Researchers find Jewish manuscripts in Atlas synagogue

According to this article in Haaretz by Ofer Aderet, academics and archeologists have found amulets and Hebrew manuscripts in the ruined  synagogue in Tamanart, one of  several Jewish sites slated for restoration by the  Moroccan government.   After the destruction of the First Temple, refugees fleeing Jerusalem are said to have established a Jewish kingdom in the adjacent village of  Ifrane in the Atlas mountains, one of the oldest  communities in North Africa. In 1792, 50 Jews  jumped into a burning furnace after the local ruler made them choose between converting to Islam or death by fire. They’ve been called “the immolated” since, their ashes interred in the ancient local cemetery.

The facade of the ruined synagogue in Tamanart, Morocco. (Photo: Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli)

Remainders of a Jewish-Moroccan community that existed for centuries were recently found in a remote town in the Atlas Mountains, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. The small Jewish community of Tamanart lived there from the 16th century to the early 19th century. Recently, researchers from Israel, Morocco and France conducted salvage excavations in its ruined synagogue.

Along with the building’s walls, they found Scriptures and pages from the synagogue’s genizah, a repository for damaged written matter and ritual objects, as well as a few paper amulets. One was meant to protect a woman in labor and her newborn, another a personal charm meant to protect its owner from trouble and disease. “The texts in these amulets are based on formulas found in the Book of Raziel, an ancient Kabbalist book,” says Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli, a researcher of modern Morocco who teaches at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The book, which includes texts for charms, was in use by Jewish communities in Morocco.

Among other texts written on these amulets were a Kabbalist version of one of God’s names, as well as quotes from the book of Genesis and from the priestly blessing (such as “the angel who hath redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named in them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” Genesis 48:16) and “The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace; So shall they put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them,” Numbers 6:26-7).

Ouaknine-Yekutieli says the synagogue was damaged by natural events such as the recent floods in the area, as well as by looters. She reached the remote site last month as part of a new historical and anthropological research study, together with her archaeologist husband Yuval Yekutieli and Moroccan and French researchers Salima Naji, Mabrouk Saghir, David Goeury and Aomar Boum.

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