Haim Pinto Synagogue at Essaouira, Morocco

The Haim Pinto Synagogue, named for its founder, the famous 18th century rabbi and miracle-worker Haim Pinto, is one of two remaining synagogues in the city of Essaouira.1 While only 50 Jewish families still live in Essaouira, it remains an active synagogue and was renovated several years ago. Located on the second floor of a three-story building, the synagogue is a single large room, with beautiful hanging lamps and woodwork that has been painted a brilliant shade of light blue.2


Rabbi Haim Pinto Haim Pinto was born in Agadir, Morocco, on July 1, 1749. His father died when he was twelve; the same year, an earthquake devastated much of Agadir, and many of the Jewish survivors settled in Mogador (now Essaouira).3 Pinto had been known for the miracles that he performed even as a child, and in 1769 he became Dayan of the city at the young age of twenty.4 He served as Chief of the Rabbinical Court for more than seventy years, during which time he founded one of the two synagogues that still exist in Essaouira today.5 In addition to being a prolific writer (he published many judicial decisions and rabbinic commentaries, most of which have been lost), he was accepted as a saint and miracle-worker within his own lifetime. Rabbi Pinto died on September 28, 1845, aged 96. In the twentieth century he became a popular subject for Moroccan hagiographies; his grave remains a major pilgrimage destination.

Essaouira Essaouira, known as Mogador until the end of French colonial rule in the 1960s, was one of Morocco’s largest and most cosmopolitan Jewish communities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of Morocco’s major Jewish families settled in the city in the first few decades after its establishment in 1764, and worked as key intermediaries in Morocco’s domestic and international trade.7 An 1807 decree required the Jewish residents to move to a mellah (a separate Jewish quarter), but several merchants were exempted from the decree.8 In the 19th century, the Jewish population of Mogador fluctuated between 30 and 50 percent of the city’s total population; there may have been as many as 10,000 Jews living in the city at one point.9 Trade began to diminish in the late 1800s as the French began to develop Casablanca as their principal trading port; many major merchant families went bankrupt or left Mogador. The majority of the Jewish population emigrated in the 1960s; by 1980, only fifty families remained in the city.10 

Essaouira, Morocco

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