History of the Jews in Algeria

History of the Jews in Algeria

Jews and Judaism have a rather long history in Algeria. However, following the brutal conflict of the 1990s there – in particular, the rebel Armed Islamic Group's 1994 declaration of war on all non-Muslims in the country – most of the thousand-odd Jews previously there, living mainly in Algiers and to a lesser extent Blida, Constantine, and Oran, emigrated. The Algiers synagogue was abandoned after 1994. These Jews themselves represented the remainder of only about 10,000 who had chosen to stay there in 1962; most of Algeria's 140,000 Jews, having been granted French citizenship in 1870, left the country for France when it attained independence, together with the pied-noirs.


Jews have been present in Algeria at least since late Roman times; the early Arab chroniclers suggest that at least some Berber tribes were converted to Judaism before Islam's arrival, notably that of Queen Kahina. Early descriptions of the Rustamid capital Tahert note that Jews were to be found there, as in any other major Muslim city, and some centuries later the Geniza Letters (found in Cairo) mention many Algerian Jewish families.

However, the country's Jewish community was substantially increased following the Reconquista, when the Spanish Inquisition expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492 [http://www.sephardicstudies.org/decree.html] . Together with the Moriscos, they thronged to the ports of North Africa, forming large communities in places such as Oran and Algiers. Some Jews in Oran preserved their Ladino language – a uniquely conservative dialect of Spanish – until the 19th century. Jewish merchants did very well financially in late Ottoman Algiers; the French attack on Algeria was initially "provoked" by the Dey's demands that the French government pay its large outstanding wheat debts to two Jewish merchants, Bacri and Busnach.

After the conquest in 1830, the French government rapidly restructured the Ottoman "millet" system. At the time, the French government distinguished French citizens (who had national voting rights, were subject to French laws, and, for the males, had to go to military service) from Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people, who each kept their own laws and courts. By 1841, the Jewish courts ("beth din") had been abolished, and all cases involving Jews were instead heard by French courts. In 1845, the communal structure was thoroughly reorganized, and French Jews were appointed 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." [http://arabworld.nitle.org/texts.php?module_id=6&reading_id=54&sequence=3#] In 1865, liberal conditions were laid down so that Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people could become French citizens if they requested it. This facility was, however, not much used — since it meant renouncing certain traditional mores and thus was perceived as a kind of apostasy.

In 1870, the French government granted the Jews French citizenship, under the décrets Crémieux of 1870 . (For this reason, they are sometimes lumped together with the pieds-noirs.) This decision was due largely to pressures from prominent members of the French Jewish community, which considered the North African Jews to be "backward" and wanted to forcefully bring them into modernity. Within a generation, most Algerian Jews had come to speak French rather than Arabic or Ladino, and embraced many aspects of French culture. When Algeria attained independence in 1962, legislation granted Algerian citizenship only to those residents whose father or paternal grandfather were Muslims. Moreover, the Supreme Court of Justice of Algeria declared that the Jews were no longer under the protection of the Law. The great majority of Algeria's 140,000 Jews left the country for France together with the pied-noirs.

Under the Vichy regime

Geographical distribution

In 1931, whereas Jews made up less than 2% of Algeria's population, the largest cities of Algeria – Algiers, Constantine, and Oran – had Jewish populations of over 7%, as did many smaller cities such as Ghardaia and Setif; one smaller town, Messad, had a Jewish majority. The Jews who remained after the Revolution lived mainly in Algiers, with some families in Blida, Constantine, and Oran.


According to the Jewish Encyclopaedia (" [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=822&letter=C Costume] "):

:"A contemporary [in 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, 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 Jews of Algerian origin

:"Most of those listed below left Algeria for France at the time of Algeria's independence, and are French citizens."
* Franck Amsallem, jazz pianist and composer
* Alexandre Arcady, film director
* Yvan Attal, film director, actor (Algerian parents)
* Jacques Attali, economist, writer
* Baruj Benacerraf, immunologist, Nobel prize (1980) (Algerian mother)
* Paul Benacerraf, philosopher (Algerian mother)
* Jean Benguigui, actor
* Eric Benhamou, CEO of 3COM
* R. Isaac ben Sheshet, a medieval talmudic authority (born in Spain, but fled to Algiers)
* Lili Boniche, musician
* Patrick Bruel, singer, actor
* André Chouraqui, writer
* Hélène Cixous, feminist writer
* Robert Cohen, boxer: World Bantamweight Champion
* Annie Cohen-Solal, academic and biographer of Jean-Paul Sartre
* Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, physicist, Nobel prize (1997)
* Cy Curnin, lead singer of The Fixx (Jewish Algerian mother, non-Jewish father)
* Jacques Derrida, deconstructionist philosopher
* Alphonse Halimi, boxer: World Bantamweight Champion
* Roger Hanin, film actor & director
* Judah ibn Quraysh, an early medieval grammarian of Tahert who perceived a relationship between Berber and Semitic
* Claude Lelouch, film director (Algerian father)
* Enrico Macias, singer
* Reinette L'Oranaise , singer
* Martial Solal, jazz pianist and composer
* Patrick Timsit, humorist, actor

ee also

* Great Synagogue of Oran
* Jewish exodus from Arab lands
* Jews of the Bilad el-Sudan (West Africa)

External links

* [http://www.dinur.org/resources/resourceCategoryDisplay.aspx?categoryid=806&rsid=478 Resources>Jewish communities>Magreb] The Jewish History Resource Center, Project of the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
* [http://www.zlabia.com Zlabia.com] French site for Jews of Algerian origins
* [http://www.sephardicstudies.org/r-alg.html Rabbis of Algeria]
* [http://www.sephardicstudies.org/algeria-shoah.pdf Algeria Sephardim Deported from France or Executed in France during WWII] (PDF)
* [http://www.bh.org.il/Communities/Archive/Oran.asp The Jewish Community of Oran, Algiers]
* [http://www.sephardicstudies.org/hevra.html Documents from Old Jewish Algeria]
* [http://geocities.com/Paris/Jardin/2471/index.html#table3 The Jewish Population of Algeria in 1931]

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