Why a Moroccan Rabbinic Court Kept Records in French

Following the injunction of Deuteronomy 16, “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates,” Jews in Israel and the Diaspora have for millennia established courts of law to settle disputes, and such institutions—known as batey din (singular, beit din)—can still be found the world over. Prior to the 19th century, most Christian and Muslim countries gave these courts exclusive jurisdiction over civil matters between Jewish litigants. Yoel Finkelman describes what made the beit din of the northwest Moroccan city of Kenitra unusual:

[T]he archival materials from the beit din of Kenitra in the mid-20th century . . . were not in rabbinic Hebrew, but in French. Jews in Morocco spoke French during the colonial era, but it is not common at all to find rabbinic courts or halakhic documentation conducted in the vernacular. Why, then, would the beit din use French?

The answer stems from significant reforms that the French colonial government in Morocco made in regulating batey din. . . . The colonial government wanted to reform the relationship between the beit din and the colonial authorities. Beginning in 1918, the French protectorate began systematically to reform Jewish communities and their institutions, modernizing them by limiting their authority and linking them to new, modern bureaucracy. They created Jewish rabbinic courts that would operate based on Jewish laws, but would be subject to the oversight of the colonial authorities, who would authorize the batey din to make decisions about internal Jewish affairs, particularly regarding marriage, divorce, and family law.

Once the Jewish court had acted, the French Protectorate required systematic information about decisions, personal statuses, litigants’ obligations, or divorce settlements and their financial consequences. . . . This created new record-keeping responsibilities for the court. It could not simply run its own business, by Jews for Jews, in Jewish languages. Instead, the French and local authorities required systematic paperwork from the Jewish community.

Read more at The Librarians

More about: France, Jewish law, Moroccan Jewry, Morocco

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem