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Wednesday
Feb242016

1952: The Chabad Empire in Morocco

The JDC sent a representative to spend a month in Morocco, visiting every village and city where Chabad had schools * The Shluchim have “devotion and self-sacrifice unmatched by any other organization” * Rabbi Michoel Lipsker’s discussions in the Police station * Rabbi Shlomo Matusof’s trips on donkeys * Chabad Policy: “No Boy is Refused” * What was the Rebbe’s view on the JDC recommendations? * Part Six

The previous installment discussed view of certain American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) operatives that Chabad education is from the dark ages, and has to be enlightened, and the need for inspection of the Chabad schools before further money is given to Chabad.

From November 14th 1952 until December 11th 1952, a JDC representative spent his days and weeks travelling across Morocco visiting tens of Chabad schools and Yeshivos, and getting a good view of what is happening.

A 20-page report, titled “Report on Lubavitz Educational Activities in Morocco” followed, which included many accolades about the Chabad Shluchim, and their educational system, while pointing out some faults, and how the JDC can help Chabad fix them. We present selections of this report, divided into sections.

These fascinating documents are part of the JDC Archives (which were digitized and uploaded online, thanks to a grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE).

“Devotion and Self-Sacrifice unmatched by any other organization”

The first page of the report opens with the following introduction:

…On this journey we visited many villages going all the way to the last outpost before the Sahara desert and across the Atlas Mountains to Marakesh. Some of the villages have never been visited before by our office in Morocco. To some of these villages Rabbi Matusof has been only once before. I also spent two days with the Lubavitz Yeshivah in Meknes and examined the children in the classes.

It should be said at the very outset that the Lubavitz representatives in Morocco work with a devotion and self-sacrifice unmatched by any other organization. Rabbi Lipsker and Rabbi Matusof sacrifice themselves and their families for the ideal they wish to serve. Rabbi Matusof travels regularly from town to town and from village to village on local buses, occasionally on donkeys, inspecting their Hadarim and trying to improve their work…

There are two factors which aided the Lubavitzer to spread widely throughout Morocco. In the first place there is a genuine need and a strong desire by some Jews, especially in the villages, to provide for their children a strictly religious education in Holy writ and practice. This need is felt in Casablanca and in the provinces… The Lubavitz people have therefore found a real desire for Hadarim, for Rabbis, for Hebrew and religious education even in places where there are Alliance or Franco-Israeli schools.

On the other hand there was no other organization taking care of the villages… The Lubavitz representative on the other hand spends much time travelling among the smaller communities. It was easy therefore for him to set up Hadarim…

The Lubavitz people in common with a small but vociferous section in Morocco believe that the Alliance is destroying the last spark of Judaism among the Jewish children. All the evils, all the shortcomings in Jewish religious education are blamed on the Alliance by this group. Especially do the Jews in the villages think so. Consequently it becomes a matter of saving Jewish souls from apostasy, and the fight against the irreligion of the Alliance is a holy task which ties the Lubavitzer to some local Jews.

To all these factors one must add the wish of the late Lubavitzer Rabbi in New York who suggested that the Lubavitzer Hassidim work in Morocco. This wish of the late Rabbi is the moving factor of all the Lubavitzer activities in Morocco.

With the above points as a background let us have a look at some of the Lubavitz schools we visited…

The Wish, The Police
Station & The Visa

After describing the work in Casablanca, where Rabbi Shlomo Matusof served as the director of the schools, the author describes the Chabad work in Meknes, where the first Shliach to Morocco, Rabbi Michoel Lipsker served as Shliach:

During the week before the late Lubavitz Rabbi passed away from this world he expressed a wish that Rabbi Michael Lipsker go to Africa to teach the Jews Hassidism and Torah. After a thorough discussion of the word Africa it transpired that the Rabbi must have meant Morocco and no other place. Thereupon Rabbi Lipsker without any knowledge of French, knowing no one in Morocco, went to the Police station and explained that he must leave immediately for Morocco and requested a visa. The police explained to him the regulations. He required a certificate from someone in Morocco. By chance the name of Rabbi Baruch Toledano of Meknes was given to him. And so it came about that Rabbi Lipsker founded a Yeshivah in Meknes. At first without a family and now with his family he works day and night for the Yeshivah. Rabbi Lipsker was always a business man, has never conducted a school or a Yeshivah. But he gives all his time and his energy to set up a Yeshivah that should do honor to the late Rabbi whose name is inscribed of the Yeshiva door. Against much opposition, in spite of serious obstacles Rabbi Lipsker has set up his Yeshiva. It is to his credit that the Meknes community, which at first opposed his activities and even wanted to put him out of Meknes, today praises him warmly and contributes a token gift of Fr. 20,000 monthly to the Yeshiva…

Over one hundred boys learn in the Yeshiva, divided into a Yeshiva K’tana and Yeshiva Gedola. The Yeshiva K’tana has three classes for complete beginners who are learning to read, recite prayers, slowly passing on to Bible and commentaries until they reach Gemarah, whereupon they pass to the Yeshiva Gedolah where the stress is on Gemarah, Hassidic philosophy, laws and higher studies which should culminate in the student becoming a Shochet and/or a teacher or a businessman and a devoted Lubavitzer Hassid…

“No Boy is Refused”

A description of the Meknes Yeshiva “acceptance policy” and the goals in education

A boy will often arrive without any previous information… Boys have come whenever they wanted, whenever their parents could not feed them or whenever they saw a brother, a cousin or a friend leaving for the Yeshivah they joined them and came along. No boy is refused. The Yeshiva has thus become a shelter, a place of refuge for poor unwanted village boys. I have seen one boy arrive whilst I was there. He had no decent garment on him. Dressed in a torn Jilabah be came into the Yeshivah, kissed the Rabbi’s hand and felt himself enrolled. The Rabbi sends the boys to the bath and, if he can, gives them some clothing…

The Yeshivah has not yet decided what it wants to do for its young charges except to make them G-d fearing Hassidim. No wonder therefore that the program does not lead to any goal. Since boys are taken in whatever numbers they come and without regard for their abilities or propensity, the Yeshivah is overcrowded and the standard varies from boy to boy. It is hoped that Shochtim and teachers will emerge in addition to the shrewd businessmen who will also be Lubavitzer Hassidim. Meanwhile, however, the program is to teach Torah in whatever way possible and with whatever teacher available.

No French is taught at all. The Yeshiva student is at the very outset deprived of any means of breaking out of the Ghetto life to earn a living in the world outside the Mellah…

This is the most important Lubavitz institution In Morocco. There is a need and room for a good Yeshivah… I shall give my recommendations at the end of the report…

The next few pages of the report deal with Chabad schools in villages where there was no Shliach, but Chabad sponsored a local Rabbi to serve as a teacher. The report covers Sefrou (540 Students), Boulmane (“about 30 Jewish families live in this village”), Midlet, Rich (“on the road to the Sahara”), Ksar-es-Souk, Erfoud, Risani, Tinerhir (“across the Atlas mountains to Marrakech”), Marrakech, Sidi-Rahal, Oued Zem, Tidlat, Settat.

Better Chabad Schools:
Role Models For The Country

After 16-pages, the author presents four pages which include a summary of his trip, and his suggestions to upgrade the Chabad educational system. Hoping that Chabad can create two great institutions which will serve as the “role model” for the Jewish communities in Morocco:

I have spent almost two weeks on the road visiting Lubavitzer schools in Morocco. I have seen or passed almost thirty schools and Hadarim. There is no Heder of any significance left that I have not seen together with Rabbi Matusof. I have spent two days in the Meknes Yeshivah.

There is undoubtedly a need for a religious educational organization in Morocco…

The following suggestions are meant to redirect their expenditures into a more limited field but more effective education.

We should perhaps supply their Yeshivah with all the food and the clothing and improve the physical set up. The Lubavitzer should use all their funds for training teachers, pay higher salaries and employ some good secular teachers in their Yeshiva and in the Bet Rivka.

I suggest the following changes:

1) The Casablanca Yeshiva and the Meknes Yeshivah have together 165 boys. These boys are from villages from all over Morocco. Not all of them are suitable for studying in a Yeshivah. Not all of them will stay long in the Yeshiva. The Lubavitzer should unite both Yeshivoth. This will save expenditure and combine teaching personnel, eliminating the unsuitable teachers.

2) Select the suitable students and reject the others. The Lubavitzer in their zeal have turned their institutions into asylum centers for wandering, unwanted, superfluous boys. The most varied collection of boys is found in the Yeshivoth. Each student should be examined before being accepted to ascertain if he is suitable for a Yeshivah. The number of students should be reduced to fit the budget.

3) Arrange a program in the Yeshivoth to lead the student to a definite goal, be it Shechita, Rabbanut, teaching or any other profession. The Moroccan boy gets married at twenty. By that age be must be qualified to fend for himself.

4) Arrange in combination with ORT professional training for those students who cannot or will not become religious functionaries. It is important not to lead the boys into a blind alley.

5) It is absolutely essential that the boys learn to read and write French. If it is against the principles of the Lubavitzer to waste time during the day on French tuition, they can arrange evening courses. A young boy should not be deprived of such an important equipment for his life. Even in the smallest village a knowledge of French raises the status not only of the particular Rabbi vis-à-vis the authorities but also enhances the status of the whole Jewish community. I understand that the Lubavitzer reject In principle teaching French in their institutions…

7} It is in the interest of the Lubavitzer to set up one or two institutions that should be a model for similar institutions in Morocco and show what can be achieved by them. The Casablanca Yeshiva should be turned into a girls’ school with a full program for French. It should serve for those girls that cannot and do not find a place in the Alliance school. The girls’ school organized on religious lines should become a model for other communities to emulate. The girls’ religious and Hebrew education is very much neglected in Morocco. There is need to give a lead in this work and by setting up such an institution the Lubavitzer can show a worthwhile example which I am sure will be copied…

After presenting more ideas for the “Chadorim” in the villages, and plans for teachers, he concludes his report with the following statement:

The Lubavitzer are spending about 1½ million francs monthly in Morocco. By shrinking their activities, by concentrating on depth, program, planning instead of saving lost souls they can contribute an important share to the religious education In Morocco.

This report propelled the JDC to fully partner with Chabad, repair the infrastructure and expand the flagship Chabad institutions. However, the Limudei Chol issue would continue to be a thorny issue between Chabad and the JDC until 1956, when an agreement was reached between Chabad and the JDC regarding this matter.

The Rebbe’s Middle-Ground Approach

In a letter written to the Rebbe’s Shliach to Morocco, Rabbi Shlomo Matusof, on Shvat 25, 5713, shortly after the above-mentioned report was penned, the Rebbe takes the middle-road approach, between the work in the villages and the importance of training teachers (Translated from Hebrew):

3) Regarding what you write regarding the work in the villages and the big cities etc. My opinion always was, that although it is important to work in the villages because you are simply saving the people from assimilation, still and all it is very important to train local teachers and counselors from Morocco, who will be also connected to, and with the spirit of, Lubavitch, until they will inspire others, and at most – they will only need refreshers from time to time…

65 Schools, 2,783 Students, 86 Teachers

At the end of 1952, Rabbi Shlomo Matusof, the Rebbe’s Shliach to Casablanca, composed a detailed budget of the Chabad educational system, listing the schools in every village, the amount of students, and the price it costs to run. This short “budget” shows the staggering amount of growth that Chabad had during the first years in Morocco.

The next few years had back-and-forth negotiations about expansion, financial issues, etc. until the late 1950’s when all agreements were put in place, and the relationship flourished.

The next installments will focus on specific topics relating to the Morocco Shlichus rather than general policy topics. Next installment will discuss Mivtza Mezuzah & Mivtzah Tefillin in the early 1950’s! which began as a Moroccan idea sponsored by the JDC.

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