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Jewish pilgrimage in Morocco #1 : Khalifa Ben Malka, the saint of Agadir’s old cemetery

Every year, Jews gather in Morocco to conclude tomb pilgrimage. One of the tombs visited annually by the Moroccan Jewish community is the one of rabbi Khalifa Ben Malka who lived in the 17th century in Agadir.

The city of Agadir. / Ph. DR
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On the 3rd of Elul, the twelfth month of the Jewish civil year and the sixth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar, the Jews of Morocco and those who live elsewhere visit Agadir. The trip to the Moroccan southern city is an opportunity to visit the tomb of Jewish saint and rabbi Khalifa Ben Malka.  

The story of this tsaddik, a title in Judaism given to people considered righteous, started in Tetouan in 1670, where he was born, as suggested by some historical accounts. Other sources recall that Malka was born in Safi, where he lived for years before deciding to roam the Kingdom.

Historical accounts indicate that Khalifa Ben Malka was an orphan child who grew up with a few family members around him. As a teenager, he was the disciple of Rabbi Joseph Bueno de Mesquita. According to a history blog that traces back the life of the rabbi, Malka used to travel frequently to Fes, where he studied the Torah at rabbinical schools.

The same source recalls that Malka stayed in Fes for two years, approximately between 1695 and 1698 before settling down in Agadir in 1699. Quoting the current Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Moshe Amar, who was also born in Morocco, the same source states that Malka was a prosperous and famous merchant in Agadir.

A righteous rabbi who made ships disappear

In his book «Saint Veneration Among the Jews in Morocco» (Wayne State University Press, 1998), Issachar Ben-Ami recalled that Khalifa Ben Malka was a «very wealthy man». He was the author of two books, namely «Kaf Naqi» and «Qol Rinah».

In addition to his successful business in the coastal city, the Jewish merchant was seen as a «kabbalist», a follower of the ancient Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah, and a «wonderful poet», the same book indicated.

During his life in Agadir, the man who is considered as a saint now, had a miracle that was associated to his name. The historian wrote that «the Jews of Agadir tell how, on Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the year in Judaism), seven ships laden with goods came to him».

Annoyed by that, Malka said : «Lord of creation, the vanities of this world want to distract me from worshipping you! May it be your will that (the ships) all sink!» Miraculously, the seven ships disappeared to appear every year on Yom Kippur only, the legend says.

Despite his good reputation, Malka was an unlucky man. Some of his manuscripts disappeared «accidentally while they were transported by a mule» through Tamri, a small town and rural commune near Agadir.

The same book suggests that his only son «was killed on the day of his wedding», while his wife and one of his daughters died during a plague that hit the city in 1728.

Malka’s sufferings did not end even after his death, the same book recalls. After being buried in Agadir’s old cemetery, the government decided «to transfer his grave». «They delivered a great eulogy in his honor and on that day declared a public fast in Agadir. Over his grave they built a splendid marble shrine», the same source added.

Through the years, the tomb of Khalifa Ben Malka became a pilgrimage for the Jews and the Muslims of the city. His tomb is located in Talborjt, a district in modern Agadir.

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