Cookies Policy

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

I accept this policy

Find out more here

Space and Place: North African Jewish Widows in Late-Ottoman Palestine*

No metrics data to plot.
The attempt to load metrics for this article has failed.
The attempt to plot a graph for these metrics has failed.
MyBook is a cheap paperback edition of the original book and will be sold at uniform, low price.

Buy this article

$30.00+ Tax (if applicable)
Add to Favorites

image of Hawwa

Abstract During the nineteenth century, the number of Jews in Jerusalem soared, including Jews in the North African Jewish community, which witnessed a significant growth spurt. Within the Jewish community, the number of widows, both young and old, was significant—approximately one-third of all adult Jews. This paper focuses on the spatial organization and residential patterns of Maghrebi Jewish widows and their social significance in nineteenth-century Jerusalem. Although many widows lived with their families, for other widows, without family in the city, living with family was not an option and they lived alone. By sharing rented quarters with other widows, some sought companionship as well as to ease the financial burden; others had to rely on communal support in shelters and endowed rooms. Each of these solutions reflected communal and religious norms regarding women in general, and widows in particular, ranging from marginalization and rejection to sincere concern and action.

1. FN0* Work for this study was undertaken with the generous support of the Hadassah Research Institute on Jewish Women at Brandeis University and the Maurice Amado Research Fund from UCLA.
2. FN11From the sixteenth century on, literary references abound attesting to the overwhelming number of widows in the Holy Cities, and numerous listings of widows on charity lists for these periods have survived. As such, references to widows have been noted in research on the various periods, but their lives are only now being examined in depth. For examples, see Jacob Barnai, “The Names of Jews in Jerusalem (1760–1763),” Cathedra 72 (1994), 163–168 [Hebrew]; Ruth Lamdan, A Separate People: Jewish Women in Palestine, Syria and Egypt in the Sixteenth Century (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2000), 196–201; Uziel O. Schmelz, “Some Demographic Peculiarities of the Jews of Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century,” in Moshe Ma’oz (ed.), Studies on Palestine During the Ottoman Period (Jerusalem: Magnes and Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1975), 131–136 et passim. On Ashkenazi widows in nineteenth-century Jerusalem, see Margalit Shilo, Princess or Prisoner? Jewish Women in Jerusalem, 1840–1914 (transl. by David Louvish), (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2005), 186–190 et passim.
3. FN22 The differential patterns of migration for men and for women settling in the Holy Land are beyond the scope of this article. For a discussion of this topic, see Michal Ben Ya’akov, “Women’s Aliyah: Migration Patterns of North African Jewish Women to Eretz Israel in the Nineteenth Century”, in: Ruth Kark, Margalit Shilo and Galit Hasan-Rokem Eds.), Jewish Women in Pre-State Israel: Life History, Politics and Culture (Brandeis University Press and University Press of New England, 2008); idem, “Aliyah in the Lives of North African Jewish Widows: The Realization of a Dream or a Solution to a Problem?” Nashim 9 (Fall 2004): 5–24. For a discussion of distinct characteristics of Ashkenazi women migrating to the Holy Land, see Margalit Shilo, “Self-sacrifice, National-historical Identity and Self-denial: The Experience of Jewish Immigrant Women in Jerusalem, 1840–1914,” Women’s History Review 11, no. 2 (2002): 201–229.
4. FN33 For further discussion, see: Ben Ya’akov, “Aliyah in the Lives of North African Jewish Widows”.
5. FN44 Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics(Spring 1986), 23, transl. by Jay Miskowiec from “Des Espaces Autres,” Architecture-Mouvement-Continuite (October 1984), an article based on a lecture delivered in March 1967. Edward Soja, in his critique of Foucault’s work, has called this the “social production of space and the restless formation and reformation of geographical landscapes.” Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies, the Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (London: Verso, 1989), 11.
6. FN55 Susan Stanford Friedman, Mappings, Feminism and the Cultural Geographies of Encounter (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 21.
7. FN66 Friedman , Mappings, 11.
8. FN77 Judith Tucker, “Problems in the Historiography of Women in the Middle East,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 15 (1983): 334. (emphasis added MBY)
9. FN88 Kathie Friedman-Kasaba, Memories of Migration, Gender, Ethnicity and Work in the Lives of Jewish and Italian Women in New York, 1870–1924 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 11. Akram Fouad Khater found similar patterns for women migrating from late nineteenth century Lebanon. See his, Inventing Home, Emigration, Gender and the Middle Class in Lebanon, 1870–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).
10. FN99 Mirjana Morokvaśic, “Birds of Passage are also Women....,” International Migration Review 18, no. 4 (1984): 886–907; Rita J. Simon and Caroline B. Brettell (eds.), International Migration: The Female Experience (Totowa: Rowman and Allanheld, 1986); Silvia Pedraza, “Women and Migration: The Social Consequences of Gender,” Annual Review of Sociology17 (1991): 321; Lin Lean Lim, “Effects of Women’s Position on their Migration,” in Nora Federici, Karen Oppenheim Mason, and Sølvi Sogner (eds.), Women’s Position and Demographic Change(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 225–242.
11. FN1010 Friedman-Kasaba, Memories of Migration, 38–39. Several studies have shown that employment did not provide women with a new status as working women that challenged or subordinated their primary identities as wives and mothers. Rather, it often reinforced these very identities as it allowed women to redefine them in a more satisfying manner than prior to the migration. See Pedraza, “Women and Migration,” 303–325; and Khater, Inventing Home, 162–165.
12. FN1111 Friedman-Kasaba, Memories of Migration, 192.
13. FN1212 Sara Arber and Jay Ginn, Gender and Later Life, A Sociological Analysis of Resources and Constraints (London: Sage Publications, 1991), 162.
14. FN1313 On the status of widows in various Jewish societies, see, among others, Susan Sered, Women as Ritual Experts (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 106–114; Lamdan, A Separate People, 196–201; Renée Levine Melammed, “Sephardi Women in Medieval and Early Modern Periods,” in Judith R. Baskin (ed.), Jewish Women in Historical Perspective (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 122–126; Cheryl Tallan, “Medieval Jewish Widows: Their Control of Resources,” Jewish History 5, no. 1 (1991): 63–74; Avraham Grossman, Pious and Rebellious, Jewish Women in Europe in the Middle Ages (Jerusalem: Shazar Center for Jewish History, 2001), 194–197, 459–494 [Hebrew]. On the status of widows in nineteenth-century Morocco, see Shlomo Deshen, “Women in the Jewish Family in Pre-Colonial Morocco,” Anthropological Quarterly 56, no. 3 (1983): 138–140; Doris Bensimon Donath, L’Evolution de la Femme Israelite à Fes, (Aix-en-Provence: La Pensée Universitaire, 1962), 109. On the social status of widows in Christian Europe, see Sandra Cavallo and Lyndan Warner (eds.), Widowhood in Medieval and Early Modern Europe(London: Longman, 1999); and particularly Pamela Sharpe, “Survival Strategies and Stories: Poor Widows and Widowers in Early Industrial England,” ibid., 220–239.
15. FN1414 Daphne Spain, Gendered Spaces (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 6–15.
16. FN1515 The original census lists are in the Montefiore Collection of the London School of Jewish Studies Library, with copies in the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts of the Jewish and National University Library in Jerusalem. For further discussion, see Michal Ben Ya’akov, “The Montefiore Census: The First Modern Census of Jews in Eretz-Israel,” in Sergio Della Pergola and Judith Even (eds.), Papers in Jewish Demography, 1997 (Jerusalem: Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2001), 79–87.
17. FN1616 Montefiore Collection ms. 534–540. I am indebted to the late Prof. Uziel Oscar Schmelz for sharing with me his computations regarding the overall Jewish population of Jerusalem.
18. FN1717 The largest courtyard listed, number 221, housed over one hundred Sephardi Jews (It is not known if additional Ashkenazi Jews also resided in the same courtyard.) The smallest courtyards have only two or three units, with as few as five residents (again—only the Sephardi Jews were enumerated in the courtyards on this list).
19. FN1818 The married women are anonymous: they are not even noted in the column for that purpose. However their existence may be discerned from the total number of persons enumerated for each household. This form of non-entity re-enforced the concept of women’s passivity in social and historical processes, a concept not only widely disputed now, but in fact reputed. For further discussion, see: Catherine Hakim, “Census Reports as Documentary Evidence: The Census Commentaries, 1801–1951,” Sociological Review28, no. 3 (1980): 551–580.
20. FN1919 On the significance of population geography, see Glenn T. Trewartha, “A Case for Population Geography,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 43, no. 2 (1953): 71–97. In spite of the importance of Trewartha’s article, little research has been done along these lines.
21. FN2020 Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, “The Population of the Large Towns in Palestine during the First Eighty Years of the Nineteenth Century According to Western Sources,” in Moshe Ma’oz (ed.), Studies on Palestine During the Ottoman Period (Jerusalem: Magnes and Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1975), 50–53. See further discussion in: Justin McCarthy, The Population of Palestine(New York: Columbia University Press and the Institute for Palestine Studies, 1990); Kemal H. Karpat, “Ottoman Population Records and the Census of 1881/82–1893”, International Journal of Middle East Studies9 (1978), pp. 237–274. In the nineteenth century, the populations of Tiberias and Safed fluctuated more drastically, primarily due to the tremendous destruction and loss of life resulting from the 1837 earthquake in the Galilee. Early in the century, the populations of Safed and Tiberias were approximately 5,500 and 2,000, respectively; after the earthquake, the numbers fell significantly, and increased slowly, attaining pre-earthquake size only some thirty years later. The Jewish populations of these cities continued to increase at a higher rate than the Muslim population, however at a much slower pace than that of Jerusalem. By the end of the nineteenth century there were approximately 8,000 inhabitants in Safed and 4,000 in Tiberias. See ibid., 65–69; Abraham Moshe Luncz, Jerusalem Almanac 1 (1896), 28–30 [Hebrew].
22. FN2121 Michal Ben Ya’akov, “The Immigration and Settlement of North African Jews in Nineteenth Century Jerusalem,” (Ph.D. dissertation, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2001), 194–200 [Hebrew, with English summary]; on the number of North African Jews in Safed and Tiberias, see: 122–125, 155–157, respectively, with a summary of data on 307a.
23. FN2222 Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Simon Arzi, and Moshe Yablovitch, “The Jewish Quarter in the Old City: Site, Growth and Expansion in the Nineteenth Century,” in Menahem Friedman, Ben Zion Yehoshua and Yoseph Tobi (eds.), Chapters in the History of the Jewish Community in Jerusalem, vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1976), 9–51.
24. FN2323 On the expansion of nineteenth century Jerusalem, see Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Jerusalem in the 19th Century, vol. 2: Emergence of the New City (Jerusalem and New York: Yad Itzhak Ben-Zvi and St. Martin’s Press, 1986); Ruth Kark and Michal Oren-Nordheim, Jerusalem and Its Environs, Quarters, Neighborhoods, Villages, 1800–1948 (Jerusalem and Detroit: Magnes Press and Wayne State University Press, 2001), 74–132.
25. FN2424 In these patrilocal societies young women who were widowed without children often returned to the homes of their fathers. See: Deshen, “Women,” 134–144.
26. FN2525 See census lists for the various cities in the Montefiore Archives.
27. FN2626 Innumerable descriptions abound on the widespread poverty in Jerusalem. For a summary, with its implications for housing, see Ben-Arieh, Jerusalem in the 19th Century, vol. 1: The Old City (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Institute, 1984),326–332; also Ya’akov Yehoshua, The Story of the Sephardi House in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Reuven Mass, 1976), 149–150 [Hebrew].
28. FN2727 Helena Znaniecka Lopata, Current Widowhood, Myths and Realities (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1996), 166–169; idem, “Widowhood: World Perspectives on Support Systems,” in idem, Widows,vol. 1: The Middle East, Asia and the Pacific (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987), 1–9; idem; Women as Widows, Support Systems (New York: Elsevier, 1979), 3–7,17–18, 255–269.
29. FN2828 Yehoshua, The Story of the Sephardi House, 25–36.
30. FN2929 Many such lists exist in archives; see, for example, The Guide to Charity of the North African Jews Committee (Jerusalem: Halevy Zuckerman, 1903), 25–32 [Hebrew]; a plea for funds by the heads of the Tiberias Sephardic community to Moses Montefiore, postmarked 29 December 1845, Montefiore Collection, ms. 58; lists of needy widows during World War I, Jerusalem Municipality Historical Archives, Old Yishuv series, file 274/60. See also literary examples from the Sephardic community, emphasizing the efforts of these women to maintain their independence, as cited by Ya’akov Yehoshua, Jerusalem of Yesterday, part 3 (Jerusalem: Reuven Mass, 1981), 28, 36 [Hebrew].
31. FN3030 For a broad theoretical discussion, see Izhak Schnell and Wim Ostendorf (eds.), Studies in Segregation and Desegregation (Aldershot: Avebury, and the International Geographical Union: Commission on Monitoring Cities of Tomorrow, 2002).
32. FN3131 Field work by the author, Jerusalem, 1988.
33. FN3232 Extensive reports on the fund-raising activities in North African and Mediterranean communities by the Jerusalem emissary, Rabbi Moshe Malka, for the payment of this building and its renovations, were published in the Hebrew newspaper, Havatzelet, beginning with vol. 4, issue 1 (3 October 1873). See also: Ben Ya’akov, “Immigration and Settlement,” (above, note 21), 218–220.
34. FN3333 1855 Census of the Sephardi community in Safed, Montefiore Collection, ms. 532; Shmuel Yosef Finn, Knesset Yisrael (Warsaw: Baumritter and Gansher, 1887), 605 [Hebrew]; land registration of block 13057, plot 43, Safed rabbinical court records, file 1225/73; interviews with Avner Hai Shaki, Tel Aviv, 4 July 1993; with Meir Carsenti, Safed, 21 April 1993. For further discussion, see Ben Ya’akov, “Immigration and Settlement,” 147–148.
35. FN3434 The first organized, planned communal almshouse in Jerusalem was initiated in 1857 by Kollel HOD (Holland-Deutschland), an organization of German and Dutch Jews, on the fringes of the Jewish quarter near the Zion Gate. In 1862, the first rooms were completed in the complex, and others were subsequently added. Ben-Arieh, The Old City, 328–331.
36. FN3535 Getzel Kressel (ed.), Yehuda vi-Yerushalayim, Yoel Moshe Solomon’s Newspaper, 1877–1878 (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1955), 56, 97 [Hebrew]; Ben-Arieh, The Old City,331–332.
37. FN3636 Getzel Kressel, Yehuda vi-Yerushalayim, 97.
38. FN3737 Moshe David Gaon, Oriental Jews in Eretz-Israel (Past and Present), vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Azriel, 1928), 133 [Hebrew].
39. FN3838 Ben-Arieh, Emergence,256–257. On endowment or donors’ neighborhoods, see Ben-Arieh, 162–164; Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 103; Zvi Shilony, “Ashkenazi Jewish Almshouses in Jerusalem,” Journal of Cultural Geography 14, no. 1 (1993): 35–48.
40. FN3939 This seems to refer to the rooms allocated in the three-story community building in the Muslim Quarter, noted above. There were, however, several additional endowed rooms (hekdesh) for the poor within the city walls.
41. FN4040 Certification for the emissary, Rabbi Ya’akov Ben-Atar, 1904, Itzhak Ben-Zvi Institute archives, Jerusalem, ms. E.I. 292; also reproduced in Binyamin Kluger, Jerusalem, Neighborhoods Surrounding Her (Jerusalem: private publication, 1979), 23 [Hebrew].
42. FN4141 Shlomo Deshen, The Mellah Society, Jewish Community Life in Sherifin Morocco (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 86–103; Shalom Bar-Asher, “Private Synagogues and Inherited Religious Roles in Morocco, 1672–1822,” Zion51 (1986): 449–470 [Hebrew].
43. FN4242 Ben Ya’akov, “Immigration andSettlement,” 178–185; Idem, “Synagogues of North African Jews in 19th century Tiberias,” MiTuv Tiverias (The Best of Tiberias)9 (1994): 42–58 [Hebrew].
44. FN4343 Norman Stillman, “Sefrou Remnant,” Jewish Social Studies 35, no. 3–4 (1973): 258.
45. FN4444 In the mid-1950s, and particularly after Moroccan independence, a majority of the Jews in the Moroccan communities migrated to France, Israel, and other destinations. A second wave occurred in the early 1960s, as a result of continued political changes in the country.
46. FN4545 Although this explanation may be true for Jewish widows in 19th century Jerusalem, the demographic imbalance between the many widows in the city and the few single males, also greatly limited possibilities for Jewish widows interested in remarrying.
47. FN4646 Sharpe, “Survival Strategies,” 229.
48. FN4747 Compare these with similar activities of North African women caring for the needs of synagogues in present day Israel. See Harvey E. Goldberg, “Family and Community in Sephardic North Africa: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives,” in David Kraemer (ed.), The Jewish Family: Metaphor and Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 137–138. See also Yedida Stillman, “Attitudes toward Women in Traditional Near Eastern Societies,” in Shelomo Morag, Issachar Ben-Ami, Norman A. Stillman (eds.), Studies in Judaism and Islam, Presented to Shelomo Dov Goitein (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1981), 345–360.
49. FN4848 The weekly allotments for poor women provided by both the Sephardi and Maghrebi communal charity funds were, not surprisingly, significantly less than those for poor men. Guide to Charity of the North African Jews; The Guide to Charity of the Sephardi Committee in Jerusalem, (Jerusalem, 1891–1904) [Hebrew].
50. FN4949 Friedman-Kasaba, Memories of Migration, 38–39.
51. FN5050 Khater, Inventing Home, 38.

Article metrics loading...


Affiliations: 1: Efrata College of Education Jerusalem Israel


Can't access your account?
  • Tools

  • Add to Favorites
  • Printable version
  • Email this page
  • Subscribe to email alerts
  • Get permissions
  • Recommend to your library

    You must fill out fields marked with: *

    Librarian details
    Your details
    Why are you recommending this title?
    Select reason:
    Hawwa — Recommend this title to your library

    Thank you

    Your recommendation has been sent to your librarian.

  • Export citations
  • Key

  • Full access
  • Open Access
  • Partial/No accessInformation