Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria

Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria

Sarah Abrevaya Stein

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226123608

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The Jews of southern Algeria under French colonial rule were different than the Jews of Algeria’s north: they were not French. This book presents their history and through it, a history of legal difference born of colonial imperatives under eighty years of French rule (1882-1962). In 1870, France granted citizenship to the Jews of Algeria’s north, effectively rendering them European at the stroke of a pen. The Jews of the Algeria’s south were handed a different legal fate. After the conquest of the Algerian Sahara, the state categorized its Jews as it categorized the majority of Algerian Muslims—as indigèènes [indigenous subjects], whose political rights were radically curtailed. The case of southern Algerian Jewry provides evidence of another variation of colonial rule produced as the French authorities sought—sometimes methodically, sometimes with frantic desperation—to achieve mastery over their diverse subject populations in North Africa. Indigenous Jews considers why French law and military policy treated the Jews of the Algerian Sahara differently than it did the Jews of Algeria’s north and, in time, than Algerian Muslims, and explores how this “difference” was mistaken as innate by generations of social scientists. It investigates how members of the southern Jewish community experienced and negotiated with the legal categories imposed upon them. Finally, it argues that the so-called “indigeneity” of southern Algerian Jewry, which was essentially colonial and juridical in formulation, continued to haunt France, southern Algerian Jewish émigrés, and scholarship on modern Jewry long after Algeria became a sovereign nation and France entered the post-colonial world.