Morocco: Jews and Art in a Muslim Land

September 24, 2000 - February 11, 2001

Many strands of history and culture have gone into the making of Morocco’s people during the past three thousand years. Together, Muslims and Jews forged a common spiritual culture and an artistic culture that reflects the dominant aesthetics of Islamic art.

“There are no Jews in Morocco, only Moroccans,” replied King Mohammed V to the German representative who demanded a list of Jewish residents during World War II. His reply reflected the fact that Jews and Muslims have lived together in Morocco for more than a millennium, and the Jews were residents of the land for seven centuries or more before the coming of the Arabs.

Many strands of history and culture have gone into the making of Morocco’s people during the past three thousand years. Waves of settlers joined the native Berber tribes: Phoenicians in the 9th century BCE; Jews, Romans in the 1st century CE; and Arabs in the 7th century. During the later Middle Ages, other Muslim and Jewish immigrants came from the east and from the Iberian Peninsula, especially following the expulsions from Spain in 1492 and 1609.

Together, Muslims and Jews forged a common spiritual culture and an artistic culture that reflects the dominant aesthetics of Islamic art. Muslim and Jewish artists have worked for patrons of both religious groups, and both groups share folk and religious practices such as the wearing of amulets and the veneration of the graves of saintly individuals. For centuries, Jews lived under Muslim rule as dhimmi, a protected minority with communal self-rule subject to special taxes and restrictions intended to indicate their subservient position. They gained equal civil rights in 1956, when Morocco ended four decades of Spanish and French colonial rule and became an independent state.

Today, some four to five thousand Jews remain in Morocco, while the rest have left, most of them during the 1950s and ‘60s, bound for Israel, France, Canada, and other countries. What binds the entire community together are their common religious practices and customs, frequent visits to Morocco, and loyalty to the country and its king.

Morocco: Jews and Art in a Muslim Land has been made possible through the leadership support of Mrs. Patti Cadby Birch, The American Friends of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and The Rockefeller Foundation. The exhibition catalogue was published with the aid of a grant from the Maurice Amado Foundation. Major gifts have been provided by The Louis and Harold Price Foundation, The Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, the Wolfensohn Family Foundation, Nathalie and Charles de Gunzburg in memory of David Amar, the Honorable Ronald S. Lauder, The Morris S. and Florence H. Bender Foundation and The Joe and Emily Lowe Foundation. Important support was also received from the Milton and Miriam Handler Foundation, Josabeth and Paul Fribourg, The Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation, Du-Art Film & Video and other generous donors. Transportation assistance has been provided by Royal Air Maroc.