Morocco's Jewish Joan of Arc.


Reprinted with permission from the Diarna Project.

At the center of the carefully maintained Jewish cemetery of Fez, Morocco resides a small domed shrine capped with a colorful crown. Inside the tomb are the remains of a young woman’s head. This head once belonged to Soulika, a beautiful Jewish teenager who was executed by the king of Fez in the early 19th century. Killed because she refused to give up her Jewish identity, the stories of her life and death have inspired music, artwork, religious traditions, and films. She is the Moroccan Jewish equivalent of France’s Joan of Arc. Soulika defended her values and was unfailingly loyal to her people, and like Joan of Arc, she was executed for her beliefs by the reigning authorities. Soulika’s tale has become the stuff of a long folkloric tradition.

Soulika’s Story

Lalla Sol Ha-Tsaddiqah–known informally as Soulika–was born in 1817 in Tangier, a city on Morocco’s northern coast. Many legends surround her tragic fate. By all accounts, she was an exceptionally beautiful, pious, and modest young woman. According to one popular version of the story, her perilous beauty caught the unwanted attention of the king in Fez. He demanded to take her away from her family and insisted she convert to Islam so that he could legally marry her.

As courageous as she was attractive, Soulika refused. Enraged, the king ordered her decapitation. After her head was severed, the king displayed it on a high wall in Fez for all to see, and to teach a lesson to Jewish women in particular. Soulika’s story combines martyrdom and romance, and it highlights the danger of being a Jewish woman in a world where it was possible at any moment to be snatched away from one’s community and family in order to satisfy the whims of a monarch.

Scholars debate the details of the story, which at this point will probably remain forever in doubt. They generally agree, however, on the truth of the basics of the story, and recognize that her legend has taken on a life all its own, worthy of studying as a recurring motif in Moroccan culture.  

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Alma Rachel Heckman, a recent graduate of Wellesley College fluent in Arabic and French, is currently a Fulbright Scholar in Morocco, conducting research for the Diarna Project and working with Casablanca’s Jewish Museum.

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