1899, and the anti-Semites were victorious in the elections of May and November, 1898. By December, 1899, there was a sensible improvement; Jonnart, the new governor-general, in his reply to the grand rabbi's address of welcome, declared himself against anti-Semitism, but the anti-Semites were victorious in the municipal elections in all three provinces.
It is difficult to assign causes for the peculiar and violent character of Algerian anti-Semitism. Some ascribe it to jealousy created by the Crémieux decree. But the leaders of the movement were not natives who might be affected by such jealousy. It may be due to social conditions in Algeria. There is a large element of foreign adventurers of mixed nationalities who were too rapidly naturalized and who, disappointed in their hopes of making fortunes quickly, were ready to accept the teachings of clericalism and to turn against the easiest victims of their passions. The natives simply followed the lead of these agitators.Religion and Religious Organization.
The religious organization by consistories is similar to that in France. Since July 10, 1861, the consistories have received legal recognition, and are managed by a rabbi and six laymen elected by the Jews themselves for eight years. The constitution of the consistories is settled by the ordinance of Nov. 9, 1845, which defined all functions, fixed the amount of sums to be spent, and specified the purposes of expenditures. The decree of Dec. 31, 1895, and still more that of Aug. 23, 1898, limited the power of the consistories, whose number was augmented that each might embrace a smaller sphere. The consistory of Algiers includes, besides five congregations in Algiers, fourteen outlying communities, one of which, Medeah, has a rabbi; the consistory of Constantine includes twenty-one communities, of which Bona has a rabbi; and the consistory of Oran embraces thirty-eight, including the community of Tlemçen.Vital Statistics.
Up to 1856 the census of the natives in Algeria was made by the military administration and gave only approximate figures. From 1830 to 1870 there was no increase in population among the Jews, but after 1881 many came from Morocco and Tunis, in order to enjoy the fuller liberty conferred on Algerian Jews by the Crémieux decree. However, after 1895 the tribunals struck from the list of voters many such Jews. Leroy-Beaulieu gives the population of native Jews in 1891: Algiers, 14,895; Oran, 19,794; Constantine, 12,875—that is, a total of 47,564 out of a population of 4,169,650. Hazell's "Annual" (London) for 1900 gives the Jewish population as 50,000. The average number of births a year for the years 1891, 1892, and 1893 was 2,698, or 56.72 to 1,000 souls; the number of deaths was 1,812, or 38 to 1,000. This is a comparatively large death-rate, due to great mortality among infants.
- L. Addison, The Present State of the Jews in the Barbary States, 1675;
- Morgan, Istoria, degli Stati d'Algeri, Tunisi, Tripoli, e Morocco, London, 1784;
- L. Reynier, De l'Économie Publique et Rurale des Arabes et des Juifs, 1820;
- R. Jungmann, Costumes, Mœurs et Usages des Algériens, 1837;
- Heloïse Hartoch, Lettre sur l'État des Juifs de l'Algérie, 1840;
- Joanny Pharaon and Dr. Goldscheider, Lettres sur l'État des Juifs en Algérie, in Arch. Isr. Sept. and Oct., 1840;
- J. C. F., La Question Juive en Algérie, ou de la Naturalisation des Juifs Algériens, par un Algérien Progressif, Algiers, 1860;
- De Fourton, Rapport . . . sur les Israélites Indigènes de l'Algérie, 1870;
- Charles Du Bouzet, Les lndigènes Israélites de l'Algérie, 1871;
- A. Crémieux, Refutation de l'Exposé des Motifs, 1871, p. 27;
- J. M. Haddey, Le Livre, d'Or des Israélites Algériens, 1872;
- Charles Roussel, Les Juifs et les Musulmans, in Revue des Deux Mondes, Aug. 15, 1875;
- Paul Gaffarel, L'Algérie, 1883;
- Maurice Wahl, Les Juifs d'Algérie, 1886;
- J. Weyl, Les Juifs Protégés Français aux Echelles du Levant et en Barbarie sous les Règnes de Louis XIV. et de Louis XV., in Rev. Ét. Juives, 1886, xii., xiv.;
- De Grammont, Histoire d'Algérie sous la Domination Turque, 1887;
- Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, L'Algérie et la Tunisie, 1897;
- Schürer, Gesch. iii. 26;
- A. Cahen, Les Israélites dans l'Afrique Septentrionale; les Juifs de l'Algérie, in Bulletin, de la Société Archéologique de Constantine, 1867;
- Bloch, Notes sur les Israélites d'Algérie, in Rev. Ét. Juives, 1885, x. 255;
- idem, Les Israélites d'Oran, ib. 1886, xiii. 85-99;
- Bargès, Les Juifs de Tlemçen, in Souvenirs d'un Voyage à Tlemçen, Paris.
- On the origin and consequences of the decree Crémieux: Delsieu, Essai sur la Naturalisation Collective des Juifs Indigènes, 1860;
- Frégier, Les Juifs Algériens, Leur Passé, Leur Present, Leur Avenir Juridique, 1865;
- L. Forest, La Naturalisation des Juifs Algériens et l'Insurrection, de 1871, Paris, 1897;
- Jacques Cahen, Les Israélites de l'Algérie et le Decret Crémieux, 1900.
- For anti-Semitic literature: Henri Garrot, Les Juifs Algériens, 1898;
- Meynié, Les Juifs en Algérie, 1888.
- On the present situation of the Jews: Durieu, L'Antisemitisme Algérien, in Rev. Socialiste, July, Sept., Oct., Dec., 1899; Jan., Feb., March, 1900;
- Anonymous, L'Œuvre des Anti-Juifs d'Alger, 1899;
- Anthony Wilkin, Among the Berbers of Algeria, ch. xii. (Anti-Semitism in Algiers), London, 1900.