Studies in the history of the jews of Morocco

To refute the generally accepted view of the centuries-long suppression of Moroccan Jewry, living in narrow ghettos, was a major aim of David Corcos' literary activities. Completely rejecting this view, he believed that its refutation was a foremost task of historical research on North African Jewry. In his paper "Les Juifs du Maroc et leurs mellahs" he shows that the Jews of Morocco were not always confined to the mellah. The mellah of Fez dates from 1438, that of Marrakech from 1557, whereas the mellah of Meknes was founded in 1682. Insofar as there was a general obligation to live in mellahs, it dates only from the beginning of the 19th century and was due to the bigotry of Sultan Moulay Sulaiman, who confined the Jews of Tetuan, Sale-Rabat and Mogador to mellahs in 1807. Furthermore, the author dwells on the fact that for long centuries the Jewish quarters of Morocco were spacious and clean. They changed their character, becoming overcrowded and dirty in a relatively late period, when as a consequence of anarchy and insecurity many Jews formerly living in the countryside left their villages for the towns.

Time and again David Corcos stresses the faithfulness and high moral standards of the upper classes within Moroccan Jewry. The descendants of the Jews who were exiled from Spain in 1492 considered it incumbent upon them to take revenge and to fight against Spain through the centuries. This is borne out, shows Corcos, by the story of Samuel Pallache, ambassador of Morocco to the Netherlands. In his paper "Samuel Pallache and his London trial", which is exhaustively documented, he shows convincingly that the Jewish ambassador was not a pirate, but faithful to his nation and imbued with that old Spanish pride, the consciousness of the Jewish-Spanish aristocracy so characteristic of its descendants through the centuries—last but not least of David Corcos himself.

Research in the onomasticon of Moroccan Jewry was a subject which fascinated him. Indeed, it served as a guideline for research and in almost all his papers he drew conclusions from the names of Moroccan Jews. He was not the first to make these studies and, on the other hand, a thorough philo­logical training is absolutely necessary for the research in the bewildering and complex nomenclature consisting of Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and Berber elements. But thanks to his thorough knowledge acquired on the spot and his great zeal his papers about the names of the Jews of Morocco are a very valuable contribution to this research.

Certainly there will be different opinions on the literary activities of David Corcos, but are the scholarly achievements of the professional historians appreciated in the same way by colleagues and by readers of their writings?

Whatever the verdict of future generations, all those who knew David Corcos felt bereaved when he passed away on Februray 21st, 1975, after a relatively short illness. We felt that by his untimely death research into Jewish history had lost an enthusiastic student. But surely not less than the scholar we bewailed the death of a great gentleman and of a good friend. A gentleman and a friend—these words express the character of David Corcos. Gentle and helpful to everybody, he behaved as the scion of an old family of Jewish aristocrats should do. He loved people and people appreciated and loved him. And when he was buried on the slope of the Mount of Olives, facing the hill where in bygone days the Temple stood, those accompanying him on his last journey saw before their eyes the eternal vicissitudes of Jewish fate and the unconquerable continuity of Jewishness. The last of the leaders of Jewry in South Morocco, born in the Atlantic port of Mogador, was buried in Jerusalem.

We shall not forget him.

  1. Ashtor

Jerusalem, February 1976

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