Religious life in Djerba is, as it has been for over two millennia, traditional, devoted and serious. There are fifteen active synagogues in Djerba, and most fill every Shabbat and on holidays with tallis-clad men praying in thick Sephardic Hebrew. The synagogues are ornate, Islamic structures, full of stained glass and towering archways, plastered with intricate turquoise tile. In Djerba’s Sephardic tradition the bimah is in the center of each synagogue. Men (only men – women sit outside the synagogue in a waiting hall) gather about the bimah and buzz the prayers in unison from dense Hebrew siddurim. Djerbans are dedicated to their religion and follow Jewish traditions, including kashrut and all of the holidays, devoutly.
Sephardic tradition met North African culture in Tunisia. Djerban Jewry shows this mix in much of its folklore and latent superstitions. Like many other North Africans, Djerban Jews venerate scholars from their community, paying homage to them by peppering their synagogue with photos of the learned, and by making “pilgrimage” to their graves on certain holidays, or on particular days of the year. Each family has its favorite departed sages; when a family member is facing a difficult time s/he may ask the sage for guidance.
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