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Honaine (also Honein)

(512 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
The city of Honaine (Ar. Hunayn) is located on the coast of Algeria, near the Moroccan border and about 45 kilometers (28 miles) northwest of Tlemcen. It does not appear in descriptions of the region by tenth-century Muslim geographers, but is mentioned by the eleventh-century geographer Abū ʿUbayd al-Bakrī. He called it Ḥiṣn Hunayn (Hunayn Fortress) and notes that the townspeople were Kūmiyya Berbers. A century later, the geographer al-Idrīsī describes Honaine as an attractive and prosperous city surrounded by sturdy ramparts and thriving bazaars. There is no me…

Altaras, Jacques Isaac

(387 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Jacques Altaras was born Jacomo Bartolomeo in Aleppo on December 8, 1786.  He was descended from a family of Spanish rabbis that had settled in Venice in the seventeenth century and then in Aleppo in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, where they joined the Francos community. In 1805 the family moved to Marseilles, where Jacques Altaras became a wealthy merchant and shipbuilder. An important communal leader, he was elected vice-president of the Jewish community of Marseilles in 1835, and president in 1849. He was associated with the reorga…

Algiers

(2,755 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Algiers (Ar. al-Jazā’ir), the capital of Algeria and a thriving port city, is located midway along the Algerian coast of the Mediterranean Sea. South of the low hills of the Sahel that ring the city on the south lies the fertile Mitidja plain. The Phoenicians established a commercial outpost called Ikosim on the little islands off the northwestern shore of the Bay of Algiers. By Roman times it had become a small town and was called Icosium. 1. Medieval Period According to the medieval geographer al-Bakrī (ed. de Slane, pp. 65-66 [Ar.]), the site of Algiers was in ruins until the…

Miliana

(853 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
An agricultural and market town inhabited mainly by Berbers, Miliana (Ar. Milyānā) is located at an altitude of 740 meters (2,428 feet) and is 160 kilometers (99 miles) southwest of Algiers, on the southern flank of Mount Zakkār Gharbī. Miliana developed in the tenth century on the site of the ancient Roman town of Zucchabar. The origins of its Jewish community date from at least the fourteenth century, when it became a destination for Jewish refugees from Spain. Some Jews from Miliana later settled in Oran when the Algerians recaptured the town from the Spanish in 1792. Before …

Aïn-Beida

(262 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Aïn-Beida (Ar. ʿAyn Bayḍā', the white spring) is an Algerian town located at an altitude of 1,008 meters (3,307 feet) on Constantine’s high plateau, and owes its name to the abundant source that gushes forth. The community was founded by Jews from Constantine who settled there after the establishment of a garrison to contain the Harakta tribe, which ruled the border region of Souk-Ahras to Tebessa. The town fell under the authority of the Jewish consistory of Constantine. In the nineteenth century, a majority of its Jews were jewelers; especially well known was the Allouche family. In 19…

Aïn Témouchent

(494 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
The Algerian town of Aïn Témouchent, built on the site of the Roman Albulae and the Arab Qaṣr ibn Sinān, is located in northwestern Algeria, 70 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Oran, and 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Tlemcen. Some traces of a Jewish community date back to the end of the fourteenth century, and to the seventeenth century, after the expulsion of Jews from Oran. The modern Jewish community of Aïn Témouchent dates from the period of the French conquest. The French army built a redoubt on the site in 1839, and colonization began in 1845. According to local…

Aboulker (Abū  ʾl-Khayr) Family

(516 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
The Aboulker family of Algiers originated in Spain. The name appears for the first time in the twelfth century as Ibn Pulguer in Toledo. In Arabic, Abū  ʾl-Khayr is a kunya (nickname) meaning a good or fortunate man. In Portuguese, it could have morphed into Abulquerque. In French, it became Aboulker.       Over the centuries the family included numerous scholars, rabbis, merchants, and physicians.  In the first half of the fourteenth century,  Isaac ibn Pulguer (also Pollegar, Pulgar, Policar) translated into Hebrew Book Three of the great Muslim theologian al-Ghaz…

Kanouï, Simon

(566 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Simon Kanouï, an influential banker and leader in the Jewish community of Algeria, was born into a wealthy and prominent family in Oran in 1842. Many of his relatives occupied positions of communal leadership. In 1863, he married Esther Lasry, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Oran. On March 31, 1865, Kanouï became a lay leader of the Jewish Consistory of Oran, and on December 12, 1872, a member of the Oran Consistorial Committee. After serving as acting president of the consistory between 1870 and 1873, he became its president on July 20, 1876—a post he held …

Orléansville (El Asnam, Ech-Chelif, Ar. al-Shalif)

(261 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Orléansville (which became El Asnam and present Ech-Chelif) is a city in western Algeria, located about 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Algiers at an altitude of 140 meters (459 feet), at the convergence of the Chelif and Tsirhaout rivers. The modern city was founded in 1843 by Marshal Thomas Robert Bugeaud(1784–1849) on the ruins of the Roman settlement of Castelum Tingitanum, and it was he who named it Orléansville. About half of its Jewish settlers came from Miliana, roughly 70 kilometers (44 miles) upriver. Jews played a major part…

Souk-Ahras

(260 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Souk-Ahras (Ar.-Berb. Sūq Ahrās), located on the site of ancient Thagaste, is a town in eastern Algeria located at an altitude of 675 meters (2,215 feet) against the southeastern hills of the Aurès Mountains near the Oued Medjerda. The modern town began in the 1850s as a French military post, and by 1856 it had a permanent Jewish settlement. Some of the Jewish inhabitants were Baḥuṣim, semi-nomadic Jews from the surrounding region who adopted a sedentary lifestyle in the new town. Others were Jews of Livornese descent. The Souk-Ahras community came under the jurisdiction of the Constantine…

Marnia (Maghnia)

(386 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Marnia (Maghnia) is a city in northwestern Algeria located 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of the Moroccan border, at an altitude of 365 meters (1,198 feet), in a vast plain irrigated by the diverted canals of the Tafna River. There seem to have been Jews there in Roman times (when the city was called Numerus Syrorum, Syrorum, or Syr). The  modern Jewish community began after the town of Lalla Maghnia (named for an eighteenth-century Muslim female saint) grew up around a redoubt built by French troops in 1844. The community fell within the jurisdiction of the Oran Consistory, but oral traditi…

Biskra

(473 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Biskra is an Algerian oasis town on the northern edge of the Sahara at the foot of the AurèsMountains, on the west bank of the Oued Biskra. In Antiquity, the city was called Vescera by the Romans and counted Jews in its population, most likely Carthaginian in origin. By the fifth century C.E., under Vandal rule, the Jews seemed to have had an organized community. While the origin of the Jewish community during the Islamic period is unknown, it is mentioned in the responsa of the Spanish rabbis and their descendants who ar…

Bénichou-Aboulker, Berthe

(426 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Berthe Bénichou-Aboulker, born in Oran in 1886, was the daughter of Adelaïde Azoubib and her second husband, Mardochée Bénichou. She was descended from a family of Jewish notables in Algeria with a long lineage of rabbis and poets. Her parents, Adelaïde and Mardochée, were distant relatives who shared a common ancestor, Simon ben Ṣemaḥ Duran. Adelaïde was a woman of letters at a time when female writers were a rarity in Algeria. She learned Hebrew after the age of sixty and wrote En méditant les Livres saints (Paris, 1922 ). In 1907, Berthe married Dr. Henri (Samuel) Aboulker, the scion …

Médéa

(510 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
The Algerian city of Médéa (Ar. al-Madiya; Coll. Ar. Lamdiya), known in antiquity as Lambdia, is located 88 kilometers (55 miles) south of Algiers, at an altitude of 920 meters (3,018 feet) on the Tell Atlas, on a plateau dominating the north between the Blida Atlas and the Titteri Mountains. Jews may have lived in the area in ancient times, but the state of Médéa’s Jewish community, if any, during and after the Islamic conquest is unknown. The community was revived in the fifteenth century by Jewish settlers from Spain. When the French invaded Algeria in 1830, there were several hun…

Relizane

(310 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Relizane (Ar. Ghalīzān; Berb. Ighil Izan) is a city and province in northwestern Algeria located on the plain of the Mina wadi, on the western side of the Ouarsenis Mountains. It was founded by the French near the site of the old Roman town of Mina following their conquest of Algeria. Jews settled in Relizane in 1857, and as the town was in the department of Oran, they were under the jurisdiction of the Oran Jewish consistory. The Jewish population grew from 25 in 1877 to 280 in 1881, 472 in 189…

Guelma

(400 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun
Guelma (Ar. Qālima) is a city in northeastern Algeria about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Mediterranean, located at an altitude of 290 meters (952 feet) in the valley of Wadi Seybouse, and surrounded by mountains. Known as Calama under the Romans, the town was probably first established as a Phoenician site. While Jews may have lived in Calama in the Roman period,  the only known community came into existence following the French conquest, when Marshal Bertrand Clauzel established a permanent camp there in 1834 and a settlement was reestablished.  With the development of the area…

Mascara

(708 words)

Author(s): Richard Ayoun | Valérie Assan
Mascara (Ar. Muʿaskar) is a town located in northwestern Algeria about 96 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Oran on the southern slope of the Beni Chougran range of the Atlas Mountains. According to oral tradition, the Jewish community of Mascara was founded by fugitives from Spain and Portugal in 1492, but the growth of the Jewish population probably dates from the eighteenth century, when the city was the capital of the Western beylik under Turkish rule until Spain retook Oran in 1792. Jacob Hayyim Ben Na'im, from Fez, became rabbi and dayyan in Mascara in 1760. In 1832 the Algeria…
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