Monday, March 7, 2016

The Jewish Connection With North Africa

 Nadene Goldfoot                                                                   
Ptolemy VI Philometor, Pharaoh-
Egypt under the control of Ptolemy VIII 164 BCE–163 BCE; Ptolemy VI restored 163 BCE

Our Jewish history connects to Africa since biblical days. "By the time of the last pharaoh, the well-known Cleopatra VII Philopator of the Ptolemaic Dynasty  no longer held the power it once did.   Fewer monuments were erected and, with her death in 30 BCE, Egypt became a Roman province and the glory and might of the pharaohs of old faded into memory. She was a pharaoh.
Cleopatra, portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor. 
There probably were Jews serving in the military of the last Pharaohs.  At the time of the destruction of the First Temple of Solomon in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, many Jewish  fugitives went back to Egypt seeking refuge.                                                      
586 BCE, Destruction by Babylonians of the Temple
 Many records illustrate the life of the Jewish military colony at Yeb in the 5th century BCE.  This was probably not a unique situation.
Alexander the Great (336-323 BCE) -statue in Istanbul
Young king of Macedonia, made a deep impression on the Jews.  
Then Egypt was conquered by the Greeks, and the Jewish element increased quickly.  Alexander the Great and his successors introduced Jewish settlers into their new cities.  This is how Alexandria became a set of Jewish life and its civilization.
From Egypt, Jewish settlements spread west along the Mediterranean Sea.  By the 2nd century BCE, there was an important colony in Cyrene.  They have found many inscriptions and literary monuments that shows Jews lived there during the Roman period nearly as far west as the Straits of Gibraltar. Egyptian Jews were so strong that they were able to revolt after 70 CE when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans.  The Jews of Cyrene took control of the whole province in 115.

As Christianity grew in Egypt, the rivalry between Christian and Jew developed.  The Patriarch Cyril led many persecutions against Jews in the 4th century.  This was the cause of the end of Alexandrian Jewry.

Farther west, the Vandal invaders introduced a kinder policy towards Jews in the 5th century. Then the Christian Byzantine reconquered the land under Belisarius 100 years later who undid the horrible anti Jewish policies.
Ethiopian Jewish IDF soldier
A tradition developed at this time of the presence of many independent or semi-independent tribes saying that they were Jews.  The Jews of Ethiopia belong to this group.  Their story is that they came from the Queen of Sheba and her union with King Solomon when she went to visit him.

In the 7th century, North Africa experienced a great revival  after the Moslem invasion.   The Jewish communities became completely Arabicized in the language of Arabic, customs and social habits.  Egypt had a new city, Cairo, and it against became the seat of an important settlement.
Tunisia-between Algeria and Libya on the sea.
When under Spanish rule (1535-1574), many Jews were killed or were sold into slavery.  
When under French protection in 1881, Jews were permitted French citizenship in 1910.  By 1990, only 2,500 Jews left. Many Jews had emigrated to France and Israel.    

Farther West was the city of Kairouan, which was near Tunis-between Algeria and Libya.  Jews settled here after its foundation in the 7th century which became a great center of Jewish learning. The community decayed after the 12th century and until the late 19th century, no Jew was allowed to live in the city.  None lives there now.   Eldad Ha-Dani had appeared in about 883. He was a late 9th century traveler whose origins and personality still remain a riddle.  He claimed to belong to the tribe of Dan.  In 880-5, he visited Jewish communities in N. Africa and Spain and told them fantastic accounts of the 10 Tribes. He was living as a nomad.    We believe there were Jewish tribes found inland.

In the middle of the 12th century, the Almohades censored open practice of Judaism in Morocco and in neighboring territories.  This was persecution and caused the migration of Jews to go east back to Egypt.  Finally, the almohades lost their power and Jewish life in North Africa revived.
Jews of Morocco
In 1391, there was a persecution program going on against the Jews and this led to an emigration across the Straits and introduced a new Jewish element of a higher talmudic culture.  Then in 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Spanish King said Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave the country.  They faced death if they did not.  This was strictly enforced everywhere, but especially in Morocco we see it was handled a little differently.  .  There the Jews were confined to their own quarter (Melelah), compelled to wear black clothing, made to pay heavy taxes, and treated very badly with swearing and other acts showing they were more like 3rd class citizens; trash.  They were excluded from several Holy Cities like Kairouan, and often gangs tried to massacre Jews.  Generally, they were just tolerated.

Finally, during the 19th century arrived and nothing had changed in the treatment of Jews.  Now the lot of Jews in Ethiopia had deteriorated.  So relations between them and the Jews of Europe opened up.  This brought security and emancipation for the time being, until the Fascist regime came to power.  This led to serious acts in Tripoli even before Italy officially adopted anti-Semitism in 1938 under Hitler's power.  Later, they adopted a policy of systematic discrimination.  Territories under the French imitated this policy after the Franco-German armistice of 1940 when any thought of previous emancipation for Jews was then nullified.
After the German armies occupied North Africa in 1941-1943, there was the persecution against Jews as it was happening in Germany itself.  Persecutions, forced levies, outbreaks of violence were happening everywhere from Tripoli westward.  When the Germans were defeated, the anti-Semitism slackened.  Jews and Moslems were now not getting along.
After 1948, the Jews of North Africa left in large numbers, mostly for Israel or France with some going to Canada.  Few Jews remained in Algeria since 1962, while the Libyan community had been liquidated since the Six-Day War of 1967, and very few stayed in Egypt.  Almost all the Ethiopian Jews were taken to Israel in the 1980s and early 1990s.  I was living in Safed at the time and saw the Ethiopian situated there.  We all lived in high-rise apartment buildings.  Safed was cold in the winter, hot in the summer.  At another period, Russian Jews were relocated on the desert.  It was too bad that the two groups could not change places, but it all depended on what housing was available at that time.
Miss Israel 2014; An 18-year-old resident of Beersheva, Mor Maman, Moroccan. 
By 1990, only 13,500 Jews lived in North Africa and 10,000 of them were in Morocco, where they spoke French.  I was teaching English in the junior high in Safed from 1981-to the end of 19185.  The beautiful lady in charge of our English Department was from Morocco.  She also taught French, so was tri-lingual.  

Update: 3/13/16, 9:41 am Pacific Time:  Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is returning to Israel.  Prime Minister Netanyahu said this on February 23rd in welcoming visiting Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, who arrived for a 3-day state visits, the first by a Kenyan president since 1994. ( from  magazine-The Jerusalem Report, March 21, 2016 issue page 3). 

Resource: The New Standard Jewish encyclopedia

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