The Vanished Jews of Tunisia

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.