The Divergence of Judaism and Islam. Interdependence, Modernity, and Political Turmoil

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In Search of Jewish Farmers: Jews, Agriculture, and the Land in Rural Morocco · 145

establishment for Jews of agricultural colonies and schools and commu-
nal farming settlements in Palestine, North Africa, the United States, and
This is the context for understanding the discovery, real and imag-
ined, of Jewish farmers in Morocco in modern history. This chapter will
therefore trace the encounter of Jewish farmers with foreign travelers in
the nineteenth century, with the French colonial administration, with the
Alliance Israélite Universelle, and finally with Zionist emissaries. Each
had its own ideological and stereotypical views of Jewish farmers. These
views, however, had political implications that affected the real world of
Jewish farming, the relationship of Jews to agricultural production and
the land, and finally Muslim-Jewish relations in Morocco.
Since antiquity, Jews have lived scattered throughout rural Morocco,
especially in the southern parts of the country. Following the Muslim con-
quest of the region, Jews continued to inhabit the region. Throughout the
post-conquest centuries, new Jewish communities were constantly being
formed and reformed in what has remained predominantly Berber areas,
with the Jews filling in specific niches in the rural economy, especially
crafts, trade, and peddling. While the particular economic role that Jews
played in the rural economy was recognized, the extension of new Jew-
ish settlements and the Jews’ acquisition of property potentially posed
problems and raised legal concerns. The question of Jewish property was
sometimes contested between local political authorities and the Jews, and
Muslim jurists were divided on the question of Jews and landownership.
The issue often arises on the subject of whether dhimmis are entitled to
construct new sites of worship in lands controlled by Islam. And while
Muslim jurists might rule against the building of new synagogues fol-
lowing the conquest of Islam, this was contradicted by the reality of new
communities formed, whose existence required building synagogues and
obtaining land to bury their dead.^7 Local Muslim authorities would of-
ten assert their own authority, sometimes over the objections of Muslim
jurists, in extending their own control over Jewish landownership. The
Jews, in turn, would legitimate their own right to residence by tracing
their origins to pre-Islamic antiquity, perhaps to counteract the Muslims’
perception of Jews as outsiders who required the protection and control
of the Muslim authorities.^8
Ownership of agricultural plots of land, for the most part, was re-
tained by Muslims, although Jews often held land in usufruct. On some

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