views updated Jun 08 2018


ALGIERS (Al-Jazair ), capital of *Algeria. The small Jewish community in the late Middle Ages was enlarged after 1248 by Jews from the Languedoc and about 1287 by Jews from Majorca. The population of Majorcan Jews increased between 1296 and 1313, when the town enjoyed a short-lived independence. The Majorcan Jews were arms suppliers. Before 1325 the port was visited regularly by Catalans and Genoese, as well as by Jewish shipowners and merchants.

The first Jewish refugees from Spain were warmly welcomed in 1391, but their increasing numbers caused anxiety among the Muslims and the native Jews, who feared their competition. One individual (whose identity cannot be ascertained), himself an immigrant, used his influence to prevent the landing of 45 newcomers and advised that all the fugitives be sent back, as they were accused of being Marranos. The qadi (Muslim religious judge) intervened in their favor. The Spanish Jews prospered greatly and finally became the majority; they separated themselves from the native Jewish community by acquiring a cemetery and synagogue of their own and moving into a separate quarter. The leader of these Jews at first was R. Saul Ha-Kohen *Astruc, a scholar and philanthropist, who served as judge for the whole community. His successors were the famous R. Isaac *Bonastruc, R. *Isaac b. Sheshet (Ribash), and R. Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran; they instituted the so-called takkanot of Algiers which governed the religious life of Algerian and Tunisian Jews. Because of the school of Isaac b. Sheshet and the Durans, Algiers became a major religious and intellectual center in the 15th century. Many Marranos moved there in order to practice Judaism openly. The large-scale maritime trade of the Spanish Jews at the end of the 14th century gave economic impetus to the city and prepared it somewhat for its future role.

From early in the 16th century, the Turks ruled in Algiers. In order to develop trade, they encouraged the creation of a privileged class. They employed Jews as advisers and physicians; Jews were also responsible for the coining of money and the accounts of the treasury. The mass of the people, Moors and Jews, suffered periodically from the whims of the Janissaries and the cruelty of the militia. In 1706 an outbreak of the plague and a terrible famine reduced many Jewish families to indigence. Then, influenced by false accusations, the bey imposed an exorbitant fine on the community and ordered the destruction of the synagogues, which were saved only by the payment of a further sum. This ruined the majority of the Jews. They commemorated the failure of the Spanish who attacked Algiers in 1541 and 1775 by instituting two "Purims" of Algiers, which were celebrated every year by the whole community. From the 17th century onward, former Portuguese Marranos and many Dutch, Moroccan, and Leghorn Jewish families went to settle there. Proficient in business, many owning their own ships, they gained control of Algerian commerce and extended the system of letters of exchange, and that of concessions and agencies in Europe and the East. These new immigrants intermarried with the older families of the town and settled on the Street of the Livornese, completely separated from the Ḥara ("quarter"). These "Juifs Francs" ("Francos," i.e., free from the obligations of other Jews), or "Christian Jews" (because they wore European garments), were employed by all European countries to ransom Christian prisoners. Many were able diplomats who negotiated or signed various peace and trade treaties. Among these diplomats in the second half of the 17th century were Jacob de Paz, Isaac Sasportas, David Torres, Judah Cohen (d. early 18th century), and Soliman Jaquete (d. 1724). Their families became the aristocracy of the community and were active in promoting its welfare.

Internal strife in the Jewish community appeared only when the kabbalists R. Joshua Sidun, R. Joseph Abulker, R. Aaron Moatti, and above all R. Abraham Tubiana (d. 1792) introduced new rituals in their synagogues in accordance with the theories of R. Isaac *Luria. Members of other synagogues considered this sacrilegious and accused the innovators of promoting a schism. Until the mid-20th century two different rituals were followed in the synagogues of Algiers, that of the mekubbalim, or kabbalists, and that of the pashtanim, or those who followed the original customs of the refugees from Barcelona and Majorca. The intense religious life of the community was stimulated later in the 16th century by eminent scholars such as R. Abraham Tawa, R. Moses Meshash, R. Abraham *Gavison, physician to the famous "beylerbey" (Ottoman governor) Euldj Ali (1568–87), R. Solomon Duran ii and his disciple R. Judah Khallas ii (d. 1620), R. Solomon Ṣeror (d. 1664) and his grandson Raphael-Jedidiah Ṣeror (d. 1737), the philosopher R. Mas'ud Guenoun (d. 1694), the poet R. Nehorai Azubib (d. 1785), and R. Judah *Ayash, one of the most venerated rabbis of Algiers. Their works, however, were neglected by the new generations, which turned toward other forms of culture.

In the late 18th–early 19th centuries the wealth of certain families added to the enormous influence of Naphtali *Busnach; this aroused the jealousy of the Janissaries, who assassinated Busnach. The day after Busnach's assassination (June 29, 1805), they sacked Algiers killing between 200 and 500 Jews. Despite this catastrophe, the great families would not forgo their internal disputes nor their fierce competition for power. David Bacri succeeded his partner and relative Naphtali Busnach as head of the community. He was beheaded in 1811 by the dey and replaced by David Duran who represented the opposing families. The latter was in his turn put to death by the dey during the same year, and Joseph Bacri assumed the title of *muqaddam (head of the community). Involved against his will in disputes between the Jewish families, the rabbi of Algiers, R. Isaac Abulker, was dragged to the stake with seven other notables of the town (1815). After the landing of the French in 1830, Jacob Bacri was named "Chef de la Nation Israélite"; he was replaced by Aaron Moatti whose appointment was terminated in 1834.

In 1870 Algerian Jews became French citizens; subsequently antisemitism spread throughout the country manifesting itself in serious pogroms, particularly in Algiers (1884–87, 1897–98). After World War i a Zionist conference, the first in Algeria, was organized at Algiers. Although the Jewish élite was always active in the defense of Judaism, they were loyal French citizens.

The Algiers community was deeply affected by the nationalist struggle for independence. Much of the communal structure ceased to exist. The Great Synagogue in the ancient quarter, ravaged in the Christmas Eve riots of 1960 was only temporarily restored. The Maimonides rabbinical college was closed. During the French army's search of Bab-el-Oued in 1962, in reprisal for the machine-gunning of French soldiers by the local oas, the synagogue of that quarter was ravaged.

Population Statistics

During the last four centuries the Jewish population of Algiers declined and increased according to the economic and political situation of the capital. In the 16th century it declined from 2,000 to 750 persons, because of the Spanish assaults. In the 17th and 18th centuries the number of Jews rose to 15,000, but then decreased to 7,000 and later, to 5,000. About the same number was found there by the French in 1830. Eight years later there were over 6,000 Jews, but after the antisemitic persecutions of the last decades of the 19th century only 5,000 remained. After 1900, with the defeat of the anti-Jewish party, the Jewish population increased continuously: 10,822 in 1901, 17,053 in 1921, 23,550 in 1931, and 25,591 in 1941. During World War ii Algiers received over 1,000 Jewish refugees from Europe; after the uprising against the French in 1954 a large number of Jews from the interior settled in Algiers. Over 95% of this population, numbering about 34,000, left the capital when the declaration of independence was proclaimed in 1962. The vast majority immigrated to France, some went to America, and others to Israel. By 1963 only 2,500 Jews remained in Algiers. In 1969 their number was reduced to a few hundred and at the turn of the century to a few dozen.

For bibliography see *Algeria.

[David Corcos]


views updated May 29 2018


Capital of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria.

Algiers is located at the northwestern end of a large bay in the Mediterranean Sea. The city's industrial activity is concentrated to the south and east, on the plain of the Mitidja. The region contains 48 percent of the country's factories and 55 percent of its industrial workforce. In 2003, it had a population of 3 million.

The city's origins reach back to the Phoenicians and Romans (300 b.c.e.100 c.e.). Berbers reestablished Algiers in the ninth century, naming it al-Jazaʾir (islands) because of rock outcroppings in the bay. In the early sixteenth century, Algiers was drawn into Castile's overseas expansion and the Ottoman reaction against it. After expelling the Spaniards in 1529, the Ottomans established a corsair principality. At its height in the 1600s, the city, with perhaps forty thousand inhabitants, held as many as twenty thousand Christians for ransom. In the eighteenth century, Western states forced an end to corsair activities and Algiers began to specialize in grain exports. A dispute over payment for grain deliveries to Napoleon led to the occupation of Algiers by the French (1830).

French army rule gave way to French civilian control in 1871. Both the military and the settlers initially erected their residential and commercial structures in the lower part of the Casbah (qasba, citadel), as the pre-1830 part of Algiers was called. In contrast to other areas of North Africa, no new European city center sprang up outside the existing one.

The end of the nineteenth century was a time of rapid population increase (by 41 percent from 1886 to 1896, and then to a total of 155,000 settlers and 45,000 Muslims by 1918) and considerable commercial wealth, particularly from wine exports. Public building included a central train depot and a new harbor (both completed by 1896), streetcar lines (begun in 1896), and municipal and educational infrastructures (water, gas, hospitals, a university). Ambitious plans to turn the entire lower Casbah into a city with wide boulevards were quashed by the military, but the incorporation of the suburb of Mustapha in 1904 opened the way for a more systematic southern expansion. Regional Algiers was born.

In the new city, the French rejected the Arab architecture of the Casbah for French bourgeois classicism, while the residents of the wealthier suburbs opted for imitations of Turkish gardens (jinan) architecture. After World War I, European monumental classicism took over, and in the 1930s functional modernism began to emerge. Construction of a new waterfront neighborhood pushed the Casbah into the hills, where it was greatly reduced in size. The former corsair city was finally cut off from the sea.

During the interwar period, Muslim agriculture in Algeria reached its productive limits on the less fertile lands that the colonists left for the indigenous population. The capital offered alternative employment in the port, shipyards, mechanical industries, and trucking firms. In addition, there were small-scale construction firms, an industry for the processing of agricultural products, and a large administrative sector. French settlers, however, held most of the skilled jobs. Muslim rural immigrants provided the unskilled labor. They crowded into shantytowns in the hills or into the Casbah, which had twice as many people as it had held in 1830, packed into one-quarter as many buildings.

In 1954, overwhelming agrarian inequality and misery triggered the Algerian War of Independence. The war hastened the rural exodus, and around 1956, for the first time, more Muslims than Europeans lived in Algiers. In 1957, the war extended to the city, where it was fought briefly in the Casbah's maze of cul-de-sacs. In 1962, France's President Charles de Gaulle grew weary of the political divisions the war was creating in France, and Algeria achieved its independence. Furious settlers scorched parts of downtown Algiers before leaving the city en masse (311,000 left between 1960 and 1962).

In a mad rush, many of the 550,000 Muslims in town occupied dwellings vacated by the settlers. The new independent government nationalized the vacated housing stock and introduced rent controls. The colonial pattern of urbanization continued: the central city of mixed business and residential structures; the decaying, overpopulated Casbah; the well-off (uphill) and poorer (downhill) suburbs; and the shantytowns in the hillside ravines. Free-market rents continued in the traditionally Muslim quarters, which were composed of mostly low-grade dwellings. Rural-urban migrants flowed into the shantytowns and slums, creating a total of 1 million inhabitants toward the end of the 1960s.

A state-led industrialization program that lasted from 1971 to 1985 provided Algiers with factories for mechanical and electrical machinery, processed agricultural goods, building materials, textiles, wood, and paper. These attracted new masses of migrants. At first, the government neglected to provide adequate housing for the new workers. Uncontrolled urban sprawl moved into Algiers's rich agricultural belt around the bay. When the population reached nearly 2 million in the early 1980s, the government finally began a program of urban renewal. Plans were made to move squatters to solid housing or back to their villages, to rehabilitate the Casbah, and to build subways and freeways to relieve urban grid-lock.

Low world market prices for oil and gas from 1986 to 1992 triggered a severe financial crisis and brought the renewal program to a halt. The subsequent civil war (19922001) between the military, in control of the government, and Islamist challengers brought Algiers extortion rackets, bombings, shootouts, and abductions. Villagers fled from even worse carnage in the countryside, swelling the population of Algiers to over three million during the 1990s. At the same time, many middle-class professionals fled abroad, taking with them much of the city's previously flourishing intellectual and artistic culture. The civil war had abated considerably by 2001, but insecurity continued to a degree in the capital and country. Early in the twenty-first century, unemployment in the city was estimated at 35 percent.

see also algeria: overview; algerian war of independence; de gaulle, charles.


Martinez, Luis. The Algerian Civil War, 19901998, translated by Jonathan Derrick. London: Hurst, 2000.

Peter von Sivers


views updated May 23 2018

Algiers Capital and largest city of Algeria, on the Bay of Algiers, n Africa's chief port on the Mediterranean. Founded by the Phoenicians, it has been colonized by Romans, Berber Arabs, Turks and Muslim Barbary pirates. In 1830 the French invaded and made Algiers the capital of the French colony of Algeria. In World War II it was the headquarters of the Allies and seat of the French provisional government. During the 1950s and 1960s it was a focus for the violent struggle for independence. The old city is based round a 16th-century Turkish citadel. The 11th-century Sidi Abderrahman Mosque is a major destination for Muslim pilgrims. Industries: oil refining, phosphates, wine, metallurgy, tobacco. Pop. (1998) 2,562,428.


views updated May 21 2018

Algiers ★★★ 1938

Nearly a scene-for-scene Americanized remake of the 1937 French “Pepe Le Moko” about a beautiful rich girl (Lamarr) who meets and falls in love with a notorious thief (Boyer, then a leading sex symbol). Pursued by French police and hiding in the underworld-controlled Casbah, Boyer meets up with Lamarr in a tragically fated romance done in the best tradition of Hollywood. Boyer provides a measured performance as Le Moko, while Lamarr is appropriately sultry in her American film debut (which made her a star). Later remade as the semi-musical “Casbah.” 96m/B DVD . Charles Boyer, Hedy Lamarr, Sigrid Gurie, Gene Lockhart, Joseph Calleia, Alan Hale; D: John Cromwell; C: James Wong Howe.