The Shmooze

The Puzzle of Moroccan Jewish Identity in Israel

By Nathan Jeffay

  • Print
  • Share Share

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.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sephardic, moroccan, mimouna, maariv, jewish, ashkenazic, shas, tradition

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love.
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.