The Jews of Morocco: From Ancient Times to the Present

Morocco has long been perceived as exotic, mysterious and beautiful by Western eyes.   This journey, will meet these perceptions with an intimate gaze on the socio-cultural and historical encounters, offered by an anthropologist, and a local Jewish tour guide.

Historical sources show Jewish presence begun probably during the First Temple times, and certainly Jews have had a presence there since fall of Jerusalem’s Second Temple when it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE during the Siege of Jerusalem.

A major wave of Jewish immigration to Morocco was spurred by the events of medieval Europe, following the 15th Century Reconquista and the expulsion of the Jews (and Muslims) from Spain (1492) and shortly afterwards from Portugal (1497).

Immigrants and sojourners discovered that the area had coastal enclaves, villages hidden in the mountains and vast stretches of desert. Morocco has seen its share of conquering civilizations because its location has such strategic importance as a gateway to Northern Africa from the Middle East and Europe. Nevertheless, unlike the land of Israel, it was never fully conquered (until French colonialism in modern times), because of a key historical player: The impenetrable Atlas Mountains.

The various aspects of Jewish past were tightly enmeshed in Moroccan history.  Language was one, as it played an important role in their history.  Dating back 2,500 years to the Carthaginian state, the Hebrew and Aramaic languages used by the Jews closely related to the Punic languages of the Carthaginians and many Jews settled among the Amazigh (“Berbers”) and adopted their languages as well. Today, most of the Jews speak French in the Arabic-dominated country.

Our study tour will give you an opportunity to discover this fascinating country and the rich history and culture of the Jewish community there through the eyes of Professor André Levy, an Israeli anthropologist who was born in Morocco and was among the 200,000 Jews who emigrated to Israel in the aftermath of the 1948 War of Independence.

By the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, most Morocco’s Jewish population had emigrated to Israel as well as France, Canada, and even the United States. André is on the faculty of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and is spending a sabbatical at Brandeis University. His latest book in English, Return to Casablanca: Jews, Muslims, and an Israeli Anthropologist, was published in late 2015 by the University of Chicago Press.

There are about 2,000 to 2,500 Jews living in Morocco today, most of whom dwell in Casablanca.  However, an exodus among young men establishing their lives in Israel and France jeopardizes the future of this once-great Jewish community, the largest in the Arab world.

Our itinerary includes visits to the four Imperial Cities — Rabat, Fes, Meknes, Marrakesh – along with Casablanca, Essaouira, Safi, El Jadida, Azamour, and the Ourika Valley. It will also introduce us in an intimate way, some aspects of current Jewish lives.

Our guide for the study tour is Rafi Elmaleh, a Moroccan Jewish tour guide specializing in the 2000-year-old history of Morocco’s Jews. Rafi is at the forefront of an effort to preserve Morocco’s Jewish heritage and keep the memory of former Jewish Moroccan communities alive.

André and Rafi have been close friends for over 20 years and their combined expertise in the ebb and flow of Jewish life in Morocco will give you a unique perspective for understanding and appreciating what you will be seeing as you travel through this fascinating country and learn about the Jewish presence there dating back to ancient times.

As Rafi and André help us discover Jewish life in Morocco, a clear picture of both flourishing communities and chaotic and dangerous times will reveal itself.

Along with providing ongoing commentary, Professor Levy will conduct six Study Sessions during the program.


JEWISH EXPLORATIONS is a collaboration between the Philadelphia-based Gil Travel Group, a leader in travel to destinations around the world for over 40 years and Adults Jewish Learning Programs. JEWISH EXPLORATIONS study tours are led by outstanding Judaic Studies scholars whose depth and breadth of knowledge in their chosen field of expertise is unparalleled.

Our programs are designed to be intimate learning opportunities and are limited to up to 25 participants and some even less.  From archaeological sites in Israel to world renown manuscript collections in England and from the deep South in the United States to the winding alleyways in La Juderia in Spain and Casablanca in Morocco, JEWISH EXPLORATIONS give you a deeper understanding of the sweep of Jewish civilization around the globe and throughout the span of history.