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  • Schooling in the Bled:Jewish Education and the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Southern Rural Morocco, 1830-1962
  • Aomar Boum (bio)

In 1860, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) was founded in Paris. As an international Jewish organization, the AIU stressed as its central mission: the emancipation of Middle Eastern and North African Jewries through western and modern education.1 Its European leadership tried to revive the Talmudic belief that Jews are responsible for one another. Oriental Jews were the main target of the AIU movement of Jewish regeneration. Regeneration implied a moral, political and intellectual deficit of Oriental Jews compared with their French and European counterparts. The role of the AIU became a mission of the emancipated European Jews to help those they considered their backward Oriental brethren. Seen as primitive, the Jewish communities of the Orient "had to transform themselves into enlightened, modern citizens, abandoning their particularistic habits and attitudes."2 This belief in international Jewish solidarity led to the opening of the first school of the AIU in the northern city of Tétouan in 1862. Later, other schools, mainly for boys, were set up in major urban areas such as Tangier (1864), Mogador (Essaouira) (1875), Fez (1883) and Casablanca (1897).

This article explores the reasons behind the late introduction of modern schools in southern Moroccan communities by the AIU. I contend that in its early stages the leaders of the AIU in Paris never pushed for spreading their educational mission to Jewish communities in southern tribal hamlets. This was due to the fact that French colonial authorities were not able to control the south until the early 1930s. In addition, and despite the French colonial "pacification" of bled siba (areas outside government control), the French maintained an indirect rule in the south leaving its political and economic management to local tribal allies.3 The establishment of the AIU schools in villages around southern Morocco such as Akka, Goulmim, Ighil n'Oghol, Tinghir and Taznakht did not take place until the late 1940s. Apart from the economic and political conditions, the expansion was due to the efforts of certain AIU graduates with family roots in Morocco's bled who believed in the power of education as a means of economic and social mobility, especially given the hard economic and political realities of the late 1940s. [End Page 1]

Rethinking Jewish Education in Morocco's Hinterland through Social Biography

In its early periods, the AIU limited its schools to urban areas and especially to communities along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Moroccan rural areas and hinterlands, known as the bled, were not a primary target of the AIU early programs, leaving Jewish children's education in Morocco's hinterland in the hands of local rabbis. I look at the Jewish educational changes and continuities in Morocco's hinterland from the perspective of the social biographies of two ordinary Jewish individuals whose lives represent the precolonial, colonial and postcolonial phases of this history. In the absence of historical material on Jewish education in southwestern Morocco, the biographies of Mardochée Aby Serour and Elias Harrus shed light on how these southern Jews responded to local and colonial educational policies, challenges and opportunities.4 Although I use the lives of Aby Serour and Harrus to discuss the quotidian developments in Jewish education in southern Morocco, we should not be misled into believing that their lives were ordinary. As Burke and Yaghoubian commented, "the very fact that enough information exists about [certain ordinary individuals] to make possible a brief biography makes them, by definition, extraordinary."5 Like the individuals discussed in Burke and Yaghoubian's edited work, both Aby Serour and Harrus "were of humble origins and later moved up in the social pecking order."6 Through the life stories of Aby Serour and Harrus, I look at Jewish education in the bled before and after the AIU arrived in Morocco from 1830 to 1962.

There are a few studies on the history of the AIU schools and their interaction with local Jewish authorities and communities.7 For instance, Aron Rodrigue researched the local school of the AIU in Demotica, a Thracian town, between 1897 and 1924.8 Rodrigue argued that...


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