The Mer­chants of Oran: A Jew­ish Port at the Dawn of Empire

Joshua Schreier
  • From the Publisher
January 2, 2018

The Mer­chants of Oran weaves togeth­er the his­to­ry of a Mediter­ranean port city with the lives of Oran’s Jew­ish mer­can­tile elite dur­ing the tran­si­tion to French colo­nial rule. Through the life of Jacob Las­ry and oth­er influ­en­tial Jew­ish mer­chants, Joshua Schreier tells the sto­ry of how this diverse and fierce­ly divid­ed group both respond­ed to, and in turn influ­enced, French colo­nial­ism in Algeria.

Jacob Las­ry and his cohort estab­lished them­selves in Oran in the decades after the Regency of Algiers dis­lodged the Span­ish in 1792, dur­ing a peri­od of rel­a­tive tol­er­ance and eco­nom­ic pros­per­i­ty. In new­ly-Mus­lim Oran, Jew­ish mer­chants found oppor­tu­ni­ties to ply their trades, deal­ing in both imports and exports. On the eve of France’s long and bru­tal inva­sion of Alge­ria, Oran owed much of its com­mer­cial vital­i­ty to the suc­cess of these Jew­ish merchants.

Under French occu­pa­tion, the mer­chants of Oran main­tained their com­mer­cial, polit­i­cal, and social clout. Yet by the 1840s, French poli­cies began col­laps­ing Oran’s diverse Jew­ish inhab­i­tants into a sin­gle social cat­e­go­ry, legal­ly sep­a­rat­ing Jews from their Mus­lim neigh­bors and cre­at­ing a racial hier­ar­chy. Schreier argues that France’s exclu­sion­ary pol­i­cy of eman­ci­pa­tion,” far more than old­er antipathies, plant­ed the seeds of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry rup­tures between Mus­lims and Jews.

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