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Jewish Families of Rabat and Salé, Morocco

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In Arabic: الرباط سلا

Rabat is the capital of Morocco, located on the Atlantic Ocean at the southern bank of the Bou Regreg River. Salé is located on the northern bank of the river and is Rabat's main commuter town. Together, Rabat and Sale form a single metropolis.

As of the 21st century, there is a small Jewish community of a few hundred Jews in Rabat; there are no Jews living in Salé. The community in Rabat includes one active synagogue, a kosher butcher, and a kosher restaurant.


A tombstone confirms the existence of a Jewish presence in ancient Sala during the 2nd century C.E. During the 12th century the Almohads intended to make Rabat the capital of the caliphate and indeed, the city became a center of art and architecture during their reign. The community during that time was prominent enough that the Spanish-Jewish philosopher Abraham ibn Daud mentions the Jewish community of Sale in his 1161 book Sefer HaKabbalah. However, with the fall of the dynasty in 1269 Rabat was essentially abandoned until the 17th century. Sale, however, prospered during the reigns of the successive dynasties. Jews lived in the Bab al-Husayn area of Sale during this period and spoke Judeo-Arabic.

Fewer refugees from Spain and Portugal arrived in Sale than in other Moroccan cities, possibly due to the poor treatment that those who did arrive in Sale received at the hands of the Genoese traders living there. By the middle of the 16th century, however, there was a significant population of Spanish and Portuguese refugees living in Sale and the Jewish community began to grow and prosper.

During the 17th century, a few Jews settled in the Behira quarter of Rabat, which at that time was known as "New Sale." They were joined by Muslims from the Spanish town Hornachos, and Muslim converts to Christianity (moriscos) who had been expelled from Spain. During the 17th and 18th centuries, these twin towns became one of the most important trading centers in Morocco—as well as a center for piracy. Jews and their Muslim neighbors traded in slaves, gold dust, ostrich feathers, dates, goatskins, indigo, linen, and wax with Europe. The Jews, in particular, traded in weapons, chiefly with Marranos in the Netherlands. Among the most prominent traders of Salé were the Dutch brothers Benjamin and Joseph Cohen, who were among the Dutch Jews who came to settle in Sale between 1620 and 1660. The Jews and Muslims of the city also profited by less legal means, through piracy, reselling captured goods, and the ransoms that Christian nations paid to redeem Christian captives.

Jews also played an active role in the local government, particularly as ambassadors for European countries. Moses Santiago was the secretary to the governor of Rabat and negotiated a truce with the king of France in 1630. Isaac Pallache was the Dutch consul. Moses ben Attar, the Nagid of Salé, was the banker of the warrior king Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif, who reigned from 1672 until 1727, and helped him negotiate a treaty with England in 1721.

Sabbateanism became popular in Sale during the late 17th century, and the city was a connecting point for Sabbateans from the Netherlands and Morocco. The yeshivas of Sale and Rabat were also very active during this period. Graduates included Talmudists and legal authorities such as the kabbalist Rabbi Chaim b. Moses Attar, the author of a commentary on the Pentateuch known as Or HaHaim, who eventually immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1741. Other scholars included Rabbi Shem-Tov Attar, Rabbi Samuel de Avila and his son Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Abraham Rodriguez, Rabbi Samuel Car, Rabbi Solomon Tapiero, Rabbi Judah Anahory, and Rabbi Joseph Elmaleh.

After 1750 the community of Sale was absorbed by Rabat, which numbered over 6,000 people. Some Jews, however, left Sale and Rabat and founded communities elsewhere. The Jews of Rabat were among the founders of the Jewish communities of Gibraltar in 1705, Mogador in 1767, Lisbon in 1773, Mazagan in 1825, and the community of the Azores in 1820. Some of the more distinguished families from Rabat settled in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem.

During the late 18th century Rabat and Sale both began to decline in importance. This was due to economic competition from the port that was built in Essaouira—as well as a significant loss of profits as a result of piracy. Additionally, there were a number of natural disasters that affected Rabat-Sale. The 1755 earthquake in Lisbon damaged Rabat-Sale, though it was nothing compared to the famine of 1799, in which two-thirds of the city's population reportedly perished. The Jews of Rabat-Sale were lucky, however, in that they were spared from many of the persecutions initiated by Sultan Moulay Yazid; in 1790 they were saved by Governor Abd Allah Bargash, who convinced the sultan to accept a large payment from the Jews of the city instead of looting Jewish homes and businesses.

For the first time since they arrived to settle in the cities, in 1807 the Jews of Sale-Rabat were confined to two Jewish Quarters, one in Sale and one in Rabat, on the orders of Sultan Mawlay Suleiman. This measure spurred a wave of emigration, especially to South America, while other families converted to Islam rather than leave their homes. New arrivals from the Algerian city of Tlemcen began living in the Mellah (Jewish Quarter) of Rabat in 1830. Though the residents of Salé-Rabat continued to be active in international trade, by the end of the 19th century Casablanca had replaced Sale-Rabat as the major international commercial center of Morocco.

The French Protectorate in Morocco was established in 1912, after which Rabat became the capital of Morocco. The Alliance Israelite Universelle, which had opened a school in Rabat in 1905, had enrolled 235 students by 1913, a testament to the French influence over the people and institutions of Morocco. The AIU continued to grow in popularity and prominence; an AIU school was opened in Sale in 1913, and by 1927 most Jewish students were learning in an AIU school. Until 1957 there were also branches of the Jewish National Fund and WIZO active in Rabat.

In 1918 Rabbi Raphael Encaoua was appointed as the chief rabbi and head of the Jewish courts for Morocco. He was a major scholar and an important and influential figure for Jews throughout Morocco. Rabbi Encaoua was revered, and upon his death, Moroccan Jews would gather at his tomb in Sale to mark the anniversary of his death. His son, Rabbi Michael Encaoua, was the last chief rabbi of Morocco.

In 1947 there were 20,000 Jews living in the region of Sale-Rabat; 12,350 lived in Rabat, and 3,150 in Sale. However, after Morocco gained its independence in 1956 the Jews of Morocco, including those living in Rabat and Sale, began to emigrate. The majority of the Jews of Rabat emigrated to France, the United States, and Canada; the Jews from Sale almost exclusively left for Israel. Most of the Jewish schools of Rabat were closed, including the wide network of the Alliance Israelite Universelle and Otzar HaTorah schools, as well as a rabbinical seminary that had been established in 1951. By 1971 the Jewish population was less than one percent of the population of Rabat-Sale.

In 1997 there were 6,500 Jews living in Morocco, 400 in Rabat.

Inhabitants of the Mellah pre-1930:

Israeli NOTARIES (Soffer) of Rabat and Salé (Years 1910/1920):


Rebbi BENOUALID (Ben Oualid) Mossé ben Jacob; Rebbi MARRACHE Maër; Rebbi SABBAH David; Rebbi SABBAH Yacob.


Rebbi AMZALAG (Amzallag) Yacob (Jacob); Rebbi BENHARROSCH (BEN HARROSCH) Simon; Rebbi ENCAOUA Mardoché; Rebbi HASSAN Hannoun; Rebbi ROVOH (Rouah?) Abraham.,139153,281012#msg-281012

Three Jewish Cemeteries.

- Old Jewish Cemetery of Salé: Cimetière Almiara

- Old Jewish Cemetery of Rabat: Avenue Jazirat Al Arabe

- New Jewish Cemetery of Rabat: Avenue Hassan II, corner of Avenue Al Houria.

Useful links:,227041