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The Mellah of Marrakesh

Jewish and Muslim Space in Morocco's Red City

Emily Gottreich

Publication Year: 2007

"[The Mellah of Marrakesh] captures the vibrancy of Jewish society in Marrakesh in the tumultuous last decades prior to colonial rule and in the first decades of life in the colonial era. Although focused on the Jewish community, it offers a compelling portrait of the political, social, and economic issues confronting all of Morocco and sets a new standard for urban social history." -- Dale F. Eickelman

Weaving together threads from Jewish history and Islamic urban studies, The Mellah of Marrakesh situates the history of what was once the largest Jewish quarter in the Arab world in its proper historical and geographical contexts. Although framed by coverage of both earlier and later periods, the book focuses on the late 19th century, a time when both the vibrancy of the mellah and the tenacity of longstanding patterns of inter-communal relations that took place within its walls were being severely tested. How local Jews and Muslims, as well as resident Europeans lived the big political, economic, and social changes of the pre- and early colonial periods is reconstructed in Emily Gottreich's vivid narrative.

Published with the generous support of the Koret Foundation.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Indiana Series in Middle East Studies


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

In the field of Moroccan Jewish history, the diffusion of primary source materials tends to mirror the dispersal of the Jews themselves. For this reason, the various texts on which this study is based were amassed from libraries, archives, and private collections in Morocco, France, England, Israel, and the United States (the list could have gone on). ...

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Note on Transliteration, Spelling, and Usage

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pp. xv

The question of language is always a difficult one for scholars of Moroccan history, especially Moroccan Jewish history, who must contend not only with the usual blurry distinctions between Modern Standard Arabic and regional dialects but also with well-established French transliteration systems and Jewish accents on all of the above. ...

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pp. 1-11

In December of 1863, Moses Montefiore, the prominent British philanthropist, statesman, and self-styled defender of world Jewry, came to Morocco. Like his several previous trips to the Muslim world, his current visit was motivated by reports of the severe mistreatment of his coreligionists. ...

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1. Mellahization

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pp. 12-38

In the summer of 1555, in compliance with a papal bull, the ghetto of Rome was created. Within less than half a decade, across the Mediterranean in the great, dry plain of the Hawz, the Jews of Marrakesh met a fate not unlike that of their Roman coreligionists when they too were transferred to their own “city within a city.” ...

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2. Counting Jews in Marrakesh

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pp. 39-70

Although the 'Alawis never replicated the close ties of their Sa'di predecessors to Marrakesh, the southern capital was in no way abandoned by the new dynasty. With the creation of a third royal capital at Meknes in 1672 some of the country’s political focus naturally shifted northward, but this was largely offset ...

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3. Muslims and Jewish Space

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pp. 71-91

Dubbed Marrakech la Rouge in French and al-Hamrã in Arabic for its red ochre visage, Marrakesh was surely an Orientalist’s dream city. As the winter home of the sultan, it bore the all-important title of “royal capital,” for which reason it was also a city to which foreigners had only restricted access, ...

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4. Jews and Muslim Space

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pp. 92-107

Clearly, Jews felt most at home in the mellah, where, even if they didn’t always enjoy the total autonomy sometimes suggested, they nonetheless owned property, practiced their religion with minimal interference, maintained their own institutions, worked, and raised their families: ...

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5. Hinterlands

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pp. 108-131

In the summer of 1891, a group of men from the Ahmar tribe came to Marrakesh looking for trouble. According to their legends, there was a treasure buried somewhere in the Ahmar territories, but finding it would require the help of a Jewish child. Their preference was for one with red hair who was also nearsighted, ...

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Epilogue: H

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pp. 132-138

The area of Marrakesh once known as the mellah is today called H


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pp. 139-182


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pp. 183-196


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pp. 197-201

E-ISBN-13: 9780253112170
E-ISBN-10: 0253112176
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253347916

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 17 b&w photos, 9 maps
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Indiana Series in Middle East Studies