From the latter part of the first millennium until modern times, Jews throughout the world have tended to make their livings in trade, moneylending, pawnbroking, and similar occupations. In some instances—e.g., medieval Spain, and Poland from the 1500s onward—large numbers of Jews were also employed in crafts such as tailoring, shoemaking, and metalworking. This was also the case in Morocco, as Chen Malul writes:
For centuries, Jews in Morocco made a living from crafts that the Muslim-majority society engaged in as well. The terms of the Pact of Omar, [which governed the status of Jews, Christians, and other “people of the book” in Islamic lands], as well as the laws of sharia, did not impose severe restrictions on non-Muslims’ occupations, though only Muslims were allowed to work in the fields of government and public office.
Despite the tolerant legal infrastructure, the Muslim majority population did eventually impose restrictions on non-Muslims through the guild system as a way to lessen competition in the crafts. Not having much choice, the Jews flocked to the trades that were open to them.
According to sharia law, Muslims are forbidden from working with silver and gold, as the labor results in a greater profit than the true value of the metals, making the profession immoral. The exclusion of Muslims from metalwork enabled Jews to integrate into the industries of goldsmithing and production of gold thread. Being a professional craftsperson was considered a respected occupation among the middle and lower classes.
Professor Eli Bashan, who researched this subject, wrote, “Even sages and rabbis, who did not want to be paid for their Torah teachings, worked as professional artisans, and this was considered a virtuous act; these included mainly goldsmiths but also other skilled workers such as builders and barbers.”