TUNIS, TUNISIA , country in N. Africa between *Libya and *Algeria. After their conquest of the country, the Romans named it Provincia Africa, Africa Propria, or, more generally, Africa. Roman Africa included, in addition to the territories of present-day Tunisia, a large stretch of Algeria's territory to the west, which was called Numidia, and Libya's coast to the east.
Second Temple Period
As many scholars have often assumed, it is probable that Jews lived in Punic *Carthage; a Judeo-African legend has it that the Jews came to the island in the southeast (e.g., in the island of *Djerba (Jerba)) in King Solomon's time. Another legend relates that the kohanim, escaping from Jerusalem in the year 70 c.e., carried one of the Temple's doors to the island, and it is believed to be walled in the synagogue called Ghriba (the wondrous). However, there is no factual evidence positively stating that Jews lived in Punic Carthage or its territories. The "*Tarshish" of the Bible has nevertheless been identified with Carthage by the Septuagint and the Aramaic Targum of the prophets. On the other hand, for the Arab authors of the Middle Ages, Carthage – later confused with Tunis – has always been synonymous with "Tarshish." The Talmud echoes ancient traditions regarding the connection between, on the one hand, Punic Africa and Canaan's country and the Jewish world of Ereẓ Israel, on the other.
Under Roman rule the province of Africa included many Jewish communities whose existence has been proven by numerous texts and archaeological findings. From Cyrenaica to *Morocco a series of Jewish communities have left their landmarks in these countries. Their center was Africa Propria, whose living conditions were well known in ancient rabbinic literature. The most important of these communities was Latin Carthage which from the second to the fourth centuries c.e. was the home of such sages as R. Ḥinna, R. Ḥanan, R. Isaac, and R. Abba, who are mentioned in the Talmud. A great number of Jewish lamps and many epitaphs, mostly written in Latin and accompanied by the seven-branched menorah, which were discovered in the cemeteries of Carthage, Marsa, Byrsa, or Gamarth, bear witness to the existence of a large population of the Jewish faith in Carthage. The extension of the Jewish necropolis at Gamarth indicates the importance of the community against which, Tertullian, who knew it intimately, wrote a special treatise (c. 200–06). Later, St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, and many other Christian authors of Africa Propria wrote against their Jewish fellow countrymen and the numerous Judaizing sects of ancient Tunisia.
Jews and Judaizers were widely scattered throughout the entire country, especially at Naro on the Hammam-Lif beach where a magnificent synagogue stood, the ruins of which are well known; at Hippo-Diarrhytus (present-day Bizerta), whose governor at the time of the Arab conquest was, according to the historian al-Qayrawānī, a Jew; at Utica; at Simittu (present-day Chemtou); at Hadrumetum (present-day Sousse); and at Henchir-Gouana, west of the site where the present-day Kairouan was to be built. On the Libyan littoral, included in Africa Propria, there was a Jewish community at Oea (present-day Tripoli); at Leptis Magna (present-day Lebda); and at Locus Judeorum Augusti, also called Scina (Iscina), whose Jews were among those sent by the Romans as slaves from Ereẓ Israel to Africa after the war of 70. After they were set free, they settled in areas granted to them by the Romans. Inland, according to Ibn Khaldūn, the tribe of Nefusa practiced the Jewish faith before the Arab conquest. It is known that there were Jewish communities in Numidia – which also belonged to Carthage – at Hippo Regius (present-day Bone), at Cirta (Constantine), and at Henchir-Fouara, not far from Souk-Ahras, the center of nomadic Jews called Baḥusim under Arab rule. Concentrations of Jews were also found at Thusurus (the present-day Tozeur), as well as Jewish tribes who lived before the Arab rule in the mountains of Aurès.
Living and economic conditions of Jews in Africa seem to have been satisfactory during the Roman era and before Christianity's triumph. In Carthage especially, the luxury of the decorations of most of the hypogea in the Jewish cemeteries of Gamarth bear witness to the prosperity of the community and to the wealth of certain families. It seems that most of the island Jews were engaged in agriculture. In the harbors many Jews were involved in maritime trade: trade relations between Rome and North Africa were of exceptional importance owing to the transport of foodstuffs to Rome, and later on also to Constantinople. This trade – as much evidence indicates – was almost completely in the hands of African Jews
who lived in Rome on Mount Colius, in a special district between the Coliseum and the Appian Way. Jews were entrusted with the transport of foodstuffs destined for Rome (annona urbis), which consisted mainly of cereals and olive oil; at that time Africa was the main producer in the Mediterranean; they were then called navicularii. One of the main tasks of these Jewish owners of big vessels was to engage in transport for state requirements, for which they received official honors in Africa Propria, as elsewhere. Jewish navicularii formed a separate corporate body. When the Roman Empire became Christian, the state took advantage of the Jewish ship owners and misused them so that their task became an overwhelming burden. Mass arrivals of Jews to Africa were mainly the aftermath of the disasters they were subject to in Ereẓ Israel, Egypt, and Cyrenaica from 70 to 118 c.e.
Their number increased as a consequence of the intense proselytic propaganda to which they dedicated themselves, first among the descendants of the Punics, then among the Berbers. The situation of the Jews facing Christians changed considerably after the time of Constantine, when triumphant Christianity became persecutor in Africa as elsewhere. When the Vandals dominated Africa Propria, the Jews were better treated but little is known about their true condition during that era. There is more information about their condition during the Byzantine period. In pursuance of the edicts of 535, applied by *Justinian at the same time to the Christian heretics, Jews were excluded from all public office, their worship outlawed, all meetings prohibited, and their synagogues transformed into churches. By the emperor's order the Jews of Borion, on Cyrenaica's frontiers, were forcibly converted, but toward the end of the sixth century the Byzantine administration slowly let the strictness of its rules lapse.
The persecutions by Justinian contributed to the expansion of African Judaism. Tracked down and sometimes even expelled, many Jews took refuge with the Berbers of the mountains and of the desert where they doubtlessly met coreligionists who had already settled there. In those regions the newcomers again took up their propaganda. This is probably how the great Judaized Berber tribes of Africa Propria were established, especially the Jarrāwas of the Aurès Mountains and the Nafūsas of Libya. According to some scholars other Jews left Africa for *Sicily and southern Italy. After the Arab conquest this latent immigration – started under Justinian – took the form of mass flight for the Jews of the African coast.
Tunisia under Arab Rule (to the Advent of the Hafsid)
The Arab conquest of this part of the world began in 643 when they took *Tripoli, but it did not take on a permanent aspect until the foundation of *Kairouan in 670. The resistance of the Byzantines rapidly decreased as the Berbers withstood the conquerors stubbornly. The *Berber leader Kusayla was a Christian. After having gained control of Kairouan in 688, he was defeated and killed. *Kāhina, who according to certain sources was a Jewess and whose life is surrounded in legends, then reigned over the powerful Jarrāwa tribe in the Aurès. Ibn Khaldun asserts that the Jarrāwas were Jewish. After the death of Kusayla, Kāhina – followed by all the Berbers – directed the military operations. A new Arab chief, Ḥassān ibn Nuʿmān, received a mighty army from the caliph *Abd al-Malik. Ḥassān seized Carthage and its inhabitants, doubtless including a number of Jews, and sailed for the islands of the Mediterranean. Kāhina advanced with her Jarrāwas on the Arab army, which she overwhelmed near Tebessa and drove out of Ifrīqiya. The Berbers then lived in security for a few years; once Ḥassān ibn Nuʿmān had received reinforcements, he launched another offensive in 702. Moreover, the Arabs found allies among the Greek inhabitants of the towns as well as the Berber farmers, who were opposed to Kāhina because she had destroyed their crops in order to prevent them from falling into the hands of the invaders. The old queen fought a desperate battle against Ḥassān ibn Nuʿmān but her army was beaten and pursued into the Aurès Mountains. In the wake of a second battle Kāhina was killed and her head was sent to the caliph ʿ Abd al-Malik as a trophy. With the death of this woman, who was called the "Berber Deborah," the period of heroic defense was brought to a close.
The Arabs then subordinated the whole of North Africa. The "people of the Book" (see *Ahl al-Kitāb) and the Christians were authorized to live under their domination upon the condition that they paid the *jizya (an annual poll tax, sometimes called also in the Maghreb (as elsewhere) jawāli, the tax of the expellees; see *Galut). Although the Berbers converted to *Islam, they were also compelled to pay these levies. The demands of the Arabs soon incited large-scale revolt. In Ifrīqiya an Arab governor, Ibrāhīm ibn al-Aghlab, established the dynasty of the *Aghlabids, which reigned from 800 to 909. There is evidence that from this period important groups of Jews were found particularly in the towns, where the revenue of their poll tax constituted an appreciable income for the state. They coexisted peacefully with the Muslim masses. Muslim scholars maintained friendly relations with Jewish scholars and important Muslim merchants and ship owners were content to trade with their Jewish colleagues. Under the Aghlabids, their successors the *Fatimids (Fātimids), and the Zīrids, until the invasions of Ifrīqiya by the Bedouin in the mid-11th century, an exceptional prosperity was enjoyed, which was followed by a period in which remarkable intellectual activity prevailed. The Jews played an important role in this progress. In Kairouan, the leading city of an immense empire, there were famous yeshivot which were headed by eminent scholars who for a long time maintained relations with the *geonim of the academies of *Sura, *Pumbedita, and Palestine. Shortly after the city's foundation the *Umayyad caliph of Damascus had 1,000 families – which are thought to have been Jewish – transferred from *Egypt to Kairouan. It was there that Isaac Israeli, the most famous physician of his day, studied in about 900. He became the private physician of the last of the Aghlabids, Ziyādat-Allah iii, and held the same position under the first of the Fatimid caliphs, the mahdī ʿUbaydallah. The most famous of Israeli's disciples was *Dunash ibn Tamīm, who, like his teacher, left a number of valuable works including a treatise on astronomy which refuted the principles of astrology, a commentary on the Sefer Yeẓirah, and a textbook on Hebrew grammar. Jewish scholars who possessed a wide, profound, and diversified knowledge – as was customary in the Middle Ages – flourished in Ifrīqiya. In addition to Kairouan they were to be found in such important communities as al-Mahdiya and Gabès. Outstanding among the talmudists in Tunisia were the scholars of the Ibn Shahūn family: R. Nissim, his son Jacob to whom R. Sherira and R. Hai addressed their famous Iggeret (responsum concerning the history of the Oral Tradition), and his grandson *Nissim, author of many talmudic treatises. Not less important was R. Ḥushi'el (one of the *Four Captives), and especially his son R. *Hananel. The leading family of scholars in Mahdiya was the Ibn Sīghmār (or Zūghmār), four generations of which served as dayyanim. But according to Abraham ibn Daud (Sefer ha-Kabbalah, 77–8) after the demise of R. Hananel and R. Nissim, the talmudic learning came to an end in Ifriqīya. Ibn Daud did not hold in high esteem later scholars in Mahdiya and in Galʿat Hammad.
From the thousands of documents preserved in the Cairo *Genizah and recently studied it is particularly evident that the class of Jewish-Tunisian businessmen (which was also – as was almost always the case in North Africa – the intellectual class) was a factor of considerable importance at this time not only in Tunisia but also throughout the Mediterranean countries. The importance of these other merchants, whether indigenous or from places in the Maghreb – but who often established themselves in Tunisia – lay in the decisive role they played in the trade with *India and their dominant position in the trade of the western Mediterranean. A large number of the leading and most active merchants in Egypt – in Fostat, *Alexandria, the large textile centers of Bushir and Tinnis, and the smaller localities where flax and indigo were grown – were Tunisian Jews who stayed in the country or had recently established themselves there; their families generally remained in Tunisia. Others lived in *Aden or even further away, as in India.
Jewish *Jerusalem of the 11th century was also inhabited by many Jews from the Maghreb. The majority of the Jews of *Sicily, which had been conquered by the Muslim natives of Tunisia from the ninth century, were Tunisians. Their extensive activity on the island – in *Palermo, *Messina, and later *Syracuse – was felt as far as in northern *Italy and *Spain to the west. The principal goods which the Jews exported from Tunisia were linen and cotton textiles of every category, which they themselves occasionally manufactured, especially in the large industrial center of Sousse. Silk cloth and valuable brocades were also exported. Their carpets, manufactured in Tunis, Sfax, or Gafsa, and the canopies of Gabès, well-known in the Middle Ages, were much sought after. They exported many metals: copper from *Morocco, Spanish tin, lead, and mercury. The reexport of Spanish and Sicilian silks was practiced on a large scale. The agricultural products exported by the Jews included primarily olive oil and its by-product soap, beeswax, almonds, saffron, and occasionally wheat. They sent salted tunny (fish) to Egypt. One of their main exports was raw or tanned hides; they also exported coral, which was found abundantly along the African coasts, and all kinds of ornaments which were made from them. Finally, books, written in Hebrew in Kairouan, were a very important item in the export trade to the west.
The Jews of Ifrīqiya imported spices of every kind, Oriental perfumes, indigo, walnut peel for its dyes and varnishes, sugar, medicinal drugs and plants, jewelry, precious stones, and pearls. The most important import, however, was Egyptian linen. All these goods were mainly transported by sea. The Jews of Tunisia were occasionally ship owners or partners in this trade. The ships, however, were generally owned by the government or members of the royal family, who maintained excellent relations with the Jews and entrusted them with the administration of their wealth. This enormous traffic was largely controlled by powerful Jewish families. These families, only about 20 in number, were large, wealthy, and influential. They organized into clans, contracted marriages among themselves, and were also related to the distinguished families of other countries. Rivalry existed to a degree among these clans; thus, members of the family Majjāni (originally from Majzāna) were the antagonists of the powerful Tāhertis (from Tāherē), who were related by marriage to the Berakhias – all leading clans of merchants who also produced eminent scholars and community leaders especially known from the responsa of the geonim of Iraq. On their part, the Majjānis considered the Ben Allans their implacable adversaries. Whether they were related by blood or by marriage, or were enemies, other important families dominated the Tunisian trade. These included the Ibn Sighmārs (Zūghmār) of Mahdiya, the Nahrāys, among whom there were also prominent scholars and others who lived in the same centers.
It can be said that in general the Jews of Tunisia enjoyed a life of ease. Yet, among the masses as well as among the aristocracy – even among a number of scholars – there was such an exaggerated passion for music that the gaon*Hai addressed his famous responsa against instrumental music to the communities of Gabès and Kairouan. The Tunisian Jews also manifested a misguided enthusiasm for perfumes and some extravagance in their dress. Great prosperity obviously prevailed, and in spite of their status of *dhimmī, their condition was excellent. They did not suffer from persecutions until about 1057, when Kairouan was destroyed by hordes of Arabs, and about 1087, when they were among the victims of the Christians who came from Italy and attacked Mahdiya and other coastal towns. On these occasions the Jews suffered the same fate as their Muslim compatriots. The Arab invasion of the 11th century marked the end of the golden era of the Jews of Ifrīqiya.
In 698 Ḥassān ibn Nuʿmān chose Tunis, a small and ancient townlet, to replace the fallen capital of Carthage, but it never attained the importance of Kairouan. In time, after the invasion of the Bedouins, it succeeded together with Mahdiya in overshadowing Kairouan. On the other hand, the closed towns of the coast escaped the Arab peril only to fall into the hands of the Christians. Roger ii the Norman, who had conquered Sicily, attacked the coast of Ifrīqiya (1118–27) and seized the island of *Djerba (1134), Gabès, Sfax, and Sousse (1148), as well as Mahdiya (1156), in all of which there were important Jewish communities. It does not, however, appear that the Jews of all these ports suffered extensively under Norman rule. Those of Tunis, who were governed by the small and tolerant Banu-Khorassan dynasty, continued to control the large maritime trade of Tunisia. In 1159 the *Almohads invaded Tunisia. When they conquered Tunis, they confronted both Jews and Christians with the alternative of conversion to Islam or death. Other communities, also, suffered heavily as a result of this conquest. Thus, according to ancient additions to the famous elegy of Abraham *Ibn Ezra, the communities of Mahdiya, Sousse, Gafsa, al-Hamma, Gabès, Djerba, and the town of Tripolitania shared the same fate. Many Jews converted, while others fled and dispersed throughout the country or chose to die as martyrs. In the wake of this catastrophe, the strength of Ifrīqiya Jewry was impaired for a long period, and its social organization, economic situation, and intellectual and religious conditions greatly declined. In a letter attributed to *Maimonides, who left North Africa in 1165, it is said that between Tunis and Egypt, including Djerba, the standard of the Jews was very low. If this letter is authentic, it at least proves the presence of Jews in Tunisia who were able to remain there from 1165 onward.
Hafsid (Ḥafṣid) Rule (1228–1534)
In 1228 the governor of Ifrīqiya, Abu Zakariya, severed relations with the Almohad caliph of *Marrakesh, and in 1236 proclaimed himself emir and chose Tunis as his capital. It appears that from then onward many Jews who had been forced to convert were able to return to Judaism; from that date they lived under relatively normal conditions together with those who had fled from the towns. At least the constant threat to their lives and property was lifted. The synagogues, which were closed under the Almohads, were reopened. Although the Jewish communities of Ifrīqiya did not in general enjoy their former prosperity, a class of important merchants, which appears to have survived the Almohad conquest, succeeded in reassuming its earlier position. They resumed their maritime trade immediately after the consolidation of Almohad rule – well before the advent of the Hafsids. There is a mention in Maimonides' responsa of a Jew from Egypt who traveled to Tunis in the course of his affairs. The reign of Abu Zakariya and his successors was propitious, and the Jews of Tunisia once more developed their trade. In 1227 a detainer was lodged against them in a commercial lawsuit by the podesta of Pisa. In 1239 the Jews of Djerba established a colony in Sicily. Frederick II granted them a concession to cultivate indigo, which had until then been imported from the Orient, as well as henna, which only Tunisia supplied to Italy. The royal palm plantation near Palermo was also given to them as a concession. In 1257 the Jews of *Barcelona, who maintained permanent relations with their coreligionists on the Barbary Coast, demanded diplomatic intervention in Tunis so as to render their trade with Ifrīqiya more profitable. The expenses of the mission were included in the taxes which were paid by the Jewish community. From that time excellent relations existed between the king of Aragon and the Hafsid sultan, who recommended to Pedro iii a considerable number of his Jewish subjects wishing to settle in Majorca and Catalonia (see *Spain). The king then granted them privileges and favors. Other Jews of Ifrīqiya established themselves in the Aragon states, having been encouraged to do so by Pedro III, who granted safe conduct to Ḥayon b. ʿAmar, Isaac b. Bul-Faraj, Ismael Ḥazzān, and the astronomer Isaac *Nifoci (Nafusi) among others.
There was constant movement of Jews between the Barbary Coast and the Aragon states (see *Spain), and they became useful and even indispensable intermediaries. The monarchy of Aragon maintained excellent relations with the Jews of southeastern Ifrīqiya; moreover, the king of Aragon showed special concern for the Jews of the Barbary Coast and accorded them particularly advantageous facilities to establish themselves in the Aragon states. In 1285 the Hafsid sovereign sent a delegation to Pedro iii requesting that he grant the concession of all the funduqs (marts) which belonged to him in Tunis to one of his Jewish subjects, Solomon b. Zahit – probably one of his favorites. For a period of two years Solomon b. Zahit was able to appropriate for himself one half of the income of these funduqs, through which the majority of the goods imported from Europe passed in transit. A Jew of Djerba was entrusted with the proposal and the payment of a ransom of 14,000 dinars for the liberation of the Muslim ruler of the island, which was occupied by the Catalonians from 1286 until about 1335. Djerba then became the center of the trade between Catalonia and Ifrīqiya and Jews played the leading role in it. In 1308, when James ii of Majorca decided to wage war against Tunisia, the goods of his Jewish subjects in Tunisia were seized by the Hafsid makhzan. All trade with Tunisia was prohibited, but the Jews, who had tremendous interests in Ifrīqiya, disapproved of this measure. As a result the Jewish community of Majorca did not contribute to the equipping of the fleet which was sent against Tunisia. A short while later, when negotiations were opened in order to resume cordial relations with the Hafsid state, a prominent Jewish merchant, Maimon b. Nono, assisted James iii of Majorca's ambassador in the negotiations which led to the peace treaty of July 1329. In Tunis the collector of custom duties, an important official, was often a Jew. In 1330 Joseph Assusi, who held this position and was zealous in upholding the interests of his sovereign, sought to impose additional taxes on the Catalonian Christians and his Jewish coreligionists.
Alongside of these influential businessmen the Jewish masses engaged in peddling. These petty tradesmen carried textiles, leather, spices, and other goods from one village or hamlet to another; others joined caravans which went deep into the desert. A number were exceedingly wealthy and a very important factor in the trans-Sahara trade of Tunisia. Though its volume and importance could not be compared to the scope of that of the kingdoms of Tlemcen and *Morocco, they nevertheless greatly enriched the Hafsid sovereigns and their subjects. The Jews of Ifrīqiya thus earned their livelihood almost exclusively from their economic activity, a situation which prevailed throughout the Hafsid period and also later. However, there were probably also a number of physicians, and aside from their religious officials the Jews also had a few representatives in other liberal professions. They hardly engaged in manual occupations, with the exception of those connected with precious metals, an ancient Jewish craft in North Africa.
The great anti-Jewish persecution which broke out in Spain in 1391 deeply affected North African Jewry. The Jewish emigration from Spain which followed this persecution was largely directed to the Barbary Coast. The eastern towns of Ifrīqiya, which form part of present-day Tunisia, received only a limited number of these emigrants. Their influx was felt to the greatest extent, in quality and quantity, in the territory of the kingdom of *Tlemcen. Many of the emigrants originated in the countries to which they now turned. In Tunisia, hostility which prevailed against the newcomers and their core-ligionists who had left the country, was unknown. The influence of Jews of Catalonia and Majorca does not seem to have been as appreciable in Tunisia as in Algeria where more backward communities had benefited from their contact with the newcomers. Even so, Tunis, Sousse, and Bizerta, as well as the communities of the central Maghreb, often turned for orientation and leadership to Algiers, the center of such outstanding rabbis as R. *Isaac b. Sheshet Perfet and the *Duran family.
There were a number of rabbis and dayyanim in the communities of eastern Ifrīqiya. Although they were not as numerous, and especially not as influential, as those of the western part of the country – in Miliana, Bougie, Bône, or *Constantine – there were nevertheless some outstanding scholars among them, such as the dayyan of Tenes, Samuel Ḥakim, who was native born and had studied astronomy under the Spanish immigrant Abraham b. Nathan; the learned Isaac of Tunis; and the financier Ḥayyim Méllili, who was also from Tunis and corresponded with R. Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran. Occasionally however, such important towns as Tunis found themselves without a rabbi-dayyan and were compelled to seek them elsewhere. Although the Hafsids decreed that newcomers would not be taxed to the same extent as the native Jews, the number of immigrants does not appear to have increased. The local Jews always constituted a majority in Ifrīqiya. It seems that the interpreters and translators who maintained the contacts between the native Arab dynasty and the European authorities in the cities and ports were recruited from among Jewish immigrants. Such one seems to be Moses, who in 1267 was interpreter into Arabic for the Genoese merchants who had settled in Tunis. In 1421 a Jew, Abraham, was entrusted with the translation from Arabic into Italian of the peace treaty which had been concluded between *Florence and Tunis. In 1485 Abraham Fava drew up the Latin version of the Tunis-Genoa treaty.
European Jews were also raised to the rank of ambassador in the foreign relations of the Hafsids. In 1400 the physician *Bondavin was entrusted with a diplomatic mission to the king of Aragon; in 1409 Samuel and Eli Sala negotiated the peace treaty between Sicily and Tunis, which they signed themselves. The above examples of Jews who played an important role in the political life of Ifrīqiya were rare under the Hafsids. Even though Tunisia did not have eminent Jewish statesmen like those who flourished in Morocco during the same period, the community was at least spared bloody pogroms such as were perpetrated in *Fez at the beginning and the end of the Merenid dynasty (1269–1465).
The legal status of the Jews in the Hafsid State conformed to the legislation pertaining to the *dhimmi, which tolerated and protected the "people of the Book" but at the same time looked upon them as inferior to Muslims. As in all Islamic countries, the Hafsids subjected the dhimmi to a number of restrictions: they imposed the payment of special taxes and, at the whim of the sovereign or his representatives, the obligation to wear distinctive garments or signs. As elsewhere, the jizya was the characteristic levy which was imposed on the dhimmi. Only rabbis who had achieved a degree of fame were exempted by the Hafsid government from its payment. The government also extorted arbitrary payments from the Jewish communities on fixed dates, or as exceptional measures. This category of imposition was known as qānūn. The community, in the person of its leaders, was responsible for its payment. The Jews of the Hafsid State were compelled as a matter of principle to distinguish themselves from the Muslims by the color of their clothes or the donning of a distinctive sign. The severity of the application of these laws varied widely. The decree of the Almohad al-Manṣūr which stipulated that the Jews were to wear a special costume and a distinctive sign called a shikla fell into disuse with time. In 1250 the Hafsid al-Mustanṣir reimposed this discriminatory measure. As late as 1470 the Jews of Tunis still wore special dress and displayed a piece of yellow cloth on their head or neck. At the same time, the Jews of the Hafsid State were not affected by any official impediment to their rights of ownership. They freely acquired and sold real estate everywhere, including houses which they erected, and thus were occasionally important landowners. They could also own non-Muslim slaves. The government authorities strictly protected the Jewish communities of Ifrīqiya, where anti-Jewish outbreaks of violence were unknown. In spite of the difference of religion and the feeling of contempt which was often expressed by the Muslim masses toward Jews, commercial relations were maintained on a permanent basis and both parties reaped benefits from them. Conflicts which arose were brought sometimes before the qadis. Occasionally, the qadi himself referred complicated cases to the dayyanim of Algiers. In fact, the rabbis of Algiers often campaigned against the exaggerated tendency of the Jews of Tunisia to resort to the tribunal of the qadi.
According to legend the Jews lived in the center of Tunis from the tenth century onward, when the Muslim mystic Sidi Mahrez founded the Ḥāra (Ḥārat al-Yahūd, i.e., the Jewish quarter of the town). In the Middle Ages the Jews concentrated themselves in a quarter of the town around one or several synagogues. On other occasions, they preferred to live in groups among the Muslim population. Foreign Jewish merchants used to live in a special funduq in Tunis.
The Jewish communities were granted official recognition and enjoyed a wide measure of administrative and cultural autonomy. They were headed by "notables" (gedolei ha-kahal, ziknei ha-kahal) who were – as in Morocco – a plutocratic oligarchy. This was in contrast to the leaders (ne'emanim) of the communities of Spanish or *Leghorn (Italy) origin – to be later established in the country – who were elected by all the members of the community. The gedolei ha-kahal were entrusted with the management of charitable funds, while others known as parnasim or gizbarim were responsible for the administration of the synagogues and religious funds. They held these functions – which were often financially burdensome – on an honorary basis and were referred to with confidence. The notables were headed by the zekan ha-Yehudim (elder of the Jews), who under Ottoman rule assumed the title of qa ʾ id. This eminent personality was always feared when he was nominated by the sovereign and loved and respected when he was chosen by his coreligionists. He was always a native of the country, because, in the first place, he exercised his control over the destinies of the communities of the native Jews; his authority, however, also included the communities of foreign born Jews. Moreover, in Tunisia the native Jews were far more numerous than their coreligionists of European origin. As a general rule the rabbis, and particularly the dayyanim, played a role in the administration of the community.
In the wake of the expulsions from Spain and Sicily in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497, a number of Jewish refugees took refuge in Tunisia. They do not appear to have been very numerous; furthermore, many of them were only transients. There were several scholars among these refugees, including such highly eminent personalities as the commentator on Rashi, Abraham *Levy-Bacrat, the talmudist Moses *Alashkar, and the astronomer and historian Abraham *Zacuto, who completed his Sefer Yuḥasin ("Book of Genealogy") while in Tunis in 1504.
Tunisia under Ottoman Rule
The anarchy which prevailed in North Africa during the late 15th and early 16th centuries facilitated the Portuguese invasions of Morocco and the Spanish invasion of Algeria and Tunisia. Only the unexpected intervention of the Ottoman Turks in the latter two countries finally spared them from Spanish occupation. In the meantime the menace of anti-Jewish Spain overshadowed the Tunisian communities. In 1515 the Spanish fleet raided Djerba and the Jews suffered extensively. In 1535 Charles V occupied Bizerta and La Goulette, their small communities being expelled or massacred. When the emperor occupied Tunis, he immediately turned the town over to his soldiers who ransacked it and massacred 70,000 persons, including a large numbers of Jews, while others were sold as slaves. Several Tunisian ports were taken, liberated, and retaken by the Spaniards until 1574, when Turkish military victories finally brought these attacks to an end. As a result of this climate of insecurity and constant danger, the Jewish communities of the coast were almost completely depleted of their members; many of them, natives and Spanish expellees, left for the Orient or Italy.
When the grand duke of Tuscany called upon the Jews to establish themselves in his ports of Pisa and Leghorn in 1593, the many Conversos and Jews from various Mediterranean countries who immediately settled there were joined by African Jews who had already taken refuge in Italy and sought a permanent home there. Leghorn thus became a large Jewish center and its trade underwent considerable expansion. The Jewish community soon sent representatives to Africa, and from the early 17th century there was a sizable number of Leghorn Jews in Tunis, where they were known as "Grana" from the Arab name for Leghorn – "Gorna." All the foreign Jews, former Marranos, or Tunisians who returned to their native country after spending one or two generations in Italy were gradually integrated among the Jews of Spanish or Sicilian origin remaining in Tunisia, as well as those who had recently arrived from Algeria or Morocco. In fact, those people who possessed a common language – Spanish or Italian – customs, and ways of life which were more or less similar were called "Granas" or "Gornim." From 1685 they designated themselves as "la nation livornese [from Leghorn] ebrea en Tunes," although many of them had never set foot in Leghorn.
From the beginning, the Jews known as "Touansa" (natives of Tunisia), who formed the overwhelming majority of the community, looked upon the "Grana" with suspicion. Although both groups lived together in the Ḥāra for a long time, their relations continually deteriorated until they bordered upon hatred. Indeed, in the middle of the 17th century Hamūda Pasha prohibited all the Jews, whether "Grana" or "Touansa," to own real estate; they were confined to residential quarters where they could only be tenants. As a result of overcrowding, rents soared. The rabbis then decided that anyone who was the first tenant of a house thus acquired the right of ḥazakah (possession). No other Jew could have the first tenant evicted by offering a higher rent. The right of ḥazakah remained in force for a long time among Tunisian Jews, only falling into disuse when the government of Muhammad Pasha authorized the Jews to acquire real estate in the wake of the Pacte Fondamental of 1857. The decrees which prohibited Jewish ownership of real estate or confined them to a special quarter were by no means generally observed in Tunis. In fact, after having coexisted for several generations the "Touansa" realized that they were despised by the "Grana," whose religious practices differed from their own; they subsequently assigned them special places in their synagogues, as a result of which life in common became unbearable. The "Grana" finally separated from their native-born coreligionists completely and established an independent community which possessed its own administration, cemetery, slaughterhouses, rabbinical tribunal, dayyanim, and chief rabbi. This secession, in 1710, prevailed until 1899 when the authorities issued a decree calling for an official merger of the two communities. From that time there was a single chief rabbi for the whole of Tunisia, one rabbinical tribunal and one slaughterhouse in each town, and a single delegation within the council of the community and the cabinet of the Tunisian government. In practice, however, the schism persisted and the authorities were compelled to issue a further decree of amalgamation in 1944.
After 1710 the "Touansa" waged a veritable holy war against the "Grana," going so far as to treat them as false Jews in light of their pride. They finally succeeded in having them expelled from the Ḥāra. The "Grana" then founded the sūq al-Grana, the commercial artery of the old part of Tunis, and opened three new synagogues and two houses of prayer, one of which was situated in the heart of the Christian quarter of that period. The struggle between the groups continued and the "Grana" of Tunis attracted every newcomer in the town to their community, whether he was of European, African, or Asian origin. Moreover, their slaughterhouses, which were more popular, also sold meat to the "Touansa," thus depriving this ancient community of a part of its meat taxes, raised for the benefit of its poor. An arrangement became imperative, and in July 1741 a takkanah was signed by the rabbis of the two communities under the supervision of R. Abraham Tayyib, their leader. The following agreements were reached: (1) that all Jews who had originated in Christian countries would form part of the community of the "Grana," while all those who had originated in Muslim countries would belong to the community of the "Touansa"; (2) that two-thirds of the general expenses of the community would be covered by the "Touansa" and one-third by the "Grana"; and (3) that the "Touansa" could not buy meat in the "Grana" slaughterhouses. This prohibition was not observed and had to be renewed in 1784.
The community organization of the Tunisian Jews remained unchanged for several centuries, with only a single leader, the qa ʾ id of the Jews. This leader wielded extensive powers and was responsible for the collection of taxes – an honorary position of considerable importance with material advantages. He was generally a member of the ancient community. Thus, for the most part the "Touansa" dominated the "Grana." Moreover, the bey regarded both as his own subjects. This state of affairs was even maintained during the first half of the 19th century – when there was an intensified immigration of Leghorn Jews – by the inclusion of a number of clauses in the treaty signed in 1822 between Tuscany and the regency of Tunis. In fact, it was anticipated therein that Leghorn Jews who settled in the regency would always be considered and treated as subjects of the country and would enjoy the same rights as the native-born Jews. Occasionally, the authorities even adopted policies toward the ancient community differing from those for the new one, which was thus discriminated against. In 1686 the latter – through the intercession of their leaders Jacob and Raphael Lombroso, Moses Mendès Ossuna, and Jacob Luzada – requested a loan from the consul of France in order to pay a huge tax imposed on them by the Muslim authorities. They then informed the consul of the extreme poverty to which the "Leghorn nation" had been reduced. They claimed that the extortions and assassinations, both past and present, had impoverished them and that it was their intention to seek the assistance of their coreligionists of Leghorn in order to repay the loan which "with tears in their eyes, they now solicited for the love of God so as to redeem a nation and a community." Under these circumstances, as others, the "Touansa" supported the "Grana." Moreover, it was a rule among the Jews of Tunis to redeem their coreligionists who had been captured by pirates.
There were instances when a single spiritual leader headed both communities at the same time. In such a case the chief rabbi was always a native of the country or a personality whose ancestors were of African origin. There was, however, one exception: the renowned talmudist R. Isaac Lombroso, who was born in Tunis but was of Leghorn parentage. His teachers, however, were Tunisians: R. Ẓemaḥ Serfati and R. Abraham Tayeb (d. 1714), the famous "Baba Sidi" who exerted a great influence on the whole of Tunisian Jewry. The grandson of the latter, also named R. Abraham, wrote Ḥayyei Avraham (1826), a voluminous commentary on the Talmud accompanied by important notes on *Alfasi, *Rashi, and *Maimonides. His son R. Ḥayyim Tayeb wrote Derekh Ḥayyim (1826) and R. Isaac Tayeb (1830) was also the author of several valuable works. The Bordjel family were Leghorn Jews of Tunisian origin. Their ancestor, R. Abraham *Bordjel (d. 1795), was a well-known author and dayyan in Tunis. Members of this family ranked among the leaders of Tunisian Jewry for two centuries. The most famous, R. Elijah *Bordjel, simultaneously held the positions of chief rabbi and qa ʾ id of the Jews. From 1750–1850 the Bonan family, Leghorn Jews of African origin, presided over the destinies of the "Grana" of Tunis, who were also headed by other Africans, such as members of the Darmon family. In the sphere of learning and Jewish studies all enmity between the two factions disappeared.
The authority of the rabbis of Tunis was very broad: they supervised the strict observance of religious precepts and the moral conduct of the individual, also issuing regulations pertaining to clothing and condemning the fancy of young women for elegance, jewelry, and fineries. These rabbis were widely known and were consulted from Ereẓ Israel and other countries. They were the first to abolish flogging in Tunis, substituting a heavy fine on behalf of the poor for it; they also compelled the members of all the communities to donate one tenth of their annual profits to charitable and religious institutions. Furthermore, they encouraged marriage between the "Grana" and the "Touansa." From the 17th century Tunis became an important center of Jewish learning: there was a particularly brilliant revival of the study of *Talmud and *Kabbalah. Ḥ.J.D. *Azulai, who visited Tunis in 1773, was impressed by the extensive learning and piety of Tunisian scholars, such as that of his hosts the Cohen-Tanoudjis family, among whom there were scholars and qa ʾ īds. He also became acquainted with the chief rabbi of Tunis, R. Mas ʿ ud Raphael al-*Alfasi (d. 1776), author of the novellae Mishnah de-Revuta (1805), and his two sons, Solomon (d. 1801) and Ḥayyim (d. 1783), author of Kerub Mimeshaḥ (1859). In Tunis there were other eminent scholars, such as R. Uzziel Alʾ-Haik (*Alhayk), the author of Mishkenot ha-Ro'im (1760), a rabbinic code in the form of an encyclopedia which deals with every category of problem encountered in the internal and public life of the Jews of Tunisia during the 17th–18th centuries and thus constitutes a valuable source of information that is indispensable to the writing of the history of the Jews of Tunisia. R. Mordecai *Carvalho (d. 1785) was a wealthy merchant in Tunis who devoted a large part of his life to rabbinical studies. In 1752 he was appointed rabbi of the Leghorn community and as such was widely known as a rabbinical authority. Of his works, the To'afot Re'em (1761), a commentary on the works of R. Elijah *Mizraḥi, is the best known. R. Abraham Boccara (d. 1879), author of Ben Avraham (1882), was also a leader of the "Grana."
The Jews of Tunisia occasionally played important roles in diplomatic capacities: in 1699 Judah *Cohen was sent to Holland as ambassador in order to negotiate a peace and commercial treaty; in 1702 he was the intermediary between Tunisia and the States General of the United Provinces, which ratified the secret decisions pertaining to their relations with the Barbary states. Moreover, Tunisian Jews were often appointed by the Christian powers to official positions in the capacity of interpreters or vice consuls. In 1814 Mordecai Manuel *Noah arrived in Tunis to fulfill the function of consul of the United States; upon his return he wrote a work on his travels which includes information on Tunisian Jews – yet, he never maintained relations with them as he sought to conceal his Jewish identity. It was, however, precisely because he was a Jew that the president of the United States, James Madison, relieved him of his functions. In a letter which he addressed to the president, Noah declared that his Jewish identity – when it became known in Washington – had left an unfavorable impression and he was therefore asked to leave the U.S. consulate in Tunis.
Their capacity as merchant magnates enabled the Jews of Tunisia, who were particularly well placed, to redeem Christian captives. In their trade with France, Italy, and the Orient these merchants employed bills of exchange and controlled the maritime trade in spite of the fact that the bey imposed higher export and import duties on them than on the Christians. For the latter the duty was 3% of the value of the goods, while for Jews it was 10% – reduced to 8% in the 18th century. Many Tunisian Jews were treasurers or bankers; they were employed at the mint; and it was to them that the authorities assigned the monopolies on fishing of tunny and corals and the trade in ostrich feathers, tobacco, wool, and the collection of customs duties. In 1740 the customs duties of Tunis were leased to the "Grana" for an annual payment of 80,000 piasters. In 1713 the bey sent a Jew from Bizerta to Sicily to sign a treaty on coral fishing. By this treaty the Sicilians committed themselves to bring in their haul of coral to Bizerta, where it would be sold to the Jews who had signed the treaty. From the 17th century to 1810 the Jews manufactured over 20,000 shawls of wool or silk in Tunis. More than one half of these were tallitot, which were sent to the Jews of *Trieste and Leghorn, from where they were exported to Poland for the religious requirements of the Jews of that country. The bey defended the interests of the Jewish merchants. In 1784 he declared war on the Republic of *Venice as it had not indemnified them for the loss of several cargoes in which the Venetian fleet was involved. Yet, during the same century the Jews of Tunis were the victims of pillaging on two occasions: in 1752 by the troops of the bey himself, when he was deposed from the throne for a time by a marabout; and in 1756 by Algerian troops who took the lives of thousands of Muslims and committed the worst outrages on Jewish women and children.
In contrast to the information on the Hafsid period, the Jews of Tunisia from the 16th century onward engaged in a variety of crafts. They were clock makers, artistic ironworkers, smelters, and joiners; others were glaziers, tailors, lace makers, shoemakers, and the only ones who worked with precious metals. They also manufactured musical instruments. Moreover, many of them were musicians, particularly on festive occasions. The members of every craft, as well as the petty tradesmen, were organized in guilds, presided over by a Muslim amīn (chief of the corporation) appointed by the authorities. All controversies between Jewish businessmen, industrialists, craftsmen, or workers, and all disputes over salaries, the price charged for the execution of a piece of work, and the like, were settled by three competent Jewish colleagues who were designated by their coreligionists. Occasionally the parties concerned challenged these persons and demanded the intervention of the amīn. The rabbis and the leaders of the community were then compelled to accept his judgment and enforce it under the threat that a ban would be issued against the parties involved if they bribed the amīn.
The native adult Jews of Tunisia wore a kind of small violet turban which was wound around a black skullcap, while the remainder of their dress was patterned after the Turkish fashion. During the 18th century the Leghorn Jews wore hats and wigs like the Europeans of the West. Until the beginning of the 19th century the "Grana" and a large number of "Touansa" merchants had the habit of wearing European clothes and round hats as a result of their trade, which required them to stay in Europe for various periods of time. The authorities shut their eyes to this departure from the Covenant of Omar. In the end this tolerance gave rise to abuses when a number of Jews, under the cover of their European dress, sought to evade certain obligations to which they had been subjected. The bey then decided to compel all Jews, whether "Touansa," "Grana," or foreigners, to wear a cap or a three-cornered hat. This decree was at the source of the so-called "affair of the hats" which took place in 1823 and almost caused the breaking off of diplomatic relations between Tunisia and the European states. The execution of the bey's orders was accompanied by many acts of cruelty and extortion perpetuated by the officers responsible for their application.
From the beginning of the century the Jews of Tunis manifested their approval of the French Revolution, whose armies emancipated the Jews of Europe in the name of human rights. They all wore the cockade. One of them, who appeared before the bey with this badge, received the bastinado. The Jews subsequently became ardent supporters of Napoleon and the "Grana" returned to wearing the French cockade. In order to restrain them the bey wanted to have one of them burned alive; he was only saved through the intervention of the consuls. The bey Aḥmad (1830–55) treated the Jews favorably on every occasion. When he visited the king of France, many Jews formed part of his retinue. He bestowed many honors on his Jewish private physicians, the baron Abraham Lombrozo, Dr. Nunez Wais, and the baron Castel Nuevo, all of whom endeavored to improve the status of their coreligionists. The Muslims referred to the bey Aḥmad as the "bey of the Jews." During his reign and those of his successors, a large number of Jews held important positions in his government. The bey Muhammad (1855–59) abolished the collective responsibility of the Jews in the sphere of taxation, exempted them from all degrading tasks, declared that they would pay the same duties on goods as Muslims and Christians, and attempted to include them in the common law. In 1857, however, a Jew, Batto Sfez, who had quarreled with a Muslim, was accused of having blasphemed Islam. The mob dragged him before the qadi, who condemned him to death. In spite of a vigorous protest by the consul of France, the bey Muhammad ratified the sentence and Batto Sfez was executed; the promises which were given to the consular authorities and the Jewish population that his life would be spared were disregarded. A squadron of Napoleon III's then took up positions in front of La Goulette so as to coerce the bey to apply the principles of equality and tolerance toward all the inhabitants of the regency. The equality of all Tunisian subjects of every religion was then proclaimed in a kind of declaration of human rights known as the Pacte Fondamental (September 1857). All the laws which discriminated against the Jews were repealed.
In 1861 Muhammad al-Ṣadiq-Bey (1857–82) promulgated edicts for drawing up civil and penal codes to be applied by the newly constituted tribunals. There was widespread discontent among the Muslim masses as a result of these laws. The government was reproached for favoring the infidels and raising the taxes paid by the Muslims, while the ministers were accused of having ruined the state. This was during a period in which the minister of finance, the qa ʾ id Nissim Samama, contracted onerous loans in Europe. An insurrection of the tribes broke out. In the north of the country the ill-treated Jews were convinced that their salvation only lay in the intervention of European warships, whose presence indeed restrained the rebels. In the south, pillaging against the Jews of Djerba and Sfax took place. In 1864 the bey was compelled to abolish the new constitution, but the abuses which it had suppressed did not reappear. The bey ordered that the Jewish victims of the insurrection be indemnified. The International Financial Commission, imposed on Tunisia in the wake of these financial upheavals, received the collaboration of the Jews and succeeded in its mission. From then on the French found in the Jewish population a very useful instrument for support of its policy, while the "Grana" remained the champions of the Italian presence in the country.
In 1878 the *Alliance Israélite Universelle founded its first school in Tunis. The French Protectorate, which was established in 1881, brought considerable changes in the material life of the Jewish masses of Tunisia. During the 19th century the Jewish population of the country was mainly concentrated in the towns: there were 60,000 Jews in Tunis in 1786, 30,000 Jews in 1815, but only 15–16,000 in the following years; Jews also lived in Matra, Le Kef, Nefta, Gafsa, Gabès, Sfax, Sousse, Naloeul, Mahdiya, and Testour. There were also many Jews in the villages and on the island of Djerba. The total Jewish population of Tunisia at the end of the 19th century was estimated by some scholars as 50,000 persons, by others as 60,000, and still others as 100,000, but all estimates were tentative only.
Changes on the Eve of the French Protectorate
The interference of France and Great Britain in Tunisia's internal affairs and the relations between the Grana and Italy were not the only examples of the involvement of external elements in Tunisian and Tunisian Jewish affairs. The opening of the Alliance Israélite Universelle school in 1878, 12 years after the foundation of the first such school in Morocco, was an important factor that influenced Jewish life. The Bey did his best to prevent the foundation of the first school but he could not resist French pressure. Those schools were not only a framework for learning, but also a challenge to the Jewish community because they offered new opportunities for social and economic improvement. An agreement, which insured that Jewish and religious materials would be part of the school curriculum was signed between the representatives of the Jewish community and of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Tunisia.
Another change at the end of the 19th century was the activity of Jewish scholars ("maskilim"). This activity was mainly intellectual: they wrote letters and reports to the international Jewish newspapers of that time such as Ha-Maggid, Ha-Ẓefirah, Ha-Levanon, and others. Despite the fact that these reports constitute important historical material due to the descriptions of the Jewish community of that time, the main objective of the maskilim was to arouse the awareness of the Jewish leaders in Europe and encourage them to became involved in Tunisian affairs and to improve Jewish life there. One of the famous scholars was Shalom Flach who wrote Hebrew text books and history books such as Ẓedek ve-Shalom ("Peace and Justice") about the relations between the Grana and Touansa. The maskilim published newspapers and also books of Jewish enlightenment from East Europe in Judeo-Arabic. Until World War ii this would be one of the main sources of conflict between them and the Alliance Israélite Universelle school director. At that time, the Alliance school was a cornerstone of French influence and an opportunity for youth to bring about social and cultural changes.
The Tunisian Jews in the French Protectorate (1881–1956)
Tunisia was conquered by the French in 1881. From that year on, it was the French – both in theory and in practice – who molded the development of modern Tunisia. Freedom from the restrictions of traditional society, new opportunities for the improvement of their economic situation, new modes of expression and activity that became possible for Jews through French acculturation, all of these were part of the modernization process. Three basic factors characterized modernization under colonial rule. First, the patterns of modernization were set by colonial rule. The modes were political, economic, or social or a combination of the three. French colonialism was assimilatory: it sought to instill French values and mold the ruled society by the standards of the ruling society according to its perceptions. Second, the pace of modernization was set by the considerations and needs of the French colonial powers. Third, the relationship between the colonial government and the local population lacked equality and was based on the exploitation of the ruled. The major basic problem of the Jews in this colonial society was the fact that they lived within a Muslim majority with very set patterns for Jewish existence. In the past a Jew had been obliged to be part of an autonomous Jewish community, living side by side yet in the shadow of Islam. The new colonial society gave the Jew the freedom, within certain limitations, to choose how he desired to identify himself. French culture presented a challenge which was irresistible. French rule was both the source of the Jews' security and their means of release from the degradation of Islam. Consciously – but not necessarily by choice – the Jews tied their fate with that of French colonial rule. Naturally, this process distanced them from the Muslim majority in Tunisian society.
Before the mass emigration of Tunisian Jews the Jewish population was estimated at around 105,000 people, which means that in less than 100 years the Jewish population had increased more than fourfold. Most lived in Tunis, the capital. As a result of the modernization process the Jews left the small villages and immigrated to larger centers; the capital was the most attractive as it offered the Jews new employment opportunities. Changes were also felt in the Jews' occupations, since the opportunities or options for employment had grown. Jews, who were no longer restricted in their choice of occupation, entered the liberal professions and the French administration, playing a significant role in clerical work. Salaried work, which was the basis of union organizations and syndicates, where Jews played an important role, spread. The working Jewish population increased with the years, women workers were more common than in the past, and children rarely worked. In the peripheral towns and villages those changes were not as intense as in the capital.
Naturalization and Emancipation
One of the issues concerning the Jewish community was the question of French citizenship, since, at least in the case of Algerian Jewry, French citizenship was forced upon them. In the case of Tunisia, there was a small group of Jews which tried to force the French authorities to duplicate the Algerian experience with Tunisian Jewry. Mardochee Smadja was born in Tunis in 1864 and educated at the Alliance schools. His grandfather was one of the rabbis who had signed the agreement with the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1874. Smadja was the leader of the campaign to encourage the French to grant Tunisian Jews the same rights as those awarded to Algerian Jews. He published the first manifesto of that group ("L'extension de la jurisdiction et de la nationalité françaises en Tunisie") in 1905 and was the publisher of the important newspaper La Justice. Smadja also represented the group at the Colonial congress held in Madrid and organized the mass demonstration in Tunis in 1910. All these efforts were not in vain. The demands presented the French general resident with a dilemma. The case of Tunisia was not similar to that of Algeria. First, Tunisia was only a protectorate while Algeria was annexed to France. Second, the existence of a considerable colony of Italian Jews who had Italian citizenship and no desire to renounce it posed a particular problem. Third, the French general resident was afraid of Muslim reactions as had occurred in Algeria following the law of 1870. After taking everything into consideration, the French authorities in Tunisia decided to naturalize the Tunisian Jews on an individual and selective basis. Thus, every Jew who wanted to acquire French citizenship was asked to demand it personally and to prove that he answered all the French conditions such as special service to France, knowledge of the French language, and French education. In the beginning of the French Protectorate, only a few Jews could be naturalized, but as a result of Jewish pressure the French general resident agreed to facilitate the conditions of naturalization. This was the background to the laws of 1910 and 1923. In the 1920s and 1930s, Jews acquired French citizenship in large numbers. For example, 1,222 became French citizens in 1926, 747 in 1928. However, in the 1930s there was a decrease in the naturalization of Tunisian Jews owing to French antisemitism and influences from Germany. The consequence of this naturalization policy was that the Jewish population was divided into three main categories: French citizens, Tunisian subjects, and Italian ones. Moreover, the second group, which constituted the majority of the Jewish population, was subdivided according to its acculturation to French culture. In Djerba, the most religious town of Tunisia, Jews did not want to have any connection with French culture, while in the capital most of the Jews were assimilated into French culture even if they were not French citizens. The second consequence was that the struggle for French naturalization proved that the French general resident would agree to change his policy under concrete pressure and defined goals. Tunisian Jews became more active and politically involved in order to achieve social change.
The function of the Jews' qa ʾ id was gradually abolished and its seems that Michael Uzan was the last one. At the beginning of the French protectorate, the French created a new institution, L'Assemblée des Notables. Furthermore, there was also a president and a chief rabbi for both the Touansa and the Grana. The chief rabbi of Tunis represented all the Jews, including the Grana, and received his salary from the French treasury. More important and durable was the creation of the Caisse de Secours et de Bienfaissance, which consisted of nine people who were nominated by the French, and which replaced all the traditional functions of the Jewish community. In order to adequately solve all the needs of Jewish society, a solution was devised: more than ten voluntary organizations, such as Société de l'Asile de Nuit (1909), Caisse de Secours et d'Habillement des Ecoles de l'Alliance (1904), were created under the patronage of Jewish notables. The most important change occurred in 1921 when the French decided to create the Conseil de la Communauté Israélite. It is not clear what the exact reasons were for that change. Perhaps the contribution of the Jewish volunteers in World War i or the desire of the French to conciliate the Jews after their refusal to legislate in their favor regarding naturalization contributed to this. The Conseil de la Communauté Israélite was elected quite democratically: a secret ballot was held every four years, but only the men who had paid their taxes to the community were eligible to vote. There were separate elections in each part of the community. The electoral campaign was the stage for debates which reflected struggles between political parties. Zionists tried to insure the Zionization of the council's activities, while the La Justice party hoped to use the power of that institution to persuade the French authorities to exert French influence over the Jewish community. The fighting over the character of the Jewish council was further proof of the political and social awareness of the Jewish community.
Intellectual and Spiritual Activity
Other expressions of political and social awareness may be found in the enormous number and variety of newspapers and periodicals that were published in Tunisia. From R. Attal's works it can be noted that about 160 periodicals, newspapers, and year books were published in Tunisia between 1878 and 1962. Seventy-eight were written in Judeo-Arabic, 65 in French, and 16 in Hebrew, most of the latter in Djerba. The majority of the newspapers in Judeo-Arabic were issued during the first generation of the French occupation. During the second generation, the domination of the French language was absolute and was also an expression of the community's assimilation to French culture. Forty-six of them could be defined as informative in character, 30 of them were Zionist–oriented newspapers, 15 were political, 12 rabbinical, and about 27 were literary. Some of the newspapers appeared for more than ten consecutive years; the most famous and important papers were La Justice (1907–14, 1923–33), L'Egalité (1912–32, 1940), Le Réveil Juif (1924–35), La Gazette d'Israël (1938–39, 1945–51), and El-Najma (1920–61). These newspapers, like the elections for the community, were the stage for the political, social, and intellectual struggle within Jewish society and of the Jews with the Muslims and the French in Tunisia. Jews were also employed by French newspapers as journalists, editors, and publishers. In 1921 out of a total workforce of 13,303, some 1,079 Jews declared that they were journalists, while in 1936, 3,114 Jews out of 15,928 made the same declaration, i.e., about 20% of the Jewish working population. As regards Jewish intellectual and spiritual life, it should be added that hundreds of Jewish books, mainly from East Europe, were translated into Judeo-Arabic by Jewish scholars, and the rabbinical literature in Djerba and the capital ran into hundreds of volumes of religious commentaries and interpretations.
French domination in Tunisia slowly changed the pattern of Muslim-Jewish coexistence. The Jews' process of assimilation to French culture gradually detached them from the Muslim society with which they had lived for hundreds of years. From the beginning of the French protectorate, a new ethnic element – the French settlers – was added to Muslim-Jewish relations. Those three ethnic elements had different, and occasionally opposing, interests. Owing to the increasing Tunisian national struggle, tension between the French and the Muslims was more obvious and understandable than between French and Jews, and even Muslims and Jews. As far as is known in the collective memory of Tunisian Jews, Muslim-Jewish coexistence was convenient and tranquil. This is not an idyllic, nostalgic point of view. Most Tunisian Jews do not remember any of the violent outbreaks that occurred in Tunisia. Apart from the three days in August 1917 and fragments of information in the Jewish newspapers about violent incidents or outbreaks in the early 1920s, one does not know of any significant outbreaks of violence. At the end of the 19th century, a short wave of French antisemitism influenced French-Jewish relations. This wave reappeared in the 1930s, but by then it was more aggressive. From this relatively favorable atmosphere, the Palestinian issue emerged as a new factor in the relations among the three ethnic groups. The Palestinian issue concerned all the aspects of the relations and connections between the Palestinian national movement and the Arab world, and in the Jewish case, with the Tunisian national movement.
In society at large, an interesting struggle developed during the 1930s between the Tunisian national movement, the Destour, and the Zionists. The Destour took advantage of French sensitivity to public order and thereby prevented the Zionists from parading their strength and their victories publicly. For example, the Destour prevented *Jabotinsky's appearance in Tunisia in 1932 and the screening of the film The Promised Land. They sabotaged the visit of Betar's study ship, Sarah A, in 1937, and condemned the Zionists at every opportunity. A close examination of the relations between the Zionists and the Destour shows that, in spite of the attitude of the Destour towards Zionism, the Zionists were not significantly harmed. The reason for this is simple. The Tunisian national movement's struggle was primarily directed against French rule, and it used Zionism only as a means by which to attack the French. For example, the denunciation of British colonialism in Palestine could be taken as a condemnation of French colonialism, if only indirectly. The damage done to Zionism was an indirect indication of the level of relations between the French administration and the leaders of the Tunisian nationalists. In this manner the Muslims learned how far they could strain relations with the French without significantly harming themselves. Moreover, such activity allowed them to test their ability to organize the Muslim crowds, to consolidate movement cells, and to prepare movement leadership. In spite of attacks of the Destour on Zionism, the fact that both were nationalist movements prevented the Destour from condemning the right of free speech and the self-determination of the Zionists. A negation of such rights would have been self-defeating. As far as is known, the relationship between Jews and Muslims did not deteriorate in the following years. During the period of Vichy and the German occupation of Tunisia the relations did not change, and the Muslims did not turn the situation to their advantage. While in most of the Arab world violent eruptions between Jews and Muslims occurred, Tunisia experienced no more than attacks in the newspapers or public demonstrations.
Zionism and Political Activity
Zionism was one response of Tunisian Jews to French colonialism and the modernization processes which affected them. Zionism was not only a reaction to modernity, but also an expression of modernity. The influence of Zionism increased over the years. The internal dynamics of the colonial situation on the one hand, and the possibilities for achieving the aims of Zionism, on the other, were principal factors in the development of Zionism in Tunisia. Tunisian Zionists saw in their movement a means to achieve political and social expressions, adapted to the spirit of the times.
Expressions of Zionism appeared at the end of the 19th century. Organized Zionism began only in 1910 with the foundation of the first Zionist society, Agudat Zion ("Society of Zion"). The French authorities legalized Zionism, but restricted it to cultural activities. Zionist political activity was forbidden. French authorization of Zionism was part of the colonial policy towards a plurality of cultural activities. During this period there was almost no opposition from other social groups in Tunisian Jewry. Zionism had been established, but was not yet an important factor in the social and political fabric of Tunisian Jewry. By World War i, other organizations had been founded in all the major cities of Tunisia. Agudat Zion published a Zionist newspaper, Kol Zion, collected the Zionist tax (the shekel), sent a representative to the Tenth Zionist Congress, contributed to Keren Kayemet (the Jewish National Fund), and held Zionist propaganda meetings. World War i interrupted Zionist activity, which virtually ceased until the end of the war.
Zionists participated fully in all major activities of the Jewish community of this period. During 1898–1918, Zionism reinforced individual interest in the general political movement, and defined itself on the social and political landscape of the Jewish community. This process of consolidation emerged from a stage of individual interest in Zionism to prominence in the public sphere and finally to a basis for activity. Zionism in this period established itself throughout Tunisia, and relationships were formed between activity in the periphery and in Tunis, the center. Zionists understood that without their own newspaper, they could not maintain themselves in the struggle against other political camps. The years 1918–26 were the formative years of Zionism in Tunisia. During this period the Tunisian Zionist Federation was established (October 1920) as an organizational framework for all Zionist activities. The founding of additional Zionist organizations, their geographic dispersion, and the policy of the World Zionist Organization made the establishment of the Federation compulsory. The Federation dealt with all necessary organizational matters – the collecting of money, propaganda, Zionist newspapers, elections to the Zionist congresses, and the struggle against other ideologies. However, the Federation did not succeed in rising above internal problems and leading Tunisian Zionism. Its weakness stemmed from its inability to impose its authority upon its constituent components, its lack of a fixed budget and, therefore, a good, regularly published newspaper, and the disregard and neglect on the part of the World Zionist Organization. In addition, opposition to Zionist activities by various sections of the Jewish community increased the difficulties.
Opposition to Zionism stemmed from two sources. Foremost was that of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. Its opposition was ideological. Zionism was nationalistic, whereas the Alliance presented an emancipatory ideology, seeking to integrate Jews into the general society in which they lived. In the Tunisian framework this meant integration into the French colonial society. The Zionists demanded that more Jewish history and Hebrew, as a living modern language, be taught in the Alliance schools, whereas the Alliance emphasized a deep attachment to French culture, based on the emancipatory model of French Jewry. The forces behind the struggle were not equal. The Alliance had a strong organization, considerable financial backing, and the support of the French authorities. Zionism, on the other hand, was in its initial stages of establishment. In spite of this, the Zionists succeeded in their struggle against the Alliance, at least in respect to the social legitimization of Zionism as a viable Jewish cultural, social, and communal alternative.
By actively participating in all aspects of Jewish communal life, the Zionists compelled the various communal groups to publicly recognize their presence. In addition to their struggles within the Jewish community, Zionists strove to make a place for themselves among the other social movements of the time, particularly vis-à-vis the socialist movement and the communist party, which were strongly attractive to Jewish youth. These struggles, however, were general and ideological in character and, because of this, their impact on Zionism was minimal. During 1926–39 Zionism was at the forefront of the struggle to define the character of Jewish life and its position in society. Two major changes occurred during this period. One was the creation of Zionist youth movements, the Eclaireurs Israélites de France (EIF), the Union Universelle de Jeunesse Juive (uujj), Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, and Betar. The youth movements brought an element of vitality to the full range of Zionist activity. Education, an important and central element of the youth movements, was accompanied by Zionist indoctrination. A child educated in one of these youth movements had a deep Zionist consciousness and commitment. The youth movements lowered the age level of Zionist activists. The frameworks for activity were more rigid in the youth movement than in the former Zionist organizations. In addition, youth movements made it possible for girls to participate in Zionist activity, which had formerly been impossible.
Another change in Tunisian Zionism during this period was the penetration of world Zionist political parties: the Revisionists accompanied by the Betar youth movement, and Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir. Bitter struggles took place between the two ideological approaches to Zionism: the integral Zionist program of the Revisionists versus the Marxist Zionism of Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir. The struggle culminated when the Revisionists accused their rivals of atheism, destroying family life, a bias towards communism, and aspirations to be fulfilled only in a kibbutz. Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir was forced to defend itself against harsh attacks and retaliated by accusing the Revisionists of fascism and Hitlerism. This contest could be seen in public demonstrations as well as in newspapers and was also reflected in information passed on to the police by informers. Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir was forced to disband in 1935. The Revisionists' victory was a result of having a strong newspaper, a simple ideological ethic, being well-suited to a society in transition, and effective meshing between the party and its youth movement.
The greatest importance of Tunisian Zionism during this period was its primary position in the struggle against all antisemitic manifestations in the country, both that of the French colonists and of the Italian ones. Tunisia did not escape the world-wide wave of antisemitism in the 1930s. The Zionists initiated and encouraged the Jewish community to boycott German, Italian, and Japanese goods. The Zionists called for public demonstrations against German antisemitic outbreaks. In this way, they both paved the way for themselves within the Jewish society and took a stand on behalf of the Jewish community among the various social elements.
The war years in Tunisia, 1939–43, totally changed the character of local Zionism. Until World War ii, the importance of Zionism was within Jewish society. Zionism made possible a modern mode of expression and activity for Jews who had not received French citizenship, yet wished to express their aspirations without violating the Jewish character of their society. After World War ii, Zionists understood that without aliyah to Ereẓ Israel, without severing themselves from life in Tunisia, there was no meaning to Zionism. Therefore the period between the end of World War ii and the creation of the State of Israel is characterized as "A Time of Achieving Zionism."
Ideologically, all the various Zionist streams believed in the fulfillment of Zionism as an obligation of the individual to the movement. There were arguments between the various streams of Zionism about the character of fulfillment, for example whether to live in a kibbutz or a city, but none about the need for its realization. Preparation was now required prior to embarking on a new life in Israel. Hebrew became significant and a Zionist was required to invest time learning the language as part of his preparation for aliyah. No less important for the Zionists were the attempts to establish preparatory camps in Tunisia and elsewhere. However, the number of Zionists who succeeded in completing this preparation was small. One particular aspect of this ideology was the mission of Tunisian Zionism in North Africa. Almost all the Zionist parties saw Tunisia as the base for overall activity in North Africa. The strength and importance of Zionism in Tunisia led to its primary position in all Zionist activity in North Africa. The significance of achieving Zionism was practical. During this period the immigration of Tunisian Jews to Israel began. At first immigration was legal, but it was small in numbers, encompassing not more than several dozens. The gap created between the desire to immigrate and the possibilities for legal aliyah in 1947–48 forced the Zionists to turn to illegal immigration. Tunisian Zionists were among the planners and implementers of the Ha'palah (*"illegal" immigration movement). Only some 300 Jews left Tunisia illegally during this period, but in terms of responsibility, the role of Tunisian Zionism was more significant.
The war years were characterized by an increase in the number of ideological parties, particularly those connected to world movements. The Revisionists still enjoyed Zionist hegemony as exemplified in the results of the elections to the Zionist Congress in 1946 and in its strong Zionist and Revisionist newspaper. Among the other movements, which combined socialism and Zionism, were Ẓe'irei Zion, which was aligned with the Kibbutz ha-Meuḥad, and Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, which renewed its activities in 1946. Among the religious movement, two trends were established. One was aligned with Torah va-Avodah and the Mizrachi party, and the other, religious Zionists, such as the Ateret Zion in Djerba, were without any affiliation. Other groups remained politically neutral. In this period, it is significant that the Zionists were the first to understand that the Jewish community under French rule was at its end. Restricted modernization under colonial rule had brought about the end of Jewish existence in Tunisia. Such was the Zionists' advantage in the colonial drama.
World War ii
Tunisian Jewry was influenced during World War ii by developments which had taken place mainly in France. French territories, including Tunisia, were under Vichy government rule and all its anti-Jewish legislation was applied there. The laws and decrees published by the Vichy government concerned three main areas: the legal status of the Jews, the numerus clausus in education, and the measures that were taken against the Jews' economic influence. The Jewish Statute was published in Tunisia on November 30, 1940, but its implementation was only partial because of the small number of French Jews and their importance in the economy, the positive attitude of the French résident général towards Tunisian Jews, and the involvement of the Italian government representative in Tunisia who looked after Italian interests. In Tunisia, the Italian representative strongly opposed all French attempts to aryanize Jewish property as part of Italy's policy to protect the Italian colony in Tunisia.
During a period of six months, between November 1942 and May 1943, the situation of Tunisian Jewry steadily deteriorated as a result of the German occupation which was a counter-attack against the American Operation Torch and also the British military campaign from Libya. The Jews suffered from the aerial bombardment of the Allied Forces as well as that of the German ones. As far as is known, most of the Jews who died during the German occupation were killed by these bombings. The Germans created a new Jewish communal committee most of whose functions were similar to the *Judenrat. The most important task of the community was to supply forced labor for military purposes. It is estimated that approximately 5,000 young Jews were sent to forced labor. The recruiting of the Jews was carried out by a special Comité de Recrutement de la Main d'Oeuvre which was headed by Paul Ghez, a famous lawyer. The Jewish workers were interned at about 30 military camps along the battle fields. The dissatisfaction of the Jews with the work of this committee was natural and understandable, because they had to take care of all the workers' necessities, such as food, clothes, transportation, links with families, etc. The Germans confiscated Jewish property, houses, cars, blankets, radios, public buildings such as the Alliance school, etc., for their own purposes. They imposed a 53 million franc fine on the community. The French résident général, did not, and probably could not, help the Jewish leaders to argue with, or at least to minimize the Germans' demands. Thus, Jewish feelings of isolation, abandonment, and disappointment with France as a Protectorate, were quite understandable. As far as is known, the Tunisian Muslims did not harm the Jews during this tragic period and no incidents occurred between Jews and Arabs. On the contrary, Arabs offered shelter to Jews in their villages until the German threat passed. On July 7, 1943, Tunisia was liberated from Nazi occupation by the Allied Forces. A new era began, while in Europe the destruction of the Jewish communities was still going on.
The period of Vichy and the German occupation was a turning point in the history of the Tunisian Jews and proved that the attempts to assimilate to French culture were an illusion. Not only did France fail to protect the Jews against harsh attacks, but it also initiated antisemitic activity itself. The process of decolonization, disappointment in France, and the rise of Tunisian national aspirations for independence were among the major factors in the change in the view of France. French military and economic power was reduced to such levels that the Jews lost their confidence that France would help them when necessary. The alternatives to a French protectorate were Zionism and immigration to Israel, communism, or waiting for other developments. In addition to the disappointment with France there was also disappointment with the leaders of the Jewish community who were accused of nepotism as well as cooperation with the Germans. They had to submit their resignation and a provisional committee was established. The economic situation deteriorated due to the war and the German oppression. Moreover, France could not give any economic assistance to Tunisia because of its economic situation after the war.
From World War ii to Independent Tunisia
The main development after World War ii was the emigration from Tunisia which was due partly to the disappointment with France and the decline of colonialism, partly to the fear of an independent Tunisia, and above all to the creation of the State of Israel. As mentioned before, the first stage of aliyah was the illegal immigration of 1947–48. The second stage began with the creation of the State of Israel with more than 4,000 immigrants in 1951, and 2,500 in 1952. But the two following years were marked by a strong decrease in immigrants: about 600 in 1953 and 2,600 in 1954. The political autonomy given to them by the French and the forthcoming independence influenced the Jews' decision to leave the country. More than 6,000 Jews immigrated to Israel in 1955 and 6,500 in 1956. The aliyah was organized by the Jewish Agency which sent emissaries to Tunisia. This was the period when the Tunisian Jewish leaders lost their standing in the community to the Israeli emissaries and Israeli political party representatives. One such expression of this was the decrease in the number of Jewish newspapers published in Tunisia.
Jews in Independent Tunisia until the Six-Day War
The character and attributes of independent Tunisia were influenced by several basic factors: the nature of the party in power (Neo-Destour), the almost bloodless struggle for independence, Tunisia's role in the Maghreb states and in the Arab world, its pro-Western inclinations, and the domestic problems it faced during the first years of independence. These factors had a consequential influence on the character of Tunisian Jewry and on the manner in which Israel handled the issue of immigration from Tunisia.
Independent Tunisia's policy vis-à-vis its Jews favored their full integration into the new Tunisian society. Thus, for example, all Tunisians were given the franchise in elections to the Constituent Assembly, ten Jewish judges were appointed to the country's courts to decide cases dealing with Jewish litigants, and though the rabbinical courts were abolished, special courts dealing with matters of personal status were established within the Tunisian legal system that were open to Jews just as they were to all other Tunisians. The Jewish community council was disbanded and replaced by an "Interim Committee for the Management of the Affairs of the Jewish Community" until "associations for religious matters" would be established.
Two of the steps taken by the authorities for the development of the capital city of Tunis proved detrimental to the Jewish community: the transfer of the old Jewish cemetery to another site and the razing of Ḥārat al-Yahūd, the Jewish quarter. These were carried out as part of an urban renewal plan in which the Muslim cemetery was also removed to a new location. Aware of the Jews' sensitivity, Habib Bourguiba personally supervised all work related to the transfer of the Jewish cemetery, during which the Tunisians displayed a reasonable degree of consideration for Jewish feelings.
The years from Tunisian independence until the events in Bizerta in 1961 were marked by a decrease in tension between those Jews who remained in the country and the authorities. Jews were appointed to some of the positions vacated by the French, and Yom Kippur was proclaimed an official holiday, enabling Jews to absent themselves from work. The Jews' sense of security and the degree of their identification with Tunisia are exemplified in the role they played in the "Campaign for the Dinar" (in which all Tunisians were called upon to shore up the declining value of the Tunisian dinar). The extent of aliyah to Israel in these years also reflects the general climate of opinion in Tunisia. In 1955, over 6,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, while in 1956 – the year of Tunisian independence – another 6,500 arrived. In the year following independence, however, the figure dropped to about 2,600 and was even lower in the succeeding years until the fighting in Bizerta in 1961 between the French and the Arabs. The events in Bizerta increased the Jews' doubts as to their future in Tunisia. French military presence, limited as it was, was a sort of lifebelt for them and made them feel more secure. The best proof of their sense of insecurity lies in the figures for Jewish emigration during these years. Of the 65,000 Jews in the country in 1960, 60,000 remained in 1962, while in 1965 the Jewish population of Tunisia amounted to no more than half of that of 1962. In less than five years, over 30,000 had left the country, most of them professionals or businessmen. The extent and character of emigration during these years are quite similar to that of the period which immediately preceded Tunisian independence. Those who remained were primarily the elderly.
In the interim period between the Bizerta affair and Bourguiba's proposals in 1965 for a peaceful solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the condition of Tunisia's Jewish community deteriorated. After a plot to assassinate Bourguiba was uncovered in 1962, many Jewish families closed down their businesses and immigrated to France. Gradually, it was forbidden to send letters and parcels to Israel, and direct telephone communications between the two countries were cut off. Only Jews bearing French citizenship were allowed to leave with their belongings, and this only if they were able to present proof of their citizenship and an affidavit certifying their destination as France. Jews holding Tunisian citizenship could leave the country without their property, except for 30 dinars and some clothes. Thirty-five Jews from Djerba were arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle gold from Tunisia to Libya. They were imprisoned, tortured, and tried in court, where they were very heavily fined. Only intervention by the community leadership managed to alleviate their condition somewhat. Eyewitness accounts from the time of the Six-Day War in Tunisia talked of anti-Jewish demonstrations in Tunis, heavy damage done to Jewish retail establishments throughout the city, where more than 100 shops were looted and smoke poured out of scores of Jewish establishments. Only intervention by President Bourguiba brought the demonstrations to an end. In a speech broadcast over the radio and the television, he called on the mobs to stop the riots and denounced them severely. His action prevented even more severe attacks on the Jews, especially in the smaller towns.
Since the Six-Day War
The character of this period was influenced by the Arabization of the new state including its relations with the Arab world and the effect of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the economic situation, and the size of the Jewish population. These years can be divided into three main periods: from the Six-Day War to the Lebanese War (June 1982, known as Peace in Galilee); from the Lebanese War to the beginning of the Zin Ben-Ali regime in 1987; and from the beginning of the Zin Ben-Ali regime until the early 21st century.
In 1966 only 23,000 Jews lived in Tunisia. Two years afterwards, the Jewish population was estimated at about 10,000, which means that more than 13,000 Jews had left Tunisia, most of whom emigrated in the six months after the end of the Six-Day War. From 1965 to 1971, 7,753 Tunisian Jews immigrated to Israel, in 1972–79 only 2,148 did so, and 1,232 left for Israel in 1980–84. Most of the Jews who left Tunisia after the Six-Day War immigrated to France and created a Tunisian colony there which exerted considerable influence on French Jewish life. Under the Bourguiba government the situation of the Jewish community did not deteriorate; it was a time of relative calm for those Jews who preferred to stay in Tunisia.
During the Lebanese War, June 1982, and especially after the events in Sabra and Shatilla, some incidents occurred in the south of Tunisia. On September 23, 1982, the daily journal al-Sabach denounced the chief rabbi of Tunisia for his unclear position on the events in Sabra and Shatilla. Some days afterwards, and in accordance with Bourguiba's position, which called for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, the chief rabbi dedicated a place in his prayers for the innocent victims of Sabra and Shatilla. This declaration, however, did not prevent riots against Jews in the small towns of Zarzis and Ben-Garden which caused much damage to Jewish property. The authorities arrested those responsible for the incidents and put them on trial. The Lebanese War changed the Tunisian Jews' situation as a result of the transfer of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's headquarters and the Arab League bureau after the Camp David agreements. Consequently, Tunisia became a center for anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda. Other elements that influenced the Jews' situation were the fundamentalist activities which were encouraged by the Khomeini Islamic revolution and its impact on Muslims in Libya and Algeria. On October 1, 1985, an Israeli aircraft bombed the Palestine Liberation Organization's headquarters. Fifty-six Palestinian were killed and about 100 injured. The steps which were taken by the Tunisian authorities failed to protect the Jews. Some Jews were killed in the synagogue of Djerba. The Israeli bombings caused a wave of Jewish emigration from Tunisia. More than 700 Jews left Tunisia during the years 1985–89; thus only 2,500 Jews continued to live in Tunisia, most of them in Djerba and Tunis.
Zin Al-Abidin Ibn-Ali took power in Tunisia on November 6, 1987, after the dismissal of Bourguiba. His internal policy improved the economic situation and opened the country to a democratic process. During 1987–91 the Jews expressed their fear and increasing doubts regarding their future in Tunisia. The assassination of Abu Jihad, one of the most important commanders of the plo, in April 1988, in his house in Tunisia, and the Gulf War in February-March 1991 contributed to those fears and doubts. However, since the Oslo agreements there has been a gradual improvement in the Jews' situation due to the significant part played by Tunisia in those agreements. Tunisia opened its borders to Israeli tourists and most Palestinians were evacuated from Tunisia, as was the Arab League bureau, and diplomatic relations were established with Israel.
As of 2005 the Jewish community consisted of about 1,500 Jews, most of them living in Tunis and Djerba, which is a religious center and very attractive to tourists. Jews have all the requisites for leading a religious life. Relations with Israel are still at a very low level and are influenced by the progress (or its absence) in the peace process and also by Tunisia's position in the Arab world.
[Haim Saadoun (2nd ed.)]
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