Jewish life in Morocco, 1880 as documented by Congress

Thanks to the Elder of Ziyon

Here are some letters that were included in the 1880-81 Executive Documents of the House of Representatives, Foreign Relations, Volume 1.

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jewish life Morocco

[Inclosure 2 in No. 362.] Mr. Cobb to Mr. Mathews.
City Of Fez, February 3, 1880

Dear Sir: I regret to state that a sad affair took place at this city just on my arrival, and I now beg to give an account as related to me by an eye-witness, and which has been corroborated by many respectable Moors and Jews during this day, which is as follows:

An Algerine Jew, strongly under the influence of liquor, walking near the Sultan’s residence at the city of Fez, met a Moor with a woman; the Jew made an attempt to take the woman with him; the Moor retaliated by striking him; the Jew then drew a pistol and fired it off, not injuring any one; he was then set upon by a number of passers-by and severely beaten and taken off to prison; soon after, three Jews were passing by the Sultan’s residence, when they were suddenly surprised by a party of Moors in a most violent manner; two of the Jews being young and strong made good their escape, but the victim, some eighty-five years old, was stopped; he inquired why ho was to be dealt with in this foul manner, assuring them that he was not aware he had committed any wrong; when they told him they wanted to show him about that, and immediately threw him down, saturated his clothes with petroleum, set fire to him, and there and then he was burned to death. A Moor of a most respectable appearance to-day informed me that he was an eye-witness to this operation.

Since which the authorities have asked the Jews to let the matter pass, offering $400 to the family of the deceased, and say no more about the affair. The Sultan liberated the French Jew who, during his state of intoxication, fired the pistol, without inflicting upon him any punishment whatever. After this affair the Jews all remained in their houses four days with barred doors, not daring to show their faces outside, under a terrible state of excitement, fearing death was to be dealt out to them all in the same cruel manner; but now they go out unmolested, otherwise than by occasional threats from Moors that soon the day will come when they will all share the fate of the aged victim.

From the Melah, where the Jews are quartered, to the house where I now reside, as you know, is a long walk, and many of them have come to lay their complaints before me, and, although the weather is cold for this country, the streets muddy, and very toughly paved, they all, rich and poor, male and female, come barefooted, assuring me that they would be murdered if they attempted to walk the streets of Fez otherwise; – which is truly a barbarously cruel state of affairs and should be noticed by the more civilized governments, and a matter which I believe could most easily be remedied.

You have no doubt, ere this, been made aware of the petroleum murder, but as these reports an they travel come in to yon so conflictingly. I give it to yon as I believe it actually occurred, and shall give yon further information if such appears. I have, &c,
JOHN COBB
When the US issued a complaint to the Sultan, he replied through his vizier with this flowerly letter:

Praise be to the only God! To our dear friend the judicious, the gentleman, the honorable mediator for the welfare between the two nations, the representative of the powerful American nation,
Mr. Felix A. Mathews:

We always inquire for you, and we pray to God for your preservation and welfare. We received your letter relative to the Jew that was burned, and we have taken note of all you have said and heard, and that His Majesty should take more care of his Jewish subjects, and that those that committed the crime were not punished, also that we should see that the Jews are well treated, &c. We have informed ourselves of all you have stated, which is all due to the good friendship which exists between us: and you also state that we must punish the aggressor, and you recommend us the safety of the persons and property of the Jews and that we should write to our governors so that they be well treated and that no injustice should be done to them.

We have read your letter to His Majesty the Sultan, who attentively took note of all its contents, and His Majesty recognizes and considers that your good advice emanated from the good friendship which you profess towards him, and His Majesty the Sultan ordains us to make known to you his acknowledgment, which we now do in his name.

You must be acquainted of the fact of the matter as we have been informed: that Moor of the suburbs of Fez came into the Yames Market in company with his wife to make purchases, and on returning in the afternoon the husband remained behind and she waited for him alone, when a French Jew appeared in her presence intoxicated, and the woman got frightened and called for help; her husband came up and pushed the Jew away, and the latter drew a pistol and wounded the Moor on the head, and afterwards threw stones at him; when those present arrested the Jew, who was imprisoned by the authorities. Soon after an old Jew made his appearance, insulting the government and menacing the people with an arm, then the crowd gathered, and it ended in his death and in his being burned.
From the foregoing you will observe that the fault rests on the Jews. His Majesty the Sultan was much annoyed when he was informed of what happened, and he gave orders for the arrest of some of those who were present, both of the country people as well as those of the city, but they could not make out who were the guilty parties and when the Jews became acquainted with the facts they came to an understanding, and the prisoners were set free, and the governor of Fez was deprived of his official position for being a man of little energy, and we appointed in his place Kaid El Arby Usef Urbah Mohamed Shergin.

The husband of the woman, who was wounded, died from the effects of the wounds inflicted on him by the Jew; and there was a settlement of the affair with the widow of the Jew who was burned, for the life of her husband, but there has been no settlement for the life of the Moor. You will thus see how well behaved are the people of Fez, which, if it had not been for those of good sense, we cannot imagine what would have taken place, as the populace never reflects upon consequences, therefore the Jews must behave well with the Moors.

You arc one of the oldest representatives in this happy empire, and you know what difference is in the present behavior of the Jews from what it was; and His Majesty, the protected by God, does not countenance injustices, and heeds what you advise us as to ordain our governors recommending the Jews. His Majesty the Sultan has issued strict orders on behalf of the Jews, and any one molesting them will be severely punished.

His majesty wishes you much happiness, and for friendship and peace.
The Sultan’s vizier, protected by God,
MOHAMED BEN LAKBY EL MAJTAR.

According to the American witness, this letter is full of lies:

No. 509.
Mr. Mathews to Mr. Evarts.
No. 302. United States Consulate At Tangier,
April 17,1880. (Received May 17.)

Sir: Referring to my dispatch No. 354, dated the 8th of March, I have the honor to transmit to you herewith a copy and translation of the reply to my letter addressed to the Sultan through his prime minister on the occasion of the recent persecution of the Jews of this empire.

From most reliable information on the subject of the burning of a Jew aged eighty-five, at Fez, the statement in the Sultan’s prime minister’s letter to me is incorrect. It is well known that no Barbary Jew would ever dare to even carry a walking stick at Fez; they are only allowed to use a reed as a cane to walk, and it must be of a certain length.

The well known timid character of all Moorish Jews who are obliged to walk barefooted and never permitted to ride any kind of an animal through the streets of Fez, makes it ludicrous to learn from a Sultan’s minister that au old Jew, eighty-five years old, insulted and threatened a erowd of Moors at the fanatical city of Fez, when they are pent up in a ghetto, in constant fear of their lives. I have the most reliable evidence of the fact that no Moor died, nor even was wounded at the hands of a Jew, and that the story is a fabrication got up to extenuate the magnitude of the crime.

I herewith beg to inclose copy of a letter from Captain John Cobb, our consular agent at Casablanca, who happened to be at Fez at the time this affair took place (above).

I am happy to state that my letter to the Sultan has been productive of good in preventing thus far further ill-treatment on the Israelites, and it has been a source of satisfaction to the European Jews, who have expressed their gratitude and thanks to me through their various delegations, and through the press. I have, &c,
FELIX A. MATHEWS.
Mathews had earlier given a long description of life in Morocco. Here are some parts about Jewish life there:

The Jews, calculated in number to 200,000, descend for the most part from those who were exiled from Spain in 1492, and from Portugal in 1496, and are, except those under foreign protection, persecuted, oppressed, hated, and degraded here more than in any other part of the world; they are even compelled to walk barefooted in the Moorish section of the cities, and with a handkerchief tied over their heads and chin to prevent the Moorish boys from tossing their caps in the air. My last address to the Sultan on their behalf has done much in the way of preventing, at least for the present, unprovoked personal ill-treatment. They exercise various arts and trades and display the ingenuity, pliability, and tenacity of their race, finding in the possession of money earned from their oppressors a recompense for all their woes.

Finally, here is a letter from the Jewish community of Morocco to the King of Spain, begging for help:

Exposition of the Grand Rabbi, the elders, and several Israelite! of high standing in the city of Tangier to Don Antonio Cdnocas del Castillo, prime minuter of His Majesty the King of Spain.
Most Excellent Sir:

Convinced of the high degree of humanity, impartiality, and justice which distinguish your excellency, we have the honor to expose through your excellency’s worthy channel to the illustrious representatives which will form the diplomatic congress which in to take place in that court, that the object of the Hebrews of this empire in soliciting so earnestly the foreign protection has never been, nor is, to exempt themselves from the payment of taxes, as some of the newspapers have wished to conceive, but only to secure their lives and properties. Moreover, even the tax of capitation (Guezzia) [Jizya – EoZ] imposed exclusively to the Hebrews is religiously paid by those who are protected as well as by those who are not, and they would equally submit themselves to pay any other tax imposed on them by the Sultan’s Government, should it be sanctioned by the representatives of foreign nations.
May God preserve your excellency for many years.
Tangier, April 1-2, l880.
Most excellent sir, yours, &c,
(113 signatures follow.)

They didn’t seem to happy with how they were being treated by their Muslim overlords.