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Ruins of 16th-century Jewish Community Discovered in Morocco

Ruins of 16th-century Jewish Community Discovered in Morocco

January 3, 2022

Research News

Haaretz — Researchers from Israel, Morocco and France have discovered remnants of a small Jewish community in the mountains of Morocco.

“As part of our research, we want to conduct interviews and collect memories, testimonies and photographs of people from this region who now live in the Moroccan diaspora around the world, especially in Israel, France and North America,” says Prof. Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli, a researcher of modern Morocco at BGU.

An amulet found in the synagogue ruins. ‘The texts in these amulets are based on formulas found in the Book of Raziel, an ancient Kabbalist book.’ Credit: Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli

The ruins of the community’s synagogue in the small village of Tamanart – located on the outskirts of the Sahara desert – were found while conducting a preliminary survey of Jewish sites in the area and after talking to locals who remembered their Jewish neighbors who left the area 70 years ago.

The researchers say Jews lived here from the 16th century until the early 19th century. They recovered scriptures, documents, and Kabbalist amulets from the synagogue’s genizah, or hiding place for worn texts that are no longer usable.

Prof. Ouaknine-Yekutieli said that the site’s synagogue had been damaged by looters as well as by natural events like floods, but the researchers were able to salvage texts and transfer them to a secure location for further analysis.

The discovery comes weeks after King Mohammed VI of Morocco ordered the restoration of hundreds of Jewish sites across the kingdom, and a year after Israel and Morocco agreed to formal diplomatic relations. The restoration plan includes the site at Tamanart, as well as cemeteries and hundreds of synagogues.

Jews are believed to have first established communities in Morocco more than 2,000 years ago. In the mid-20th century, the Jewish population reached a peak of 250,000. It is estimated that only 2,000 Jews remain today.

Read more in Haaretz >>