david-corcos-mellah


Studies in the history of the jews of Morocco David Corcos

His paper on "The attitude of the Almohadic rulers towards the Jews" is characteristic of this approach. He belittles the value of the writings of Arabic historians of the Near East as sources for the history of North Africa, showing that a much esteemed Syrian historian like Shams ad-din adh-Dhahabi (d. 1348) made great blunders in dealing with the history of the Almohads. Where­as Almohad rule is depicted in all standard works as one of the darkest periods in the history of North African Jewry, Corcos tries to prove that there was never a systematic persecution. He would like to show that at least during a long time there was no official decree against Judaism, but a rather gradual deterioration of the Jews' status.

 There was no forced conversion from the beginning of Almohad rule and what happened in Tunis was an exception. It was not before the days of Abu Yusuf Ya'kub (1184-1199) that the Jews were everywhere forcibly converted and this pressure did not last longer than his reign. Under his successor Muhammad an-Nasir (1199-1214) the situation of the Jews changed for the better. Although this view will remain controver­sial, the paper has the great merit of all treatises of this kind: it challenges accepted ideas and compels us to think them over and re-examine the data.

The paper about "The Jews under the Merinids" shows another typical aspect of David Corcos' historical writing. In order to explain the favourable attitude of the new dynasty towards the Jews, Corcos adduces various argu­ments. One of them is the supposition that the Jews as an autochthonous element in Morocco's population (and as warlike as other Moroccans) took an active part in the military campaigns which resulted in the establishment of the Merinid rule. The participation of Jews in warfare is indeed a subject to which Corcos came back time and again. In the same paper he refers to the part Jews took in the Merinids' campaigns in Spain. These Jewish warriors were, Corcos believes, Zenata, i.e. Berber nomads, as is borne out by their names. Consequently one could explain the protection that the Merinids granted to the Jews as an expression of the solidarity of nomads. David Corcos was interested in all aspects of Jewish history, the economic activities of the Jews not least. In this paper he dwells on the Jews' great role in the gold trade with the Western Sudan. This supposition has been later corroborated by a French scholar who had recourse to other sources. David Corcos also deals in this paper with the downfall of the Wakkàsâ, a family of court Jews, in April 1302. Corcos, who knew conditions in Morocco so well, maintains that their fall did not entail a persecution of the Jews. It was simply the con­sequence of the sultan's need for their money. Certainly this is true, but seeing this episode in a wider context one may be tempted to view it as be­longing to a more general outbreak of Moslem fanaticism. Around the year 1300 the non-Moslems were persecuted in Persia, Iraq, Syria and Egypt too. The consciousness of the continuity in the history of the Jews in the diaspora is a leitmotif in the papers of David Corcos. He tries to show that the history of Jewries in various Christian and Moslem countries is not a "passive" one, but that Jews preserved their character, pursued their activities and strove for their aims, although living in Moslem or Christian states as a minority. In his paper "The Jews of Morocco from the expulsion of Spain until the middle of the 16th century" he stresses the warlike attitude of Moroccan Jews who engaged also at the beginning of the 16th century in active warfare. In this paper too he dwells on the economic activities of the Jews: they developed the sugar industry in Morocco and had still a great share in the gold trade with the Western Sudan, which supplied the Mediterranean countries with gold through so many centuries.

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