The jews of arab land in modern times-Norman A. Stillman


A Letter from the Alliance Israelite universelle to Rabbi Raphael Abensur of Fez requesting his help in combating child marriage


Alliance Israélite Universelle  Paris, 27 September 1903

Dear Rabbi,

We were visited a few days ago by several notables from Fez. We discussed with them the situation of the community, and we are happy to note the progress realized these last years in Fez. These improvements are due to a variety of causes, among which, we believe our schools are the principal factor. We would be completely delighted to congratulate the Fez community, if it would renounce the sorry custom of child marriages prac­ticed by Jewish families.

Questioned by us on the means to putting an end to this deplorable practice, Messrs. Mimoun, David Cohen, and Raphael Azuelos were of the opinion that the cure for this evil depended upon you and your colleagues, Rabbis Vidal and Solomon Danan. They urged us to beg you to act on behalf of this among your coreligionists in Fez. You know as well as we, Rabbi, that our foremost talmudic authorities are hostile to child marriage. Does not the Pirka abot V,21 fix the age of marriage at eighteen?

There is no purpose for us to go on citing texts with which you are entirely familiar. Unfortunately, instead of following the advice of our sages, numerous communities have imitated the Arabs, who for a purpose that is hardly praiseworthy, marry off their children at an age when they should still be sitting on school benches. Morality and hygiene are no less opposed to this custom than is religion. Is it possible for two children who do not know all about life and its difficulties to set up a household already during their tender years, at age ten and even younger?

From the point of view of health, the dangers are of the greatest gravity: death during childbirth for many young wives, high infant mortality, and neglected hygienic care. What can one expect of a twelve-year-old mother and a fourteen-year-old father?

It is urgent that this custom disappear from our Moroccan coreligion­ists’ way of life. In Tangier and Tetouan, marriages of girls under fifteen have become rare. The community of Fez under the enlightened prompting of its rabbis must follow suit. We beg you, Rabbi, to join our efforts to check this evil. Make the parents understand the dangers that they are courting for their children by not conforming to our counsels. We are convinced that thanks to your high religious authority, you are better placed than anyone in Fez to undertake such a task.

André Chouraqui, Cent ans d’histoire (Paris, 1965), Annexe 5, no. 1, p. 458.

Jacques Bigart was the secretary of the Alliance at this time.

Rabbi Vidal is probably Rabbi Vidal Sarfaty (1862-1921). Rabbi Solomon Danan is Solomon Aben Danan (1848-1929), who at this time was Av Bet Din, or head of the rabbinical court of Fez. Aben Danan had been approached in 1897 by Joseph Bensimhon, the director of the Alliance School for Boys, with regard to this same matter. Aben Danan, however, had not been very helpful. See Michael M. Laskier, The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco: 1862-1962 (Albany, N.Y., 1983), p. 119. This may explain why the Alliance was turning in this letter to Rabbi Abensur, who was the scion of an equally distinguished dynasty of Fasi rabbis.


A European jew tries to rescue a girl from a child marriage in Morocco


A few weeks after we had moved in, we heard the cries and weeping of a child. These cries were coming from the undeveloped property facing our building, on which there were some shanties in which poor Moroccan Jewish families were living, six or eight to a room.

I went down in a bathrobe. A little girl of about eight years of age ran toward me in tears, begging me to protect her from a group of people who were gathered not far from there. I asked the others why the little waif was so frightened. They explained that the girl had been married the same day to a young man of twenty or thirty, whom they presented to me, and that the girl was afraid to go and pass the wedding night with her husband.

I was very upset. I called them savages and led the little girl away to pass the night in my house. The next day, I received a summons from the rabbinical court of Casablanca. I went there immediately.

At the court, I was told that I had been wrong to carry off this girl from her husband, who had married her in proper religious fashion. More­over, this sort of marriage took place frequently in Morocco and was com­pletely normal. I was then asked persistently to restore the little girl to her husband and his family, which I did with a heavy heart.

Afterward, the director of the Alliance Israélite confided in me that it often happened that parents remove their daughters from school at age eight in order to marry them off.

Ten or fifteen years after this incident with the little girl, a beautiful young woman came upon me in the old city of Casablanca, kissed my clothing, and told me that I had protected her from her husband and his family on her wedding night. She added that since then she was happy and had had two or three children.

Zede Schulman, Autobiographie: l’histoire de ma collection (Chatillon-sous-Bagneux, 1980), pp. 62-63.

Social Transformations

The jews of arab land in modern times

Norman A. Stillman

הירשם לבלוג באמצעות המייל

הזן את כתובת המייל שלך כדי להירשם לאתר ולקבל הודעות על פוסטים חדשים במייל.

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