Ephemera – Tlemcen, Algeria and Rabbi Ephraim al-Naqawa

Posted by Elayne Grossbard on Wednesday July 1 2009

We use the term ephemera to describe all sorts of works printed or written on paper that had only a temporary usefulness and were never intended to last very long. Our collection contains everything from memorial and devotional plaques to calendars, pictures, synagogue seating plans and donation recorders, all of them collected and sold or donated to the museum at one time or another by curators, donors, volunteers, and members of the community seeking an appropriate home for their treasures and curiosities.

Ephemera offer a window into all sorts of interesting corners of the Jewish community – this post introduces us to the Jewish community of Tlemcen, Algeria and its French diaspora.

Rabbi Ephraim al-Naqawa of Tlemcen:

According to legend, Rabbi Ephraim Al-Naqawa of Toledo was the miracle-working founder of the Jewish community in Tlemcen, Morocco, after he fled Spain in 1391. There are numerous versions of this story: he is said to have appeared at the gates of Tlemcen riding a lion and holding a snake that came out of its mouth as a bridle. Other legends describe his miraculous cure of the Tlemcen sultan’s daughter; like Moses, he struck a rock outside the city and water gushed out. Because of these wonders, he gained permission to establish a Jewish community in the town and built a synagogue there.

These legends became associated with various sites around Tlemcen that were then venerated by the Jews in the community – they became the destination for the hiloula (autumn) and ziyara (spring) pilgrimages. Tlemcen Jews who fled to France following the 1962 Algerian revolution built a synagogue in Paris where they continue to celebrate the pilgrimage with prayers, songs, pictures and festive meals – more recently smaller numbers began to make the pilgrimage to Algeria again.

Rabbi Ephraim al-Naqawa

Memorial Plaque for Rabbi Ephraim al-Naqawa (78.4.51)

The Rabbi’s tomb is in the center panel. At the upper left is his marvelous arrival at Tlemcen, and other panels depict the Rabbi’s spring, the entrance to his tomb, and the synagogue.
The scholar Susan Slyomovics who has studied the contemporary Tlemcen community in Paris said that during these celebrations she saw crowds outside the Paris synagogue holding broadsides like the one in our collection – there are variations on them found in other collections as well.

Susan Slyomovics, “The Pilgrimage of Rabbi Ephraim Al-Naqawa, Tlemcen, Algeria,” Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review, Special Issue Vol. 15, No. 2, 1993, pp.84-88.

Susan Slyomovics, “Geographies of Jewish Themes,” The Walled Arab City in Literature, Architecture and History: The Living Medina in the Maghrib, ed. Susan Slomovics (London 2001)

Rafael Patai, Gates to the City (Detroit 1981)

To learn more about the practice of pilgrimages to tombs of righteous rabbis among Sephardic Jews you can read To the Tombs of the Righteous: Pilgrimages in Contemporary Israel (Israel Museum, Jerusalem 1999) and also a recent article in the Forward newspaper: Moroccan Tradition: A Pilgrimage to the Tomb of a ‘Righteous Man’

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Filed under: Collections andHistory

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2 Comments for 'Ephemera – Tlemcen, Algeria and Rabbi Ephraim al-Naqawa'

    July 1, 2009 | 1:52 pm

    I’d like to interview a collector of Jewish ephemera on the ephemera blog. Can you recommend anyone? Please feel free to pass my name along to the appropriate person.

    July 1, 2009 | 2:26 pm

    Ephemera – Tlemcen, Algeria and Rabbi Ephraim al-Naqawa | opensource http://tinyurl.com/l7osp5

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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