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History of the Jews in Tunisia

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The history of the Jews in Tunisia extended nearly two thousand years and goes back to the Punic era. The Jewish community in Tunisia is no doubt older and grew up following successive waves of immigration and proselytism before its development was hampered by anti-Jewish measures in the Byzantine Empire. The community formerly used its own dialect of Arabic. After the Muslim conquest of Tunisia, Tunisian Judaism went through periods of relative freedom or even cultural apogee to times of more marked discrimination. The arrival of Jews expelled from the Iberian peninsula, often through Livorno, greatly altered the country. Its economic, social and cultural situation has improved markedly with the advent of the French protectorate before being compromised during the Second World War, with the occupation of the country by the Axis.[1] The creation of Israel in 1948 provoked a widespread anti-Zionist reaction in the Arab world, to which was added nationalist agitation, nationalization of enterprises, Arabization of education and part of the administration. Jews left Tunisia en masse from the 1950s onwards because of the problems raised and the hostile climate created by the Bizerte crisis in 1961 and the Six-Day War in 1967.[2] The Jewish population of Tunisia, estimated at about 105,000 individuals in 1948, numbered around 1,000 individuals as of 2019.[3][4][5] These Jews lived mainly in Tunis, with communities present in Djerba.

The location of Tunisia in Africa
Jews of Tunis, c.1900
Jewish couple in Tunisia, c.1900

The Jewish diaspora of Tunisia[6] is divided between Israel and France,[7] where it has preserved its community identity through its traditions, mostly dependent on Sephardic law and customs, but retaining its own specific characteristics. Djerbian Judaism in particular, considered to be more faithful to tradition because it remained outside the sphere of influence of the modernist currents, plays a dominant role. The vast majority of Tunisian Jews have relocated to Israel and have switched to using Hebrew as their home language. Tunisian Jews living in France typically use French as their first language, while the few still left in Tunisia tend to use either French or Judeo-Tunisian Arabic in their everyday lives.[8]