In the Moroccan city of Tétouan, a concerted effort to restore the 500-year-old Jewish cemetery has led to the rediscovery of the graves of three celebrated local rabbis: Jacob Ben Malca, Hasday Almosnino, and Jacob Marrache. Leading the project is a British descendent of the last rabbi, who shares his name. Georgia Gilholy writes:
A scholar and revered religious judge (dayan), Ben Malca moved to Tétouan from Fez—some 150 miles to the southeast—in 1734 to become the head of the religious court. Almosnino, who was born in Tétouan in 1640 and lived in Gibraltar, was also an accomplished arbiter of Jewish law, who left behind impressive published works.
The Marrache whose grave was just rediscovered is the ancestor of the London-based Marrache, who called his namesake “a more enigmatic figure.” Born in 1640, the Kabbalist specialized in the writings of the 16th-century Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as the “Ari”) and in the Zohar, the foundational kabbalistic text. “His commentary on the Zohar earned him fame, and his teachings inspired a generation of devoted students whose thoughts remain influential today,” the younger Marrache said of his ancestor.
Morocco’s Jewish community dates back to antiquity. By 1948, there were about 270,000 Jews living there. That number plummeted to an estimated 2,300 Jews as of 2015. Experts are still piecing together the fractured memories left behind, and the fact that many of the tombs, which line the slopes of Mount Dersa, lack inscriptions compounds the erasure of prior Jewish communities.