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The Rabbi Meir Toledano Synagogue, one of the few remaining synagogues in Meknes, Morocco, may date back as early as the 13th century. According to tradition, Meknes’s Mahrit synagogue was built in the 1200s, and destroyed by an earthquake in 1630.1 The Toledano family rebuilt it when they arrived in Meknes. The synagogue may be named for one of the lesser-known scions of the famous family: Rabbi Meir Toledano, best known for editing and publishing his father-in-law Moses ben Daniel’s works on the Torah as Melekhet ha-Kodesh in 1803.2
Meknes The distinguished history of Meknes’s Jewish community dates to the reign of Sultan Mawlay Isma’il, who made Meknes his capital in 1675. As part of a huge construction project to expand the city, a Jewish quarter was constructed in 1679, becoming the third mellah in Morocco after Fez and Marrakesh.3 Meknes became known for its many eminent Jewish scholars and religious leaders, including those of the Toledano dynasty. David ben Hassin, the most famous writer of liturgical poetry in 18th century Morocco, was born in Meknes.4 The early twentieth century saw another era of prosperity for Meknes’s Jews, who numbered 10,855 according to a 1936 census.5 In 1912, the first year of the French occupation, Rabbi Ze’ev Wolf Halperin came to Meknes from Britain and founded an advanced yeshiva for rabbinic training, as well as another for laymen. In the 1920s, a new mellah was constructed next to the old one, including several synagogues and a large Orthodox school that had a student body of twelve hundred by 1947.6 In the 1960s, migration to Casablanca, Morocco’s economic capital, or out of the country entirely reduced Meknes’s Jewish population from between fifteen and eighteen thousand to less than eleven thousand. The numbers dropped precipitously over the next two decades: less than two hundred people lived in the mellah in the 1980s, although three synagogues continued to operate. As of 2007, the Jewish population of Meknes was between 125 and 250 people.7