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eBook Between East and West: A History of the Jews of North Africa
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Jewish Publication Society
Published:  2002
Language:  English
Pages:   398

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ISBN: 1-59045-118-X

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About the Book -- Between East and West: A History of the Jews of North Africa

With the tragic destruction of Central and East European Jewries, the Oriental Jewish communities have grown in importance in the balance-sheet of Jewish existence.

This book is the result of twenty years of research into the Jewish communities of North Africa and covers a period of more than two thousand years in the history of those communities.

Though the origins of the North African Jewish communities are obscure, one basic fact is clear: Jews were present and were involved in the historical development of that part of the world, especially during its domination by the Roman Empire, the reigns of the Vandals and Byzantines, and up to the emergence and subsequent conquest of that region by the Moslems toward the end of the seventh century. The author offers a fascinating analysis of this almost unknown period of North African Jewish history.

In the second part of the book the author discusses the history of the modern Algerian, Tunisian, and Moroccan Jewish communities. Two basic facts emerge: the common fate which makes these various communities a single unit, and their diversity of origin and tradition. The author attempts a cultural analysis of this diversity by presenting a brief but fascinating exposition of the Oriental, Spanish, mystical, and Arab-Berber elements of these communities, and an account of their reactions to modern trends and influences. As a result, it appears that these communities, secluded until recently and faithful to their traditions, constituted at the same time one of the most perfect examples of a swift transition from the Oriental tradition to the modern world.

The author gives us a careful account of the history of these communities under French domination and describes their demographic structure, their social changes, and their folklore and traditions. His description of life in the ghetto is competent and impressive, and explains why the emancipation has taken on the character of a social explosion.

Dr. Chouraqui, who was a personal adviser of Prime Minister Ben Gurion on the question of integration, offers a keen analysis of the problems facing Jews of North Africa in Israel.

The book is clearly written and amply documented. It contains numerous statistical tables, legal texts, bibliographies, and indexes.

Between East and West is a valuable contribution to our understanding of “the forgotten million” that once comprised the great Jewish communities of North Africa.

About the Book




  1. The Carthaginian Era: 813-146 B.C.E.
  2. Pax Romana: 146 B.C.E.-430 C.E.
  3. Vandals and Byzantines: 430-642 C.E.


  1. The Moslem Conquest of the Maghreb: 642-ca. 900
  2. The Status of the Jews under Islam
  3. Judaism in the Maghreb: The Oriental Components
  4. Judaism in the Maghreb: The Spanish Component
  5. The Condition of the Jews in the Nineteenth Century


  1. The Emancipation of Algerian Jewry: 1830-1962
  2. The Status of the Jews in Tunisia (1881-1956) and French Morocco (1912-1956)
  3. Population Trends Among the Jewish Communities
  4. Facing West
  5. Social Conditions
  6. Judaism in Modern Times


  1. Independence and Exodus
  2. Israel


Statistical Appendices



An Excerpt from the Book -- Between East and West: A History of the Jews of North Africa

The Attitude of Islam toward the Jews

The attitude of Islam toward the Jews was based in large measure on a zealous devotion to what they considered the true will of their God. It developed out of the first relationships between Mohammed and the Jews of Arabia, the early opposition of the merchants of Medina, the first battles and triumphs of the followers of the new faith over the resistance of Jews and Christians, and finally the establishment of a vast empire governed by the progressive revelations of the Koran. It is possible to follow through the Surahs of the Koran the gradual crystallization of the Prophet’s attitude to Jews and Christians, hesitant at first but gradually becoming more and more rigid.

Originally he was favorably disposed toward them for his inspiration had its sources in the stories of Abraham and in the later Hebrew revelations. But, as his difficulties deepened in Medina, so his resentment increased toward both Jews and Christians who would not recognize him as the Prophet of Allah. The disappointment of the Prophet in being rejected by the very people he hoped most to attract was further aggravated by the mockery and provocations that were his lot, requiring him to expend vast efforts to establish his faith in Medina and to spread it by religious and political conquests.

When he had lost hope of seeing the Jews support his religion en masse, Mohammed attacked them openly, accusing them of the worst vices and threatening them with infernal chastisement. His many hostile remarks in the Koran still have the force of revealed truth in Islam and still color the attitude of many Moslems today. The Jews are “hostile to the Moslems” (V.85); they are “mutually hateful toward each other” (V.69); “they are more attached to the possessions of this world than are other men” (II.90); “they have defiled the most sacred objects and slandered the Virgin Mary” (IV.155); “they are so avaricious that they would not offer to give the sliver from the hollow of a date-pit” (IV.56). “They have falsified the Scriptures and, through this, even worse, have rejected the belief in the Prophet and the Koran” (II.98; IV.48); “some of them believe in the Prophet while the others have kept away: the fires of Hell will be their punishment; a painful punishment awaits them for having falsified the Scriptures” (IV.184–185). The Koran forbids any intimate dealings with the Jews for they will use every advantage to corrupt the Moslem whose downfall they seek (III.183). Another verse says of the Jews: “Their hate pierces through their words but that which their heart harbors is even worse” (III.114–115). The second Surah contains a list of the kind acts of God toward the Jews and of the ingratitude they have shown in return: “You will find them more avid for pleasures than other men, than even idolators. ... Whenever they enter into an undertaking, will there be found even one among them who will respect it? Yes, the majority among them do not believe in anything.”

The implication of these words should not, perhaps, be exaggerated. The words of prophets, including those of the Bible, are notoriously full of invective. Because of the structure of Islam, however, where dogma and law are one, and where no distinction between spiritual authority and temporal power is admitted, the verses of the Koran indirectly assume juridic force. Thus, these particular verses determined the conditions under which the Jews lived under Islam.

The Dhimmi and the Charter of Omar

According to Mohammed, the Koran and its numerous commentators, it was the refusal of the Jews to accept the enlightenment of the faith that exluded them from the privileges and responsibilities conferred by the new religious fraternity. “If they (the Jews and the Christians) accept your belief they are on the right path; if they turn away from it, they create a split between us: God will satisfy you, He understands and knows all” (Koran, II.131).

This split introduced into the political ideology of Islam the fundamental principle of discrimination between true believers and those who did not accept the teachings of the Prophet. The Koran makes a clear distinction between Believers and Infidels. Infidels had to be completely expunged from Islamic society in order not to contaminate it. They were reduced to slavery, converted or exterminated. But between the Believers and the Infidels Mohammed allowed for a third group—Ahl el Kitab, the People of the Book, which included both Jews and Christians— those who had received a revealed Scripture that had been accepted by Islam. “We believe in God and in those whom He has sent us from above,” the Prophet proclaimed. “... in Abraham and in Ishmael, in Isaac and in Jacob and in the Twelve Tribes as well as in the books revealed by God to the Prophets. He make no distinction between them and us; we entrust ourselves to God ...” (II.130).

Based on these principles, the canon law of Islam elaborated the special laws for the “dhimmis,” the protégés of Moslem society, among whom the Jews and the Christians were included. The drawing up of this law is attributed to Caliph Omar, Mohammed’s successor, who ruled from 634 onward, but it was probably enacted only two centuries later. The Charter of Omar, as the law was called, while recognizing the right of the dhimmi to live and declaring his person and property inviolable (as was not always the position for the Jews of Mediaeval Europe under Canon Law), also laid down the l limitations and the conditions of inferiority to which the Jew was to be subjected, for it was inconceivable that the dhimmi could aspire to equality with, or share the same duties and privileges as, the Faithful. The law was finally codified in the eleventh century by Al Mawardi. Since the dhimmi was entitled to his life solely by virtue of this contract, any breach of it entailed the forfeiture of his life.

There were altogether twelve laws which limited the conditions under which the dhimmi was allowed to dwell within the community of the Believers, the first six of which were considered of binding and absolute importance. The Jews, like all non-Moslems, were forbidden to touch the Koran lest they mock it or falsify its text; they were forbidden to speak of the Prophet in false or contemptuous terms; they were forbidden to speak of the faith of Islam with irreverence; they were forbidden to touch Moslem women, marriage between a dhimmi and a Moslem woman also being forbidden (but not the converse); they were forbidden to do anything that would turn a Moslem against his faith and were ordered to respect the life and property of the Moslem; they were forbidden to do anything that would aid the enemies of Islam or their spies.

An Excerpt from the Book

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