Sijilmassa

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SIJILMASSA

SIJILMASSA (Sidjelmessa ), town in S.W. *Morocco. Since the late Middle Ages the region has been called Tafilalet. Sijilmassa was founded in 757 by the Zenata *Berbers. An important Jewish community existed there from its inception, whose members controlled the gold trade and also carried on an extensive commerce as far as *Egypt and *India. In the region ancient Jewish tombstones from before the Second Temple period survived. The *Fatimid mahdi ʿUbayd-Allah was imprisoned in Sijilmassa in 909 after he had been denounced by a Jew. Once he regained his freedom, he seized the throne of Ifrīqiyā (present-day *Tunisia) and had the wealthy Jews of Sijilmassa murdered. The Jews who survived, however, rapidly rose to their former economic and social importance. The chronicler Abraham Ibn Daud writes that when Sijilmassa passed to the Cordoba *Umayyads, its community, like all the Jews in the caliphate, was placed under the authority of Jacob ibn Jau. Sijilmassa is repeatedly mentioned in traders' letters found in the Cairo *Genizah. The town was a desert port and terminal for the caravans going south to the Sudan and east via *Kairouan to *Cairo. S.D. *Goitein analyzed Genizah documents which illustrated the operation of a Jewish network, based on kinship and religious ties, between partners in Almeria, *Fez, and Sijilmassa along the route to *Cairo.

During the 11th century the Jewish scholars of Sijilmassa established contact with the geonim of *Iraq and Ereẓ Israel. There are responsa sent by geonim to Sijilmassa. One of them was written by Hai Gaon. There is also one responsa collection which was sent by a Babylon gaon to Rabbi Joseph ben Amran, the dayyan of Sijilmassa. During this period new rulers, the Zenātes, remigrated to the region which, in addition to Sijilmassa, consisted of such distant towns with a Jewish majority as *Sefrou and Qalʿat Mahdī ben Tawala in the Fazāz (Middle Atlas) region. In 1054 the *Almoravides occupied Sijilmassa and ravaged all its territories. The Jews shared in the suffering, but once their rule was well established the Almoravides ameliorated the Jews' situation. A detailed report of events in Sijilmassa as recorded from eyewitness refugees was found in a letter written in 1148 by Shelomo ha-Kohen of Fustat to his father, a native of Sijilmassa who was then in *Aden. Students from Sijilmassa traveled to study Torah in the academy of Rabbi Joseph Ibn Migash (d. 1141) in the Andalusian city of Lucena.

In 1145 Sijilmassa allied itself with the *Almohads. A short while later, a new governor appointed by this dynasty presented the Jews of the town with the alternative of conversion to *Islam or death. Some 150 Jews preferred to die, while the others – led by the dayyan Joseph b. Amram who later returned to Judaism – converted. One of the town's scholars, R. Judah b. Farḥon, succeeded in escaping; he subsequently returned and became dayyan of the town. He maintained a correspondence with *Maimonides. Other scholars of Sijilmassa include: R. Saadiah b. Isaac, Abu-Yusef b. Mar Yusef who was the son of the chief dayyan Rabbi Joseph b. Amram, and R. Solomon b. Nathan, a great sage, who edited a prayer book in 1203. Another scholar, R. Judah b. Joseph Sijilmassi, lived in Sijilmassa at the close of the 14th century. Toward the end of their rule the fanaticism of the Almohads was mitigated, and Jews held senior positions in the Marinid economy, for in 1243/4 the treasurer of Sijilmassa was a Jew by the name of Ibn Shalukha. In 1247 King James i of Aragon gave a safe-conduct to a Jew, a resident of Sijilmassa, inviting him to move together with his family "and all the Jews and Jewesses" of Sijilmassa to Majorca and Catalonia. After the Merinid occupation Sijilmassa's trade developed considerably. The Jews extended their activities to Catalonia, Sicily, and other countries, to which large numbers of them also emigrated. The economic life of the Jews of Sijilmassa flourished and the Jewish tinsmiths were named by the Muslims "Filali," after the city name of Tafilalet, and were named "Moroccan" by the European traders. They were also manufacturers of carpets, wool blankets and also developed the indigo trade. Sijilmassa was destroyed after 1393 and all traces of the community disappeared. In the surrounding Tafilalet area many Jewish settlements continued, generally living in peace by paying tribute either to the *Berber rulers or to the Arab nomads. The Jewish community in the region flourished until the massacre in 1492. The expellees from *Spain after 1492 did not have any real influence in the region of Tafilalet, and the Jewish population did not adopt any Spanish or *Fez regulations. Rabbi Ḥayyim Gagin tells in his book Eẓ Ḥayyim that in 1526 the Muslim residents of one village in Tafilalet region plundered the Jewish residents and raped Jewish women. In 1623 Jewish women were captured in Tafilalet and sold to Muslims (Ibn Denan, Divrei ha-Yamim shel Fez, p. 42). At the beginning of the 18th century Rabbi Shelomo Adhan moved from Tafilalet to *Tetuan.

The capital of the region at that time was Erfūd. In the last years of the 19th century the English missionary Robert Kerr treated a few Jewish patients in Tafilalet. The emissary Raphael Makhluf Abraham Khayat visited the Tafilalet region in 1836. The Tiberian emissary to Morocco in 1890, Rabbi Elijah Iluz, was born in Mizgida by Tafilalet in 1860, but grew up in Tiberias. Many Jews who escaped from the Jewish quarter in Tafilalet settled in 1919 in Erfūd, while numerous others settled in the Bodinev community and in Algeria. They established their synagogue in Erfūd. The name Erfūd was written in Jewish contracts only from 1950. Many Jews continued to write the name of Sijilmassa in their contracts. The Abihaẓira family cooperated with the French government of the region and helped the French in occupying the area in the second decade of the 20th century. The Muslim residents took revenge and murdered David Abihaẓira. In 1942 the local French ruler in the little town Gurama, located in the Tafilalet region, degraded the Jews and behaved toward them with contempt. He obliged them to pay very heavy taxes, to wear only simple clothes with black hats and black shoes, forbade them to ride horses and forced them to fulfill other *Omar covenant restrictions. He also beat Jews who wore a tarbush. In 1947 the community of Erfūd numbered between 1,000 to 2,000. The immense Tafilalet area, which had only 6,500 Jews (2,898 men and 3,608 women) in 1947, was the source of considerable migration to northern Morocco and *Algeria. After 1948 most of the Jews left the Jewish quarter of Tafilalet and immigrated to Israel. According to Professor H.Z. Hirschberg who visited Tafilalet in the mid-1950s, the community of Tafilalet consisted then of the Abihaẓira academy and the O'Haley Yosef Yizhak Talmud Tora (of Chabad). More than 1,000 Jews lived there, many of whom were merchants. The shops were closed on Sabbath. In Risani, built on the ruins of Sijilmassa, c. 625 Jews lived in that time. The family Abihaẓira settled in Tafilalet for a few generations. In the responsa of Rabbi Jacob Abihaẓira, who lived in Risani (d. 1880), there are relevant historical materials about the local Jewish community. This rabbi was the religious leader of the Tafilalet region. His synagogue was destroyed by a French bomb in 1933. Rabbi Israel Abihaẓira immigrated to Israel only in the last wave of aliyah from Tafilalet in 1964. The wedding minhagim in the Erfūd community were identified with those of Tafilalet until the mid-1950s and based upon them. The marriage, divorce and mourning minhagim of Tafilalet were written by Shalom Abihaẓira in his book Meliẓ Tov (1973). In the community, marriage contracts according to the Sijilmassa version have survived. In the communities of Erfūd and Tafilalet there was a special annual ceremony called Ḥuppat Ne'urim (youth wedding) which was conducted in Tafilalet by Rabbi Jacob Abihaẓira. In Tafilalet a special version of the Sharḥ (the translation of the Bible in Morocco) was written. The local sages wrote the words which entered the Sharḥ in Hebrew characters according to rules insufficiently crystallized. The community of Erfūd existed from 1917 to 1975. The Jewish cemetery in Erfūd is sandy but otherwise well-preserved. The Jewish cemetery in the town of Risani is unwalled, facing the walls of the town.

bibliography:

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[David Corcos /

Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (2nd ed.)]