The Vanished Jews of Tunisia


Tunisia - case study: North African’ Jewish communities that, until the early 1960s, contained one of the largest Jewish populations in the world (ML)

The course examines social and cultural issues in the history of Tunisian Jewry, and its search for dignity, equality and national identity. We will investigates how a community with more than 100,000 members at its height, disappeared within less than a decade after Tunisia independence in 1956, after a Jewish presence exceeding 2000 years. The course is a case study for history of the 900,000 Jews from Arab countries - The forgotten refugees.

For more than 3,000 years, Tunisia has been a magnet for diverse peoples of divers origins. Pagans, Jews, Christians, and Moslems have interacted here, contributing over the ages to a remarkable legacy of truly cross-cultural artifacts and symbols. Students will be introduced to a North African Jewish community in the cultural fusion of Tunisia, a uniquely multi-religious and multi-ethnic area.

This course will survey the changes and crises in Tunisian Jewish history since the tenth century B.C.E. to the present. We will examine the strategies for survival of the Jewish community under Arab/Moslem rule, during the French Protectorate and after Tunisia’s independence, and the impact of modern intellectual, political, economic, and social forces on Tunisia’s Jews. We will analyze the political, cultural, and socioeconomic transformations that ‘othered’ Tunisian Jews in different ways, and that by the 1960s, led to the Jewish exodus to Israel or France. Some of the topics to be covered include antisemitism, Jewish relations with Christians and Arabs, Jewish identity and communal organization and institutions, French colonialism and its impact - occidental acculturation and French emancipation, Nazi-occupied Tunisia, Zionism, and Arab nationalism.



Case study: The Tunisian Jewish minority in the face of oppression
The end of one of the oldest Jewish Minority in Tunisia, 1881-1967

Oppression of each group/minority has its own distinctive character and its own specifity. The testimony of the Jews in Arab countries has gone practically unheard - the more than one million forgotten. This study presents an analysis of the political, cultural, and socioeconomic transformations that “othered” Tunisian Jews in different ways, and that by the 1960s, led to the Jewish exodus to Israel or France - the Jewish communities disappeared from the Tunisian landscape.

The Tunisian Jew was essentially oppressed. In the minority, and in varying degrees, separated from the others, he lived under a threat, intermittently hit by catastrophes. He was always an outsider, being recasted in different terms during different historical periods. The narrative focuses on the recasting of Jews in different terms, while examining and analyzing the survival strategies of the Jewish minority community in the face of oppression.

The Tunisian Jewish condition and the shaping of Jewish identity were affected by the following factors: antisemitism, Islam, French colonialism - occidental acculturation & emancipation, Zionism, decolonization, Arab nationalism, and minority rights in search for equality, dignity & national identity.

Part I. From Antiquity to the Byzantine Period

c. 17th century. Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob - patriarchs of the Jewish people
12th century BCE Phoenician sailors founded trading posts in Tunisia
970-928 BCE King Solomon
814 BC: Foundation of Carthage by Phoenician settlers led by Queen Dido.
586 BCE Judah conquered by Babylonia; Jerusalem & 1st Temple destroyed. Exile
4th century BCE Alexander the Great. Hellenism
264 BC-146 BC: The Punic Wars: Three wars with Rome, Hannibal; defeat of Carthage.
146 BC-439: Establishment of 1st Roman Colony, Africa, & its attachment to Roman Empire
70 C.E. (Common Era) Destruction of Jerusalem and 2nd Temple
132-35 Bar Kokhba Revolt
c. 390 Commentary on the Mishnah (Jerusalem Talmud) completed.
c. 425-500 Redaction of the Babylonian Talmud
439: Takeover of Carthage by the Vandals.
533: Takeover of Carthage by the Byzantines ( edict issued by Justinian in 535)


Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, thrusts toward Sicily, between Algeria on the west & Libya on the south. Tunisia is the easternmost of the three Arab states that constitute the Maghreb, the western most region of the Muslim world, the other two being Algeria and Morocco. The Sahara Desert lies in the southernmost part.
Area: total: 163,610 sq km. land: 155,360 sq km. water: 8,250 sq km; twice the size of South Carolina, larger than Georgia; the smallest of the Maghreb states and the most cohesive.
Its landmass is equivalent to that of England and Wales
Climate: temperate in north with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers; desert in south
Natural resources: petroleum, phosphates, iron ore, lead, zinc, salt

People. Ethnic groups: Arab 98%, European 1%, Jewish and other 1%
Religions: Muslim 98%, Christian 1%, Jewish and other 1%
Total population: 9.25 million mainly along the 800 miles of Mediterranean coastal plain
Jewish population: 1,300, mainly in Tunis and the island of Djerba

The official religion is Sunni Islam.
Tunis, the capital, with a population of about 1 million, is one of the principal cosmopolitan urban centers of the Mediterranean. The official language is Arabic; French is widely used. English is spoken among a growing number of Tunisians. Many also speak Italian.
Government type: republic (Tunisia is a free State, independent and sovereign; its religion is the Islam, its language is Arabic)
Independence: 20 March 1956 (from France)
Legal system: based on French civil law system and Islamic law

President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali replaced the octogenarian independence leader President Habib Bourguiba in a bloodless coup in 1987 and, as sole candidate, was elected president in 1989 and re-elected unopposed in 1994 with 99% of the vote.

A. The Sources/Origins

RA(Robert Attal & Claude Sitbon): The Jewish community of Tunisia is one of the oldest in the Diaspora. The Tunisian Jewish writer, Albert Memmi, testifies to the richness of Tunisia’s history and culture: “When I learned a little history, I felt dizzy; Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantium, Berbers, Arabs, Spaniards, Turks, Italians, French ...”
The earliest date of Jewish settlement in the eastern Maghreb is not known for sure.

CA: From literary and archaeological sources, evidence has been gathered of a rich Jewish communal life going back some 2,300 years.

1. Hebrews & Phoenicians
The Jews developed from the early Mesopotamian civilization Ur, which existed in approximately 1950 B.C.E. in what is today southern Iraq. There, Abraham rejected the polytheistic and idolatrous religion accepted in his time & conceived of a single, indefinable God. ... he destroyed all the idols of Nahor, his grandfather. He took his wife, nephew Lot, and about 70 others and left the land.
He and those with him then crossed the Euphrates River, for which they became known as Hebrew (Ivrim), meaning “crossers.” They migrated north along the Euphrates and then followed the river’s fertile western branch, and crossed Syria into the land of Canaan, ... now south of Israel. ...
Abraham sired many children, but to his favorite son, Isaac born of Sarah, Abraham gave all he had. Isaac then took Rebecca and fathered Essau and Jacob. ... Jacob inherited lands of his father ... produced 12 sons whose offspring are the 12 tribes of Israel.

Some of the 12 tribes settled in the northwest of Palestine, along the coast, & were sea-traders. Historians think that Hebrews joined sailors of Sidon & Tyr, in Phoenician expansion in the Mediterranean coast:
=Zenata Berbers, nomadic people were the 1st inhabitants of present-day Tunisia; spoke Berber and the Greeks called Libyans. In the earliest known period of its history, the region now called Tunisia was part of the Carthaginian Empire: In the 12th century, Phoenician sailors founded trading posts, and according to tradition, in 814 BCE (Before Common Era), the Phoenician queen Elyssa (Dido) founded the city of Carthage (derived from Phoenician name for “new city’=Kart Hadash), northeast of modern Tunis; they spoke Phoenician language -semitic language, Phoenician origin, close to Hebrew. People continued to speak this language after the fall of Carthage, because we found inscriptions neo-Phoencian during Roman times; but no proof that Jews accompanied Phoenicians.
Andre Chouraqui (AC): While it is probable that members of the Israelites tribes were among the earliest Phoenician traders who colonized the African coast and founded Carthage, this must remain speculation in the absence of more conclusive historical proof.

2. The fleet of King Solomon in the 10th century BCE
RA: Jews may have come here first in the 10th century BCE when the fleet of King Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre joined on sailings to Tarshish; (It seems that Tarshish is a general term for all the regions/countries in Western Mediterranean, area of expansion of the Phoenicians till Spain).
Relationships between Phoenician cities & kingdom of Israel. David, king 1010-970; Solomon, 970-928 BCE ... discord among tribes. ... during reign of Solomon, some Jews emigrated from Israel, and settled in Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, and North Africa ... Jewish Presence: possibly from King Solomon's time.

3. The first exile, 586 BCE. Hellenism
RA: Perhaps the beginnings of the Jewish community were after the destruction of kingdom & the Temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar , in 586 BCE, when many Jews were exiled and settled in Babylonia (now the center of Iraq), Egypt and other countries. On the other hand, it may have started with the immigration movement after the conquest of Judea by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE.
Andre Chouraqui (AC): It is generally accepted that the first communities of any importance date from about the time of the destruction of the Temple (it is not impossible: Carthage had always ties with the Orient & its metropol, Tyr; maybe, Jews after the destruction of the 1st Temple also followed the maritime routes of the Phoenicians). The 2nd exile to Babylon was also accompanied by a westward migration. Certain communities, among them Djerba, maintain an oral tradition that they were founded at that time.

The number of Jews who left Palestine with the Phoenicians after 586 BCE, is difficult to ascertain. ... they formed an influential community and, for a time, they flourished in the Diaspora. ... Jews who had settled in Yemen and North Africa (NA) established relatively autonomous communities ... In Algeria and Morocco, as reported by the Phoenicians and Kartagians who traded with them, the Jews were well established and prosperous in commerce and agriculture. ...

Alexander’s conquest at the end of the 4th century spread Hellenism among Jews. Following oppression by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164), Jews fled to Egypt. Bible translated into Greek during Ptolemy II (285-247) between the III & I centuries. Jews also in Libya. It’s likely that there were Jews in Phoenician Africa before the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE. Hellenic influences in Africa; very likely people spoke Greek. Likely that Jews from Egypt or Cyrene moved to Carthage

AC: The existence of Hebrew-speaking Jewish communities in NA substantiates the theory that they left Palestine before their origin language, Hebrew, had been supplanted by Aramaic. The use of Hebrew among the Jews of NA continued till the beginning of the 5th century CE. It’s probable that there were Jews in NA before destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE.

4. The Carthaginian Era: 813-146 B.C.E.
RA: Jewish settlement could have originated as far back as the 3rd century BCE, when Jews moved to those areas of North Africa that had previously been known as the empire of Carthage. Whatever the case, most scholars assign the Jewish presence in Tunisia to a very early date.

AC: The recorded history of North Africa begins with the founding of Carthage in 813 BCE. For 667 yrs until its fall to the Romans in 146 BCE, Carthage molded North Africa into its own Semitic image, developing an Oriental civilization. ... influence of one language: Punic and one culture, the Semitic, both of Palestinian origin. ... Hebrew and Punic shared a common ancestry.

=By the 6th & 5th c., Carthage became the center of a mighty sea empire that dominated most of northern Africa, and intermittently ruled the southern part of the Iberia Peninsula, Sardinia, & parts of Sicily. Beginning in 264 BCE, Carthage clashed with the expanding Roman Empire for control of the Mediterranean, in a series of bloody struggles known as the 3 Punic Wars, 264 BC to 146 BC; 247: Hamilcar sent to Sicily; the 2nd was the most famous, pitting the Roman general Scipio Africanus against Carthage’s Hannibal -including elephant-mounted expedition by Hannibal across the Alps, 218-202 BC. Rome defeated the Carthaginians & destroyed Carthage their capital in 146 BCE. From the 2nd century BCE to the 5th c. CE (Common Era=AD), Tunisia was part of the Roman province called Africa. 30-14 BCE: Octavianus Augustus rebuilt Carthage. Carthage was part of the Roman Empire until the Arab conquest of 648-69.

B. The Roman Era: 146 B.C.E.-430 C.E.

RA: After the Roman conquest of Carthage in 146 BCE, the Jewish population in that province increased with the addition of Jews from Rome & Judae following Titus’ conquest of Jerusalem in 70 CE and from Cyrenaica, after the suppression of the Jewish rebellion of 115-117 CE. Moreover, conversion of the native peoples, the Berbers, among whom the Jews successfully proselytized, also enlarged their ranks.

According to legend, Jews have resided in Tunisia since the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, in 586 BCE. While this cannot be substantiated by historical evidence, it is known that Tunisia was home to the most important center of Jewish life in North Africa during the period of the Roman Empire. There is definite historical evidence of Jewish communities in Roman North Africa from the 2nd century CE (Common era)

146 BC-439: Establishment of 1st Roman Colony, Africa, & its attachment to Roman Empire. Tunisia was called Ifriqiya - name comes from the Roman word for Africa and the name also given by the Romans to their 1st African colony following the Punic Wars. Roman civ,, cults, amphitheater, circus. Ruins in Carthage, El Jem, Tertullien, St Augustus

1. The Jewish communities
Diaspora & the spread of Christianity -
In the 1st century Jewish Diaspora spread everywhere. Christianity spread in Africa from the Jewish communities there, in the synagogues of Carthage.

a. The Uprisings, emigrations & deportations
AC: The Pax romana facilitated communications between the various Jewish communities around the Mediterranean basin and ensured the solid establishment of Judaism in 2 African provinces, the Proconsular which encompassed Cyrenaica (Libya) and Tunisia, and the Caesarean which included Algeria & Morocco. The Jews of Tunisia adopted Roman ways, adding Latin to the Phoenician language.
Some Jews, following uprisings against Rome, may have gone to Tunisia, where evidence shows a Jewish presence at the end of the 2nd century BCE; converted people to Judaism.

AC: The relentless conflict between the Jews of Palestine and its Roman invaders, which lasted more than a century, had profound repercussions in the 2 great African provinces, enriching their Jewish communities with 1000s (Maccabees: 167 BCE).
70 C.E. Under Titus, Roman soldiers quelled the first Jewish revolt in 70 C.E. During the insurrection, the 2nd Temple was destroyed to demoralize the Jews. It is known, that the Jewish population in the Maghrib -alongside the Berbers- was numerically strengthened.

AC: It has been estimated that 30,000 Jews were deported to Carthage by Titus, and Josephus recorded the presence of 500,000 Jews in Cyrenaica in the 1st century (the deportees brought with them a smoldering hate of the Roman oppressors). ... The 12 boatloads of Jewish captives that Titus deported from Palestine to North Africa about the year 71 CE reinforced the existing Jewish colonies. ...
Tunisia is mentioned in the works of Josephus, who testified to the transportation from the Land of Israel of 30,000 Jews to Tunisia, by the Romans under the Emperor Titus.

Following more uprisings in Judah, Jewish prisoners were sold as slaves and taken to Roman provinces, Africa one of them. Following the uprising from 115-117, under Emperor Trajan, Jews fled to Africa. Uprising during Hadrian; 132-35 Bar Kokhba Revolt suppressed; Many Jews sold as slaves in Africa.

These are some of the origins of the Jewish communities in Africa, according to evidence of the early centuries of Christianity. Evidence in Latin shows that Jews converted people -Phoenician, Berbers- to Judaism in North Africa (NA); spread of the Jewish faith among the Berbers remarkable; Terullian wrote about them; Tertullian in the 3rd century, reported that the Berbers observed the Sabbath, the Jewish festivals and fasts, and the dietary laws. From the end of the 2nd c., Jews & Christians clashed in their attempts to convert gentiles.

b. Sites of the Jewish Colonies - Evidence
RA: We learn of the Jewish presence in Africa in the Roman period from the writings of Tertullian & St Augustine, as well as from remains found in the cemetery of Carthage & the synagogue of Naro. The Talmud mentions Rav Abba and Rab Hanina from Carthage.
Under Roman rule, the province of Africa included many Jewish communities whose existence has been proved by numerous texts and archeological findings.
AC: scholarly research enable us to fix the precise sites of Jewish communities in NA.

Tertullian & his Adversus Judaeos

AC: Historical evidence is available for the 3rd & 4th centuries CE.
*The first documented evidence of Jews in this area dates back to 200 c.e. and demonstrates the existence of a community in Latin Carthage under Roman rule. Latin Carthage contained a significant Jewish presence ...
The work of Tertullian is the oldest evidence on Jewish communities in Roman Africa. This African writer lived from the end of the 2nd century till the beginning of the 3rd century gives us important information on the Jews. He wrote that: the new religion -Christianity- spread near the old one and among the Jews who were citizens; there was a growing tension between Jews & Christians. Jewish women left their home with their head covered. Jews fasted near the seacoast. In their synagogues, the Jews of Carthage read the Bible in Hebrew but also in Greek. Sometimes, Christians and Pagans went to the Sabbath service. Christianity must be defended, that’s why Tertullian wrote his Adversus Judaeos, against the Jews. So, during Tertullian there were many Jewish communities, whose members lived among pagans and Christians, in the cities & outside the cities of Roman Africa.

Among the most important finds have been inscriptions in the richly decorated synagogue of Naro on the shore of Hammam-Lif, the necropolis of Gamart & a Greek inscription engraved on a marble column at Berenice around the year 14 BCE which was discovered in Tripoli.

The Jewish cemetery of Carthage
RA: Near the ruined city of Carthage lies a site known as Garmath, where excavations have revealed a 2nd or 3rd-century CE Jewish cemetery.
It is sure that there were many Jews in Carthage. The largely unknown necropolis of Gamart, northwest of Carthage, near the entrance to Tunis, is evidence of their presence in the capital of Roman Africa. R. P. Delattre, in the 19th century, proved that it was a Jewish cemetery and not a Phoenician one. There are many Jewish symbols: Jewish lamp with Menorah; the seven-branched candelabra in plaque of white marble, shofar, lulav (palm branch), etrog. it bears the funeral inscriptions, in Hebrew be salwm or slwm Iw, or in Latin pace, which were used by both Jews & Christians.

This city of the dead has about 200 underground rooms that could contain 17 dead; we can conclude that there was an important Jewish community in Carthage; because of its rich decorations, we can guess that many Jews were rich; Latin: they were very likely romanized
AC: Besides Carthage, which was the most important, there was Hammam-Lif, the city of Naro, where a synagogue of the Roman era, with important inscriptions referring to the synagogue and the archesynagogus, the religious head, has been uncovered.

The synagogue of Naro.
So, there was also a Jewish community, not far away from Carthage, in the city of Naro, on the place of modern Hammam Lif. There, at the end of the 19th century, the remains of a well-preserved 3rd-century CE synagogue have been discovered containing *a mosaic
RA Document: Section of mosaic from the synagogue in Naro; synagogue was built in the 3rd or 4th century CE; it was discovered in 1883 -Captain Prudhomme led archeological digs. AC note: The inscriptions which were found at the Naro synagogue are preserved at the Museum of Bardo (Tunis), & museum of Brooklyn in NY. The mosaics are at the Museum of Toulouse.

The mosaic is decorated with a wealth of images, despite the fact that this is expressly forbidden by biblical commandments. As in contemporary synagogues discovered in Palestine, they depict a source/water out of a vase, lions, hyenas, partridges, guinea-fowl, ducks, fish, trees, fruit and human figures, on both sides of the vase -in taste of church of the time. The mosaic bears the inscription with name of the Jewish community member who funded the mosaic, Julia, Asterius, son of Rusticus, reflecting the fact that he was a jeweler, margaritarius:

Sancta Synagoga naron pro salutem suam ancilla tua Juliana de suo proprium tesselavit =
For her salvation, your servant, the young Juliana paved the mosaic in the saint synagogue of Naro. The mosaic in another room indicates that the purpose of the room was to store holy objects of Judaism such as the Torah, the seven-branched candelabra, phylacteries. The synagogue of Naro not only proves the existence of a Jewish community there, but also that its members were rich; wrote Latin on their tombs/synagogues; had romanized names; the themes and images of the mosaic show that the Jews were not distinct from their pagan or Christian neighbors. A text of St Augustine (sermo IX,3) tells us about leisure of Jews of Carthage in Shabbat: the men go to the theater, women dance in their balcon.

Other communities
AC: Besides Carthage -main Jewish center, and Naro, inscriptions, and the writings of Saint Augustine, refer to Jewish communities at Utica, Simitra in Proconsular Numidia, and at Tarsus (Tozeur). In the Byzacena province, the main Jewish centers were Henchir-Djuana, to the west of Kairouan, where an inscription reveals the existence of semi-proselytes; Yudia; and above all the great maritime city Hadrumetum (Sousse), where inscriptions referring to the God of the Hebrews have been discovered. (Nabeul=Neapolis) -they found there lamps with Menorah.

c. Jewish Life
AC: The many inscriptions which had been discovered in North Africa serve to reinforce the information that historians have been able to glean from Greek, Latin and Talmudic texts in giving a picture of the evolution of the specific, in some measure Oriental, way of life that had been developing there since the days of Carthage. Jews spoke Latin and some spoke Greek; and knew Hebrew; they had Latin names, latinized Hebrew names such as Annanius=Hanania, or name showing ethnic origin: Ioudeus; Roman law.
AC: Life in the Jewish communities of North Africa (NA) during the Roman era was highly developed, well organized, rich and vital. ... Jews were integrated under the Pax Romana ... Religious & legal autonomy. The Romans recognized Judaism & allowed the Jewish faith to organize under a Nasi, a Patriarch resident in Palestine, who was both spiritual and temporal leader. His hierarchy reached into every community, through the primates who headed each province and through the local heads of the communities.

AC: Each community headed by a religious assembly & an administrative council, 9 members, elected by community. The Council of Elders administrated the community; directed finances, supervised the religious organization, represented the interests of the community before the courts & the authorities; distributed relief, decided on construction of synagogues, schools; secretary kept minutes; archesynagogus -rabbi, responsible for religious ritual, preaching, teaching the law; aided by readers and shamashim -sacristans. Synagogue center of all Jewish activity, of prayer, teaching, study and justice. Jewish communities granted large measure of judicial autonomy. Romans allowed Jews to send every year money to the Temple in Jerusalem -Jewish communities along the Mediterranean had ties among themselves & Jerusalem.

Intellectual life: The Talmud relates the journeys of Rabbi Akiba to the Maghreb, in which he doubtlessly helped to stir up the revolt against Rome. Several rabbis were born in Carthage.... , and several sages mentioned in the Talmud lived in this area from the 2nd to the 4th centuries: R. Isaac, R. Hanan and R. Abba from Carthage. ... Hillel, explains the prevalence of flat feet among inhabitants of the Maghreb (AC).

The active religious life was the result of the close relationship between the communities themselves, and between them and the Palestinian center. ... Jews participated in life of Empire; participated in prosperity of time (Severus); actif in farming & trade with Rome. Following Judaism, they asked God’s favor for Caesar; had same political rights as other Roman citizens; high offices.
(The peace temporarily disturbed by the Jewish rebellion in Emperor Trajan’s time, and by the efforts of the Emperor Hadrian to destroy Judaism (Under the Roman Emperors Vespasian and Hadrian, life was particularly harsh for the Jews, although they were permitted to practice their religion in comparative freedom). Hadrian forbade circumcision, observance of Sabbath, teaching of the Bible & ordination of rabbis. It was in the course of his struggle against Hadrian that Rabbi Akiba died. (120 C.E. a second revolt occurred in Israel that took 2 yrs for the Romans to squelch. When the Jews were finally subdued, they were ordered to disperse; (132-35 Bar Kokhba Revolt) Emperor Antonius Pius (138-165) repealed the intolerant decrees & reestablished the Patriarch under which the Jews of the Roman Empire were united. The head of each North African province was considered a representative of the Patriarch.)

AC: Jews accorded rights of citizens (Caracalla edict 212); eligible for highest office; exempted from any law that would have clashed with their religion. The administrative structure allowed by the Romans enabled the Jews to survive through the trials of the 1st century, & in NA, where the indigenous Jews were reinforced by those fleeing from Palestine, it enabled them the spread the influence of Judaism among the Berber masses. ... the existence of nomadic Jews would explain the diffusion of Judaism beyond the confines of Carthaginian influences ... even as far as Black Africa.

2. Christianity & the beginning of Suppression

RA: For some time, the Jews of Roman Africa were allowed to practice their religion. Discriminatory measures were introduced against the Jews in the 4rd century, when Christianity became the state religion. Jews were dismissed from all public offices, sever punishments were imposed for conversion to Judaism, and the construction of new synagogues was forbidden.

The rise of Christianity brought with it an undoubted decline in the fortunes of the Jewish communities. Polemic writings of Christian authors of NA: Tertullian & Cyprien, bishop of Carthage in middle 3rd c.; both wrote letters & sermons against Jews, showing the harsh rivality between the 2 religions. Tertullian, 3rd. c., was a Roman lawyer born in Tunis and a proponent of the new religion, and in his work Adversus Judaeorum he described the Jews as "fugitives and vagabonds, condemned to be scattered all over the earth because of the disrespect they had shown to the Christian Savior". Tertullian's works became a blueprint for the vilification of the Jews and their religion and the justification for their brutal treatment.

After the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, 311-337, Christianity triumphed in Empire;
AC: but Constantine the Great issued his Edict of Toleration in Nicomedia (Izmit) in 313 which gave all Roman subjects, Jews included the right to practice the religion of their choice. 325: Council of Nicaea led to Christianity as the state religion, under Theodose the Great, 379-395. Anti-Jewish polemic by Augustine, 354-430, bishop of Hippone -Annaba modern; added by official propaganda & special legislation for Jews, & use of force to convert. From then on, Jews gradually excluded from civic rights relegated to position to survive. not to convert pagans; their judicial autonomy suppressed. These discriminatory measures were accompanied by virulent anti-Jewish polemics conducted by Tertullian, St Cyprian, St Ambrose, St Augustine (died in 431), St John Chrysostom ...

AC: Carthage, capital of Christian NA, was tragic arena in which 2 faiths became enemies. The Jews, considered both hostile to the Empire & Christian faith, were considered by the authorities of the African provinces as “a foreign body, hostile, & unable to be assimilated.” Oppression became progressively heavier & more relentless: Jews marginalized in city; limited in their economic activities; religious life threatened -hard times; the Jews were excluded from all public offices, their taxed to finances of empire; law forbidding construction or repair of synagogue, synagogues converted into churches; forced conversion. ... Judaism absorbed many influences of the pagan Berber, retained till modern era.

The advent of the Christian era marked the 2nd great exodus of the Jews from Israel. Many Jews immigrated to Italy where they could obtain Roman citizenship ... Gradually, some migrated to Spain. There was also a movement of Jews northward, primarily to Germany. Sephardim to be applied with accuracy to the Spanish Jews.
ML (Michael Laskier): The Romans were succeeded by the Vandals, the Vandals by the Byzantines, and the Byzantines by the Arabs in AD 642.

C. Vandals & Byzantines, 430-642 CE

RA: These -discriminatory- measures were annulled in the 5th century, during the Vandal rule. In the 6th century, however, Byzantine authorities not only restored the old discriminatory laws but also made them harsher. The Jewish religion was banned, synagogues were turned into churches and the Jews were forced to accept baptism. Consequently, many Jews left the large cities and moved to the mountain areas and desert.

1. The Effects of the Vandal Conquest
AC: Vandals established in Spanish peninsula from 406, set out to conquer Africa in May 429. Genseric, king of the Vandals. Fall of Carthage in Oct. 430 marked begin of century of increasing Vandal domination over Maghreb lasted till 533. Vandals were destroyers & spoilers. anarchy spurred nomadism. fought Roman Catholicism. Oppression of Jews by Christians halted -Vandals practiced arianism, more tolerant of other religions. Vandals freed Jews from oppressive laws; gave complete freedom to practice their religion.

2. Renewed repression under Byzantium
534: Byzantine Empire/Belissaire, general of Justinianus, defeated the Vandal king Gelimer. With advent of Byzantines the earlier persecution was intensified.
AC: 533: Takeover of Carthage by the Byzantines; Emperor Justinian restored Catholic church in NA; 534: expropriate all Jewish places of worship; Jews confined in ghettos; campaign against all manifestations of Jewish life & beliefs.

*During the Byzantine period, the condition of the community took a turn for the worse. An edict issued by Justinian in 535 made the Jews the "second class" residents of a Christian Roman Empire:
edicts excluded Jews from public office/life,
prohibited Jewish practice, and resulted in the
transformation of synagogues into churches;
methods of torture were used to force the Jews to convert. Many fled to the secluded Berber communities in the mountains and in the desert; and most remained there even after the Arabs conquered Tunisia in the 7th century. At end 6th c., less persecution, no forced conversion, Jews get back synagogues.

Tunisian Exhibition at the B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C. (May 29 - Oct 31, 1996)
“Jews in the Cultural Fusion of Tunisia" is a window on Tunisia's multi-cultural, religious and ethnic heritage. For more than 3,000 years of history, this Arab-Moslem North African country has been a magnet for diverse peoples of diverse origins. Pagans, Jews, Christians, and Moslems have interacted here, contributing over the ages to a remarkable legacy of truly cross-cultural artifacts and symbols.
Punic and Hebraic stellae from the site of Carthage, (1000 - 500 B.C.), inscriptions from synagogues from the Roman period (100 - 200 A.D.), ancient oil lamps from the 3rd to the 6th centuries, Hebraic manuscripts, three unique local "Tiks" or Torah cases (one complete with Torah and golden crown), several hanging memorial lamps, bronze Hanukkah lamps, Jewish ritual artifacts, garments and jewelry from the island of Djerba. Most of the artifacts are exhibited for the first time outside Tunisia. Magnificent color photographs of Synagogues and Jewish rituals in Tunisia will add a contemporary touch to the exhibition.”

From Carthage to Jerusalem, Robert Attal and Claude Sitbon
North African Jewry in the Twentieth Century : The Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria
by Michael M. Laskier. Hardcover (August 1997)

A political history of North African Jewry, tracing the exposure of three Third World Jewish communities to modernization and to relations with the Muslims and European settlers.

Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. Tunis, Tunisia, vol. 15, p. 1430 sq.
Andre Chouraqui, La Saga des Juifs en Afrique du Nord, Paris, Hachette, 1972
H. Z. Hisrschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa, I, From Antiquity to the 16ty Century, Leyde, E. J. Brill, 1974.

Part TWO. The Rule of Islam - 1200 years . Islamic Antisemitism
Islamic dynasties. Medieval History of the Jews in Arab/Moslem Countries

647-698: Advent of the Arab-Islamic period. Foundation of Kairouan by Oqba lbn Nafaa (670), and takeover of Carthage by the Arabs (698).
800-909: Expansion of Islam, Aghlabid Dynasty (construction of Zitouna Mosque in Tunis).
909-1159: Fatimid & Zirides dynasties. flourishing Jewish center: Kairouan; Mahdia 921
928-42 Sa’ady Gaon translates the Bible into Arabic
ca. 1139 Judah ha-Levi’s final draft of The Kuzari
1159-1230: Almohads unify Maghreb and Moslem Andalusia. forced conversion of Jews
1230-1574: Hafsids break away from Almohads and establish new dynasty based in Tunis.
1391 Jewish refugees from Catalonia & Majorca arrive in Tunisia & Algeria
1492 Expulsion of Jews & Moors from Spain; 1497: expulsion of Jews from Portugal
1574: Tunisia becomes part of Ottoman Empire. 1575: death of R. Joseph Caro Shulhan

Edith Shaked (ES): The 7th century Arab conquest of Tunisia transformed the Jews subsequently into the dhimmi "second class" residents of an Arab Muslim empire, which they continued to be after the Ottomans extended their imperial reach and incorporated Tunisia in 1547. #Legally, Jews and Christians remained in these conditions until the nineteenth century, and in Yemen, as late as the mid-twentieth century.

I. The First Encounter
Moslem Conquest of the Maghreb: 642~ca.-900

Robert Attal (RA): The Arab invasion of the 7th century was stubbornly resisted by the Berbers: Berber tribes that had converted to Judaism also took an active role in the struggle against the invasion, led by Kahina, queen of the mountains of Aures in Algeria. The Arab conquerors finally gained control of Ifriqiya -modern Tunisia. They forced the local pagan population to convert to Islam.
Paul Sebag (PS): For a century, Ifriqiya was ruled by governors appointed by Omayad caliphs, 650-750 in Damascus & afterwards by Abassid caliph, Baghdad. Aghlabid & Zirid dynasties followed until 1050: *800-909: Expansion of Islam, Aghlabid Dynasty; Around 800, a revolt took place which brought the Aghlabids to power.

Arabs & Berbers - Resistance to the Arabs

ML: The oldest population group in North Africa, predating the arrival of the Jews and Phoenicians, was the Berbers - a Mediterranean people, pagans whose exact origins are yet to be investigated. Embracing Islam following the Arab conquest of 642, and undergoing linguistic and cultura Arabization, they remain a major demographic component to the present. The Arabs of modern and contemporary North Africa are descendants of the early Arab invaders of the 7th to the 11th centuries. Like the islamized Berbers, they are Sunnis.

The Arab conquest of this part of Africa
met with long resistance; began in 643 and was completed by 670.
ACp.34: 642: Conquering wave of followers of Mohammed poured out of Medina to engulf NA. 20,000 Arab tribesmen overcame Byzantine forces. 647: last European rulers expelled from NA. 670: Carthage reduced to ruins; Arabs established their main base & capital at Kairouan (“Stronghold” in Arabic); conversion of inhabitants.

Michael Laskier (ML): The penetration & consolidation of Islam in North Africa brought about a comprehensive overhauling of the societal structure. ... Jews were classified as a ‘protected people’ or dhimmis. ... Berbers must accept Islam or die ...1
AC34. Wars between the Berbers & Arabs lasted into the 9th c.

AC: the warrior-priestess Kahena (or Kahiya), heroine of the Berber resistance, famous for her supernatural powers; queen of Jerawa tribe of the eastern Aures mountains (Algeria), professing Judaism in the 7th c. Leadership of resistance: the Botr tribes led by the Jerawa under Kahen’s command in 687; woman who could foretell the future. 688: Kahena defeated Hassan, Arab governor of Egypt, & expelled Arabs from the Aures & Gabes region. This victory made Kahena queen of the Maghreb. Her kingdom lasted only 5 yrs. She ruled 5 yrs the Berbers in Ifriqya.

Ibn Khaldoun wrote in the 14th c. that when the Arabs reached North Africa, “a number of the Berbers professed Judaism. Among the Jewish Berbers there were the Jerawa, a tribe which inhabited the Aures region and to which belongs Kahena, a woman who was killed by the Arabs at the time of the first invasions, because the Berbers deserted Kahena to submit to Hassan. The other Jewish tribes were the Nefusa, Berbers from Ifrikya ...” 693 or 698: Kahena killed in the Aures mountains at place today still called Bir-el-Kahen -Kahena’ s well. Her death signal for surrender by other Berber tribes. Surrender accompanied by conversion to Islam - religion of the majority. Christianity disappeared from NA in 11th c.

II. Under the New Order
The Jewish communities in the First 3 centuries of Islam

The Status of the Jews Under Islam - al Dhimma

RA: The Arab conquerors forced the local pagan population to convert to Islam, but allowed the “people of the Book,” Jews & Christians, to continue to practice their faith, though they did impose a head tax on them (Juzya). They were granted the special status of protected people (dhimmi), even if it was lower than that of the Moslems.

* Subordinate Status

Between the 7th century Arab conquest of Tunisia & the 19th century, Tunisian Jews came under Islamic jurisdiction, and were classified as dhimmi (protected people). They were viewed as strangers because of Judaism. Subjects of the Bey, they suffered discriminatory measures i.e., a poll tax; must wear a distinctive dress (ES).

A. The Early Centuries of Islam

ACp.38: In early years of conquest of NA, imposition of Islam accompanied by large measure of tolerance. When Sidi Oqba lbn Nafaa founded Kairouan in 670, he had settled a 1000 families of Copts & Jews; cases of forced conversion. By the 9th century there were well-organized communities in Kairouan, Constantine, Tlemcem and Fez. The Arab conquest of Spain opened up new avenues and allowed Jews of Africa to have contact once more with Europe by way of Jewish communities of Toledo and Andalusia. Unity of Moslem Empire, though frequently disrupted by pockets of anarchy, replaced in a way the old Pax Romana.

B. The Dark Ages

ACp39-41: Defeat & surrender of last Jewish warriors in NA marked begin of wretched period in Jewish history. Under Islam, Jews subjected to repression, restriction & humiliation as to exceed anything in Europe... Dynasties clashed to smash the Maghreb into ever-hostile states. ... successions of crumbling kingdoms.

Life of Jews under such circumstances was full of contradictions. History of Jews of NA is a countless histories of disparate communities ... At a time when Jews in one region were being massacred, those in another may have been living through one of their most prosperous periods. It was a succession of moods ... that varied with pleasure or lust of the Moslem overlords. Best sources to be found in unpublished manuscripts and records of the ancient Jewish communities. from the little that is available from Arab historians and extant Jewish texts, together with the available 19th century records, an overall picture emerges of Jewish life in the Dark Ages under Islam and of Moslem attitudes that shaped Jewish life then.

The Treatment of Jews in Arab/Islamic Countries By Mitchell Bard

Arabs sometimes claim that, as "Semites," they cannot possibly be anti-Semitic. This, however, is a semantic distortion that ignores the reality of Arab discrimination and hostility toward Jews. Arabs, like any other people, can indeed be anti-Semitic.

The term "anti-Semite" was coined in Germany in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to refer to the anti-Jewish manifestations of the period and to give Jew-hatred a more scientific sounding name.(1) "Anti-Semitism" has been accepted and understood to mean hatred of the Jewish people.

While Jewish communities in Arab and Islamic countries fared better overall than those in Christian lands in Europe, Jews were no strangers to persecution and humiliation among the Arabs and Muslim. As Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis has written: "The Golden Age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam."(2)

Muhammad, the founder of Islam, traveled to Medina in 622 A.D. to attract followers to his new faith (preached belief in one God to the Arabic-speaking peoples). When the Jews of Medina refused to convert and rejected Muhammad, two of the major Jewish tribes were expelled; in 627, Muhammad's followers killed between 600 and 900 of the men, and divided the surviving Jewish women and children amongst themselves.(3)
#Mohammed credited Judaism & Christianity as monotheistic religions. ... pagans were ordered to accept Islam or be put to death, whereas Jews and Christians were given the choice of remaining in their religion as long as they accepted the Moslems as their superiors.

A. The Attitude of Islam Toward the Jews

MB: The Muslim attitude toward Jews is reflected in various verses throughout the Koran, the holy book of the Islamic faith. "They [the Children of Israel] were consigned to humiliation and wretchedness. They brought the wrath of God upon themselves, and this because they used to deny God's signs and kill His Prophets unjustly and because they disobeyed and were transgressors" (Sura 2:61). According to the Koran, the Jews try to introduce corruption (5:64), have always been disobedient (5:78), and are enemies of Allah, the Prophet and the angels (2:97–98).
ACp42-4: Attitude of Islam toward Jews was based in large measure on a zealous devotion to what they considered the true will of God. It developed out of the 1st relationships between Mohammed and the Jews of Arabia, triumph of new faith, and establishment of a vast empire governed by the revelations of the Koran.
Mohammed’s resentment toward both Jews & Christians who would not recognize him as the Prophet of Allah. M. attacked them openly, accusing them of the worst vices & threatening them with infernal chastisement . His many hostile remarks in the Koran still have the force of revealed truth in Islam and still color the attitude of many Moslems today (p. 43).
... verses of Koran indirectly assume juridic force. ... these particular verses determined the condition under which the Jews lived under Islam. ...

B. *The Dhimmi and the Charter of Omar*

*f. The juridic status of the Jews in Tunisia, in a political system conform to Moslem law, will be the same until the 19th c.
PS: Jews of Ifriqiya came under the status that Islam assigned to those who believed in the Holy Scriptures, ahl al-Kitab or “the people of the Book.”
ML: As in all territories which came under Islamic juridiction, the Jews were classified as a ‘protected people’ or dhimmis, because they didn’t accept the last revelation by Mohammed. The term dhimmi, applied in the Sacred Law of the Shari’a and in the Quran, designates the Christian and Jewish subjects of any Muslim ruler. ... the ‘People of the Scripture’ would be permitted to practice their religion. ...
Jews & Christians would become tolerated infidels. By the term of his contract with the dhimmis, the Muslim ruler was supposed to guarantee their lives, liberty, and property, and was responsible for their freedom of religious practice. ...2

ACp. 44-5: ... Koran makes clear distinction between true Believers & Infidels. Mohammed allowed a 3rd group -Ahl el Kitab, the People of the Book, Jews & Christians. ... “We believe in God and in those whom He has sent us from above ...” the prophet proclaimed “... We make no distinction between them and us ...”

AC45: Based on these principles, the canon law of Islam elaborated special laws for the “dhimmi” -proteges of Moslem society, among whom Jews & Christians were included. Drawing up of this law attributed to Calif Omar, Mohammed’s successor, who ruled from 634 onward (this pact was included in the treaty that Omar, the 1st calif, signed with the Christians of Syria) . Charter of Omar, as law called, while recognizing the right of dhimmi to live & declaring his person & property inviolable, also laid down the limitations & the conditions of inferiority to which Jew was to be subjected, for it was inconceivable that the dhimmi could aspire to equality with, or share the same duties & privileges as the Faithful (=Pact of Omar was a writ of protection (amun or dhimma) extended by Allah’s community to their proteges (ah al-dhimma) -NS:25).

(PS: Moslem lawmakers went on to consider the condition of the people of the Book on the land of Islam, as regulated by a pact. If they had to pay the Moslem state a head tax, then, in exchange, the Moslem state must provide them rights of security and protection (which could be revoked at any time). Therefore, it is under the name of protected, ahl al-dhimma, that the peoples of the Book were designated. (#later, the Moslems crystallized their attitude towards non-Moslems in what became known as The Pact of Omar -the 2nd caliph of Islam. This Pact of Omar conferred upon non-Moslems the status of dhimmis (protected persons), acknowledgment of their subservient position vis-a-vis Moslem.#)

1 laskier, p. 12

2 laskier, p. 12