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

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146 · Daniel J. Schroeter

occasions, however, Jews would buy and sell agricultural lands to Mus-
lims, obtaining some precarious autonomy but often to the consternation
of the local Muslim authorities.^9 Jewish control of agricultural land did
not lead to Jewish farming activities, and where Jewish farmers did exist
(in relatively small numbers and in a few specific locations), evidence
suggests that they did not own the land they worked. The fact that most
Jews were in professions other than agriculture, the occupation of the
vast majority of the Muslim population, was to the Jews a mark of their
distinction, indeed even demonstrating their superiority over non-Jews.
Thus Jews were generally not associated with agricultural labor, and they
even looked down upon working the land, a memory still kept by the
Muslim population.
The stereotypical image of the alienation of Jews from the land and
from agriculture explains why the existence of Jewish farmers in Mo-
rocco elicited such interest. Jewish agriculturalists in Morocco were even
legendary, mythical in character, catching the attention of the few foreign
travelers in the interior of Morocco in the nineteenth century. John David-
son, a British traveler in Morocco in 1835–36, who was killed during his
journey en route to Timbuktu, claimed in his journal to have inspected
more than one hundred villages of Jews and Berbers never before seen
by Europeans. He regards the lifestyle of the Jews to be similar to the Ber-
bers. Although he visited many locales, he heard only secondhand about
a district called Coubba, supposedly nearly as big as Marrakesh, where

there are no less than 3,000 or 4,000 Jews living in perfect freedom,
and following every variety of occupation; that they have mines
and quarries which they work, possess large gardens and extensive
vineyards, and cultivate more corn than they can possibly consume;
that they have a form of government, and have possessed this soil
from the time of Solomon; in proof of which he stated they possess
a record bearing the signet and sign of Joab, who came to collect
tribute from them in the time of the son of David.^10

The existence of Jewish farmers, imagined or real, surprised European
observers, challenging their stereotypical image of Jews. “The most curi-
ous thing in the country,” wrote one traveler in the late nineteenth cen-
tury, “seems to be certain tribes of Jews who are semi-independent, not
confined as elsewhere to the towns, but agriculturists.”^11
Most well known for Jewish farmers in the twentieth century was

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