Jews of Algeria - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. The traditional kinship system and family organization among Algerian Jews was based on a strong patrilineal and patriarchal pattern. The father headed the family even after the marriage of his children, especially when he had sons. On the surface, wives appeared to be totally subjugated by their husbands, but in reality they had much authority over domestic affairs and the education of children. Professional training was acquired within the family, and occupations were transmitted from father to son—to the eldest son in particular. Fathers encouraged their sons to live in the paternal home after they married. In many small towns, some households consisted of an extended family including the nuclear group of parents and their children, a married son, his spouse, and their children. These patterns changed significantly with the progressive Westernization of the Jews and their integration into the French education system. Emancipation began for women as they received secular education, leading to economic independence. Extended family households shattered as they faced economic difficulties. Fathers slowly lost their authority over the households, and the rule of patrilocal residence began to erode. These developments were particularly marked in large urban communities, among wealthy families who had adopted the French way of life, and after World War II, when Jewish women had almost totally acquired their emancipation and when Jews began to move up the socioeconomic ladder.

Marriage. The traditional marriage system, which existed until about the 1960s, was characterized by the dowry and a strong endogamic rule. These two principles underwent major changes with the Westernization of Algerian Jews and their socioeconomic advancement. As endogamy was not only ethnico-religious but also socioeconomic, wealthy Jews married into wealthy families, and matrimonial selection among the poor was confined to the lowest social categories. In the working-class milieu, the dowry was not required when families had no means to provide it or when parents were eager to expedite their children's marriage, under fear of intermarriage. Also, because potential brides were being educated and entering the labor market, dowries proved to be unnecessary. Similar to other emancipated minorities, Algerian Jewish women, once integrated into French society, tended to postpone marriage until after education and embarking on an occupation. The demographic result of the social emancipation of Algerian Jews was thus a significant decline in fertility rates; another was the increasing rate of intermarriage with Christians (but intermarriage with Muslims remained rare among Algerian Jews).

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