Tetuan Jewry, founded at the end of the 15th century by Spanish-speaking Jews, is a community apart in Morocco. Most other Moroccan Jewish communities were created much earlier and spoke Arabic. In this article, we review the major genealogical resources for those whose ancestors lived in what was called “a small Jerusalem”, housing as many as 16 synagogues. Among these sources of interest are old photographs and postcards that show several aspects of Jewish life in Tetuan. Many can be seen in the author’s recently published book (in French) Tétouan, cité marocaine aux racines andalouses (Tetuan, a Moroccan city with Andalusian roots).
[Ed. Note: This article was first published in AVOTAYNU, Volume XXVII, Number 3, Fall 2011, page 35. To subscribe to AVOTAYNU or purchase access to back issues, please visit www.Avotaynu.com]
Tetuan is one of the two major cities in the north of Morocco, 40 miles southeast of Tangier and only six miles from the Mediterranean. Its name probably comes from the Berber word tittawin (spring) because it was built around many water springs on Mount Dersa, near a river, the Martin. Founded in the 9th century near Tamuda, a former Roman settlement, Tetuan was inhabited primarily by Mediterranean pirates. Attacked and completely destroyed by the Portuguese by 1400, it remained deserted for almost a century.
At the end of the 15th century, Muslims, escaping from Spain which was recaptured by the Catholic kings, built a new city on the site of the ruins of the old Tetuan. Their leader, Sidi Ali al-Mandri, is considered the founder of the modern Tetuan. For more than three centuries, until the middle of the 19th century, the city was ruled by governors who came from the major local families and the city remained relatively independent of the Moroccan government. Tetuan had close links with Spain, first because of the War of Africa (1859–62) when Spain occupied the city for 27 months, and second because of the colonial Spanish Protectorate in the north of Morocco during the years 1913 to 1956.
The city had considerable influence in Morocco during the 17th and 18th centuries. Tetuan had the country’s largest harbor and was its diplomatic capital. Most European countries had a consul in the city until an incident in 1777. During a hunting excursion, a European man shot a bird and accidentally wounded a Muslim woman. As a conse- quence, the Sultan forbade Christians to live in the city and all the foreign consulates moved to Tangier. For many centuries, the population of Tetuan remained at about 20,000 inhabitants. It increased at the beginning of the 20th century, reaching 100,000 in 1956 and today is 300,000.
Jews of Tetuan
Soon after the rebuilding of the city at the end of the 15th century, several Jews expelled from Spain settled in the city and created a new community. They had a special language, a mixture of Hebrew and old Spanish called Judeo-Spanish. For their prayers, they used Ladino, a word-to-word translation from Hebrew to Spanish, written in Hebrew characters. They lived in a separate quarter, the Juderia or Mellah. According to various sources, the Jews of Tetuan numbered 4,000 to 6,000 until the end of the 19th century, representing one-fourth to one-fifth of the entire population of the city.
The first Juderia was built in a quarter known even today as Mellah-el-Bali (“the old Mellah”) in the northeastern quarter of the city. In 1807, the Sultan of Morocco, Mulay Sliman, decided to build a new Great Mosque in the center of the city near the Juderia. Wishing not to have infidels living near the mosque, he ordered the Jews to move to a new quarter in the south of Tetuan which was built at that time. The new Juderia still exists today, inhabited only by Muslims. Sixteen synagogues were active in the Jewish quarter at the beginning of the 20th century. Only one remains and may be visited, the one of Rebbi Isaac Bengualid (1777–1870), the most famous rabbi of Tetuan. Nowadays, some streets of the Juderia still bear their former Jewish names, such as Dr. Angel Pulido, Prado, Bentolila, Isaac Bengualid and Sultana Cohen Streets. Other street names were recently changed to Palestinian names such as Ghazza, Nableuss and Ram-Alah Streets. The doorframes of some houses still have a strange rectangular hole on their right side, a vestige of long-gone mezuzot.
Until the middle of the 19th century, many Tetuan Jews were wealthy traders and had regular business contacts with Europeans countries. The first school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a society founded in Paris in order to help the Jews of the Mediterranean Basin, was opened in Tetuan in 1862, just after the Spanish troops left the city. The opening was a great event, supported by Rebbi Isaac Bengualid, and the education of the young Jews improved considerably, enabling them to seek their fortune in other cities or countries.
Emigration of Jews from Tetuan was considerable during the second half of the 19th century, the result of a bad economic situation. More than half of the pupils of the Alliance school between 1862 and 1879 left Tetuan. They immigrated primarily to Algeria (Mascara, Oran, Relizane and Sidi-bel-Abbès), Spain (Canary Islands, Ceuta, Melilla and Seville), Gibraltar, Tangier and the Americas (Brazil and the United States). Beginning at this time, the Jewish community steadily decreased leaving only a few dozen Jewish residents today.
General Genealogical Resources
The 1860 Census. In 1860, during their occupation of Tetuan, the Spanish troops made a census of all the people living in the city. This census is mentioned in at least three sources. According to a local newspaper, El Noticiero de Tetuan, dated January 30, 1861, the census counted 2,358 civilian Spaniards. A few months later, the Spanish consul wrote a letter to the Spanish Foreign Office Ministry dated July 17, 1861, saying that the population of Tetuan was 11,000 inhabitants, including 5,000–6,000 Jews, a few more than 1,000 Muslims, the rest (presumably Christian) Spanish, with a few Italians and French. In 1906, Alexandre Joly, member of the French Mission scientifique du Maroc (Scientific Mission to Morocco), also mentions this census, stating that it included all the inhabitants and giving their names and approximate ages, as well as a count of all the houses, empty or occupied.
It appears, therefore, that between 1860 and 1862, as a result of the Muslims exodus during the Spanish occupation, Tetuan was largely a Jewish city, making this census extremely important to Jewish genealogists. Unfortunately, though we have contacted the main archives in Spain and Morocco, the full detailed census still has not been found.
Directories. Several directories and tourist guides from the beginning of the 20th century list the various business houses of Tetuan along with their owners. Numerous Jewish houses are mentioned in Ortega’s Guide published in 1917, such as bazaars, cafés, or importers of foods, flour or wood.
Old postcards and photographs from the end of the 19th century permit us to imagine the streets and the houses where our ancestors lived as well as their clothing from the end of the 19th century. A dozen different photographs of the Juderia can be found as well as some pictures of the Jewish cemetery. In a few market scenes, Jews can sometimes be distinguished by their clothing, a kippa and a long black dress with buttons on the front side. This article includes some of these photographs, coming from the personal collection of the author.
Jewish Genealogical Resources
The Jewish cemetery, in the northeast of the city is well preserved. From aerial photography, we estimate the number of tombstones at about 10,000. A group of Jews from Madrid currently are constructing a record of all legible tombstones which they intend to post on the web in the year 2012. For information, write to Salomon A. Benatar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A death register exists giving information about deaths from September 4, 1896, until 1971. In addition to the first name, last name and date of death, the register provides the first name of the father, the place of birth, and sometimes a family link with a living person (for instance, “Simha, mother of Shalom Bibas”). The author will search for a single name up to and including 1971. Write to email@example.com.
Some circumcision registers have been kept by local rabbis. The register of Rebbi Isaac Haserfaty for the years 1881 to 1940 is preserved at the Sephardi Museum of Toledo, Spain, and has been completely transcribed and published. For each newborn boy, it supplies first name, family name, dates of birth and circumcision, place of birth, first name and occupation of the father, first name of the mother as well as first and family name of the maternal grandfather.
Information about marriages (date, first name and last name of the groom and of the bride with sometimes several generations of the paternal ascendancy) can be found in ketubot (marriage contracts) kept by families or in some Jewish museums. Copies of ketubot often are reproduced in various catalogs of Judaica auctions and books related to ketubot.
The archives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris hold interesting information from its Tetuan school from 1860 until 1940, the most important of which is a list of the 552 pupils who attended the school for boys between 1862 and 1879. Numerous other lists of pupils are available in the Alliance archives, as well as information about some teachers such as the date of their marriage, the birth of their children or the death of their parents.
Many old documents related to the Jews of Tetuan also are in the recently founded Center of Moroccan Judaism in Brussels. Created by Dr. Paul Dahan, this center holds books, manuscripts, ketubot, pictures and objects related to Moroccan Judaism and can be consulted by appointment. Write to prdahan@gmail. com, with research details.
Because of the emigration of so many Tetuan Jews, traces of their lives may be found in their new homes. Algeria is of importance, especially Mascara, Oran and Sidi-bel- Abbès. Vital statistics records for these cities are available at the French Archives Nationales d’Outre-mer and online for the years 1830 to 1909.
Combining the different sources mentioned above, researchers often may trace Jewish ancestors in Tetuan at least to the middle of the 19th century and sometimes much earlier.
About Tetuan Generally
- Abensur, Philip. Tétouan, cité marocaine aux racines andalouses (Tetuan, a Moroccan city with Andalusian roots), [in French]. Alan Sutton, Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, 2010.
- Tétouan, Reflets souterrains de l’histoire d’une cité (Tetuan, Underground reflection of the history of a city), [in French]. Senso Unico, Mohammedia, 2009.
- La medina de Tetuán-Guía de arquitectura (The Medina of Tetuan-architecture guide), [in Spanish]. Consejería de Obras Públicas y Transportes, Sevilla and Consejo Municipal de Tetuán Sidi Mandri, Tetuan, 2002.
- Joly, Alexandre. Archives Marocaines, Tétouan, avec la c
- ollaboration de MM. Xicluna et L. Mercier, vol. IV (1905); Tétouan 2ème partie: Historique (Tetuan 2nd part, History), [in French], avec la collaboration de MM. Xicluna et L. Mercier, vol. V (1905); vol. VII (1906); vol. VIII (1906); L’industrie à Tétouan (Industry in Tetuan), [in French], vol. VIII (1906); vol. XI (1907) ; vol. XV (1909); vol. XVIII (1912). (Most of these articles are available online in French at http://gallica.bnf.fr).
- 5, Métalsi, Mohamed. Tétouan entre mémoire et histoire (Tetuan between memory and history), [in French]. Malika, Paris, 2004.
- Miège Jean-Louis. Benaboud M’hammad, Erzini Nadia. Tétouan, ville andalouse marocaine (Tetuan, Moroccan Andalusian town), [in French]. CNRS, Paris & Kalila wa dimna, Rabat, 1996.
- Ortega Manuel C. Guía del Norte de Africa y Sur de España (Guide to the North of Africa and South of Spain), [in Spanish]. Guías internacionales Ortega, Madrid, 1917.
About the Jews of Tetuan
- Abensur, Philip. “Le cimetière juif de Tétouan, hier, aujourd’hui, demain” (The Jewish cemetery of Tetuan, yesterday, today, tomorrow), [in French], in Etsi, Sephardi Genealogical and Historical Review, Vol. 1, no. 1, Spring-Summer 1998.
- Abensur, Philip. “Les élèves de l’école de l’Alliance de Tétouan de 1862 à 1879.” (The pupils of the Alliance school of Tetuan from 1862 to 1879), [in French], in Etsi, Vol. 12, no. 47, December 2009.
- Abensur-Hazan, Laurence. “Israélites assassinés à Tétouan et dans les environs entre 1866 et 1880” (Israelites assassinated in Tetuan and its surroundings between 1866 and 1880), [in French], in Etsi, Vol. 8, no. 31, December 2005.
- Garzón Serfaty, Moisés. Tetuán, relato de una nostalgia (Tetuan, an account of a nostalgia), [in Spanish]. Asociación Israelita de Venezuela & Centro de Estudios Sefardíes de Caracas, Caracas, 2008.
- Israel Garzón, Jacobo. Los judíos de Tetuán (The Jews of Tetuan), [in Spanish]. Hebraica, Madrid, 2005.
- Jalfón de Bentolila, Estrella. El Tetuán de los Sefarditas (The Tetuan of the Sephardis), [in Spanish]. Laredo, Beverley Hills, 2008.
- Leibovici, Sarah. Chronique des Juifs de Tétouan (1860–1896) (Chronicle of the Jews of Tetuan (1860–1896)), [in French]. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris, 1984.
- López Álvarez, Ana María. La comunidad judía de Tetuán 1881–1940 (The Jewish Community of Tetuan 1881–1940), [in Spanish]. Museo Sefardí, Toledo, 2003.
- Macías Kapón, Uriel. La juderia de Tetuán a través de sus postales (The Juderia of Tetuan through its postcards), [in Spanish]. Asociación de Amigos del Museo Sefardí, Toledo, 1995.
- Vilar, Juan Bautista. Tetuán en el resurgimiento judio contemporaneo (1850–1870) (Tetuan during contemporary Jewish re-emergence (1850–1870)), [in Spanish]. Asociación Israelita de Venezuela & Centro de Estudios Sefardíes de Caracas, Caracas, 1985.
 Morocco did not permit “infidel” Christians to settle in the interior of the country, but only in cities on the coast. Thus, cities on the coast near Europe, such as Tetuan and later, Tangier, were the natural places for the main European and American consulates.
 See Philip Abensur, Les élèves de l’école de l’Alliance de Tétouan de 1862 à 1879 (The pupils of the Alliance school of Tetuan from 1862 to 1879), [in French], in Etsi, Sephardi Genealogical and Historical Review, vol. 12, no. 47, December 2009
 Sarah Leibovici, Chronique des Juifs de Tétouan (1860-1896) (Chronicle of the Jews of Tetuan [1860-1896]), [in French], Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris, 1984.
 Juan Bautista Vilar, Tetuán en el resurgimiento judio contemporaneo (1850–1870) (Tetuan during the Jewish contemporary re-emergence (1850–1870)), [in Spanish], Asociación Israelita de Venezuela & Centro de Estudios Sefardíes de Caracas, Caracas, 1985.
 Alexandre Joly, Tétouan 2ème partie, Historique (Tetuan 2nd part, History), [in French], in Archives Marocaines, vol. 8 (1906), p.524.
 We have contacted without success the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y Cooperación (Spanish Ministry of Foreign Office Archives), the Archivo Histórico Nacional (National Historical Archives), the Archivo General de la Administración (Administration General Archives) in Madrid and the Archives of the city of Tetuan.
 See Manuel C. Ortega, Guía del Norte de Africa y Sur de España (Guide to the North of Africa and South of Spain), [in Spanish], Guías internacionales Ortega, Madrid, 1917.
 See Philip Abensur, Tétouan, cité marocaine aux racines andalouses (Tetuan, a Moroccan city with Andalusian roots), [in French], Alan Sutton, Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, 2010 ; Macías Kapón, Uriel, La Juderia de Tetuán a través de sus postales (The Juderia of Tetuan through its postcards), [in Spanish], Asociación de Amigos del Museo Sefardí, Toledo, 1995.
 See Philip Abensur, Le cimetière juif de Tétouan, hier, aujourd’hui, demain (The Jewish cemetery of Tetuan, yesterday, today, tomorrow), [in French], in Etsi, vol. 1, no. 1, Spring-Summer 1998.
 Ana María López Álvarez, La comunidad judía de Tetuán 1881–1940 (The Jewish Community of Tetuan 1881–1940), [in Spanish], Museo Sefardí, Toledo, 2003.
 Philip Abensur, op. cit. The full list of the pupils is published in this article. The most frequent last names are: Levy (20 pupils), Cohen (18), Bentolila, Hatchuel (14), Benarrosh/Benarroche, Benzaquen, Israel (13), Acriche/Hacriche (12), Coriat, Nahon (11), Benchimol, Bentata (10), Abecassis, Aboudarham, Chocron, Garson, Roffé, Salama, Serfaty (9), Attias, Benoliel, Bensadon, Hassan, Lasry (8), Azerrad, Benmergui, Essaya/Essayag, Tobelem (7), Benmiyara, Bennaïm, Bibas, Gabay and Pariente (6).