Saints in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Religious Icons in Jewish Morocco

By Oren Kosansky
Submitted to Session P4823 (Imagery in Jewish Morocco, 2017 Annual Meeting
Maghreb Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
As has been well documented from the early modern period onwards, one distinctive aspect of Moroccan Judaism is the centrality of practices, texts, and materials that focus on exemplary religious figures. Emphasizing the putatively similar forms of religious expression across Jewish and Muslim contexts, colonial scholars labeled this Maghrebi phenomenon "saint veneration" and subjected it to wide ranging historical and ethnographic analysis. This presentation investigates one arena of Jewish hagiographic practice: iconography and its ritual entailments. Differing significantly from the Muslim context, iconography has largely escaped the attention of scholarship from the colonial period onwards. This presentation investigates how iconography in Jewish Morocco is a modern religious phenomenon, depending on technologies of mechanical reproduction and responding to the conditions of colonial empire. Rather than marking a clear break from earlier forms of religious subjectivity and practice, however, I argue that mass images of Moroccan Jewish saints became so important so quickly because they were an extension of ongoing patterns of Jewish piety whose expressions permeate liturgical, pietistic, and other forms of religious practice. In tracing this dialectic of change and continuity, I pay particular attention to how iconography emerged, also, as a critical reflection on the colonial and postcolonial contexts in which is has been produced.