views updated May 08 2018


MEKNÈS , town in *Morocco. Jews settled in the region of Meknès before the advent of *Islam. A Hebrew inscription has been found and the remains of a synagogue were uncovered in the excavations of Volubilis, which is near Meknès. A kinah of Abraham *Ibn Ezra mentions Meknès among the communities which suffered at the hands of the *Almohads. A chronological note testifies that such persecutions occurred in 1140, and adds that in 1247, during the wars of the *Merinids, many Jews lost their lives or were forcibly converted to Islam, while in the earthquake of 1340 "several courtyards caved in, as well as the synagogue and the bet ha-midrash of R. Jacob." According to traditions preserved in writing, the "Mahrit" synagogue, still existing in Meknès, was first built in the 13th century, destroyed in the earthquake of 1630, and rebuilt in 1646 by the *Toledanos upon their arrival in Meknès. It is similarly stated that the "Tobi" synagogue was built in 1540. It would therefore seem that Jews already at that time lived in the present mellah area as well as in the Medina in which an "Aaron Street" is, according to tradition, named after the then-leader of the community. The sharif Mulay Ismail (1672–1727), the real founder of the *Alawid dynasty, moved his capital to Meknès and granted the Jews additional land for construction of buildings. The *nagid Abraham Maymerān and other wealthy Jews then built luxurious houses. Christian emissaries from Europe who stayed in them were astonished by their beauty. Near the mellah, Ismail built a beautiful quarter for his officials and servants.

From then until the 19th century the community of Meknès was one of the best developed and organized in Morocco. It was a city of ḥakhamim and authors, as well as merchants and men of action who frequently visited *Tetuán, *Salé, *Rabat, and *Fez on their affairs. The community was organized and its institutions functioned accordingly. The taxation on meat, wine, and other products constituted a source of income for the community, which with the addition of local donations, was able to supply the minimal requirements of the needy and those engaged in studies. The community maintained regular relations with Ereẓ Israel, whose emissaries returned home with considerable funds. The education of the children was entrusted to many teachers; at a more advanced age the youths were employed in the crafts or commerce, while the more talented pursued their studies in yeshivot.

As capital of the country and residence of the sharifs (rulers) Meknès was also the center of Jewish activities at the court. The leaders of the Meknès community acted as negidim (see *Nagid) of Moroccan Jewry and agents of the sharifs. Among them were members of the *Maymerān family (Joseph and his son Abraham), as well as the Toledanos, the Ibn Attars, the Ben Māmāns, the Ben Quiquis, and others. The most prominent rabbinic scholars and dayyanim in Meknès during the 18th–20th centuries come from the Berdugo and Toledano families, many of whom wrote responsa. From 1790 and during the 19th century Meknès lost its importance as the capital and the Jewish community suffered pogroms frequently. There was an important change for the better in the situation of the Jews with the formal establishment of the French Protectorate in 1912. From then on the Jews enjoyed relative security and economic stability, as well as elementary human rights. There were also changes in the field of religious education with the arrival of R. Ze'ev Halperin, a Russian scholar who came from Britain in 1912. He introduced reforms in the system of study of the yeshivot and gathered the young men of the town, for whom he founded a kolel avrekhim (advanced yeshivah), the first of its kind in Meknès and probably the whole of Morocco. He founded an Eẓ Ḥayyim society for laymen which organized regular studies and whose members supported the young men of the Bet El yeshivah with their contributions. As a result of this activity the yeshivah produced a nucleus of ḥakhamim who later officiated as rabbis in Meknès and other communities. The fame of Meknès yeshivot spread far and they attracted students from many parts of the country. After World War ii, a Chabad yeshivah was founded (in conjunction with *Oẓar ha-Torah).

The government allocated new areas near the mellah for the Jews to live in, and a new quarter, known as the "new mellah," was built. The construction was modern, being scattered and not surrounded by a wall. Many beautiful synagogues were also built, including the "Toledano" and Joseph Mrejen synagogues, as well as a large Jewish school, Em ha-Banim, in which all the children of the community studied (the needy were exempted from the payment of tuition fees). Its expenses and the salaries of the teachers were provided from community funds. In 1947 approximately 1,200 pupils attended this school. The *Alliance Israélite Universelle built two large schools, one for boys and another for girls, which were attended by about 1,500 boys and girls in 1950. According to the 1947 census the Jewish community numbered 15,482 (about 3,000 others were not included in the census for various reasons). Most of the Jews of Meknès immigrated to Israel after the establishment of the state and both the old and the new mellahs are now inhabited for the most part by Muslims.

[Haim Bentov]

Contemporary Period

The Jewish population of Meknès, which numbered 12,445 in the 1951 census report, dropped in 1960 to 10,894 (according to the census of that year), and in 1968, after the large-scale emigration of Moroccan Jewry, to about 2,000–3,000. During the 1950s the Jewish schools had 3,182 pupils, but the number dropped off in the 1960s. Most of the charitable and social welfare organizations, which included branches of wizo and the World Jewish Congress, were closed. In 1970 the Meknès community, although reduced, was one of the more vital of the Moroccan provincial communities. A considerable Jewish petite bourgeoisie lived there with communal life centering on the two main synagogues. Only a few dozen Jews remained in the old mellah, and most lived in the modern Jewish neighborhood. More than three decades later, the Jewish community numbered no more than 120 Jews. In September 2003 radical Islamists, apparently belonging to the pro-al-Qa'ida association Salafiyya Jihādiyya, responsible for the suicide terrorist attacks in Casablanca several months earlier, stabbed to death 75-year-old Elie Afriat in Meknès. Since then members of the local community have lived in fear of further Islamist actions against them.

[Haim J. Cohen /

Michael M. Laskier (2nd ed.)]


Hirschberg, Afrikah, index; idem, in: H.J. Zimmels et al. (eds.), Essays Presented to… Israel Brodie… (1967), 153–81; A. Chouraqui, La condition juridique de l'Israélite marocain (1950); idem, Between East and West (1968), index; M.M. Laskier, The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco: 18621962 (1983); B Meakin, Land of the Moors (1901), 277–87; R. Attal, in: Tefuẓot ha-Golah, 1 (1964), 42ff.


views updated May 18 2018


a city of northern morocco.

Meknes is situated 40 miles (60 km) west of Fez and 90 miles (140 km) east of Rabat and is surrounded by Arab and Berber tribes. Its population was estimated in 1994 as 460,000 inhabitants. Close to the fertile plain of Sais, Meknes benefits from its rich agriculture.

Meknes (or Miknas al-Zaytun) is one of the oldest Moroccan cities. The gathering of one faction of the Miknasa tribes (tenth century) seems to be the beginning of the founding of the city, which flourished later under different dynasties that ruled the Maghrib. Meknes gained prestige in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries when it became a makhzaniya city. Sultan Mulay Ismaʿil built palaces and made this city the capital of his kingdom.

Numerous religious groupssuch as the Hama-dish Brotherhood and the Isawiyya Brotherhoodconsider Meknes to be sacred and hold celebrations there. The most important occurs in the month of Mulud and honors Shaykh al-Kamil.

rahma bourqia