The Shmooze

The Puzzle of Moroccan Jewish Identity in Israel

By Nathan Jeffay

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Tuesday was Mimouna, the annual festival of the Moroccan Jewish community, and there were lively parties across Israel. But while the Moroccan community tends to come out in force for Mimouna, it seems that as a whole it is losing connection with its traditions.

A new poll published by Maariv reported that only 51% of Moroccans “frequently” keep traditions associated with their ethnic group.

This is an intriguing find, as it reflects a seemingly paradoxical shift in the Moroccan community. In some respects, ethnic identity has become stronger in recent years. Moroccan Jews are a strong political force, and today they have a large influence on Israel’s cultural life — Moroccan music, for example, has an enormous impact on Israeli pop. But the increasing self-confidence of Moroccan Jews has gone hand in hand with a dilution of its unique traditions.

This is largely because one of the main places Moroccan Jewry found its voice is in Shas, the political party which, as well as being Sephardic, is also Haredi. And the dominant force in the Haredi world is Ashkenazi.

The result is that the people you would most expect to keep Moroccan ways — the religious traditionalists — tend to align with Shas, and as a result of its Haredi ideology, acquire an Ashkenazic twist to their world-view and conduct. Take, for example, the fact that the “traditional” dress of the Sephardi religious has somehow become the black garb of Ashkenazic Haredim — you often see religious Moroccan men sweating in black suits and black hats on summers days because that’s what European Jews were wearing a couple of centuries ago, when their own ancestors were wearing far cooler attire.

It is obvious that those Moroccan Jews who are non-observant don’t frequently practice their traditions, and part of what this poll reflects is a process of secularization. But it also reflects a more subtle narrative. It is that that the very same Moroccan Jews who are prouder than ever to be Moroccan, confident about saying so and committed to Jewish tradition as a whole, are in many cases becoming less attached the traditions that are unique to their community.


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