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(501 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Nabeul (Ar. Nābul) is a small coastal town located 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Tunis. Its first Jewish families settled there around 1700, attracted by the economic boom the town was undergoing. Some came from Tunis, such as the Ghez and Koskas families, others from Jerba, such as the Cohen, Haddad, Mamou, and Uzan families. Others, such as the Chiche family, came from Algiers around 1810, or from the Holy land, like the Karila family around 1835. The Hayoun, Paienti, Taïeb, and Temam fami…

Ḥayk, Uzziel al-

(504 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Uzziel al-Ḥayk, the son of David al-Ḥayk, a renowned intellectual from a family of Grana rabbis, was born in Tunis in 1740 and died there around 1810. Well versed in Arabic language, Islamic law, rabbinic matters, and economic issues, he was involved in many legal decisions made by the Tunis rabbinic courts. These provide much information about daily life at that time, and on fundamental legal matters such as the right to own and acquire property and private assets (Ar. mulk).Al-Ḥayk wrote two major books in Hebrew that were published posthumously. Mishkenot ha-Roʿim (The Shepherds’ D…

Guetta, Kiki

(205 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Kiki Guetta (Kiki is the nickname for Jacob in the Arabic dialect of Tunisian Jewry) was born in Tunis on February 15, 1882, and died there in 1970. During the Belle Époque and in the years following World War I, he was a star of the artistic and musical stage in Tunis. He performed skits in mixed French and Arabic, sometimes in Hebrew, and introduced his largely Jewish and Arabic-speaking audience to entertainment genres that came straight from  Paris, such as light-hearted songs, puns, and plays on words in French and Arabic. Tunisian Jews knew about parody; but Guetta innovated as a typ…

Khalfon, Moshe ha-Kohen

(506 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Moshe ha-Kohen Khalfon, the most famous rabbi of the island of Jerba in Tunisia, was born in Ḥara Kebira on January 1, 1874, and died there on January 7, 1950. He was chief rabbi of Ḥara Kebira specifically, but was de facto chief rabbi of the entire island, since he took precedence over his colleague in Ḥara Ṣeghira. His rabbinic activity coincided with the French colonial period in Tunisia (1881–1956).Khalfon left a considerable body of works, including at least seventy haskamot (see Ḥaskama; ordinances; lit. agreements) and legal decisions (Heb. pisqe din), as well as many books i…

Mizraḥi, Asher

(357 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Asher Mizraḥi was born in Jerusalem in 1890 and died there in 1967. On his arrival in Tunis as a young cantor in 1912, he became a new sensation in the city’s Jewish community. From 1919 to 1929, he divided his time between Palestine and Tunis, but then permanently settled in Tunis and only returned to Israel in the year of his death. Before and after World War II, Mizraḥi composed hundreds of songs in Arabic and Hebrew, and wrote lyrics for many artists, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Because of the broad range of his inspiration, he held a peculiar position in the Tun…

Shaykh al-ʿAfrīt (Rosio, Israel)

(285 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Shaykh al-ʿAfrīt (Maestro Little Devil) was born in 1897 in Tunis and died on July 26, 1939 in Ariana, near the capital city and was buried in the Borgel Cemetery in Tunis. Born Israël Rosio Issirene to a Moroccan father and a Libyan mother, he was abandoned at a young age by his father, who returned to Morocco. He earned his nickname for his powerful voice and his mischievous wit. He was one of the leading Arabic singers in Tunis in the interwar period; he performed at Aḥmad Bey’s palace (r. 1929–1942) every Tuesday. He is said to have had a repertory of 480 songs. His…

Grana (Livornese)

(1,465 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Jews from Leghorn (Livorno) who settled in Tunis in the seventeenth century were usually referred to as Grāna (sing. Gurnī or Gorni), a term derived from the Arabic name of Leghorn, al-Ghurna. The term appears in the minutes of the community and other documents, and continued in use under the French protectorate (1881–1956). In the mid-nineteenth century communal documents began to use the Italian terms Livornesi (sing. Livornese).     The Grana lived in Tunisia for over 350 years and played an important economic and cultural role in the life of the country and its Jewish community. Alt…

Ḥara Ṣeghira

(534 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Hara Seghira (Ar. ḥāra ṣa ghīra, the small quarter) is the smaller of the two Jewish villages on the island of Jerba, Tunisia, about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from Houmt Souk, the island’s principal town, and 6 kilometers (3.5 miles) from Ḥara Kebira, the other Jewish village—both located farther north of Houmt Souk. A 1587 map in Italian shows a tiny village called Giudei (Jews[town]). It is probably Hara Seghira, although it was located southeast of Ḥara Kebira and not in the south, as shown on the ma…

Ḥara Kebira

(525 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Ḥara Kebira (Ar. ḥāra kabīra, the large quarter) is the larger of the two Jewish villages on the island of Jerba in Tunisia. Until the mid-twentieth century, about three-quarters of the island’s Jewish population lived there. The time of its founded is unknown; its buildings date back to the seventeenth century, but the town already existed in the sixteenth century, as can be inferred from an Italian map of 1587. At that time, there were two villages on the island, one of which, called Zadaica, was located in the same place as Ḥara Kebira. It is possible, if not probable, that …


(367 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
The town of Testour, located 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Tunis, was founded by Moriscos in 1610, and Jews settled there around 1620. They were indigenous, not refugees from Spain like the Moriscos, as Marcel Gandolphe suggested. Gandolphe may have been misled by the fact that there was a Spanish-speaking Jew from the Ottoman Levant living in Testour around 1746. The Jewish family names found in Testour were of rural origin—Allouche, Chaouat, Lellouche, Messica—or possibly of Bedouin origin, as in the case of the Meimouni, who were related to the baḥuṣim .The grave of Frājī Shaww…


(2,905 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Jerba (Djerba), called the island of the Lotophagi in ancient times, probably because its inhabitants ate  jujubes, was named after Jirba, a town at its northern end mentioned in the sixth century C.E. It is a scrap of land in the Gulf of Gabès (also known as Little Syrte) a few kilometers off the southeastern coast of Tunisia. On this low island, olive trees, palm trees, and rustic fruit trees are grown with dry agriculture. Other industries include fishing, blanket weaving, and pottery, but fo…

Journo, Raoul

(252 words)

Author(s): Jacques Taïeb
Raoul Journo was born in Tunis on January 18, 1911, and died in Paris on November 22, 2001. Along with his Muslim colleague ʿAlī Riyāḥī, he was the most popular Arab singer of the twentieth century in Tunisia. With his tenor voice, he began singing early on, but his musical career really took off in the mid-1930s and was quite original. He mastered the ʿ arūbī genre of Bedouin-inspired poetry, and the taʿlīl, which were songs of praise performed at family gatherings. Journo embodied a Tunisian musical heritage and was rightfully honored by the Tunisian government. H…