586 BCE First account of Jewish presence in Algeria.
1492 Large increase in the Jewish population following the Reconquista when the Spanish inquisition expels Jews from their county of origin. Jews create communities primarily in Oran and Algiers and preserve the Ladino language.
1830 French attack on Algeria. French citizens (with national voting rights, required participation in military services, and subjection to French laws) are distinguished from Jews and Muslims who keep their own laws and courts.
1840s Jewish courts are abolished. French courts are used to adjudicate cases involving Jews. Later, the communal structure is reorganized. Chief Rabbis are appointed for each region to enforce the laws and loyalty to France.
1870 Jews are granted French citizenship under the décrets Crémieux of 1870.
1930s 120,000 Jews living in Algeria. Muslim riots in Constantine in 1934 kill 25 Jews and injure many more as a result of pro-Nazi sentiment. Until the 1940s, the French Vichy government persecutes the Jewish community socially and economically.
1962 Algerian independence. Algerian Nationality code of 1963 allows only those with Muslim ancestors to gain citizenship. Many Jews leave for relocation in France. Only about 10,000 Jews remain, primarily in the city of Algiers.
1990s Civil war in Algeria causes most of the remaining Jews to emigrate. The Armed Islamic Group rebel in 1994 declares war on all non-Muslims in Algeria.
The presence of Jews in Algeria spans from the pre-Roman period to the early 1960s, when Algeria became independent.
Before the Roman Empire took over these remote coasts of northern Africa, descendants of Jews who had fled Palestine after the destruction of the first and second temples of Jerusalem had settled among the Berber tribes of central Maghreb, some of whom had converted to Judaism over several centuries. Jews spoke the Berber language, especially in the eastern part of Algeria, in Kabyle lands, and even prayed in Berber.
Early descriptions of the Rustamid capital Tahert note that Jews were to be found there, as in any other major Muslim city, and some centuries later the Geniza Letters (found in Cairo) mention many Algerian Jewish families.
During the Arab conquest of Africa in the seventh century, Berbers and Jews fought together, an episode recounted at length by the Muslim medieval historian Ibn-Khaldun. According to this author, a Jewish Berber "queen," named Kahina ("the Priestess"), at the end of the seventh century led the autochthonous armies that resisted the Arab conquest of the Maghreb.
Most Berbers were converted to Islam a few decades later, and the Jews of Algeria started their cultural and linguistic assimilation into the Arab world. They rapidly began developing familiarity with Arabic literature, grammar, and science; in some areas, Jewish communities spoke Judeo-Arabic as their daily language.
The country's Jewish community substantially increased following the Reconquista, when the Spanish Inquisition expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492. Together with the Moriscos, they thronged to the ports of North Africa, forming large communities in places such as Oran and Algiers. Some Jews in Oran preserved their Ladino language - a uniquely conservative dialect of Spanish - until the 19th century.
The new Jewish immigrants brought their theological knowledge, their sages, and a more Europeanized Jewish tradition. They were rapidly integrated into the local Jewish leadership.
Later on, more European Jews immigrated to Algeria in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, coming from Italy. The languages spoken by the Jews in Algeria at that time were Berber, Arabic, Spanish, Ladino, Italian, and Hebrew.
Most of these communities were subject to the status of dhimmi imposed by the Turks in the sixteenth century on all non-Muslim groups living under Muslim rule. Jews could not mount horses, carry arms, or be in a posture physically superior to Muslims.
This inferior status did not prevent Jewish merchants from doing very well financially in late Ottoman Algiers; the French attack on Algeria was initially "provoked" by the Dey's demands that the French government pay its large outstanding wheat debts to two Jewish merchants, Bacri and Busnach.
After the conquest in 1830, the French government rapidly restructured the Ottoman millet system. At the time, the French government distinguished French citizens (who had national voting rights, were subject to French laws, and for the males, had to go to military service) from Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people, who each kept their own laws and courts.
By 1841, the Jewish courts (beth din) had been abolished, and all cases involving Jews were instead heard by French courts. In 1845, the communal structure was thoroughly reorganized, and French Jews were appointed as chief rabbis for each region, with the duty "to inculcate unconditional obedience to the laws, loyalty to France, and the obligation to defend it."
In 1865, liberal conditions were laid down so that Jewish and Muslim "indigenous" people could become French citizens if they requested it. This facility was, however, not much used - since it meant renouncing certain traditional mores and thus was perceived as a kind of apostasy.
In 1870, the French government granted the Jews French citizenship, under the décrets Crémieux of 1870. (For this reason, they are sometimes lumped together with the pieds-noirs.) This decision was due largely to pressures from prominent members of the French Jewish community, which considered the North African Jews to be "backward" and wanted to forcefully bring them into modernity. Within a generation, most Algerian Jews had come to speak French rather than Arabic or Ladino, and embraced many aspects of French culture.
When Algeria attained independence in 1962, legislation granted Algerian citizenship only to those residents whose father or paternal grandfather were Muslims. Moreover, the Supreme Court of Justice of Algeria declared that the Jews were no longer under the protection of the law. The great majority of Algeria's 140,000 Jews left the country for France together with the pied-noirs.
The Jews of Algeria had lived side by side with Muslims for centuries, but the struggle for Algerian independence presented them with stark choices, as Martin Evans explains.
On Wednesday June 22nd, 1961 the 48-year-old Jewish musician Raymond Leiris was shopping with his daughter in the crowded market of his home town, Constantine, in eastern Algeria. Suddenly, without warning, a young Muslim gunman surged forward to shoot him in the back of the neck. The defenceless Leiris was killed instantly, another victim of a round of shootings in Constantine that day, which left one Algerian woman dead and two other people seriously wounded.
It was a shocking incident even if, after nearly seven years of war between the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and France, the colonial power, there was no shortage of horrific events to record. By no stretch of the imagination was Leiris a military target. Popularly known as Cheikh Raymond, he was one of the great figures of the Andalusian musical tradition, a gifted oud player, blessed with an astonishing voice. Studying under the greats of Algerian music – Cheikh Chakleb and Cheikh Bestandji – his Cheikh Raymond Orchestra encapsulated the style known as malouf. He was a living symbol of a shared Jewish-Muslim culture. We still do not know why he was murdered. Neither the FLN, nor the Secret Army Organisation (OAS), the hard-line pro-French Algeria terrorist group formed in January 1961, ever claimed responsibility for his murder.
The killing threw into sharp relief the dilemmas of Algeria’s Jewish community in 1961. Numbering 130,000, as opposed to nine million Arab-Berber Algerians and just under one million European settlers, this minority was faced with three choices: accept independence, which seemed inevitable as the French government and the FLN had entered into negotiations; fight a last-ditch stand to defend colonial Algeria; or leave. With names like Derrida, Nouischi and Stora, Jews had lived in North Africa for over 2,000 years. Some had arrived with the Phoenicians between 1100 and 146BCE. Others had sought refuge after their expulsion, along with the Muslim population following the fall of Granada, the last bastion of Islamic Spain, in the Reconquista completed in 1492. As such the Jewish population had a complex mosaic of Judeo-Berber, Judeo-Arab, Portuguese and Spanish roots, in which each locality had its own customs. Under Islamic law Jews were accorded a protected status as the ‘people of the book’. In return they could practice Judaism through payment of a tax.
This article in Haaretz describing the little-known exploits of a small band of Jewish resistance fighters, who paved the way for the Allied landing in Algiers in 1942 (Operation Torch), is a welcome effort to restore a much-neglected episode to the historical record. These fighters have been compared to the resisters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike them, however, the Algerian resistance had a strategic impact on the course of the war. (With thanks: Lily)
Jose Aboulker, resistance leader
n 1940, following the German occupation during World War II, Algeria became a protectorate of the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazis. The Vichy regime abolished the Crémieux Decree, depriving Algeria’s Jews of citizenship and launching a harsh anti-Jewish campaign. Soon all Jewish students were expelled from the universities and public schools.
In 1941, the Jews were about 2 percent of the population but over 37 percent of medical students, 24 percent of law students, 16 percent of science students and 10 percent of arts students. At that time masses of Jews were dismissed from their positions as doctors, jurists, teachers and officials. They were left to the rage of those Algerians and French settlers who sought revenge after decades of envy and hostility.
Young Jews led by José Aboulker decided to react. Aboulker was from a wealthy educated family; his father, Dr. Henri Aboulker, was a successful physician and surgeon and taught at the University of Algiers. His mother, Berthe Bénichou-Aboulker, was a celebrated poet and playwright, one of the first women in Algeria to publish her own literary work.
The young Aboulker would not accept Vichy France’s racism and discrimination against the Jews; he gathered relatives, students and friends and established a Jewish resistance group disguised as a sports club named Géo Gras. That was simply the name of a non-Jewish coach who knew nothing about the club’s real purposes.
At first the group focused on local tasks such as defending Jews from violence, buying weapons and distributing anti-government leaflets, all the while preparing for bigger operations. The group had to wait until November 8, 1942, to launch its bold operation.
The summer of 1942 was one of the lowest points in the Allies’ struggle against the Nazis. In early July, Gen. Erwin Rommel’s forces arrived at El Alamein on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, threatening to take Egypt including the Suez Canal. Later that month, the Battle of Stalingrad began, so Stalin demanded that the Allies open a new front in the west. The strategists’ eyes were on the southwest: Africa.
Operation Torch was the code name for the Allies’ landing on the shores of Morocco and Algeria, within the overall battle for North Africa. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. commander of the operation, knew there were officers in the Vichy army whose dislike for the Germans outdid their loyalty to the regime. The Americans needed help from within and found Aboulker and his men; the resistance fighters were to take key facilities in Algiers.
They set off in the night of November 8, 1942. José Aboulker and his friends only needed 15 minutes to take Algiers’ police headquarters and main radio station. They wore uniforms of the fascist movement and possessed fake warrants. For 18 hours they spread misinformation and fake orders over the radio, misleading the Vichy regime and letting the Allies land – Operation Torch was on. During the next 24 hours, an American force of some 2,000 soldiers took Algiers with little resistance.
The Americans, who feared that the Géo Gras underground would be the weakest link of the operation, were glad to be proved wrong. The successful operation had long-term implications; there were now two fronts against Rommel, paving the Allies’ entry into Italy.
Compared to other cases of Jewish heroism during World War II and the Holocaust, the story of Géo Gras is rarely mentioned in Israeli history lessons, memorial ceremonies or studies. The Warsaw Ghetto fighters, for example, were tremendously brave, but their efforts had no significant effect on the outcome of World War II. Yet the Algerian resistance heroes have been forgotten.
There were Jews in Algeria from the pre-Roman period to the early 1960’s. Algeria was settled by the Berber tribes of central Maghreb. Some converted to Judaism over several centuries. The Jews spoke the Berber language, especially in the eastern part of Algeria in Kabyle lands, and prayed in Berber. By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries they spoke Berber, Arabic, Spanish, Ladino, Italian, and Hebrew with some communities speaking Judeo-Arabic as their daily language. In Oran they preserved the Spanish dialect of Ladino until the 19th century.
Most communities were subject to dhimmi imposed by the Turks in the sixteenth century on all non-Muslim groups living under Muslim rule. For example non-Muslims could not mount horses, carry arms, or be in a physically superior posture.
The French restructured the state after its conquest in 1830 .
In 1870 the Jews were granted French citizenship.
When Algeria attained independence in 1962, Algerian citizenship was only given to residents whose father or paternal grandfather were Muslims. With no legal protection most of Algeria's 130/140,000 Jews left for France.