Among Our Distant Brethren

Isaac Ibn Ya‘ish


(Continued from issue 76 [of Ha-Tsefira])

The commandment of hospitality is well-developed in our city, and particularly in the mellah.1 But emissaries from the kollelim2 in the “Four Lands”3 stay with wealthy residents in the Kasbah, and any scholar who brings along a letter of recommendation from some prominent individual also stays in the Kasbah. How happy is such a scholar who receives gifts twice over from his generous host!

There are three schools:

  1. A school for boys, teaching writing and the English language, funded by the Anglo-Jewish Association in London. The teacher at the school, Mr. Judah ben Dahan, is a good and honest man who performs his task faithfully. Most of the Jewish children are educated at this school in proper order, according to the good instruction of the honorable teacher.
  2. A school for boys, teaching writing and the French language, funded by the Parisian Alliance [Israélite Universelle] society, with the assistance of thousands of francs a year from the Mekor Ḥayim society. The principal and teacher at the school, Mr. D. Ḥayim, may God preserve and save him, is also a good man who works faithfully and diligently and is successful in his good labors.
  3. A school for girls, teaching the English language, poems, theatrical works, and all matters pertaining to feminine upbringing, funded by the London Anglo-Jewish Association. The school principal, the honorable Mrs. Corcos, is an educated woman who successfully manages her school, and also accepts girls from rich families, who pay full tuition for their daughters.


All these three schools are situated in the Kasbah, though practically, they should really be in the mellah, since they were established by societies of our brethren in Europe who seek to favor poor people who cannot afford to pay school fees. This is particularly the case with the girls’ school, and it is truly a serious problem that the girls have to go back and forth every day from the Jews’ Street to the Kasbah, which is a long way, passing among the accursed immodest Mohammedans. How good and pleasant it would be if this school would stand proudly in the mellah. Our wealthy brethren, by the grace of God, are capable of founding another school for their daughters. But no one attends to this matter.

There are many schools that teach our holy Torah, but without discipline or order, without grammar or use of the language, and without the cantillation marks. In the beginning, one teaches the boys the name and shape of the letters, and when they know them he teaches them entire words, and then he reads the weekly Torah portion and Haftarah with them, and so forth, and from the Prophets, the book of Isaiah, from Writings, Job, Daniel, and Psalms. The other scriptures are not taught. When the boys reach the age of ten, they learn Talmud.

The Hebrew language is absent. There is no one who speaks the Holy Tongue properly in our city, nor anyone who knows history or ancient events. Roughly five years ago, the late philo-Semitic consul of the Italian government, who sat in Tangier, visited our city. On the day he came, some of our prominent brethren went out with the rabbi of the city to welcome the honorable consul. He was pleased to meet them; he was friendly and inquired about the history of the Jews since the Second Temple and its ramifications, the periods of the calamities in Europe, and the settlement of Jews in the various kingdoms, but he found no answer. How shameful! [ . . . ]

(Continued from issue 78)

There is no hospital in our city, and many of our poor brethren lie on their deathbed without any cure for their disease. There is an expert Ashkenazic physician in the city, but those who cannot afford this wallow in their sickness until it passes. Mr. Reuven Elmaleḥ has worked hard to find a remedy and cure for the miserable poor and has made good arrangements to pay the medical costs of the poor from community coffers, but the treasury is empty. There is no remedy unless relief and help for the Jews comes from elsewhere (Esther 4:14), whether from the Baron de Hirsch, may God preserve and save him, or the Baron Rothschild, may God preserve and save him, whose only joy is to benefit and provide mercy and charity for the entire human race. May they remember to establish in our miserable city a hospital to save many people, and then there will be prosperity. May they be blessed by the lost (Job 29:13).

Belief in vanities, spells, amulets, incantations, dreams, delusions, and such nonsense is common in the land, and I shall describe some of these briefly.

At a distance of fifteen hours from the city is a high mountain called Ayat Bayud. Thirty-two years ago, this mountain became significant in a strange manner, as follows: a woman had a terrible dream that in this holy place the wonderful righteous man Nissim ben Nissim was buried. This righteous man, who had never existed, caused a commotion among the people. All the townsfolk go en masse to prostrate themselves at the grave of this wondrous righteous man on the top of this mountain. He who has no sons goes with his wife to ask for sons from the righteous man; if someone is sick or deranged, the people believe that he has been bewitched or possessed. They tie him with ropes and take him to the righteous man to exorcise the ghost. Even those in financial need ascend the mountain to beg for their livelihood. But this righteous man is neither well-versed in [the mystical] Sefer yetsirah (Book of Creation) nor is he an expert physician and master [miracle worker]. The demon or ghost does not come out of the body; given that it did not enter it has no need to come out; nonetheless, Jews are believers and the children of believers. In the coming years, this wondrous mountain will become even more holy as it is filled with countless righteous men. [ . . . ]

Here is another vain custom. When a male child is born, amulets are brought bearing various strange names, and these are affixed to the walls of the house. And on the inside and outside of the home, they paint with tar or black paint five-pointed shapes that deter the evil eye, since the number five in any form is an amulet against the evil eye. And the painting of the Star of David exceeds them all. For seven nights before the boy is circumcised, the house is closed, and they bring a big iron knife and pass it across all the walls of the home. They also take pieces of iron and beat them against each other, for the demons are afraid of the sound of the iron, and accordingly will not kidnap the boy. They hang the neck of a rooster with a red comb, and five rolls of fine flour, and a small reed mat, and pieces of iron with rags, and this also terrifies the demons so that they cannot enter the home, just as the sea-monsters are afraid of the shapes of boats.

(To be continued)

Yitsḥak ben Ya‘ish ha-Levi.

Translated by


[The term mellah denotes a Jewish quarter or urban neighborhood where Jewish settlement was allowed and outside of which it was largely disallowed, although such restrictions were in flux in this era; such restrictive residential arrangements, similar to the ghettos of Frankfurt or Venice in Europe, had long been customary in Moroccan cities.—Eds.]

[In Palestine, a kollel (pl. kollelim) was a Jewish community comprised of people from a particular city or country outside the Land of Israel (not to be confused with the term’s use today to refer to frameworks for advanced adult male religious study).—Eds.]

[I.e., the four holy cities in the Land of Israel: Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias.—Eds.]


Isaac Ibn Ya‘ish ha-Levi, “Ben aḥenu ha-reḥokim” [Among Our Distant Brothers], Ha-tsefirah, no. 78 (Apr. 15, 1891): p. 2; no. 81 (Apr. 19, 1891): p. 3.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 7.

Engage with this Source

You may also like