* Jewish diaspora Tunisia Ottoman Empire

Tunisian Jews

Figure 1.-- Here wesee a photograph taken in the Hara or Jewish sector of Tunis. It is unfates but looks like a World War II era photograph. Put your cursor on the image for a school scene.

The history of appears to extend over two ,elennia. Itbmay have dist occured during theb Punic era. Carthage was a great trading natiin, but therevis no confirmed information. The Jewish community in Tunisia grew in waves during the Roman Empire. Presumably some Jews arrived in Tunisia during the Roman era as a result of the expulsion from Palestine and the Diaspora. Unlike Christians, Jewish comminities outside Palestine were not persecuted. With the rise of Constantine, Christianity became the established religion of the Empire. And Byzantine rulers began anti-Jewish measures as well as actions against heretical Christian sects. The Arabs conquered Tunisia (648-69). The Jews as a people of the Book were tolerated by Arab armies and subsequent Islamic rulers. This includrd, various Arab and Berber dynasties. Toleration varied from ruler to ruler, but was Muslim rulers were geberally more tolerant than Christians rulers, especially with advent of the Crusades. A strong Jewish presence in Tunisia (13th century). Jews lived primarily in the Hara, a communit in Tunis. Spain had veen a haven for Jews in Europe. Spain with rhe success of the Reconquista expelled its Jews (1492). Portugal folloed suit a few years later. Some were killed rather than expelled. Many went to Morocco and Algeria, fewer went to Tunisia. We are not sure why, but may have been a function of geography. The Ottomon Turks conquered Tunisia (1570-74) and ruled it until the 19th century. The Ottomams were relatively tolerant of Jews, generally more tolerant than local Berbrs and Arabs. Sephardic Jews settled in Italian Tuscany, enjoying a rare degree of toleration. Jews there settled in ports (Livorno and Pisa), establishing trading relations throughout the Meduiterranran. A community of related Jews developed in Tunis. Hara became a kind of ghetto. Tunisia was an Ottoman province, but as Ottoman power declined, essentially became independet. The Husainid dynasty acceded to the throne (1705). This is when Tunishian rulers began to use the Ottoman term 'bey'. Tunisia became a stronghold for the Barbary Pirates. As a result there was a run in with the new American Republic. America's first distant projection of power was aimed at the Barbary Pirates. Gradually Europe became inncrasingly liberal and tolerant during the 19th cebtury. The Revilutions of 1848, although few suceeded. Europeans becamne comcerned of the aupression of minority groups in the Ottoman Empire, mostly Christians, but also Jews to some extent. Jews at the time were being liberatedfrom essentail medieval restictions and becoming enfranchissed. The Bey as a result of a revolution moced in the opposite direction. He abrogated the constitution (1864). One source describes 'great suffering on several Jewish communities, especially on that of Sfax". France had annexed Algeria decades earlier. This meant that the Bey was concerned about possible European intervention, moderating policies towad Chrustaians and Jews. With the Scramble for Africa underway and issues with the Ottoman were threatening the srability of Europe. These issues were addressed at the Congress of Berlin where German Chancellor Bismarck played a mahor role (1878). There was agreement for France to aquire Tunisia and Britain obtain Cyprus from the Ottomans. [Aldrich, p. 29.] Rebel Khroumir bands in Algeria using Tunisia as a sanctuary provided a pretext for French military intervention. French troops occupied Tunisia (1881). The Bey was forced to sign a treaty accepting a French protectorate. France by this time was governed by the Third Republic with a secular outlook and accepting Jews as full citizens. Jews under the Drench began moving out of the Hara and acquired am increasongly French orientation. We do not know at this time to what extent Tunisia Jews were Jews descended from families in Tunisia before France seized control or French Jews who emmigrated to Tunusia. The children here at the Ecole Carnot look very Europeanized (figure 1). The Jewish population of Tunisia at the time of World War II was about 90,000. Another estimate places the Jewish population at 105,000 in 1948.


Abitbol, Michel. The Jews of North Africa During the Second World War (Detroit: Wayne University State Press, 1989), p. 56.

Abitbol, Michel. History of the Jews of Arab Lands (In Hebrew, Merkaz Shazar).


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Created: 5:38 AM 2/23/2020
Last updated: 5:38 AM 2/23/2020