By Dr. Yigal Bin-Nun
Mimouna, the holiday of the Moroccan Jews, is a family celebration but also a happening that attracts a large number of politicians - a combination that has assured its legitimacy in Israel. The most common explanation for the origin of the holiday has to do with its name, which people try to anchor in a Jewish religious context. In Israel, the Mimouna has been linked to the birthday of Rabbi Maimon, the father of Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), or portrayed as a festival of emuna (faith), because of the phonetic similarity between the words. Of course, there is a connection to redemption and the Exodus from Egypt because the holiday falls on the day after Passover ends. But, in fact, all these explanations are mistaken.
The Mimouna table offers a hint of the holiday's true origins. It is not set for a family dinner, as usual, but displays an array of symbols that are basically variations on a theme. On this table you will not find typical Moroccan cuisine. It is laden neither with meat dishes nor an assortment of salads. Instead, it is laid out with items, each of which is symbolic in some way: a live fish swimming in a bowl of water, five green fava beans wrapped in dough, five dates, five gold bracelets in a pastry bowl, dough pitted with five deep fingerprints, five silver coins, five pieces of gold or silver jewelry, a palm-shaped amulet, sweetmeats, milk and butter, white flour, yeast, honey, a variety of jams, a lump of sugar, stalks of wheat, plants, fig leaves, wildflowers and greens. All are symbols of bounty, fertility, luck, blessings and joy. The traditional holiday greeting fits right in: "Tarbakhu u-tsa'adu" - meaning, "May you have success and good luck."
Why is the table set this way? The answer can be found in the name of the holiday and in the songs traditionally sung on the day. The Arabic word mimoun means luck or good fortune. At the Mimouna celebrations, songs are sung in honor of "Lady Luck." One of them is "Lala mimouna/ mbarka masuda," which means "Lady Mimouna/lucky and blessed." Lady Luck is being feted with a table laden with goodies symbolizing abundance, health, success and good fortune.
A table set out in honor of Lady Luck will not be unfamiliar to anyone who has explored folk customs and traditions over the ages. The prophet Isaiah already mentions one: "But as for you who forsake the Lord / Who ignore My holy mountain, Who set a table for Luck / And fill a mixing bowl for Destiny ..." (Isaiah 65:11). The verse in Hebrew is "Ve'atem-ha'orkhim le'gad shulkhan." This "Gad" is none other than the Babylonian deity, Ba'al-Gad, the god of good fortune. A table is set to appease him.
The prophets of Israel denounced this custom, as they did many other superstitions of the day. The rabbis of the Talmud decried it, too: "Veha'orekh lefaneha (lifnay hayoledet) shulkhan haray zeh meedarkhay ha'emori" (Tosefta Shabbat: 7). One must not "set a table" for a woman after childbirth, they said. This is the way of the Amorites, that is, it's a pagan custom.
In the 15th century, we find written references to a demon named Mimoun, husband to a she-devil named Mimouna. "Claviculae Salomonis," a handbook of magic composed in Spain, probably before the 15th century, mentions a demon, king or god called the "black Mimoun from the Occident." The Occident is North Africa - specifically Morocco. Mimoun and his female partner appear in numerous manuscripts from the 16th century onward.
But when did the Jews of Morocco start setting tables for them on the day after Passover? The answer may be found in the journals of Jewish travelers. An Italian Jew by the name of Samuel Romanelli, who visited Morocco at the end of the 18th century, witnessed the practice and theorized where it came from: "After dark, as Passover ends, a table is set out with baked goods and people visit one another. Guests eat their fill and bestow blessings on their host. What is the origin of this custom? Perhaps it is connected to the practice of setting a table for Gad." Romanelli easily made the association between the Mimouna and this biblical-era custom.
Benjamin II, the pen-name of a Jewish traveler who visited Morocco around 1852, mentions the night of al-Mimoun. In 1772, two other travelers, Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (the Hida), and Elkana Bar Yeruham, write that "Isru-chag" - the day after Passover - was considered a vulnerable time, and it was customary to have a feast in order to ward off the Evil Eye. Hence the need to appease the demons of chance, Mimoun and Mimouna, on this particular day.
The roots of the Mimouna holiday can also be traced to the rituals of the Gnawa, a mystic sect in Morocco whose music influenced many musicians in the West. The Gnawa conduct ceremonies once a year that start with a parade and end in ecstatic dancing. Their songs are addressed to the goddess Mimouna and her partner, Sidi Mimoun. Among the Gnawa, too, the appeal to Lady Luck is an attempt to mollify her.
One of their songs goes something like this: "Here she comes, Lady Mimouna / Here she comes, Lady Fortuna / Bringing joy to all and sundry / With her bounty / We never go hungry / Candies, cakes and drinks galore / Pleasure and gladness lie in store/ Mimouna, beloved / Your sun cures our ills / Shining down upon the hills / Lovely, grinning ear to ear / Visit us, Mimouna, every year."
Notwithstanding the vast differences between Moroccan Jewry and the Gnawa, the figure of Lady Luck was adopted by the Jews. On the other hand, Sidi Mimoun, whose name cropped up in amulets, kabbalistic texts and incantations, gradually disappeared, leaving only his female partner behind.
Another Mimouna custom in the Moroccan Jewish community involved wading into a body of water. In Casablanca, the custom was called "bu haras." The person walked into the water, turned around to face the shore, took pebbles out of his pocket, and tossed them behind his back. Then he recited this verse: "Sir a bu haras, sir a der, siru la'alay" ("Go away, troublemaker; go away, pain; go away, evil spirits"). This ritual of using water to wash away evil is similar to the Ashkenazi Jewish custom of tashlikh, in which one throws crumbs into a body of water to symbolically cleanse oneself of sin. Tashlich was not practiced before the 15th century. The verse recited during the ritual is from the book of Micah: "You will hurl all our sins / Into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19).
The Moroccan Jewish Mimouna was thus a feast day designed to appease a local she-devil, and contained no religious components. In Israel, however, its pagan origins have been ignored. The same is true of the tashlich ceremony. Over the years, both have undergone a process of religious legitimization.
Having said that, there is nothing to keep future generations from investing old holidays with new-old meaning. Particularly worthy of note is that over the generations, Mimouna eve became a night for young people and lovers, as well as a symbol of Jewish-Muslim solidarity. Because the Jews could not keep chametz (leaven) in their homes during the Passover holiday, it was customary to give all their flour, yeast and grain to their Muslim neighbors. These are components that can add to the holiday's attraction, without ignoring its demonological origins.
Yigal Bin-Nun teaches history at the Universite Paris VIII.
Great article. Does anyone know whether there is any connection between the Biblical Mammon and Mimoun?hala GPP MI
The good professor might have some accademic credentials to rely on, but he has also rely on a very exhuberant and a speculator traveller by the name of Samuel Romanelli, who multiple researchers found him unrealuable, and too prejudices; as it is still to-day in some quarters of Jewish people.
Let me just remind the good Prof. that among other goods that the Moroccan are very much ruffing about :the sweets; Moflettas (the Grand Mother of Crepes).
In the autobiographic book Albert Camus did`nt achieve but was issued by his old teacher; Albert, whose ancestry was Hyberic, Spanish, was reminded of the "Sweet gateau, La Mimouna; brought by his Spanish grand mother to Algeria.
Sure, the Jews of Marocco have a lot in common with the Ancient Aborigines: the Berber who shared with them lot of social-religious believes.
Basecally, many Berber Tribes-Grouping did convert to Judaism in the early first centuries, thus the Legend of Kahena, and brought wioth them som remnant of their Paganism; such as Christians and Muslims, trhoughout none Arab Lands, especially the very independant Berberes-Kabyles.
The Articl has some merit in the sense that finally someone is trying to research the very rich Culture of the Jews from the "Maghreb-Occident" Morocco; it is a very multi-faceted civilisation throughout its epopee.Benlolo Overlooked!!
Moroccan Jewry has a very rich history and more people should learn about the community who once was half a million in Morocco and is now perhaps less than 100.
For all those Moroccan Jews and others interested in learning about the community and seeing photos go to http://www.dafina.net/. Moroccan Jewry Obadia Jerusalem
Very interesting. I was not at all aware of that, I thought theri was biblical injunction to celebrate the last day of passover.Did i read it wrong?? Any I loved going to Mimouna and its a great custom. Danite
The article reminds me of the last night of passover in my country Iran. my mother use to have a table with almost the same settings ,
people were visiting each other and musician were stopping in different houses to play.
This night was suppose to be a happy one in order to make the rest of the year lucky and happy. Mordecai ,Boston
Mimouna was a big festival in Morocco after passover which remind me of the freedom to celebrate a holiday without fear or hindrance from the authority, except when we started to leave for our home land, the Holy Land, Israel, as we used to say next year in Jerusalem, the Moroccans didn`t like us anymore. Simon ,San Diego
Dear Simon, Dont u think they were right. Becaz u lived all ur life there for many generation and then started to like iserel more than ur mother country. I have honour for saudi arab as my religion began there but for me my country India is most important and I`m not going to leave it for any other country. asad, Delhi
You won`t get to arab lands because you were never expelled from your country, tourtored, robbed, killed in any way due to your believes and customs. Israel was, is and will be the land for jews. Never again will be a jew in the world persecuted for beeing jewish without a land to protect him. Think about it, maybe some day you get it.... Marcelo, Frankfurt
Jew-Muslim dialogue deeper than it seems
Once every year, we Jews gather around the seder table to recount the Passover story, but one narrative has not found its way into the Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewry) canon.
This past Tuesday, the eighth and final day of Passover, the Middle East Dialogue Group celebrated a festival with some 70 people interested in exploring the long-overlooked Moroccan Jewish Mimouna tradition.
According to Yigal Bin-Nun's April 7 article "Lady Luck" (from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz), the word "Mimouna" expresses its theological origins. It is normally depicted as a holiday of faith because of its similarity to the Hebrew word "emuna," or faith. It is linked to revolutionary rabbi and physician Maimonides because the celebration falls on his father Rabbi Maimon's birthday. It continues the Passover themes of slavery and redemption in the Hebrews' frightful Exodus from Egypt to the land of Canaan.
Before most of Morocco's Jews immigrated to Israel, France or North America, Mimouna typified a time of coexistence between Jews and Muslims. During the week of Passover, "chamatz" (leavened bread) is forbidden for Jews, so they tended to give all bread products to the Muslims, who, at the end of the week, reciprocated the gesture with a feast. Jews and Muslims filled the streets mingling with one another. They sang, they danced, and of course, they ate. Yet, when I studied abroad in Morocco this past semester, I found this glorious tradition and its message in hard times.
Before the creation of the state of Israel and the ensuing complications of identity, "Jews celebrated this holiday with their Arab neighbors because they were Arab," said Shir Harel, MEDG vice president .
While some of Mimouna's traditional foods were noticeably absent at the event - such as the sweet, sticky crepe-like pancake called "mufletta" - table decorations captured the bounty and joy that characterize the holiday: three goldfish swimming in a bowl and those chocolate gold coins known as "gelt". The latter symbolizes all the Egyptians' jewels that washed ashore after the Red Sea crashed down upon them.
The evening started off with hors d'oeuvres and an introduction by MEDG president Jordan Dunn, followed by a presentation from participants in the Jewish-Muslim New Orleans spring break trip. Next, MEDG officers acted in a skit called "The Jewish Mother and the Creation of Mimouna," which portrayed Moroccans' overall commonality through the fictional plot of a Jew seeking to wed a Muslim.
The highlight of the evening came with the three-piece band accompanying a belly dancer. Two guitar-like instruments called "ouds" and a "dumbek", a type of drum, flirted along a melodic waltz as the dancer wielded an azure scarf that sang where her hips left off - a truly sublime energy radiated throughout the room.
"Music is an international language - it's a way to communicate emotions," said Matt Kilmer, the band's percussionist. How so?
"You deal with vibrations in music. Sound is at its core. Through these vibrations - and positive thought - you transform people."
So far, we have witnessed the all-encompassing nature of love in food and song, but there was another way I have yet to mention. The evening's final segment concluded with an excerpt from Shalom Sahbity ("Peace, my friend"), a performance by NYU students Catherine Hannah and Simnia Singer-Sayada, who use art to explore identity and culture. The former, a Jew of Tunisian and American descent, the latter an Egyptian Coptic, they spoke in a smorgasbord of English, Hebrew and Arabic, describing their families and upbringing in order to travel beyond the realm of "religion and the ambiguous tracking of blood."
After the performances, I spoke with Harel, an Israeli, who acknowledged that Mimouna is slowly gaining recognition in Israel. "We wanted to bring forth this unknown and marginalized tradition to campus, where Jewish culture tends toward the Ashkenazi-centric with the emphasis on Yiddish and gefilte fish," the Gallatin senior continued.
But an Israeli audience member explained, "In Israel the emphasis of the holiday's relations between Muslims and Jews are pushed away because of the conflict. People prefer not to associate with Muslims."
That is why the MEDG brought together Jew and Muslim, secular and religious. Proceeds raised by the organization go toward the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which confronts rising environmental challenges in Israel through cooperation between Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian college students.
Further self-segregation, not only in Israel, causes people to reinforce - rather than challenge - perceptions of others grounded in the pages of "history." The truth is, the Jewish-Muslim narrative is a much more nuanced, inspiring story than what popular culture would lead you to believe. This knowledge might inspire us Jews into a more compassionate vision for when we say, "Next year in Jerusalem."
Aaron Greenblatt perplexes himself biweekly in his column. Send him your enlightenment at email@example.com.
Washington Square News
A TABLE SET FOR LADY LUCK
Lady Luck, by Yigal Bin-Nun, 9 Apr 2007
The Mimouna table offers a hint of the holiday's true origins. It isnot set for a family dinner, as usual, but displays an array ofsymbols that are basically variations on a theme. On this table youwill not find typical Moroccan cuisine. It is laden neither with meatdishes nor an assortment of salads. Instead, it is laid out withitems, each of which is symbolic in some way: a live fish swimming ina bowl of water, five green fava beans wrapped in dough, five dates,five gold bracelets in a pastry bowl, dough pitted with five deepfingerprints, five silver coins, five pieces of gold or silverjewelry, a palm-shaped amulet, sweetmeats, milk and butter, whiteflour, yeast, honey, a variety of jams, a lump of sugar, stalks ofwheat, plants, fig leaves, wildflowers and greens. All are symbols ofbounty, fertility, luck, blessings and joy. The traditional holidaygreeting fits right in: "Tarbakhu u-tsa'adu" - meaning, "May you havesuccess and good luck."Why is the table set this way? The answer can be found in the name ofthe holiday and in the songs traditionally sung on the day. The Arabicword mimoun means luck or good fortune. At the Mimouna celebrations,songs are sung in honor of "Lady Luck." One of them is "Lala mimouna/mbarka masuda," which means "Lady Mimouna/lucky and blessed." LadyLuck is being feted with a table laden with goodies symbolizingabundance, health, success and good fortune.A table set out in honor of Lady Luck will not be unfamiliar to anyonewho has explored folk customs and traditions over the ages. Theprophet Isaiah already mentions one: "But as for you who forsake theLord / Who ignore My holy mountain, Who set a table for Luck / Andfill a mixing bowl for Destiny ..." (Isaiah 65:11). The verse inHebrew is "Ve'atem-ha'orkhim le'gad shulkhan." This "Gad" is noneother than the Babylonian deity, Ba'al-Gad, the god of good fortune. Atable is set to appease him.The prophets of Israel denounced this custom, as they did many othersuperstitions of the day. The rabbis of the Talmud decried it, too:"Veha'orekh lefaneha (lifnay hayoledet) shulkhan haray zeh meedarkhayha'emori" (Tosefta Shabbat: 7). One must not "set a table" for a womanafter childbirth, they said. This is the way of the Amorites, that is,it's a pagan custom.[snip]
Mimuna, a deusa da sorteData: Segunda-feira, 09 de abril de 2007
Na semana de Pessah, os judeus de Marrocos celebram uma festa destinada a atrair sobre eles a boa sorte e afastar o mau olhado.
A mesa dessa noite, não é posta como para uma refeição familiar, como nas noites do seder de Pessah, nem figuram nela os tradicionais cozinhados da famosa cozinha marroquina, as carnes e as mais variadas saladas.
Nesta noite a mesa é uma autêntica exposição de símbolos de sorte: o peixe numa bacia com água, cinco vagens de favas em massa de bolo, cinco tâmaras, cinco pulseiras de ouro, numa bacia com massa em que se imprimiram as marcas de cinco dedos, cinco moedas de prata, cinco jóias de ouro, uma jóia em forma de mão, e depois muitos doces, feitos com leite e manteiga, farinha branca, levedura, mel, diversos tipos de doces de frutas, um bloco de açúcar, espigas de trigo, plantas verdes, folhas de figueira, flores e ervas do campo.
Reproduzo esta variegada e pitoresca lista de um artigo do investigador Yigal Bin-Nun, no diário «Haaretz», de 8 de Abril de 2007.
Bin-Nun chama a atenção para o facto de todos estes componentes simbolizarem abundância, fertilidade, boa sorte, bênção e felicidade.
Mais do que posta, a mesa está exposta, para que se sirvam à vontade as visitas, os parentes, os vizinhos e os amigos.
As portas estão abertas, e toda a gente visita toda a gente. Mesmo os vizinhos muçulmanos vão fazer a ronda das casas dos amigos judeus, desejar-lhes boa sorte e festejar com eles o fim da desta de Pessah, que simbolizou a saída dos judeus do Egipto, da escravidão para a liberdade.
A saudação tradicional da noite é: "Tirbehu ve-Tis'adu", que significam: "êxito e Boa Sorte".
A julgar pelas descrições dos viajantes judeus, que passaram por Marrocos, no passado, a celebração da Mimuna teve início em séculos recentes e provavelmente representa uma continuação das tradições locais, destinadas a afastar o mau olhado e atrair a boa sorte.
Tem havido diversas tentativas para explicar o nome "Mimuna". A mais comum é atribuir a celebração ao pai do filósofo Rambam, Moshé Ben Mimon.
Investigadores recentes dizem que Mimun e Mimuna eram os nomes dos deuses locais da sorte, masculino e feminino, em honra dos quais se compunha a riquíssima e farta mesa, e se expunham os símbolos da abundância, fertilidade e boa sorte .