Researchers discover ruins of ancient Jewish community in Morocco

They recovered scriptures, documents, and Kabbalist amulets from the synagogue’s genizah, or hiding place for worn texts that are no longer usable.

A police officer stands near a Moroccan national flag near the main stadium during preparations for the FIFA Club World Cup in Agadir, December 10, 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMR ABDALLAH DALSH)
A police officer stands near a Moroccan national flag near the main stadium during preparations for the FIFA Club World Cup in Agadir, December 10, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMR ABDALLAH DALSH)

Researchers from Israel, Morocco and France have discovered remnants of a small Jewish community in the mountains of Morocco, Haaretz reported Monday.

The ruins of the community’s synagogue in the small village of Tamanart – located on the outskirts of the Sahara desert – were found while conducting a preliminary survey of Jewish sites in the area and after talking to locals who remembered their Jewish neighbors who left the area 70 years ago.

The researchers say Jews lived here from the 16th century until the early 19th century. They recovered scriptures, documents, and Kabbalist amulets from the synagogue’s genizah, or hiding place for worn texts that are no longer usable.

Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli, a researcher of modern Morocco at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told Haaretz that the site’s synagogue had been damaged by looters as well as by natural events like floods, but the researchers were able to salvage texts and transfer them to a secure location for further analysis.

The discovery comes weeks after King Mohammed VI of Morocco ordered the restoration of hundreds of Jewish sites across the kingdom, and a year after Israel and Morocco agreed to formal diplomatic relations. The restoration plan includes the site at Tamanart, as well as cemeteries and hundreds of synagogues.

 A view from Tamanart, Morocco (credit: Marokko-erfahren/Wikimedia Commons/JTA) A view from Tamanart, Morocco (credit: Marokko-erfahren/Wikimedia Commons/JTA)

Jews are believed to have first established communities in Morocco more than 2,000 years ago. In the mid-20th century, the Jewish population reached a peak of 250,000. It is estimated that only 2,000 Jews remain today.