Sunday, September 30, 2012
Algerian Jews in 1818: miserable but moneyed
As an exhibition on the Jews of Algeria opens in Paris to mark the 50th anniversary of their exodus when Algeria acquired its independence from France, Elder of Ziyon has found this astonishing diary entry by one Signor Pananti - reminding us of how things were for the Jews in 1818 before the French invasion:
"The unhappy sons of Israel, so badly treated in other countries, can expect little indulgence from the barbarians ; consequently there is no species of outrage or vexation to which they are not exposed. They are prohibited from writing or speaking Arabic, to prevent their being able to read the divine Koran. They cannot ride on horseback, but are obliged to go on mules and asses ; the first being too noble an animal for them. When passing a mosque, they are obliged to go bare-footed. They dare not approach a well or fountain, if there be a Moor drinking there ; or sit down opposite a Mahometan. Their clothing Is obliged to be black ; which colour is held in contempt by the Moors. The Jewish women are only permitted to veil a part of their features. The indolent Moor, with a pipe in his mouth and his legs crossed, calls any Jew who is passing, and makes him perform the offices of a servant. Others amuse themselves by smearing the hands, visage, hair, and clothes of the Jewish boys, with paint or mud ; while the Turkish soldiers often enter their houses, insulting the females, without the heads of the family having the privilege of desiring them to retire.
"It is the business of Jews to execute all criminals, and afterwards bury their bodies. They are also employed to carry the Moors on their shoulders, when disembarking in shoal water. They feed the animals of the seraglio, and are incessantly exposed to the scoffings and derision of the young Moors, without the possibility of resenting it. Frequently beaten by their persecutors, if they lift a hand in their own defence, agreeable to the lex talionis of the Moors, it is taken off.
"But that which is still more irksome, is the never ending contributions levied on them : the weekly sum of two thousand dollars is exacted as a general tax upon the whole tribe, besides various other individual assessments, particularly whenever any Moorish festival takes place. The Turks insist on borrowing money even by force ; and contrary to the European maxim, it is not he who forgets to pay, that is incarcerated, but the man who refuses to lend! A Jew cannot leave the regency without giving security to a large amount for his return. If any of the sect become bankrupts, and there happens to be a Turkish creditor, he is almost invariably accused of fraudulency and hung. Woe to those, who attempt to complain on such occasions : which is no trifling aggravation of their sufferings. There was once an imposition laid on fountains; upon which a poet wrote the following address: " You are loaded with imposts like us; but more happy than we — you are at least allowed to murmur."
"It is, however, astonishing with what stoical fortitude all this is borne by the followers of Abraham ; many of whom, underan appearance of the greatest poverty, accumulate large fortunes. " It is true," said a Jew, on my asking how he could remain in a country, where he suffered so many vexations; " we suffer a great deal; but then what money we make!!"
Read post in full
The exhibition at the Musee d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaisme in Paris runs until 27 January 2013
20 centuries of Jews in Algeria - June 2012 (French)