views updated


MOGADOR , now known as Essaouira , an Atlantic seaportin western *Morocco, midway between the towns of *Safi and *Agadir. The word Mogador is a corruption of the Berber term for "self-anchorage." The city was occupied by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians in the 5th century b.c.e. From the Middle Ages to the 17th century there were sugar-cane refineries in the vicinity of Mogador whose operation was brought to a halt in the latter half of the 18th century. The town became a bustling seaport in 1764 under the Alawite Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdullah, who sought to transform it into a rival port to Agadir and have it serve as his main port for international commerce. The most important Moroccan Jewish merchant families from *Tangier, Agadir, *Marrakesh, and parts of northern Morocco were recruited by the sultan to take charge of developing trade activity and relations in Mogador vis-à-vis Europe.

The sultan chose 10 or 12 of them, especially from the Corcos, Afriat, Coriat, Knafo, Pinto, and Elmaleh families, for the task and granted them the status of tujjār al-sultān (the "king's merchants"). In sharp contrast to ordinary Jews who dwelt in the cramped Jewish *ghetto (*mellah), the sultanate offered them the most luxurious dwellings of Mogador within the more prestigious casbah quarter. They not only became the leading merchants of the sultan's court – parallel to a tiny elite of Muslim tujjār – but were entrusted with the role of mediation and diplomacy with European consuls and entrepreneurs. Not only were they influential in Moroccan economic affairs, but their functions extended to include the leadership of the local Jewish community. From their ranks the Jews chose the tujjār as presidents, vice presidents, and treasurers. The extraordinary and privileged Jewish tujjār elite controlled all of the major imports of Mogador and other Moroccan trade centers where their influence was gradually extended. These included sugar, tea, metals, gunpowder, and tobacco. The tujjār also managed such vital exports as wheat, hides, cereals, and wool, items which became government monopolies at the time, resulting from the makhzan's fears of the political and social consequences of European penetration. Some tujjār were in fact dispatched by the Palace to European trade centers as economic attachés and were given interest-free loans to undertake major trade transactions and augment the sultan's profits. Unlike the rest of the Jews, they were not required to pay the traditional poll-tax (jizya) commonly imposed on non-Muslim minorities throughout the Muslim world, and they received full protection – legal and political – from the makhzan (Moroccan government) from those in Muslim society who sought to harass or undermine them. The tujjār declined in influence after the 1890s with the aggressive penetration of the European powers into the Sharifian Empire of Morocco. By the early part of the 20th century, and certainly following the formation of the French protectorate (1912), they disappeared from the scene. A new elite of Jewish entrepreneurs, recruited by the French, Spaniards, Italians, and British commercial houses replaced them, as did foreign merchants who settled in Mogador and other parts of the country, controlling commerce until Moroccan independence in 1956.

Spiritually and religiously, the Mogador community was led over the years by the old established rabbis and *dayyanim such as Abraham Coriat, Abraham b. Attar, Mas'ud Knafo, and Haim Pinto. Mogador Jewry was relatively well educated. Their musicians were renowned throughout Morocco. The town had exceptionally beautiful synagogues, with the community being dotted by numerous battei midrash and yeshivot. As British influence in Mogador became particularly dominant from the 18th century, English schools flourished there, including those of the London-based Anglo-Jewish Association and the Board of Deputies for British Jewry. The schools helped spread the English language and culture among the Jews. The French-based *Alliance Israélite Universelle also opened schools for boys and girls in Mogador. As British influence declined in the town after 1912, the Alliance schools and those of the Protectorate, which propagated French influences, emerged supreme and oriented local Jews toward new cultural currents. By the mid-1950s, on the eve of large-scale Jewish immigration to Israel and the West, most young men and women spoke French in addition to the Moroccan Judeo-Arabic dialect.

During the 19th century the Jewish population grew from 4,000 in the 1830s and 1840s to approximately 12,000 in 1912, only to decline to 6,150 in 1936 and to once again rise slightly to 6,500 in 1951. This is attributed to the decline of commerce and other economic activity during the French Protectorate era in Mogador (and other inland or coastal cities which in the past enjoyed prosperity) in favor of Casablanca and Agadir. The immigration trends of the 1950s and 1960s caused the Mogador community to dwindle. Once Morocco's most important commercial seaport, a phenomenon largely attributed to Jewish initiatives, Mogador became a sleepy and relatively unimportant town. In the early 1970s most of its Jewish community members resided in the Americas, Europe, and Israel. By 2005, the community had all but disappeared.


M. Abitbol, Témoins et acteurs: les Corcos et l'histoire du Maroc contemporain (1977); A. Chouraqui; Between East and West (1968); D. Corcos, Studies in the History of the Jews of Morocco (1976); M.M. Laskier, The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco: 1862–1962 (1983); J.L. Miège, Le Maroc et l'Europe: 1830–1894, 4 vols. (1961–63); C.R. Pennell, Morocco since 1830: A History (2000); D.J. Schroeter, Merchants of Essaouria: Urban Society and Imperialism in Southwestern Morocco, 1844–1886 (1988); idem, The Sultan's Jews: Morocco and the Sephardi World (2002).

[Michael M. Laskier (2nd ed.)]