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The Jews of Tunisia2017-10-03T09:50:11+00:00

Project Description

The Jews of Tunisia

The first Jewish settlers to North Africa settled before the destruction of the First Temple in the 6th century BC. The ruins of an ancient synagogue dating back to the 3rd-5th century AD was discovered by the French captain Ernest De Prudhomme in Hammam-Lif in 1883. After the fall of the Second Temple, many exiled Jews settled in Tunis and engaged in agriculture, cattle-raising, and trade.

After Tunisia gained independence in 1956, a series of anti-Jewish government decrees were promulgated. In 1958, Tunisia’s Jewish Community Council was abolished by the government and ancient synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish quarters were destroyed for “urban renewal.” The increasingly unstable situation caused more than 40,000 Tunisian Jews to immigrate to Israel. By 1967, the country’s Jewish population had shrunk to 20,000. During the Six-Day War, Jews were attacked by rioting Arab mobs, and synagogues and shops were burned. The government denounced the violence, and President Habib Bourguiba apologized to the Chief Rabbi. The government appealed to the Jewish population to stay, but did not bar them from leaving. Subsequently, 7,000 Jews immigrated to France.

In 1982, there were attacks on Jews in the towns of Zarzis and Ben Guardane, and in 1985, a Tunisian guard opened fire on worshipers in a synagogue in Djerba, killing five people, four of them Jewish. Since then, the government has sought to prevent further tragedy by giving Tunisian Jews heavy protection when necessary, particularly during Jewish holidays. Today, the Tunisian Jewish population comprises the country’s largest indigenous religious minority.

Despite heightened protection from the government, the political climate in Tunisia is uncomfortable for Jewish residents currently, with anti-semitic attacks and vandalism on the rise over the recent years. Over 100 Jewish gravestones have been plundered and desecrated since the beginning of 2013, and in May 2014 the Beith El synagogue in Tunisia was violently vandalized in an anti-semitic attack.

There are around 3100 Jews in Tunisia. The island of Djerba in the south is home to 2500 Tunisian Jews, while Tunis holds 600, and a handful live in the southern town of Medenine.

Jews in Tunisia live in private groups. Even though they interact with the other social groups in Tunisia, they relate to these groups with extreme caution, as religious differences cause tensions. They are known to be extremely private for religious reasons, seeing themselves as the chosen people. Jews, male or female, may not marry a non-Jew, and anyone who does so is excluded from the religion and its law.

The religion of the Jews is Judaism, and the place of worship Djerba’s El Ghriba Synagogue, is considered very important to Jews in Tunisia and in the world. Many tourists come to visit the synagogue in the village of Hara Sghira. Although the present structure was built in 1929, it is believed there has been a continuously used synagogue on the site for the past 1,900 years. Tunisian Jews have many unique and colorful rituals and celebrations, including the annual pilgrimage to Djerba which takes place during Lag BaOmer.

Their customs and traditions are derived strongly from Judaic law. The majority of the Jewish community observes the laws of kashrut. Many of their customs in commerce, work and neighborly relationships are strongly influenced by local customs. The mother tongue of Jews is Hebrew. They learn from childhood, as it is necessary for reading the Torah. Tunisian Jews also learn Arabic and French in school.

Djerba has one Jewish kindergarten. There are also six Jewish primary schools (three located in Tunis, two in Djerba and one in the coastal city of Zarzis) and four secondary schools (two in Tunis and two in Djerba). There are also yeshivot in Tunis and Djerba. The community has two homes for the aged. The country has five officiating rabbis: the chief rabbi in Tunis, a rabbi in Djerba, and four others in Tunis.

Rabbinical Judaism is the dominant religion of Jews in this region, and the officially recognized institutions are Orthodox. Rabbinical Judaism replaced the temple with the synagogue, the priesthood with the rabbi, and the sacrificial ceremony with the prayer service. Emphasis was placed on study of the Torah (Hebrew name for the first five books of the Bible), the growing need for national restoration in the Promised Land, and the function of this world as preparatory for the world to come.

The Jews have a wonderful understanding of their connection with the Abrahamic covenant. However, they also have a history of rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah, the one who has fulfilled that covenant. Throughout their history, the Jews have been discriminated against and persecuted. They need to experience emotional healing and forgiveness. Pray that as the Gospel is shared with them, it will not be viewed as anti- Semitic, but rather as the fulfillment of what God promised humanity through Abraham centuries ago. Also pray for a spiritual hunger among the Jews who view their “Jewishness” as an ethnic identity and have no religious affiliation.

  • Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth loving Christians to work among the Jews of Tunisia.
  • Pray that the Jewish people will understand that Jesus is the long- awaited Messiah.
  • Ask the Lord to soften the hearts of the Jews towards Christians so that they might hear and receive the message of salvation.
Current Engagement
Apostolic Effort in Residence ✗
Commitment to Work in Local Language ✗
Commitment to Long-term Ministry ✗
Sowing with CPM Vision ✗

How can YOU assist the engagement of the Jews of Tunisia?

Additional Resources
Current Engagement
Apostolic Effort
in Residence
✗
Commitment to Work
in Local Language
✗
Commitment to
Long-term Ministry
✗
Sowing with
CPM Vision
✗

How can YOU assist the engagement of the Jews of Tunisia?

Additional Resources

The Jews of Tunisia

The first Jewish settlers to North Africa settled before the destruction of the First Temple in the 6th century BC. The ruins of an ancient synagogue dating back to the 3rd-5th century AD was discovered by the French captain Ernest De Prudhomme in Hammam-Lif in 1883. After the fall of the Second Temple, many exiled Jews settled in Tunis and engaged in agriculture, cattle-raising, and trade.

After Tunisia gained independence in 1956, a series of anti-Jewish government decrees were promulgated. In 1958, Tunisia’s Jewish Community Council was abolished by the government and ancient synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish quarters were destroyed for “urban renewal.” The increasingly unstable situation caused more than 40,000 Tunisian Jews to immigrate to Israel. By 1967, the country’s Jewish population had shrunk to 20,000. During the Six-Day War, Jews were attacked by rioting Arab mobs, and synagogues and shops were burned. The government denounced the violence, and President Habib Bourguiba apologized to the Chief Rabbi. The government appealed to the Jewish population to stay, but did not bar them from leaving. Subsequently, 7,000 Jews immigrated to France.

In 1982, there were attacks on Jews in the towns of Zarzis and Ben Guardane, and in 1985, a Tunisian guard opened fire on worshipers in a synagogue in Djerba, killing five people, four of them Jewish. Since then, the government has sought to prevent further tragedy by giving Tunisian Jews heavy protection when necessary, particularly during Jewish holidays. Today, the Tunisian Jewish population comprises the country’s largest indigenous religious minority.

Despite heightened protection from the government, the political climate in Tunisia is uncomfortable for Jewish residents currently, with anti-semitic attacks and vandalism on the rise over the recent years. Over 100 Jewish gravestones have been plundered and desecrated since the beginning of 2013, and in May 2014 the Beith El synagogue in Tunisia was violently vandalized in an anti-semitic attack.

There are around 3100 Jews in Tunisia. The island of Djerba in the south is home to 2500 Tunisian Jews, while Tunis holds 600, and a handful live in the southern town of Medenine.

Jews in Tunisia live in private groups. Even though they interact with the other social groups in Tunisia, they relate to these groups with extreme caution, as religious differences cause tensions. They are known to be extremely private for religious reasons, seeing themselves as the chosen people. Jews, male or female, may not marry a non-Jew, and anyone who does so is excluded from the religion and its law.

The religion of the Jews is Judaism, and the place of worship Djerba’s El Ghriba Synagogue, is considered very important to Jews in Tunisia and in the world. Many tourists come to visit the synagogue in the village of Hara Sghira. Although the present structure was built in 1929, it is believed there has been a continuously used synagogue on the site for the past 1,900 years. Tunisian Jews have many unique and colorful rituals and celebrations, including the annual pilgrimage to Djerba which takes place during Lag BaOmer.

Their customs and traditions are derived strongly from Judaic law. The majority of the Jewish community observes the laws of kashrut. Many of their customs in commerce, work and neighborly relationships are strongly influenced by local customs. The mother tongue of Jews is Hebrew. They learn from childhood, as it is necessary for reading the Torah. Tunisian Jews also learn Arabic and French in school.

Djerba has one Jewish kindergarten. There are also six Jewish primary schools (three located in Tunis, two in Djerba and one in the coastal city of Zarzis) and four secondary schools (two in Tunis and two in Djerba). There are also yeshivot in Tunis and Djerba. The community has two homes for the aged. The country has five officiating rabbis: the chief rabbi in Tunis, a rabbi in Djerba, and four others in Tunis.

Rabbinical Judaism is the dominant religion of Jews in this region, and the officially recognized institutions are Orthodox. Rabbinical Judaism replaced the temple with the synagogue, the priesthood with the rabbi, and the sacrificial ceremony with the prayer service. Emphasis was placed on study of the Torah (Hebrew name for the first five books of the Bible), the growing need for national restoration in the Promised Land, and the function of this world as preparatory for the world to come.

The Jews have a wonderful understanding of their connection with the Abrahamic covenant. However, they also have a history of rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah, the one who has fulfilled that covenant. Throughout their history, the Jews have been discriminated against and persecuted. They need to experience emotional healing and forgiveness. Pray that as the Gospel is shared with them, it will not be viewed as anti- Semitic, but rather as the fulfillment of what God promised humanity through Abraham centuries ago. Also pray for a spiritual hunger among the Jews who view their “Jewishness” as an ethnic identity and have no religious affiliation.

  • Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth loving Christians to work among the Jews of Tunisia.
  • Pray that the Jewish people will understand that Jesus is the long- awaited Messiah.
  • Ask the Lord to soften the hearts of the Jews towards Christians so that they might hear and receive the message of salvation.