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Sefrou, the “Little Jerusalem” of all times Part 4

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But the highlight of the religious coexistence initiated in Sefrou was the veneration of the same saints by the two religious communities. For Geertz and his team, Jews and Muslims, despite their differences, had much in common on the cultural level. [xxxiv]

” … Jews mixed with Muslims under uniform ground rules, which, to an extent difficult to credit for whose ideas about Jews in traditional trade are based on the role they played in premodern Europe, were different in religious status. There was, of course, some penetration of communal concerns into the bazaar setting (exclusively Jewish trades, like gold working and tinsmithing and such special phenomena as Kosher butchers), but what is remarkable is not how much there was but how little. The cash nexus was quite real; the Jew was cloth seller, peddler, shopkeeper, shoe-maker, or porter before he was a Jew and dealt and was dealt with as such. Contrariwise, there was some penetration of general Moroccan patterns of life into the communal area: Jewish kinship patterns were not all that unlike Muslim; Jewish not only had saints of their own but often honored Muslim ones as well: and Arabic not Hebrew, was the language of the home.”

This perfect coexistence between Jews and Muslims in Sefrou has found its ultimate expression in the worship of the same saint by both religious groups. Indeed, at the northern entrance of the city in question, on the side of a small mountain on the right is a cave, which, according to the hagiographic literature of both Judaism and Islam, is home to the tomb of a saint venerated by the two religious communities. The site is deftly called Kaf al-Moumenthe Cave of the Believer“, without specifying which Abrahamic believer is it about. Nobody seemed to care about such a detail, anyway, ever.

The people of Sefrou, so confident in their ancestral traditions have never asked themselves the question of whether it is one and the same saint for the two religions or for two different saints. In a way, such a question was totally superfluous for them. A saint is a saint.

This question, so relevant to some fundamentalists on both sides, was of no importance to the people of Sefrou. Their religious coexistence was so strong and solid that they laid out strict time periods to visit the cave around the religious calendar of each denomination and, for centuries during, this calendar worked wonderfully, for all, and without any problems and it could have continued to function if the Jews of this city had not left following campaigns of incitement of Jewish American and international agencies to make them migrate to Israel.

This religious coexistence was not the prerogative of the city of Sefrou, indeed there were plenty of similar examples in other localities of Morocco, whether they are imperial cities or small towns of little importance.

This coexistence, although effective throughout the territory, hid a phenomenon of latent racism, nevertheless, among certain social groups, especially the rich who saw the success of Moroccan Jews with great jealousy, and expressed this feeling by bullying, aggressive verbal behavior, or simply by invoking religion and viewing the Jew and the Christian as impure beings, and using, therefore, the Arabic racist and condescending term “hashak” (meaning impure being) when mentioning their names or referring to them.


In 1956, Morocco regained its national independence from France, and attended powerless or half-consenting, to the emigration of its small Jewish communities from the mellahs of the Atlas, followed closely by those of the medium-sized cities of the Kingdom, towards the young state of Israel. The danger, then, lay in the fact that: [xxxv]

The Jews of Morocco were anxious to safeguard first and foremost what was the pivot of their existence: religion and erudition, without paying too much attention to keeping the material evidence of a life nourished by millennial tradition

The year before the independence of Morocco was marked by massive emigration of Jews, and by a series of deadly attacks. Zédé Schulmann’s sons left the country permanently to settle in France and their collection of Moroccan Jewish folk art was shipped to Jerusalem via Marseille. Ten years later, in 1965, during the inauguration of the Israel Museum, Zédé Schulmann and all the donors,........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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