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(913 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Gafsa(Ar. Qafsa) is a small town on the site of Roman Capsa in southwestern Tunisia. It is situated to the north of the seasonal salt lake Chott el-Djerid on the eastern edge of the Sahara Desert, 360 kilometers (224 miles) southwest of Tunis. Gafsa derived its importance from its strategic location as a stopping place for merchants and caravans on the route between the Mediterranean ports and trans-Saharan trading posts and also from its date palm cultivation. The town’s fortifications were able to withstand attacks by Saharan tribes. Today, the area surrounding Gafsa…

Saadoun, Yaakov

(238 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Yaakov Saadoun, the son of a shoemaker, was born in 1928 in the Tunisian city of Sfax, where his family lived in Picvill, a new quarter built by the French. Saadoun attended the Alliance Israélite Universelle school until World War II, then went on to a French commercial school and became a clerk in a shipping company. Deeply affected by the German occupation of Sfax (November 1942 to April 1943), he joined  Tséiré Ohavé Tsion (Heb. Ṣeʿire Ohave Ṣiyyon), a local Zionist organization, when he was eighteen. He soon became one of its leaders and the editor of its newsp…

Brami, Felix

(186 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Born in Tunis on September 9, 1940, Felix Said Brami became a renowned boxer. Between 1956 and 1961, with Joe Guez as his coach, he won all thirty of his amateur matches and the bantamweight championship (1959) of Tunisia. He left Tunisia for France in 1961 and began his professional career there, training with coach Gaston Charles Raymond and wearing a Magen David with the initials “FB” in the center on his boxing trunks. In 1964 he won the bantamweight championship of France and was rated no. 6 bantamweight in the world by Ring magazine. He lost the bantamweight championship in 1970, …

Borgel Family

(502 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
The Borgel (Bordjel, Bourgel) family of Tunisia (so named from Col. Ar. bū rjel, man on foot) was famous for its many rabbis and communal leaders. The first member of the family was Nathan, who became grand rabbi and president of the rabbinical tribunal ( bet din) in 1774. A famous kabbalist, he  was the author of Ḥoq Natan (Heb. The Law He Gave; or punning, The Law of Nathan), a commentary on the Talmud (Livorno, 1776–78). He left Tunisia for Palestine in 1778 and died in Jerusalem in 1791.Nathan’s son, Elijah Ḥay I, was the author of a two-part work, Migdanot Natan (Precious Gifts He Gave; Liv…

Sebag, Paul

(357 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Paul Sebag was a Communist activist, sociologist, and historian of Tunisia. Born into a bourgeois family in Tunis in 1919, he was educated in Paris. On his return to Tunis, he joined the Communist Party in 1936 and was one of its leaders from 1939 to 1943. He was arrested at the beginning of 1941 and sentenced to life at hard labor but was released in late 1942. After the liberation of Tunisia from German occupation in May 1943, he became a member of the editorial board of the underground communist newspaper L’Avenir Social.Sebag was professor of philosophy at the prestigious Lycée Carn…


(1,359 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Gabes (Ar. Qābis)is the last major port city in southern Tunisia before the Libyan frontier. It is situated on the Gulf of Gabes (the Little Syrte) 404 kilometers (251 miles) south of Tunis and 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Gafsa. The present city of Gabes is actually a conglomeration of four smaller towns: two ancient oases, Menzel and Djara; New Djara, dating from the era of the Arab conquest; and the port itself, El-Bihar. The development of the port area was a pet project of the French protectorate (1881–1956).Like Qayrawān, Gabes was an important Jewish center during the Midd…


(1,226 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Sfax (Ar. Safāqus) is an important port city on the Gulf of Gabès on the east-central coast of Tunisia. It is situated in the wide Tunisian central plain and is subject to influences both from the modern north and the more traditional south. Sfax was built in 849 on the ruins of the Roman cities of Taparura and Thaenae. Its economic basis lies in olive trees and olive oil, maritime industries (fish, sea sponges, shipbuilding, fishing nets), textiles, and phosphate and sulfur mining in nearby Gafsa.The origins of the Jewish community of Sfax are unknown. Cairo Geniza documents at…

Bizerte (Banzart, Bizerta)

(480 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Located on the site of the ancient town of Hippo Diarrhytus, Bizerte (Ar. Banzart) is the northernmost port town in Tunisia, situated at a strategic point on the Mediterranean coast and dominating the narrow passage between Europe and Africa. The two lakes near the town are connected to the harbor through a channel from Lake Bizerte. In periods prior to the French protectorate, established in 1881, the town served as an outpost for privateers plying the strategic Strait of Sicily. In 1895, the French resto…

Haddad de Paz, Charles

(276 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Charles Haddad de Paz was the last president of the Tunisian Jewish community. Born in 1910, he studied at the Alliance Israélite Universelle school in Tunis and became a teacher there in 1928. He was also a lawyer and a member of the Chamber of Advocates. He was very active in Jewish communal institutions from the late 1930s, was elected vice-president of the Jewish Community Council in 1947, and was its president from 1951 to 1958, the year when the Tunisian government (following independence in 1956) decided to abolish the council.In 1958 Haddad left Tunisia for Marseilles. Ther…


(331 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Built on the site of the ancient Phoenician city of Gightis, Medenine (Ar. Madanīn) is a city in southeastern Tunisia about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the sea. During the late Ottoman period, Medenine was an important market town for the Ouerghemma, a confederation of the three main Berber tribes in the region. Traders came from Algeria and Libya to deal in goods like dates, olives, and grain. The town is well known for its numerous ghurfas (granaries) so typical of Berbers in southern Tunisia. Jews owned some of the ghurfas and used them as warehouses.The Jewish community of Medenine …

Abū Qurā (Boccara), Jacob

(10 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
see Abū Qārā (Boccara) - FamilyHaim Saadoun

Abū Qārā (Boccara) Family

(324 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
The Abū Qārā (Boccara) family was one of the Portuguese-Jewish families that emigrated from Italy to Tunisia during the seventeenth century. In Tunis, they belonged to the Grana community, as Jews from Livorno (Leghorn) who settled in Tunisia were known. The family was especially renowned for its rabbis. Samson Abū Qārā (d. 1769) was the first family member to serve as a judge in the Tunis rabbinical court (Heb. bet din). This was before the Twansa (Arabic-speaking indigenous Jews) and the Grana separated into separate synagogues in 1741. Abraham Abū Qārā I (d. 1817) was the first …


(1,128 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Sousse (Ar. Sūsa) is port city on the central Tunisian coast, located 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of Tunis and 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Qayrawān. One of Tunisia’s most ancient cities—founded by the Phoenicians as Hadrumentum in the eleventh century B.C.E.—Sousse has long been a port of strategic importance.       Although there is evidence in the Cairo Geniza documentsof a Jewish community in Sousse in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the record is limited. It is known that Nissim ben Jacob ibn Shāhīn (d. 1062) lived in Sousse for a while. Some members of the …

Morinaud Law (Loi Morinaud -1923, Tunisia)

(331 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
The Morinaud Law (Loi Morinaud) was a French law promulgated in 1923 that enabled Tunisian Jews, who under the agreement establishing the French protectorate were subjects of the bey, to become French citizens. The law was the result of consistent pressure exerted by Tunisian Jews both before and after the First World War. French policy toward the naturalization of Tunisians up to this point had been conflicted. On the one hand, the French tried to assimilate them into French culture, but on the other hand, they did not want to make all of them French citizens, as were the Jews of Algeria und…

Ben Gardane (Ben Guardane)

(293 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Ben Gardane (Ar. Ben Qardān) is a small coastal town in the southeast of Tunisia, situated on the main road from Tripoli to Tunis near the Libyan frontier. The modern development of the town commenced just after the establishment of the French protectorate in 1881, when the French built two military posts there to protect the Libyan border.            The modernization of the town attracted Jews, who came there for economic reasons, mainly from the island of Jerba in Tunisia and from Zuara in Libya. The Jewish population grew from about 234 in 1906 to…

Ghez, Mathilde

(214 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Mathilde Ghez (Guez) was born in 1918 in Sousse, Tunisia. Her father was a clerk in the town court. In 1936 she married Maurice Ghez, the brother of Victor Ghez, the leader of the Jewish community of Sfax and a successful olive oil merchant. She then moved to Sfax, where her two children were born. During the Nazi occupation of Sfax from November 1942 to April 1943, Ghez assisted Dr. Sperber, a Hungarian Jewish physician who had immigrated to Tunisia in the 1930s. She was the translator to the Germans during this period and had the responsibility of preparing the Yellow Star …

Valensi, Alfred

(253 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Alfred Valensi, the founder of the first Zionist organization in Tunisia,was born in 1878 in Tunis. He studied law at the University of Montpellier in France, writing his thesis on French divorce law. Influenced while in school by Jeshua Bouchmil, he became a follower of Max Nordau, who worked with Theodor Herzl. After graduating from the university in 1905, Valensi returned to Tunis, where he founded Agudat Ṣion, the first Zionist organization in Tunisia. He wrote an incisive defense of the Zionist movement in response to the criticisms of the French social reformer Alfred Naquetin  La …

Yoshevet Ṣiyyon Society (Tunis)

(241 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Founded in 1914,Yoshevet Ṣiyyon (Isaiah 12:6) was a Zionist organization that was active in Tunis. Jules Bonan, one of its founders, explained that its aims were to spread Hebrew studies by modern methods. The founders considered Yoshevet Ṣiyyon to be ideologically affiliated to Mizrachi, the Religious Zionist party. They founded it after splitting off from the Agudat Ṣiyyon society, the first Zionist organization in Tunis, founded three years earlier. The main difference between the two organizations had to do with religion. In the view of the found…

Perez, Victor (“Young Perez”)

(263 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Victor Perez was a Jewish boxer who won the world flyweight championship in 1931 at the age of twenty-one, becoming the first Jewish fighter from North Africa to win a world title. Born in 1911 in Tunis, where he boxed as an amateur, he moved to France and became a professional boxer under the name “Young Perez,” to distinguish him from his brother Benjamin, also a boxer, who was known as “Kid Perez.” He fought his first professional match on February 4, 1928, against an Italian fighter whom he beat by only a few points. His first title win was the French…


(422 words)

Author(s): Haim Saadoun
Matmata (Ar.-Berb. Māṭmāṭa), is the name of a Berber tribe and a mountainous region in southeastern Tunisia. It is also the name of a mountain town in the region that is distinguished by its underground (troglodyte) dwelling caves. The architecture of each house is the same: a large sunken courtyard in the center, surrounded by rooms opening into it (a Matmatan hotel of this type in nearby Tataouine was made famous as Luke Skywalker’s home in the motion picture Star Wars). The village of Matmata is situated in the hills at the eastern edge of the Sahara desert. After they o…
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