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Tangier

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Shana Tova from Tangier!

Beit Yehouda Synagogue-Museum opened its doors, let's visit it on the Rosh Hashana!

According to Jewish people, Rosh Hashana is when the universe was born and the creation of Adam and Eve, as well. The festivities take place for two days, and this year, they began from the sunset of the 25th of September till the nightfall of the 27th. Jews celebrate this big event by lighting candles each of the two evenings, having cheerful meals with candies and sweet dishes in the evening and at noon, and participating in prayer services including the ringing of the Ram’s Horn (Choffar) on both mornings meanwhile work and traveling are prohibited.

In Morocco, Jews have been celebrating their spiritual ceremonies peacefully. Indeed, the country is known for its religious hospitality and tolerance. The presence of Jews in Morocco goes back to before the Islamic era. Their number increased after the Spanish “Reconquista” in which the Christian kingdoms conquered al-Andalous (the territories of Iberia ruled by Muslims) in 1492. They settled mainly in Tangier, Fez, and Tetouan. They were richer than the Jewish residents of the other regions of Morocco, like Tinghir and Essaouira, for example. Their talk was a bit different too, they were mixing Hebrew with some Arabic and Old Castilian (Old Spanish).

Let us delve deeper into Jewish culture by going for a stroll in the beautiful synagogue museum located in the heart of the Old Medina of Tangier. After more than 60 years of abundant activities, the museum was recently renovated and rehabilitated after the launch of a cultural heritage rehabilitation program in 2018 by the Israelite community Council of Morocco, particularly the Jewish community of Tangier.

“Beit Yehouda” or Yehouda’s House was a Synagogue (Beit Knesset) built in 1880 by the Rabbe Yahouda Azancot. Like most of the synagogues in Tangier, Beit Yehuda has a rectangular plan divided by colonnades.

When you step into the heart of the synagogue museum, you find yourself in a well-lit room thanks to the traditional Moroccan architecture where the central patio is the bare sky, except on rainy days. Here you are in the middle of the museum full of glass, iron, and silver chandeliers, all signed by their donators, who write their name on and the cause of the donation. This rite is also carried out in the houses for each event.

The walls too are adorned with items that came as gifts for the synagogue. They illustrate the Jewish culture, such as Ketuba, a large frame containing marriage acts written on different materials, fine wood, gazelle skin, and silk… depending on the wealth of the family. The count calendar is one of the “masterpieces” in the display. The counting began from the second day of Easter (Pessah) to the 50 days later, they celebrate the Shavuot, the day where the Torah was gifted to Moses on Sinai in the Jewish tradition.

In another room, we can see two big boxes made of glass. The first one contains a kabbalah, writings explaining the universe, divinity, and the purpose of life, in addition to the book of Esther, an icon of Jewish culture. The second box contains a scroll of the Torah. Numerous glass boxes are hung on the walls, but the most interesting one contains little silver hands with a pointed index, used to read the Holy book since it is not to be touched. 

On the second floor, we have some chairs covered with embroidered sheets and a small room dedicated to an exhibition that features a family playing cards, dressed in Moroccan Jewish clothes. Then, we have a space from where we can see the first floor whose walls are full of frames made by Jewish people, and a mini exhibition of Jewish models. The last room is full of pictures of Moroccan Jews who emigrated to Latin America to grow their businesses by the end of the 19th century.

Our tour of the museum came to an end. We learned a lot about Jewish culture and Moroccan tolerance and acceptance of the Jewish community. So, let’s all say, Shana Tova!