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The oasis Jewish heritage revealed in southern Morocco


ARCHEOLOGY - Near the palm grove of Akka, unpublished excavations reveal the Judeo-Moroccan past of the village of Tagadirt.

At the heart of a synagogue in the palm grove of Akka, two archaeologists, a Moroccan and an Israeli, scan the ground in search of the smallest fragment, witness to the thousand-year-old Jewish presence in the oases of southern Morocco.

These unprecedented excavations are part of a project to explore and rehabilitate the Jewish heritage of the oasis, which fell into disuse after the departure of a large part of the Jews from Morocco in 1967.

The discovery that morning of a piece of religious manuscript in Hebrew is "

a sign from above

", jokes Israeli archaeologist Yuval Yekutieli, of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, member of a team of six Moroccan, Israeli and French researchers.

Scientific collaboration facilitated by diplomatic normalization between Morocco and Israel in December 2020.

Built in earth in the pre-Saharan architectural tradition, the synagogue in the village of Tagadirt was saved

from ruin

in extremis .

Nestled in the middle of the "


", the Jewish quarter, it allows you to understand the life of the community of Akka, once a crossroads of trans-Saharan trade.


The urgency is to work on this type of vulnerable spaces which are in danger of disappearing while they contain parts of Judeo-Moroccan history

", explains Saghir Mabrouk, archaeologist at the Moroccan Institute INSAP.

Present since Antiquity, swelled in the 15th century by the expulsion of the Sephardim from Spain, the Jewish community of Morocco numbered 250,000 members in the middle of the 20th century, before the waves of departures which followed the creation of the State of Israel. .

They are around 2,000 today.

But the settlement of Jews in Moroccan oases remains poorly documented.


This project aims to study this community as an integral part of Moroccan society and not from a Judeocentric angle

", insists the Israeli anthropologist Orit Ouaknine, of Moroccan origin.

Read alsoIn Morocco, Muslim protectors of Jewish heritage


The day progresses and archaeologists classify fragments of religious books, amulets and other objects buried under the "


", a raised platform in the center of the synagogue from which the Torah is read.


The most amazing thing is that no one had written before about this burial

", underlines Yuval Yekutieli, and "

we had to do excavations to discover it


Because if it is obligatory not to throw away or destroy the texts invoking the name of God, it is unusual to bury them in such a place.

Among the listed material, letters, commercial and marriage contracts, as well as everyday utensils and coins.

The synagogue was beginning to fall into disrepair when looters attempted to steal the buried treasure.


The good news is that one of the beams collapsed, making access impassable

," says the Israeli archaeologist.

100 km from Akka, a similar looting attempt was seen in the synagogue of Aguerd Tamanart, where excavations began in 2021. This time the archaeological heritage was not buried but hidden in a secret warehouse behind a broken wall.

The majority of the objects could be saved, including 100,000 fragments of manuscripts or amulets.

Read alsoMarseille, Arles, Paris… The war against archaeological looting is declared

“Precious testimonials”

In Aguerd Tamanart as in Tagadirt, it was the Moroccan architect Salima Naji who led the restoration, in raw earth, respecting the tradition of this arid, deprived region.

More than ten years ago, I started by typing all the synagogues in the region.

My experience of rehabilitation of mosques and ksour (fortified villages) helped me to better understand that of synagogues

,” she explains.

Archaeologists excavate the ruins of a synagogue in the Jewish quarter, or mellah, of the village of Tagadirt, in the oasis region of Tata, Morocco, on February 28, 2023. FADEL SENNA / AFP

In Tagadirt, work is still in progress.

The architect's team is busy restoring the skylight that brings light to the building.

A construction site seen with a good eye by the Muslim inhabitants of the former mellah: “

it is a good thing not to leave the synagogue abandoned

”, estimates Mahjouba Oubaha, a 55-year-old craftswoman.

The exploration of the Judeo-Moroccan heritage makes it possible to study the objects, the habitat but also the way of life of the last residents of the mellah.

Orit Ouaknine conducted interviews with former Jewish inhabitants of the two villages, settled in Israel, the United States or France.


It's a race against time to collect these precious testimonies

", explains the Israeli anthropologist.

Beyond the work of memory, the French geographer David Goeury, specialist in the resilience of oasis spaces and coordinator of the project, finds "

these marginalized places extremely precious for understanding how to reorient our lives today in metropolises


Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2023-03-25

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