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The Jews of Tetouan – Portuguese passport for Jews of Moroccan descent

Jordan Levy-Bograd
Jordan Levy-Bograd

For over four hundred years, Morocco was home to the most creative and intellectual Jewish community throughout the Lands of Islam. This was also the largest diaspora that settled in Muslim terrain prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. In the 1940’s there were an estimated 300,000 Moroccan Jews, many of whom resided in the port city of Tetouan.

The Jews of Tetouan and the Spanish-Portuguese connection

The following article provides a brief review of the history of the Tetouan Jewish community from its beginnings in 1492 as a result of the Spanish Expulsion and the ensuing mass migration of Iberian Jews to neighboring Morocco, until the end of the Jewish presence in the city, following the large wave of Aliyah (immigration to Israel) in the mid-20th century.

Our law firm in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv specializes in the procedure for obtaining a Portuguese passport for descendants of Spanish expellees. Our lawyers have a wealth of experience in the legal aspects of immigration and will be more than happy to help you with all the necessary paperwork to file an application for a Portuguese passport. Once we ascertain that you are entitled to a passport, we believe that our combined profound knowledge and professional record in this field will guarantee you a much simpler and effortless path through this process.

The Jews of Tetouan – Portuguese passport for Jews of Moroccan descent

The history of the Jews of Tetouan – Portuguese passport for Jews of Moroccan descent

1492 was a watershed for Spanish Jewry, marking the sad end of a golden age of 700 years of unparalleled (apart from Babylonian Jewry) prosperity and success for the local Jewish population, thanks to their ability to excel in a broad variety of disciplines in the fields of humanities and art. Between a third and a fifth of the 250,000 Jews living in Spain at the time are believed to have migrated to Morocco, which provided them with a warm, welcoming home, and treated them as equals, following hundreds of years of persecution and anti-Semitic violence in the Christian states of the Iberian Peninsula.

One of the cities reached by the early expellees was Tetouan, located on Morocco’s Mediterranean coastline. The Jewish expellees came to the city together with a large number of Andalusian Muslims who had also been expelled from Spain. Similarly to the Jews expelled from Spain, these Muslims too were considered to be intelligent and well-off.

Thanks to the similar cultural background they brought with them from the aristocratic Spanish society of that era, these two communities developed mutual respect for each other. Together, they established the city of Tetouan with the help of the local Wattasid rulers, who encouraged the early expellees to come to their country in order to develop the economic sector there. They rebuilt the city from the ruins left behind by the Spanish following years of raids and skirmishes against the Forces of the Crescent. Having said that, the official year of the city’s foundation is 1511, as this was when it was actually reestablished from its former state of ruin.

The Jewish community in Tetouan

Although most of the Jews expelled from Spain arrived in Morocco penniless (due to a royal decree instructing all those subjects expelled from Spain to leave their property and money behind in the Christian state), those who came to Tetouan were of a more established economic status from the outset. They included numerous professional craftsmen and artisans, as well as many wealthy merchants who continued to trade mainly with their former home countries of Spain and Portugal, in addition to key Italian cities, the states of the Ottoman Empire and within Morocco too.

In the 16th century, following the city’s transformation into an international trade center, the number of Jews there increased significantly. The city was referred to by the Jews as “Jerusalem de-Marruecos” – Jerusalem of Morocco. Elegant synagogues were built in the city streets, which right until the 20th century were considered to be the cleanest and most well-kept streets throughout Morocco. The community grew there and developed into a leading authority in a variety of fields such as – knowledge of the holy scriptures, Torah-related literature, commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud, Zionist thinking, etc. The city boasted a long line of renowned rabbinical figures, including Rabbi Moshe Halevi, Rabbi Menachem Abudraham, Rabbi Zabarro and Rabbi Haim Bibas to name just a few. In the 18th century there were no less than seven synagogues in Tetouan, a fact that attests to the immense strength and vibrancy of the Jewish community there.

Jewish community life in Tetouan – obtaining a Portuguese passport for Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain

As is the case with the majority of Jewish communities in Morocco, the Jews of Tetouan also chose to live throughout their history in distinct Jewish quarters called mellah. The mellah was usually located in a compound enclosed by stone walls and in a similar manner to the Jewish ghettoes in Europe, it served as the focal point of Jewish life. Here they ran markets, yeshivot, schools, the ritual slaughterhouse, the religious court or Bet Din. Until the Jews there made Aliyah to Israel, they strictly adhered to the Sephardic traditions of their ancestors and retained their Sephardic family names. Here are just a few of these names, prevalent in Tetouan – Bibas, Bentolila (Tolila is the Arabic name for the Spanish city of Toledo), Vidal, Abudraham, Falcon, Almoshnino, Crudo, Taourel, Kazes, Halfon etc.

Throughout the Jewish community’s existence in Tetouan, the spoken language there was Haketia, a local Sephardic dialect that the Spanish Jews had spoken prior to their expulsion. This Spanish-based tongue incorporated Hebrew words, and when the Jewish expellees reached Morocco, they added words from local Berber-Arabic. According to linguistic/philological research, the vocabulary of this language comprises 60% borrowed from Spanish, 30% Berber-Arabic and 10% Hebrew and Aramaic. The conquest of Tetouan by the Spanish kingdom in 1860 marked the beginning of this language’s decline as the local Jews gradually began to speak more and more Spanish. Clear evidence of this may be seen, amongst others, in the translation of popular Jewish scriptures such as haftarot and megillot in the local synagogues into Spanish. In the mid-20th century, the Jews of Tetouan decided to emigrate en masse to Israel although some did decide that Aliyah was not for them, and consequently moved to France, and either North or Latin America.

Contact us about obtaining a Portuguese passport for Tetouan Jews of Moroccan descent

If your family originates from Tetouan you are entitled to a Portuguese passport and the lawyers at our office will gladly help you cut through the red tape to obtain it. A Portuguese passport offers you many advantages to considerably improve your quality of life and that of your children, and open doors for you into a variety of new domains.

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