19thc. Algerian Jews ‘most wretched of all Israel’

With thanks: Dominique

It is 50 years since Algeria achieved its independence. Much attention has focused on the Jews of Algeria, who took flight en masse along with the French pieds-noirs. Much of the coverage has been through a post-colonial lens, implying that before the 1830 French conquest, Jews and Muslims lived ‘side by side’. The Jews’ acquisition of French citizenship under the Decret Cremieux in 1870 is almost viewed as a betrayal.

But a look at the documents of the time in this Dreuz.info article shows that the lot of the Jews was one of particular oppression and humiliation. William Schaller, US consul general in Algiers in 1826, had this to say about the Jews:

“Special punishments were reserved for Jews: burning at the stake, tearing the flesh from the skin, hanging with spikes, death by drowning for women. The numbers and wealth of Jews continue to dwindle and today I believe the Jews of Algeria are among the most wretched of Israel. Muslims and Christians who walk at night must carry an illuminated lantern, but a Jew must carry a naked flame, as they must always be humilated and treated differently.

“There is no outrage and abuse to which these miserable children of Israel are not exposed. They are prohibited from speaking or reading Arabic, lest they are able to read the divine Koran. They are not allowed to ride horses, only mules and donkeys; they must take their shoes off when passing a mosque; they dare not come close to a well or fountain while a Muslim is drinking thereof; they must never sit before a Muslim.”

Read article in full (French)


  • Simone de Beauvoir wrote of her trip to North Africa while it was under French rule. In Tunis she found ethnic stratification under the French in which the Arabs were superior to the Jews, or more precisely, she was interested in the condition of prostitutes generally and found that Arab prostitutes had a higher status than the Jewish ones by decision of the French.

  • 7our
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It was the 1826 document extract I thought worth posting, the fact that it came from Dreuz is purely incidental. In no way do I endorse the rest of the article.

    I do not doubt that there are plenty of similar examples of French antisemitism in Algeria, and this blog would be equally happy to feature them.

    I have no doubt that 19th c Algerian society was heavily stratified, but I have a sneaky feeling that Jews were at the very bottom of the pile.

  • The source mentioned here is very questionable. The article is titled "The French, a chance for Algeria,"("Les Français, une chance pour l’Algérie") a title for the least indicative of colonialism revenge spirit. I have no idea of what this site Dreuz was, but merely to see some titles, it looks like a nasty right-wing site. Nasty in the sense that it does not attempt to give an objective historical point of view. I doubt that this source will mention the exacerbated anti-Semitism of the Europeans in Algeria. (http://www.ldh-toulon.net/spip.php?article284)

    And it is worth to note that Algiers under the Turks was a society with an incredible stratification, full of segregations. From top to bottom, there was a social ladder (think of castes here), there was first the Turks, then Kolouglis (mixed Turkish-Arab), the urban Arabs, the Arabs of the campaigns, the Berbers… if you look at the situation of other non-Jews then, you are probably going to see awful things too.

    I do not have sufficient knowledge of the issue of Jews in 1825, my remark is just that this question would require a more qualified source than a site like Dreuz.

  • Gibraltar reminds me that the Treaty of Utrecht [1713], by which Spain conceded Gibraltar to the English, contained relevant clauses/conditions. One condition was that England must not allow Jews or Muslims to live at Gibraltar. In fact, England broke that condition. Spaniards now demand Gibraltar back on those grounds among others

  • Sylvia, about "they were maintained in ghettos the gates of which were closed and guarded at night. Like slaves."

    Reminds me of the poor Israeli women kept like slaves, more likely like leashed dogs, that foolishly married "Palestinian" "men" when they were young and void of good Jewish education because the state imparts none of that, except the rubbish of "equality".

    I'm sure bataween is right – that they had no real security to seek anywhere.

    But, I ask, are there not Jews today in Libya and Tunisia and Egypt that ought to know better that trust their lives to the prevailing Arab condition they find themselves in?

  • They did not just go to Gibraltar (under British rule since the 18th c) but to South America. I have heard of a group of Moroccan Jews who settled in the Amazon and intermarried with a local tribe. They were willing to take the risk of settling in Spanish and Portuguese colonies, although the Inquisition erupted from time to time and people were arrested and sometimes killed for 'Judaising.'

  • In the vanguard

    They were kept in constant state of poverty by enormous taxation and periodical demands for exorbitant sums which maintained them in a state of indentured servitude. Then followed a period of relative peace where they were allowed to raise their head above water and amass some money before it was taken away.

    I got hold of a copy of pages of a journal of sorts kept by one family of Fez throughout the centuries translated by George Vajda and recounting some events that affected them directly. It is just heartbreaking.

    In some places they were maintained in ghettos the gates of which were closed and guarded at night. Like slaves.

    Some were able to get away: the traders who had connections abroad ended up in England or in Holland. But there were countries where foreign Jews were denied not only citizenship but entry., for example, Spain until the 20th century, or even Swiss cantons until 1853. There were however groups who fled the violence and were able to form communities elsewhere such as the founders of the Jewish community of Gibraltar who fled Morocco in the 18th century. But the masses mostly poor never had a way to escape.

  • Sylvia, you said it just right! (even though I know nothing of that fable you mention – but I guess it's something like we having within us our own Achilles' heel.)

  • The "Progressives" have stripped us of all civil and human rights and shut our voice a long time ago. They are diligently tearing one another to pieces in the same time-aged medieval quarrel in which we have no say – and perhaps it would be better that way if we were not at the end, all going to be affected by their arrogance.

    "Progressive Judaism" is in deep deep crisis. Israel is only an alibi. Today it is Israel. Six centuries ago it was Maimonidean rationalism with the same time-worn slogans of "saving Israel from itself" and the like.

    They are heading for a one man-one-denomination system, they are intent on the destruction of American Jewry, but we too will pay the price for the short-sightedness of the Mordekhai Kaplans and the Eric Yoffies.

    That's what it is really about. The "slanderers and the species" have always played the role of the fly of la Fontaine's "The Coach and the Fly" fable in that same show.

  • This isn't materially different from how 'progressives' feel about Jews today. If it were possible to strip us of all civil and human rights, they'd do it.

  • reading the statement that Jews were forbidden to ride horses, only donkeys were allowed to them, I recalled that just today I saw two Jewish policemen riding horses outside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. It could just be that the sight of Jews in authority riding horses is considered especially humiliating by some Arab Muslims.

  • There was nowhere to escape to unless you were lucky enough to obtain a foreign passport. You could move within the Ottoman empire but there was no guarantee that conditions were any better elsewhere.

  • It is incredible Jews remained anchored in Arab countries and could find no other dwelling places to migrate to. Is this because the Arabs are so adept at smiling at you while they hide the dagger behind their back? I don't believe this but cannot for the life of me figure out why so many Jews remained among these most foul people in the world.


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