The Jewish Artisans of Old Morocco

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.”

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More about: Jewish history, Moroccan Jewry, Morocco


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus