Two halves of an Algerian scroll reunited

What do the University of Kansas and a French chateau have in common? The first possesses  part of a torn Algerian scroll. The second, residence of the French Duc d’Orleans, was for a long time home to the other half of the same scroll. Here is the amazing Mosaic saga of how the two halves  were re-united by a University of Kansas professor of religious studies, Paul Mirecki (with thanks: Lily, Noga): 


Fragment of the Kansas scroll

But who did the ripping and why they did it developed into the most interesting aspect of the saga.

 In 1840, the scroll was intact and residing at a synagogue in the Algerian city of Medea. The Ottoman Empire controlled Algeria at the time. Then France invaded. Meanwhile, a local populace of Muslim extremists launched a pogrom against the Jewish community. Arab religious and military leader Abd-el-Kader intervened in hopes of preventing bloodshed, evacuating members of the Jewish community. But he couldn’t protect their property. As synagogues were looted, the item was taken. (This was likely done by people who didn’t even speak Hebrew and merely hoped to sell it. By ripping it, they had “two scrolls” and could double their profits.)

 Enter Henri d”Orléans, the Duke of Aumale. The son of the last king of France and governor-general during the French invasion of Algeria, the duke lived in Chateau Chantilly.

“I found a quotation from him in his diary,” Mirecki said of the young military commander. “He says in reference to the scroll, “I took it with my own hands from Medea’s synagogue in May 1840 when the town had been left to Muslims, and the Jews taken by Abd-el-Kader.””

The Emir Abdel Kader

The duke brought it back home, where it remains in the vast collection of antiquities he eventually donated to the Institut de France.

KU acquired its half of the scroll thanks to Alpha Owens.

A KU student in the early 1900s, she went on to earn her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. A woman of wealth, Owens traveled throughout Europe and Latin America “collecting valuable realia material for use in modern language teaching,” according to a 1952 interview. Mirecki thinks she evidently came across the document for sale at a market (or possibly a bookstore) when visiting France, as she had been a student at Sorbonne University. Owens bequeathed it to KU when she died in 1965.

Read article in full 

How did the Jews fare in Algeria during this period?  This Cairn.info article gives the  background to the scroll story:  the 19th century war in Algeria between the French and the rebellious western tribes led by the Emir Abdel Kader. Before Abdel Kader surrendered in 1847, several towns in Algeria changed hands: one in particular, Mascara, was the scene of a bloody massacre of those Jews who had not fled.  As the Arabs had taken their revenge on the Jews, the French were welcomed as liberators.

“In the long and bloody war between this one to France, which was the fate of the Jews of western Algeria? Far from freeing the Jews taxes, chores and vexatious measures that were their lot, the emir did not hesitate to strengthen, especially after the resumption of hostilities in 1835.  Indeed, Abd el-Kader then needs the Jews who play a leading economic and financial role in the region: besides the exceptional contributions he imposes.  He uses Jewish middlemen for trade and supply of arms.Jews still make tents for his troops and, no doubt, are charged with coining money, an activity prohibited to Muslims, in the city of Tagdempt.  Jews, like other sections of the population, are thus forced to contribute to the war effort in all places controlled by Abd el-Kader. In addition, between 1835 and the final victory of France over the emir in 1847, several medium-sized cities, such as Tlemcen and Mascara, pass into the hands of the French, before being taken over by Abd el-Kader. The situation of Jews, Couloughlis and Arabs rallied to the French becomes critical. he civilian population is caught in the heat of battle and the Jews, suspected of sympathy for France, are massacred by the Arabs. This phenomenon can be measured through the example of the Jewish population of Mascara, which is directly affected by the violence of the war.”

Read article in full (French)

Here is the bizarre Esther-like  story of the Algerian rabbi who decided to offer his 14 year-old daughter Yudah to Abdel Kader, although the Emir already had four wives. Yudah was sent to France where Abdel Kader was in exile. It seems she never even got to meet him and died in France in 1848.

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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