Archaeologists have unearthed in Morocco’s largest and oldest Jewish cemetery in Tetouane the graves of three prominent rabbis from the 17th and 18th centuries, according to a detailed report by The Jewish News Syndicate (JNS).
The 500 years old cemetery was unearthed 60 years after initial writings hinted at the findings.
The tombs of rabbis Jacob Ben Malca, Hasday Almosnino, and Jacob Marrache were excavated. “These were certainly esteemed men,” Jacob Marrache, chair of the London-based, Sephardic genealogy nonprofit Adafina, told JNS.
A drive to unearth the old cemetery has been rekindled as a result of fresh revelations concerning the location of these burials in a town that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Ben Malca, an eminent scholar and esteemed religious judge (dayan), relocated to Tétouan from Fez, about 150 miles to the southeast, in 1734 to take over the position of chief of the religious court.
According to Marrache, Almosnino, a distinguished judge of Jewish law who was born in Tetouan in 1640 and later resided in Gibraltar, also produced some notable written works.
In an effort to restore Tetouan’s Jewish cemetery, which goes by the name “Cementerio de Castilla” in honor of the fact that Jews were first interred there following their expulsion from the Iberian kingdom in 1492, JNS’s interviewee Marrache and his distant cousin Andrew Strum, an Australian judge, have raised more than $3,000 of a goal of nearly $11,000.
“My family left Morocco for Gibraltar in 1758, but like many Jewish families, we kept close contact with Tétouan for many generations, as different communities would look to one another for halachic guidance,” Marrache explained.
Alberto Hayon, head of the Tetouan Jewish community told JNS that his family calls Tetouan “Pequeña Jerusalem” (Little Jerusalem) because of its former significance as a center of Sephardic life,”, the community president, told JNS.
Jewish emblems, such as Stars of David or Trees of Life, are present on many of the tombstones discovered at the discovery site, including those of rabbis.
Marrache clarified that the Magen David star, which only became a significant Jewish emblem in the Habsburg Empire, probably did not have the same meaning as the six-pointed star of today.
On the eves of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is rumored that the community prays at the tombs of the three rabbis. Marrache has “long been aware” of this custom.
Several old writings backed the recent discovery.
“We still do not know which tomb belongs to which rabbi, as, of course, Jewish law forbids the excavation of human remains for scientific testing, but now we certainly know they are there,” concluded Marrache.