First Delegation of Moroccan Muslim Scholars to Co-Host Conference in Israel

Bayt Dakira, Essaouira

On Monday November 8th 2021, the first academic delegation group of 11 people from Morocco attended a conference about Moroccan Jewish culture and law in Ramat Gan. Bar-Ilan University’s two-day conference, titled “Jewish Culture and Law in Morocco.”  The conference was co-hosted by Israeli and Moroccan research centers, the Aharon and Rachel Dahan Center for Culture, Society and Education in the Sephardic Heritage at Bar-Ilan University, and the Center for Studies and Research in Hebrew Law in Essaouira, Morocco.  This was the first gathering since the signing of the Abraham Accords

Abderrahim Beyyoudh, head of Morocco’s diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv, told The Times of Israel.,“ this conference arose from the dream of the preservation of Jewish heritage. The Moroccan Jewish heritage is the key foundation of the relationship with Israel.”

Morocco became the fourth nation to normalize relations with Israel in December 2020.

Morocco became the fourth nation to normalize relations with Israel in December 2020. In return, Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara. The delegation from Morocco is a group of all Muslim professors from the universities of Fez, Rabat, and from the Hebraic Law center. “I asked my colleagues, are we ready to go to Israel? Are we sure?” said Abdellah Ouzitane, the Moroccan scholar who founded the center on Jewish law in Essaouira. “One hundred percent, they said. It’s historic for me as a person, it’s historic for me as a professor.”

Dr. Abdellah Ouzitane, Dr-Shimon Ohayon, Abderrahim Beyyou Bar Ilan University, Courtesy of Times of Israel

Ouzitane signed a memorandum of understanding on future cooperation with Dahan Center director Shimon Ohayon. Born in Marrakech, Ohayon stated that he had already hosted individual Moroccan scholars however this is his first time hosting an official group of delegation from an Arab country. “There’s a big difference now, ” he said.  “One, the size of the delegation, and two, that it is official, and three, the subject — Jewish law.”

The Moroccan scholars arrived in Israel on a Thursday for a one-week visit. They traveled to Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, and Ashdod, and will explore Jerusalem’s Old City on a Wednesday. A delegation of Israeli’s will be visiting Essaouira in April 2022.

Ouzitane shared, “when we were visiting Tel Aviv, we were speaking in Arabic”, he then added, “many people stopped us and said, you are Moroccan. I want a picture with you.’” They also met with Minister in the Finance Ministry, Hamad Amar and the Miniater for Diaspora Affairs, Nachman Shai, and will be meeting with Essaouira-born Welfare Minister Meir Cohen and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, on Wednesday.

Ohayon is hoping that the growing academic ties will result in access to the royal library in Morocco. “We want to search for manuscripts we didn’t know about,” he said. “We don’t know what’s there and what isn’t.”

The Bridge of Unique Heritage & Experience:

Ouzitane decided to open his Jewish law center after a conversation with colleagues during a conference in Essaouira. “We were with some friends, some professors from the University of Rabat,” he said. “We have a unique heritage, we have a unique experience in the world, not only the Muslim world but the entire world. Why not create a research center on the Hebrew law?”

The Hebrew Law Center today is housed in Bayt Dakira, the spiritual and museum site that strives to preserve Jewish history in Essaouira, once a major main Jewish city. King Mohammed VI personally inaugurated Bayt Dakira in January 2020, months before the Abraham Accords.

“This is a message of peace, this is a message to encourage us to work together with our Israeli brothers,” said Ouzitane. Although the Accords of Abraham are important, he said, the study of Jewish history in Morocco does not rely on them. “Moroccan culture, and history, and also Moroccan memory — and the presence of the Jewish community in Morocco — is more than 2,000 years old,” he said.

Morocco is home to the largest Jewish community, approximately 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco.

Morocco is home to the largest Jewish community. Approximately 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco with the Casablanca community being one of the country’s most active. There has been no blowback from opening a center to study Jewish law, said Ouzitane. “No negative reaction. We were impressed by this.”

“We are going back home to deliver to the Moroccans the message of the Israelis, our brothers, our friends,” he said, “and to tell them that everyone there is waiting for you.”

For more information about Morocco Jewish Heritage