COHEN-SCALI family

See index for other COHEN families.

Origins of Name

Due to the large number of COHENs, many COHENs in North Africa took an additional family name in order to differentiate themselves from other COHENs. Many COHEN-SCALIs have shortened their name to either COHEN or Scali.

According to Les Noms des Juifs du Maroc by Abraham I. Laredo, Scali comes from Sekelli which means the Sicilian (from Sicily). Many Jews left Sicily for Morocco (especially Debdou) in 1391 following a series of masacres. The remaining Jews were expelled from Sicily on 12 January 1493, one year after explusion fron Spain.

According to another theory [Kountrass, 1990], Scali means Brilliant, that is of "pure ascendance". According to Khalid HASSANI, Skali is the Arabic name of the golden thread of Sicilian origin used in the sewing. (Many Jews in Morocco were tailors.) Designs were cut out of paper, glued onto velour (or leather) and then completely covered with golden thread. Used for religous articles but also for cushions, kaftans, belts, etc.

The numerical value of Scali (Samech 60 + Kof 100 + Lamed 30 + Yod 10 = 200) is the same as Tsadoq (Tzadik 90 + Dalet 4 + Vav 6 + Kof 100 = 200), so some believe the Kohanim of Seville and Debdou descend from the great priest Tsadoq where their ancestors embraided the drapes in the Temple of Solomon.

The arab plural of this name appears deformed in some old Spanish documents as Saquellin.

The first COHEN-SCALIs in North Africa settled in Debdou. The head of the family was David COHEN whose name (rendered in Judeo-Arabe as Douidou) was given to the city.

In 1619 (1640?), the Kohen-Sqalli family emigrated from Debdou to establish themselves in Dar mesh'al from which they were expulsed in 1690 by Sultan Moulay Ismael after which they returned to Debdou. The chronicles on Fez tell of a family originating from the Sevillian community of Debdou. This family inherited a great deal of real estate (homes, fields, vinyards, ...) in Fez in 1752 and decided to remain there permenantly.

Fabrication of gold thread was a thriving industry in Fez. Some of the best artisans lived in Fez. The Jews imported their techniques with them when they immigrated from Spain. According to Yossef MESSAS, this skill was passed from generation to generation by the Kohen-Squalli since the époque of the temple in Jerusalem when the clothing of the high priest was sewn with golden thread.

The family name Sqalli also belongs to Muslum families probably descendants of converted jews.

In 1930, over 700 artisans were employed in the gold thread industry in Fez. This industry required various talents each with its own techniques and apprentissage.

The jews of Fez held a monopoly on metal working within the magreb. The 1947 census counted 114 shop owners and 76 workers employed in the creation of jewelery in Fez.


Daniel E. LOEB, eMail: publisher@pjvoice.com
I read the Philadelphia Jewish Voice