Illuminated Aleph Bookmark by Jean-Jacques LEVI

Sijilmasa

The BENSIMON family most likely traces its earliest roots from Sijilmasa, south of Tafilalet, at the outskirts of the Sahara in present day Morocco.  A wealthy Jewish community was settled there from the 8th Century C.E. until till the 13th Century. Some information is drawn from a report presented by Colin in Paris 1945, “Des Juifs Nomades Retrouves dans le Sahara Marocain au XVIeme Siecle.” According to some accounts, this area had been known as “the Jewish Kingdom in the Sahara.” 

Wikipedia has the following description of Sijilmasa and its history:

Sijilmasa (or Sijilmassa) was a mediaeval trade centre in the western Maghreb.

Sijilmasa was an oasis town south of Tafilalet, on the northern edge of the Sahara, overlooking the Ziz River. It was established by Sufris in 757. Up until the 11th century, it was, as the exit-point for the western Trans-Sahara trade route, one of the most important trade centres in the Maghreb. Sijilmasa became very wealthy through trade with Ghana, above all through the exchange of luxury items from the Mediterranean for gold.

On account of its wealth, the city was able to assert its independence under the Miknasa tribe as a Karijite Emirate ruled by the Midrarid dynasty, freeing itself from the Abbasid Caliphate as early as 771. In alliance with the Caliphate of Cordoba, it was also able to remain apart from the Fatima’s of Ifiqiya in the 10th century. However, when the Miknasa allied themselves with the Fatimids, they were dislodged by the Berber Maghrawa tribe, who were allied with the Umayyads of Córdoba.

Historians from Middle Tennessee State University have sponsored excavations of Sijilmasa and describe the later history as follows (http://www.mtsu.edu/~sijilmas/history.html):

Arab writers of the first half of the fourteenth century still describe a city at its height. Under the control of the Merinid dynasty, al- Umari says that it is one of the mightiest cities of Morocco, one of the biggest cities of the West and most celebrated in the world...possessed of imposing palaces, high buildings and tall gates. Ibn Battuta, who visited the city toward the middle of the fourteenth century, confirms al- Umari's description. In the late fourteenth century, the political situation deteriorated into squabbling between regional governors and Merinid sultans and among the Merinid hierarchy itself. In a civil war in 1393, the inhabitants killed the governor, destroyed the walls of the city, and moved to the ksour (fortified villages) in the surrounding area.

Excavations by academics associated with Middle Tennessee State University (U.S.A) have yielded the following:

The discovery in April 1992, of 32 gold coins in Aqaba, Jordan, of which 29 were minted in Sijilmasa , is testimony of the role of Sijilmasa as the link between the Islamic and Mediterranean worlds to the sources of gold in West Africa .

Other sources on Sijilmasa include The Jews of Sijilmasa and the Saharan Trade which recounts the following:

The Arab author, Ibn Hawqal, on visiting Sijilmasa in Feb. 951, observed that he “was deeply impressed…[t]he inhabitants are well bred in their action and perfect in their morals and deeds. In their manners they do not share the pettiness of the other people of the Maghrib in their dealings and customs, but act with great frankness…[t]hat half the tax revenues of the Fatimids came from Sijilmasa.”

In addition, we learn about the religious life in Sijilmasa from The Siddur of Rabbi Shelomo ben Nathan of Sijilamasa:

Rabbi Shelomo ben Nathan ( 12the Century ) from Sijilmasa who was “an outstanding scholar possessing a wide knowledge of Halakha and the writings of the Sages of Babylonia, Spain, and North Africa“ wrote the “Siddur” and a commentary (in Arabic) “Perek Kinyan Torah”.

More research on the Jewish Moroccan names originating from this region is needed. Is there any relation between the Miknassa tribe who settled in Sijilmasa since the 8th Century, and the city name of Meknes*? Any information on possible links between, Sijilmasa, Miknassa tribe, Meknes and Bensimon/Bensimhon who settled in Meknes and Fez would be appreciated .

* Based on Wikipedia Encyclopedia, “The original community from which Meknes can be traced was an 8th Century Kasbah, or forteress . A Berber tribe called Maknassa settled there in the 10th Century, and a town consequently grew around the forteress . Meknes saw its golden age as the imperial capital of Moulay Ismail.”(1670’s)


Information on this page due to Gabriel BENSIMON gabyben@zahav.net.il  


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