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These three documents are from the Lévy-Corcos archives, a private collection of family documents in Paris, which I photographed in 1985. A few comments on what Jewish family archives reveal about Muslim-Jewish relations in Morocco: It was not uncommon for elite Jewish families to pass down from generation to generation various kinds of Muslim and Jewish legal documents, including Arabic decrees of rulers (dahirs) and letters from Muslim governmental officials. Such documents were kept as records of property, debts, or special privileges. Significantly, literate Jews did not read or write in the Arabic script, and thus could not read the documents in their possession. None of these three letters are addressed personally to the individual Jews in question, though they are intended as commands to be followed by both the Jews and Muslim officials. The first document is a letter sent from Sultan Sulayman’s brother to his son, ‘Abd al-Malik (the latter was governor of Agadir), pertaining to the Jewish merchant, Meir Macnin. The description in Judeo Arabic erroneously states that the document was from the sultan. Why, then, was the document in possession of descendants of the family? One can assume that it was customary (or required) for government officials to give such documents to the individuals concerned for safekeeping. The other two documents are royal decrees that would have been sent to the governing officials in the port of Essaouira (Mogador), one pertaining to Shlomo Macnin (the brother of Meir), and the second to the “children of Ibn Macnin.” Likewise, it must have been expected that once communicated to the governing authorities, the Macnins would keep these documents in their possession.

These documents raise a number of questions about Muslim-Jewish relations in Morocco and, more generally, the Islamic world in pre-modern times. While the letters pertain to the relationship of elite individuals (court Jews may not be the best concept here), they reflect the larger tensions embedded in the concept of dhimmi, which is both a contract between the individual Jew (in the Maghrib there were no dhimmi Christians), and the Muslim ruler, and between Jews as a collectivity and the Muslim community writ large. The patrimonial relationship between ruler and ruled revealed in these letters might in one context have little to do with religious difference, but in another context be shaped by the differences between Muslim and Jews as separate religious communities. These documents show commonalities between Muslims and Jews as well as the recognition of cultural and linguistic boundaries. They also reveal the interdependency of Muslims and Jews, and how each participant understood the benefits and liabilities of that relationship.

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A Jewish Merchant Family and a Moroccan Ruler

These three documents are from the Lévy-Corcos archives, a private collection of family documents in Paris, which I photographed in 1985. A few comments on what Jewish family archives reveal about Muslim-Jewish relations in Morocco: It was not uncommon for elite Jewish families to pass down from generation to generation various kinds of Muslim and Jewish legal documents, including Arabic decrees of rulers (dahirs) and letters from Muslim governmental officials. Such documents were kept as records of property, debts, or special privileges. Significantly, literate Jews did not read or write in the Arabic script, and thus could not read the documents in their possession. None of these three letters are addressed personally to the individual Jews in question, though they are intended as commands to be followed by both the Jews and Muslim officials. The first document is a letter sent from Sultan Sulayman’s brother to his son, ‘Abd al-Malik (the latter was governor of Agadir), pertaining to the Jewish merchant, Meir Macnin. The description in Judeo Arabic erroneously states that the document was from the sultan. Why, then, was the document in possession of descendants of the family? One can assume that it was customary (or required) for government officials to give such documents to the individuals concerned for safekeeping. The other two documents are royal decrees that would have been sent to the governing officials in the port of Essaouira (Mogador), one pertaining to Shlomo Macnin (the brother of Meir), and the second to the “children of Ibn Macnin.” Likewise, it must have been expected that once communicated to the governing authorities, the Macnins would keep these documents in their possession.

These documents raise a number of questions about Muslim-Jewish relations in Morocco and, more generally, the Islamic world in pre-modern times. While the letters pertain to the relationship of elite individuals (court Jews may not be the best concept here), they reflect the larger tensions embedded in the concept of dhimmi, which is both a contract between the individual Jew (in the Maghrib there were no dhimmi Christians), and the Muslim ruler, and between Jews as a collectivity and the Muslim community writ large. The patrimonial relationship between ruler and ruled revealed in these letters might in one context have little to do with religious difference, but in another context be shaped by the differences between Muslim and Jews as separate religious communities. These documents show commonalities between Muslims and Jews as well as the recognition of cultural and linguistic boundaries. They also reveal the interdependency of Muslims and Jews, and how each participant understood the benefits and liabilities of that relationship.