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Jews and Berbers

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Jews and Berbers

Dr. Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Senior Research Fellow

The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies
History, myths, legends and contemporary political agendas have combined to
produce a fascinating picture of the relationships between Berbers and Jews
throughout the ages. There can even be surprises. For example, in a conversation
with a Moroccan Berber activist, I quoted a scholar who wrote, "Scratch a Moroccan,
Find a Berber." He suggested an addendum: "Scratch a Berber, Find a Jew!"
There is no consensus among scholars regarding the "truth" of Jewish-Berber
relationships in pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, just as there are no definitive
conclusions regarding the origins of the Berbers.

What is known is that Jewish communities existed in North Africa at least since Second Temple times, and perhaps
even earlier. As such, they interacted with the rest of the population, mainly in the
coastal towns, but also beyond. The ancient city of Carthage (near modern day
Tunis), was founded in 813 BCE by Phoenician merchants, and the Punic language
was deeply rooted well into even the first centuries of the Christian era. The
"Phoenician connection" undoubtedly shaped the popular belief of the Berbers'
Semitic origins, making the Berbers cousins of the Jews (and Arabs) by virtue of race
and language. Religion would subsequently enter into the picture as well. A further
addition to the mixture of myths and legends is the fact that to this day, Jews and
Moslems venerate the tomb of Joshua in Tlemcen, in western Algeria, where he is
said to have died after warring in the Maghreb.

Religious belief and praxis in North Africa during the late Roman and early Christian
eras was highly syncretistic, often combining elements of Judaism, paganism and
Christianity. Jewish, as well as Christian proselytization was common. According to
the great 14th century Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, Jewish proselytization had its
greatest success with nomadic Berber tribes in the mountains of the central Maghreb
(today's Algeria), and farther West.

The Muslim conquest of North Africa west of Egypt began in the late 7thcentury.
One of the most famous episodes/myths of resistance to the conquerors is the story of
the Kahina ("priestess/sorcerer"). According to Ibn Khaldun and earlier Muslim
historians, the Kahina was the leader of what may have been Judaized Berber tribes in
the Jerawa and Aures mountains who fought long and valiantly before succumbing.
The mythical Kahina has since been adopted as a symbol, in turn, by French
colonialists, Algerian nationalists, Jewish nationalists, feminists and Berberists, while
also winning the grudging respect of Muslim Arab historians.

The number of Judaized Berbers, and the percentage of North African Jews who are
descendants of Berber converts cannot be ascertained, and is a subject of
disagreement. In any case, over the centuries, nearly all Berbers were Islamicized.
Still, many Jews lived amongst, and in proximity to Berber communities, mostly in
Morocco, and in some areas of Algeria and Tunisia.

According to a Moroccan census of 1936, three-quarters of Morocco's 161,000 Jews were bi-lingual in Berber and
Arabic, and another 25,000 were exclusively Berber speakers. As merchants, traders
and small artisans in the Atlas mountain villages, Jews may have played an
intermediary role between Arabs and Berbers, and between different Berber tribal
groupings. As is generally true in North Africa, relations between Jews and Berbers
are sometimes presented in overly idealized terms.

According to the late Prof. Haim Zafrani, "Judaeo-Berber" was used not only in
familial situations but also constituted, along with Hebrew, the language of culture
and traditional instruction, and was used in the elucidation and translation of sacred
texts, like Judaeo –Arabic or old Castillian. Certain prayers, such as the benedictions
of the Torah, were said in Berber (Tamazight); some Biblical texts were rendered in
Berber, and there even exists a Haggadah in Tamazight, transcribed in Hebrew
characters. Today, apart from a minute number of elderly "Berber Jews" living in
Israel, there are no more Berberephone Jews.

Contemporary activism in the "Berber/Amazigh Culture Movement" has a
Jewish/Israeli angle. Many Amazigh activists express open admiration for the Zionist
project, i.e., the revival of a national language and the successful assertion of ethno-
national rights in the face of an intolerant Arab world.. Berberist militants view Arab-
Islamic nationalism, the dominant ethos of the all of the Maghreb states, as the source
for many of their community's woes. Often they complain that their governments
spend an inordinate amount of energy on behalf of the Palestinian cause, at the
expense of the real needs of their societies. In one southeastern Moroccan Berber
town, an annual masquerade ritual, has been transformed among the youth into an
expression of Amazigh activism and militancy, rejecting Islamist discourse and
identifying with Judaeo-Berber culture and even Israel.,+find+a+Berber&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=nl


zijn veel fotos te vinden van Amazigh joden

ik weet niet of je ingelogd moet zijn, maar hier kan je veel fotos vinden

bekijk deze


--- Citaat van: Gordo op 20/05/2008 om 21:33:11 ---ik weet niet of je ingelogd moet zijn, maar hier kan je veel fotos vinden

bekijk deze

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