Moroccan Jewish

Get ready to explore the fascinating world of Moroccan Jewish culture, a unique blend of Jewish, Berber, and Arabic influences. This community has a rich history dating back over 2,000 years, and has made significant contributions to Moroccan society and beyond.

The History of Moroccan Jews


Moroccan Jews have a long and rich history that stretches back over 2,000 years. The first Jewish settlers are thought to have arrived in Morocco during the Roman period, although it wasn’t until the 10th century that the Jewish community began to flourish under the Idrisid dynasty.

Over the years, Moroccan Jews have faced a variety of challenges, including periodic persecution and forced conversion attempts during the 18th century. Despite these setbacks, the Moroccan Jewish community has maintained its unique identity and traditions, incorporating elements of both Jewish and Moroccan culture.

The Migration of Moroccan Jews

Throughout history, Moroccan Jews have migrated to different parts of the world, including Europe, the Middle East, and North America. These migrations have been driven by a variety of factors, such as economic opportunities, political unrest, and persecution.

One significant migration occurred in the 20th century, when tens of thousands of Moroccan Jews moved to Israel following its establishment in 1948. Today, Israel is home to one of the largest Moroccan Jewish communities in the world.

Distinct Surnames

The surnames of Moroccan Jews offer a fascinating insight into the history and culture of the community. Many Moroccan Jewish surnames are derived from Arabic, Hebrew, or Berber language, reflecting the diverse influences that have shaped Moroccan Jewry over the centuries.

Some common Moroccan Jewish surnames include Cohen, Levy, Bensimon, Abitbol, and Benaroch. These surnames are often used to identify the individual’s religious and cultural background.

Moroccan Jewish Traditions and Rituals

The Moroccan Jewish community is known for its vibrant cultural traditions, which have been passed down through generations. These customs encompass a wide range of practices, from religious observances to wedding ceremonies to culinary traditions.

Moroccan Jewish Weddings

Weddings are a significant event in Moroccan Jewish culture, often taking place over multiple days and involving a variety of customs and rituals. One tradition is the henna ceremony, where the bride’s hands and feet are decorated with intricate henna designs. Another ritual is the bedeken, where the groom places the veil over the bride’s face before the wedding ceremony. Traditional Moroccan Jewish music and dance are also essential parts of the celebration.

Moroccan Jewish Food

The Moroccan Jewish cuisine is a fusion of Berber, Sephardic, and Arabic influences. One of the most popular dishes is couscous, often served with lamb or chicken and a variety of vegetables. Other popular dishes include tagine, a slow-cooked stew, and harira, a flavorful soup served during Ramadan. A unique dessert often served during celebrations is called mofletta, a paper-thin pastry that is fried and drizzled with honey.

Religious Observances

Religious observances are an important aspect of Moroccan Jewish life, including Shabbat and holiday celebrations. On Friday evenings, families gather for a special meal, lighting candles and reciting prayers to welcome the Sabbath. During Passover, a special Seder meal is held, recounting the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Another significant holiday is Mimouna, a celebration held at the end of Passover which includes traditional sweets and pastries.

These traditions and rituals are just a few examples of the rich and vibrant culture of the Moroccan Jewish community, reflecting the community’s unique history and identity.

Influences on Moroccan Jewish Culture

Moroccan Jewish culture has been shaped by a variety of influences throughout its history. From the arrival of the first Jewish settlers to the present day, Morocco’s unique cultural and political landscape has left its mark on the Moroccan Jewish community.

Berber and Islamic Influence

The Berber people of North Africa have had a significant impact on Moroccan Jewish culture. Many Jewish families have adopted Berber names over time, reflecting the close relationships that developed between the two communities over the centuries. The influence of Islam can also be seen in Moroccan Jewish culture, particularly in the adoption of Muslim architectural styles and decorative motifs in the design of synagogues and other communal buildings.

Sephardic Jewish Influence

The Sephardic Jewish community has also had a profound influence on Moroccan Jewish culture. The Sephardim arrived in Morocco in the late 15th century, following their expulsion from Spain. Over time, they became integrated into Moroccan society, and their traditions and customs influenced those of the Moroccan Jewish community. The Sephardic influence can be seen in Moroccan Jewish music, art, and cuisine, which often feature elements of Spanish and other Mediterranean cultures.

Naming Practices

The naming practices of Moroccan Jews have also been influenced by their cultural and historical context. Many Moroccan Jews possess surnames that are derivatives of Arabic or Berber words, reflecting the linguistic diversity of the country. Others have adopted Sephardic or Spanish surnames, reflecting the community’s historical ties to the Sephardic world. In recent years, some Moroccan Jews have even adopted Hebrew names, reflecting a growing sense of connection to Israel and the wider Jewish world.

Moroccan Jewish Heritage in Israel

The influence of Moroccan Jewish culture extends beyond Morocco, encompassing other regions and countries around the world. One such example is Israel, where Moroccan Jews have made significant contributions to the nation’s culture and society.

It is estimated that around 700,000 Moroccan Jews live in Israel, making up a significant portion of the country’s population. The migration of Moroccan Jews to Israel began in the late 1940s and early 1950s, following the establishment of the Jewish state. Many Moroccan Jews were drawn to Israel due to religious, political, and economic reasons.

In Israel, Moroccan Jews have created a vibrant cultural scene, with their distinctive music, dance, and food. Music is particularly significant, with Moroccan Jews preserving ancient melodies and religious chants that date back to medieval times. The traditional Moroccan Jewish music is characterized by the use of stringed instruments, such as the oud and qanun, and is often played during religious ceremonies and celebrations.


One of the most significant festivals celebrated by Moroccan Jews in Israel is Mimouna. This festival marks the end of Passover and is celebrated with festive meals, music, and dancing. It is a time for reconnecting with family and friends and strengthening the bonds of community.

Another notable celebration is the Henna Ceremony, a traditional wedding ritual that is still observed by many Moroccan Jews in Israel. During the ceremony, the bride and groom’s hands and feet are decorated with henna designs, while guests celebrate with singing and dancing.

Aside from their contributions to art and culture, Moroccan Jews have also made significant contributions to Israeli society in various fields. Moroccan Jews have excelled in business, politics, and academia, and have played a crucial role in the country’s development and success.

For example, former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was of Moroccan Jewish descent, as was the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Moroccan Jews have also contributed to the country’s cuisine, with popular dishes such as couscous and tagine becoming an integral part of Israeli cuisine.

Overall, the impact of Moroccan Jewish culture on Israel is significant and enduring. It is a testament to the resilience and creativity of the Moroccan Jewish community, who have been able to preserve their heritage while adapting to new surroundings and challenges.

Famous Moroccan Jews

Morocco has been home to many notable Jews who have made significant contributions in various fields. Here are some of the most famous Moroccan Jews:

Name Field
Albert Suissa Politician
Mordechai Ben Porat Writer
André Azoulay Advisor to King Mohammed VI of Morocco
David Amar Politician
Raphael Ankawa Artist
Simon Lévy Writer and linguist

These figures are just a few examples of the notable Moroccan Jews who have left their mark on history and continue to inspire future generations both in Morocco and around the world.

Moroccan Jewish Music and Art

Moroccan Jews have a rich and vibrant cultural heritage that is expressed through various forms of art and music.

Moroccan Jewish Music

Moroccan Jewish music is a beautiful blend of traditional Jewish and Arab music, featuring unique melodies and rhythms. One of the most popular genres of Moroccan Jewish music is Andalusian music, which has its roots in Islamic Spain.

The instruments used in Moroccan Jewish music include the oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument, the qanun, a type of zither, and the darbuka, a small drum. The music often accompanies religious ceremonies and celebrations, such as weddings and circumcisions.

“Andalusian music is a great source of pride for Moroccan Jews. It reflects our history, culture, and identity.” – David Serero, Moroccan Jewish musician

Moroccan Jewish Art

Moroccan Jewish art is a testament to the community’s creativity and vibrant cultural identity. It encompasses various forms of art, including calligraphy, embroidery, and ceramics.

One of the most iconic forms of Moroccan Jewish art is the henna tattoo, which is applied to the hands and feet during celebrations such as weddings and religious festivals.

The art of Moroccan Jews is deeply connected to their religious and cultural traditions, often featuring Jewish motifs and symbols.

“Moroccan Jewish art is a reflection of our unique heritage and traditions. It is a way to express our identity and keep our culture alive.” – Sarah Levy, Moroccan Jewish artist

Moroccan Jewish Synagogues and Heritage Sites

Moroccan Jewish culture is rich in historical and cultural significance, which is reflected in the numerous synagogues and heritage sites that are found throughout Morocco. These sites serve as important landmarks for the Moroccan Jewish community, as well as for tourists who want to learn more about this unique culture.


The synagogues in Morocco are some of the oldest and most impressive in the world, featuring stunning architecture and intricate designs that reflect the cultural influences of Moroccan Jews. Some of the most notable synagogues in Morocco include:

Name Location Description
Beth-El Synagogue Casablanca One of the largest synagogues in the world, featuring an Art Deco style and seating for over 2,500 people.
Slat Al Fassiyine Fez A historic synagogue built in the 17th century, featuring beautiful ceramic tiles and a unique design with a central courtyard.
Neve Shalom Synagogue Marrakech A small but beautiful synagogue dating back to the 19th century, featuring intricate mosaics and stained glass windows.

Visitors to these synagogues can learn about the history and traditions of Moroccan Jews, as well as participate in religious services and cultural events.

Heritage Sites

In addition to synagogues, there are also many heritage sites in Morocco that have significant cultural and historical importance to the Moroccan Jewish community. These sites include:

  • The Jewish Cemetery in Fez, which dates back to the 16th century and is the final resting place for many prominent Moroccan Jews.
  • The Mellah, or Jewish Quarter, in Marrakech, which is home to many historic buildings and landmarks that reflect the unique culture of Moroccan Jews.
  • The Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca, which features exhibits and artifacts that showcase the history and traditions of Moroccan Jews.

Visiting these heritage sites provides a unique insight into the history and culture of Moroccan Jews, and allows visitors to experience the rich traditions and customs that have been passed down through generations.

Moroccan Jewish Festivals and Celebrations

The Moroccan Jewish community celebrates a variety of festivals and holidays throughout the year, each with its unique customs and traditions. These occasions provide an opportunity for Moroccan Jews to come together to share in their rich cultural heritage and celebrate their faith.

Passover (Pesach)

Passover, also known as Pesach, is a significant festival in the Jewish calendar. This eight-day celebration commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Moroccan Jews have their unique traditions during Passover, such as the Mimouna, a traditional feast that marks the end of the holiday. Moroccan Jews prepare a variety of food, including Mofletta, a thin pancake-like bread, and sellou, a sweet almond and sesame treat.


Hanukkah is a festival that celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. During this eight-day festival, Moroccan Jews light candles on a menorah, a special candelabrum, and play with dreidels, a spinning top. Additionally, they serve a variety of traditional food, including Sfenj, a type of donut, and Borekas, a pastry filled with cheese or meat.


Mimouna is a unique festival that marks the end of Passover. It is a time for Moroccan Jews to celebrate their freedom and abundance. During the Mimouna, Moroccan Jews prepare a feast filled with traditional food such as Mofletta and sellou and open their homes to friends, family, and neighbors. This festival is also an opportunity for the young to find their match and start a new relationship.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a two-day celebration that begins in September or October. During this festival, Moroccan Jews attend synagogue and sound the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram’s horn, to signify the start of the new year. The festival is also associated with sweet foods, such as apples dipped in honey, to symbolize the hope of a sweet year to come.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Moroccan Jews observe this day with fasting and intense prayer, seeking forgiveness for their sins. This festival is marked by a solemn silence, with no work, music, or entertainment allowed.

Other Festivals and Celebrations

In addition to these major festivals, Moroccan Jews also celebrate other occasions such as Purim, Shavuot, and Tu Bishvat. These festivals are an essential part of Moroccan Jewish culture, providing an opportunity for the community to come together, celebrate their heritage and connect with their faith.

Moroccan Jewish Cuisine

Moroccan Jewish cuisine is a unique fusion of flavors and influences, combining traditional Jewish dietary laws with the rich culinary traditions of North Africa. The cuisine features a variety of spices, herbs, vegetables, and meats, reflecting the diverse cultural roots of the community.

Some of the most popular dishes in Moroccan Jewish cuisine include:

Dish Description
Tagine A slow-cooked stew of meat, vegetables, and spices, typically served over couscous.
Briouats Fried pastry triangles filled with spiced meat or vegetables.
Chraime A spicy fish dish cooked with tomatoes, peppers, and garlic.
Matbucha A salad made of cooked tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and olive oil.
Mufleta A thin, crepe-like bread served with honey and butter.

The cuisine of Moroccan Jews also includes a variety of unique breads, pastries, and desserts. For example, sfenj is a type of fried dough often eaten for breakfast, while m’semen is a flaky, layered bread served with honey or jam. Harira, a spicy tomato and lentil soup traditionally eaten during Ramadan, is also a popular dish.

Many Moroccan Jewish dishes are prepared for special occasions, such as weddings and religious festivals. For example, the traditional Mimouna feast held at the end of Passover includes a variety of sweet, symbolic foods, such as moufletta and mazun, both of which are honey-based pastries.

Overall, Moroccan Jewish cuisine offers a rich and flavorful glimpse into the cultural heritage of Moroccan Jews, showcasing the unique blend of Jewish and North African culinary traditions.

Moroccan Jewish Contribution to Moroccan Society

The Moroccan Jewish community has made significant contributions to Moroccan society throughout history. From medicine to literature, Moroccan Jews have excelled in various fields, leaving their mark on the country’s cultural landscape.

Education and Medicine

Many Moroccan Jews have made important contributions in the fields of education and medicine. One notable figure is Dr. Solomon Gaon, who served as the chief rabbi of Casablanca and was also a respected physician. Another prominent figure is Andre Azoulay, who served as an advisor to King Mohammed VI on economic development and cultural affairs.

The Arts and Literature

Several Moroccan Jews have also made significant contributions to the arts and literature in Morocco. Albert Suissa, a novelist and essayist, explored the identity of Moroccan Jews in his works, while visual artist Marc Eliany drew inspiration from his Moroccan Jewish background in his paintings and sculptures.

Interfaith Relations

The Moroccan Jewish community has also played a vital role in promoting interfaith relations in Morocco. During World War II, Moroccan Jews helped to shelter and protect their Muslim neighbors from persecution by the Vichy regime. Today, initiatives like the “Moroccan Friends of Israel” program seek to build bridges between the Jewish and Muslim communities in Morocco, promoting tolerance and understanding.

Overall, the contributions of the Moroccan Jewish community have enriched Moroccan society, both culturally and socially. Their legacy continues to inspire future generations to maintain their rich heritage and foster unity among all communities in Morocco.

Moroccan Jewish Identity Today

Despite facing various challenges, the Moroccan Jewish community continues to maintain its cultural identity in the modern world. One of the ways they do this is by preserving their heritage through cultural events and education.

Many Moroccan Jews also maintain ties with their homeland, visiting family and friends or participating in cultural exchange programs. In addition, the Moroccan Jewish community has expanded its reach to other parts of the world, building new communities and institutions that promote their culture and identity.

Another way Moroccan Jews maintain their cultural identity is through the use of traditional Jewish names and surnames that reflect the heritage of their ancestors. While many Moroccan Jews have adopted modern names over the years, there is still a strong sense of pride in preserving traditional naming practices.

Despite these efforts, there are still challenges that the Moroccan Jewish community faces. One of the most significant is the decline in the number of Jews living in Morocco. In 1948, there were approximately 250,000 Jews living in Morocco, but today, the number has dwindled to less than 3,000.

With the decline in population comes the risk of losing cultural traditions and practices. However, the Moroccan Jewish community is committed to preserving their heritage through education and cultural events, ensuring that their culture and identity continue to thrive for generations to come.

FAQ about Moroccan Jewish Culture

Here are some commonly asked questions about the rich heritage of Moroccan Jewish culture.

What is the history of Moroccan Jews?

Moroccan Jews have a unique history dating back to ancient times, with evidence of Jewish communities in Morocco dating as far back as the Roman Empire. Over the centuries, Moroccan Jews have faced persecution, forced conversions, and migration. Today, the majority of Moroccan Jews live in Israel.

What are some Moroccan Jewish traditions and rituals?

Moroccan Jews have a rich cultural heritage, with unique traditions and rituals such as henna ceremonies for brides, special Passover dishes, and the celebration of Mimouna after Passover. Moroccan Jewish music and art also play an important role in their cultural expression.

What are some famous Moroccan Jews?

There have been many notable Moroccan Jews who have made significant contributions, including former Israeli Prime Minister David Levy, singer-songwriter Gad Elbaz, and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Claude Cohen-Tannoudji.

What is Moroccan Jewish cuisine like?

Moroccan Jewish cuisine is known for its unique flavors and culinary influences, including the use of spices such as cumin and turmeric. Popular dishes include couscous, tagine, and pastilla.

What is the current status of Moroccan Jewish identity?

Despite facing challenges in maintaining their cultural identity, Moroccan Jews continue to take pride in their heritage and work to preserve it through efforts such as cultural festivals, synagogue renovations, and education initiatives.

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