THE STORY OF SOLICA HATZADDIKAH
In this article we spell her first name as Solica to correlate with the spelling on her tomb
No matter what the spelling of your Hatchuel name is: from Hatchwell to Hatchuel to Chatwil to Hajwal, the story of Solika HaTzaddikah probably appears in your family lore. The story has reached epic proportions. The tale you were told probably depends on whether it was based on Jewish, Muslim, or Christian sources. Based on her thesis research while at University of Pennsylvania, Sharon Vance recounts in the introductions and first chapter of her book, The Martydom of a Moroccan Jewish Saint, many of the these versions.
The Jews call her Hachuel “Sol HaTzaddikah” (The Righteous Sol). The Arabs call her Lalla Suleika (Holy lady Suleika). There are as many variations to the story of Solica Hatchouel (the spelling on Solica’s gravestone) as there are branches to our family tree, the spelling of our family name, and the spelling of Sol’s name. Different spellings of the name of Solica range from Sol, Solica, Solika, Soulika, Sulika, Suleika to Zoulikha. For the purposes of this story, we will call her Solica.
In the last decade, a number of scholarly works on this topic have begun to appear. These address the folklore aspect of the story, its many variations (see Vance), and the place the story holds as an example of Muslim-Jewish relations in early to mid-19th century Morocco. The tale varies by culture. The Muslim versions are very different from the Jewish versions regarding the narrative of the events leading up to Solica’s arrest and the events that occurred during her imprisonment. The Christian versions stress the role of the European diplomatic corps in trying to save her. There are disagreements as to how her body was treated after death. These tales display the bias of each community toward the “opposing” community.
Many scholars have deemed the story worth studying as a recurring motif in Moroccan culture. Some dwell on the Islamic law at the time and the Jewish communities’ perception, knowledge and/or ignorance of these laws. Newly discovered piyyutim (Rabbinic lyrical poems or hymns) confirm the Jewish view of these events (see Laskier and Lev).
Though many variations of the details of Solica’s story exist, the basic core of the story remains the same. She was a young Jewish woman who refused to give up her religion and, because of that refusal, was put to death. Her legend has taken on a life all its own. Most of what we know of Solica’s story was written four to five years after she was murdered in 1834.
The main version of the story originates with the retelling by a Spaniard who supposedly interviewed her father, brother, and other family members shortly after the event and published a roman a clef, El Martirio de la Joven Hachuel, three years after Solica’s death. This book is lurid in detail, invents conversations, and though it provides a skeleton of events of the story, embellishes considerably. Another important source is by a French Christian traveler called A (or M) Rey who also claims to have interviewed family members, as well as community witnesses. Published in Paris in 1844, his Souvenirs ďun voyage au Maroc describes the stages corresponding to the rules of apostasy as set down in Moroccan law. It challenges the conclusion of the Jewish community that Solica was tried unfairly as a Muslim convert and not as a Jew.
This narrative attempts to merge a number of the accounts of Solica’s life and death.
Solica Hatchouel was born in 1817 and beheaded in 1834 (the Jewish year of 5594). Her family lived in Tangier, a city on Morocco’s northern coast. In most sources, her parents were reportedly Chaim and Simcha Hachuel. She had one older brother and two or three sisters, depending on the account. Solica’s mother was a housewife. Some sources report that her father was a vendor of household utensils, others that he was a merchant by trade. These sources speak of him as a hard worker with integrity and learnedness in the Torah and Talmud. He may have supposedly conducted Talmudic study groups in his home and this influenced Solica in the formation and maintenance of her own belief in Judaism.
All sources report on Solica’s exceptional beauty as well as her wisdom, goodness, piousness, modesty, kind heart (hesed), goodwill, and her “graceful, Jewish charisma.” One article used the hyperbole: “In all of Fez, and some say, even from one end of the Maghreb to the other, there was no beauty to match Zuleika Chatwil.” According to the account of Israel Joseph Benjamin, a Jewish explorer who visited Morocco in the middle of the Nineteenth century, “never had the sun of Africa shone on more perfect beauty” than Hachuel. Benjamin wrote that her Muslim neighbors declared that “It is a sin that such a pearl should be in the possession of the Jews, and it would be a crime to leave them such a jewel.” Another version of Solica’s story said her beauty was so extraordinary and unsurpassed that she greatly appealed to all and sundry, to the point that the most outstanding young men of the city, some of them her relatives, had heated disputes because each wished to claim her as his wife.
ALLEGATIONS OF CONVERSION TO ISLAM
According to Romero’s version, Solica and her mother constantly argued, typical of a teenager and her mother. Simcha was very critical of Solica and of her housekeeping skills. One day, Solica fled and took refuge in the house of a friend and neighbor who advised the young girl to change her religion and thus be free of the yoke placed on her by her ruthless mother. The neighbor assured Solica that her best chance for happiness was to contract a marriage with a Muslim boy of her own age. When she refused, the neighbor falsely claimed that she had converted Hatchuel to Islam.
Another account relates that a boy from one of the wealthiest neighboring Muslim families espied Solica and desired to marry her. (“I will have nothing to live for, father, if I don’t marry Solica”.) Solica’s family knew that in order for the marriage to a Muslim to occur, the young woman would have to abandon her faith. The young man’s father threatened that Solica’s family would suffer bitterly if they did not allow her to convert to Islam and to marry his son. Overcome with fear, the family instructed Solica to hide at the home of a close friend. She was surrendered to authorities either by the neighbor girlfriend who felt betrayed for some reason or by the neighborhood young man who fancied himself in love with her.
Yet another version relates that her perilous beauty caught the unwanted attention of the Pasha, the highest authority in Tangiers. These versions claim that the Pasha was enchanted by her and promised her silk and gold if she converted. When she refused, he demanded that she be taken away from her family and forcibly converted to Islam so that he could legally marry her.
ARREST AND TRIAL
Either way, the authorities were convinced that Solica had converted to Islam and that she then recanted her conversion. Supposedly, when they came to her home to arrest her, the soldiers could not find her and instead arrested her mother. Upon hearing this, Solica surrendered to the authorities who brought her before a kadi (judge responsible for sharia law) where she was accused by the rich neighbor of having converted to Islam and then wanting to recant her decision and return to Judaism. Under Islamic Law, this act of apostasy was punishable by death. She was ordered to declare her return to Islam or be executed.
Others say that the judge threatened her if she did not convert back: “How dare you convert to our faith, and then abandon it? I will load you with chains…I will have you torn piece-meal by wild beasts, you shall not see the light of day, you shall perish of hunger, and experience the rigor of my vengeance and indignation, in having provoked the anger of the Prophet”. To which Solica responded: “I will patiently bear the weight of your chains; I will give my limbs to be torn piece-meal by wild beasts; I will renounce forever the light of day: I will perish of hunger: and when all the evils of life are accumulated on me by your orders, I will smile at your indignation, and the anger of your Prophet: since neither he, nor you have been able to overcome a weak female! It is clear that Heaven is not auspicious to making proselytes your faith”
Solica remained resolute maintaining, “Never, never did I leave my faith. I never became a Muslim, and I never, ever will! A Jewess I was born and a Jewess I wish to die.” They placed her in a dank, dark dungeon with chains around her hands and feet and an iron collar around her neck. Her parents appealed to the Spanish Vice Counsel, Don Jose Rico, for intervention, but his efforts were to no avail.
In this version, Solica’s story had become very public and was no longer just the story of a defiant young woman, but a cause celebre. It is at this point that the Pasha was given the facts and that Solica was before him. Solica denied any intention of leaving the faith of her ancestors. Convinced that she would not recant, the Pasha notified the Sultan in Fez of what was happening and requested instructions as to how to proceed. In the meantime, Solica remained in prison. It is written that messengers from the wealthy Muslim families in Tangiers came to the prison to sway her heart. They promised her riches, wealth, prosperity – all the goods in the world, but it was all in vain. Even then, though isolated in a dreadful cell, Solica refused to listen and would not give in.
Some weeks later, the Pasha received an Imperial order to transfer Solica from Tangiers to Fez, and thus let the Sultan decide her fate. Her transfer and execution fee was to be paid by her father, who was threatened with 500 blows of the bastinado if he would not comply. Eventually the required sum was paid by Don Jose Rico as Solica’s father could not afford it. Solica was transferred from Tangiers to Fez, depending upon the account either dragged barefoot behind a donkey cart or tied to a mule. The journey took six days. Some of her relatives were allowed to accompany her.
The Sultan, Muley Abderrahman, had succeeded to the throne in 1822 and had exhibited protection of the Jewish community. He wished to calm the waters and reintegrate the Jewish communities of Fez and Tangier into the general society. The provocative nature of the situation roused passions and emotions in both the Muslim and the Jewish communities. Because of this, Solica was ordered to appear at court in front of the Sultan upon her arrival in Fez. Her beauty captured his imagination (or his son’s, depending on the tale) and he, supposedly, fell in love with her and proposed to raise her to the throne if she would revert to Islam and marry him. He commissioned a Muslim to conduct the delicate mission of catechizing the young Jewish woman. Solica held fast to her beliefs and refused to recant. She refused to eat the food in the prison because it was not kosher and appropriate food was provided by the Jewish community.
The Sultan handed the problem of the beautiful girl to Rabbi Rafael Hasserfaty, then the chief rabbi of Fez. The ha’cha’chamim and leaders of the Jewish community were ordered by the Sultan’s judge to extract a confession from the girl that she had previously converted to Islam. Though they were inspired by Solica’s dedication, they went to her and explained that the Jews of Morocco could be endangered if the authorities didn’t get what they want. They begged that she convert, and marry the Arab. Otherwise, they pleaded, the entire community would suffer. The pleading was to no avail. She remained resolved, responding that she would maintain her untainted commitment to Judaism until the very end. Some legends relate that the ha’cha’chamim rejoiced in their hearts.
According to Jewish versions of the story, prison guards were finally sent to brutalize and torture her, to forcefully persuade her to abandon her faith, convert and marry the Sultan. However, the torture, brute force, and terror fell short. “I cannot betray my God, the God of my ancestors, the God of the Universe.” The prison guards forcefully brought the Jewish leaders again to the prison, to command her to convert and marry the Muslim. She refused, outright. Solica remained strong in her heart and in her mind, and would not betray her faith.
According to recent articles, given the resolute attitude of Solica not to renounce her religion, the Sultan had no choice but to take into account the opinion of the Muslims of Fez, of Tangiers and of other parts of the empire. The political situation in Morocco was sensitive. France had conquered Algeria and was bearing down on Morocco. There had been widespread publicity of Solica’s case which had become a public issue and taken on a serious religious character. If it was clear that Solica could not be coerced into converting, any effort or attempt by a member of the court or by the sultan himself to reverse the sentence would appear to be a reaction to outside pressure and therefore an insult to Islam and its laws. The moment that witnesses testified that Solica was an apostate Muslim, the matter became public, and within the Moroccan context of 1834, such publicity served to warn others that death is the appropriate treatment for apostates from Islam. Discretion was not in Islam’s interest or in the interest of the young Jewess. The Sultan therefore decided to refer the matter to the main religious court for a ruling under Sharia law.
The Kadi gave Solica one last chance to recant so that she could live happily. Otherwise, she would be executed. Solica re stated that she had told the Kadi and the Pasha of Tangiers and the Sultan and the Kadi of Fez, as well as the rabbis of Fez, and anybody else who would listen that she had never renounced her religion. Stoic and impassive, she replied that she preferred death to conversion, as she was born Jewish and as a Hebrew she wished to die. The Kadi and his court ruled that the Jewess should be immediately beheaded, the event to take place in the public square, on market day, in the presence of an immense crowd of both Moors and Israelites. Romero described the emotions of the citizens of Fez on the day of the execution: “The Moors, whose religious fanaticism is indescribable, prepared, with their accustomed joy, to witness the horrid scene. The Jews of the city…were moved with the deepest sorrow; but they could do nothing to avert it…”
The sultan instructed the executioner to wound Hachuel first and offer her one last chance to convert. He hoped that the girl would get scared, and accept the conversion, but Hachuel refused and preferred death to changing her religion. Her last words to the executioner were: “Do not make me linger—behead me at once—for dying as I do, innocent of any crime, the God of Abraham will avenge my death.” A very dramatic version of the story in Spanish relates, “With all his equipment, the executioner began his disgusting task. He abruptly parted the girl’s magnificent raven colored braids. With the well-sharpened knife, he made the first cut to the martyr’s neck. Solica, with her body bloodied from her wound, raised her eyes heavenward and muttered: Hear O Israel, Adonai our God, Adonai Unico. The right hand of the executioner separated the head from the trunk, which fell to earth in a pool of blood.” .
After her head was severed, the sultan displayed it on a high wall in Fez for all to see, so that the population could learn the terrible lesson of “the justice meted out in this country” and to teach a lesson to Jewish women in particular. The Jewish community of Fez was awestruck by the life and the death of Hachuel. They had to pay for the retrieval of her corpse, and the bloodstained earth for a Jewish burial at the Jewish cemetery. She was declared a martyr. One version holds that the Jews of the Burial Society rushed in, picked up the corpse and the earth generously soaked with blood, and wrapped a canvas bag around her. The body was then loaded onto the shoulders of two of the men moving toward the door of the Jewish quarter. Others followed, carrying the sacred bundle of blood-soaked earth. In order to break through the threatening and pursuing crowd, the Jewish men threw handfuls of coins to the left and to the right. The crowd responded eagerly, stopping to retrieve the money, which widened the distance between the Jews and the rabble. Upon reaching the Mellah, they found the door locked, as the authorities had been afraid of an invasion and pillaging of the Jewish Quarter. The men of the Burial Society detoured around the city, constantly being pursued by the fanatical mob to which the Jews continued to throw silver coins to appease them. They arrived at the foot of the great outer wall of the city where the Jewish cemetery was located. The wrapped body was hoisted across the high wall and carried through the Mellah by the Jews who formed two lines. A public burial was held so that all the Jewish men, women, and children of the Mellah could participate.
According to Isaac Abecassis-Hachuel (interviewed in November 1996 in Tangiers by Dina Hatchuel and Leora Hatchwell), the story he was told as a boy was that the ha’cha’chamim took up a collection of gold coins from the Jews in the Mellah. At night, they snuck out of the gates to the area where soldiers were guarding Solica’s head which was posted on the city wall. They threw gold coins left and right before the soldiers. As the soldiers scrambled to grab the coins, the Jews stole Solica’s head and scurried back into the Mellah. They buried her head, body, and the blood-soaked earth in the grave of Rabbi Eliayu Hassarfati who had died not long before. When the soldiers came looking for the head in the Mellah, they could not find it.
Veneration and the status of sainthood for women are unique to Morocco. Women tend to acquire their sainthood by virtue of their own good deeds and special qualities, rather than for being scholars and sages. Solica became venerated as a symbol of inspiration and sanctity for the Jews of Morocco. She was originally buried in the family plot of Rabbi Eliayu Hassarfati (1715-1805) in the ancient Jewish cemetery just outside the gates of the Mellah, called a gisa. When that cemetery was decommissioned in 1884, the remains were moved to a new cemetery that had grown out of the burial site for the pogrom victims of 1465, near the entrance to the Mellah, and opposite the Royal Palace. The remains of Rabbi Eliyahu and of Solica Hachuel were transferred with pomp and ceremony by the Jews of Fez to the current Jewish cemetery. It is said that when Solica’s remains were transported from the Old Cemetary to her final resting place, an aroma of myrrh emanated from her grave. Legend also has it that when her grave was to be exhumed and moved to the other cemetery, the men doing it became paralyzed and they thought they heard Solica telling them that only women can move her body so they had to get the women to do it. Solica is still buried in the Sarfaty family plot between two other venerated Jewish Moroccans: Rabbi Avner-Israel HaTsarfati (1827-1884), Rabbi Eliayu’s great great grandson, who requested to be buried next to Solica, and Rabbi Yehuda Ben-‘Attar (1656-1733). They rest together under a modest mausoleum in the middle of the Jewish cemetery of Fez.
Most female saints do not have shrines. Solica’s shrine is a distinct difference. Her tomb resides in the center of the Jewish cemetery of Fez in a small domed shrine. It overlooks a green and scenic hilly terrain. On the side of the tomb, a plaque in Hebrew and French recounts Solica’s saga. Her tombstone has inscriptions in both Hebrew and French. The French text reads:
Here lies Miss Solica Hatchouel,
born in Tangier in 1817
refusing to enter [rentrer] into the Islamic religion.
Arabs assassinated her
in Fez in 1834
torn away (or uprooting her) from her family.
The whole world mourns this
This text describes briefly Solica’s life and portrays her as a victim of Arab brutality.
The Hebrew text translated below emphasizes Sol’s life as a pure and virtuous martyr:
The gravestone of the righteous Soliqa Haguel, a virgin maiden who
greatly sanctified the Name of Heaven and died a martyr
in the glorious city of Fez in the year 5594 (1834) [and is] buried here.
May the Lord protect her.
May her merit protect us.
May it be God’s will.
Looking northeast from the shrine it is possible to see one of the old walls of the Jewish quarter, where Solica’s head was supposedly impaled after her execution.
In a twist of history and cultural practice, Jews and Muslims alike venerate Solica for her purported healing powers. Lalla Sol HaTzaddiqah is revered nationally – not only by the Jews of Morocco, but by Jews abroad as well; not only by women, but also by men who recognize her power and greatness. She is the most famous female saint among Jews as well as Muslims in Morocco. Contrary to the tradition for male saints, hillulot (pilgrimages or festival events) are seldom celebrated in honor of holy women. This is not true for Solica. Because the exact date of her execution is unknown, Solica’s annual hilloula is held in May or June, coinciding with the hilloula of another sainted resident of the Fez Jewish cemetery, Rabbi Chaim haCohen. Once a year, for her hilloula, thousands of pilgrims converge at the tomb. In addition, pilgrims, particularly women pilgrims, visit her grave year-round to pray to her, make petitions, light candles and place them in a small enclosure on the part of the tomb’s structure closest to the ground. They sing Psalms and other religious songs. Lalla Solica is especially known for being able to effect cures and for bringing solace to families who have suffered a death. Stories of how Solica’s sainted intervention helped save lives and perform miracles are numerous. For example, according to Issachar Ben-Ami, a scholar of Jewish saint worship in Morocco, Solica’s intervention from beyond the grave is believed to have saved sick children from death, especially if they are baby girls named in her honor. She brings solace to bereaving women and is also purported to cure barren women.
Of the Jewish holy figures worshiped in Morocco whose tombs have become regional or national pilgrimage centers, about twenty-five, or 4 percent, are women. Lalla Sol HaTzaddiqah (Lalla is Berber for lady) is the most widely venerated. Her story of resistance, passion, sacrifice and martyrdom captured the imagination of both the Muslim and Jewish communities and turned her into a legend.
As noted previously, the first two accounts of Solica’s life appeared within the ten years following her death. Both were based on interviews with Solica’s family members and with eyewitnesses. The first detailed account was written by Eugenio Maria Romero in 1837, only three years after Solica’s execution. His book El Martirio de la Jóven Hachuel, ó, La Heroina Hebrea (The Martyrdom of the Young Hachuel, or, The Hebrew Heroine) was first published in 1837, and republished in 1838. The second account was written in French by M. Rey, seven years later. Most of the later accounts of Solica’s sacrifice, in articles and on the internet, are based on these two stories. A French physician, Dr. Mace, wrote the libretto of an opera in verse on the same subject. This was published by the Benaioun press in Tangier, circa 1905, but was discredited by the earlier writers.
Solica’s tale of resistance, passion, and martyrdom has been a source of inspiration for Moroccan Jewish culture. In Tangier and other northern cities, mothers would sing songs in Ladino about Solica as a cautionary tale to their daughters about the dangers of unwanted affection, especially from a ruler. Vanessa Paloma, who is a scholar, professional singer and plays medieval instruments (primarily the medieval harp), specializes in songs of Spanish Jewry. Her haunting song, Psalm 23, on her album Shirei Shevach: Songs of Praise – Alabanzas, is a melody based on Solica’s story composed as a young girl’s devotional improvisation. Haim Ulliel, and his Israeli-Moroccan band, Sfatayim, has been instrumental in popularizing Moroccan themes in Israeli musical culture. He wrote and recorded a song in Hebrew about Soulika, סוליקה, #20 on his album Sfatayim: From Morocco To Zion. Hachuel’s story was also the subject of a song by Françoise Atlan on her CD, Romances Sefardies. Disserations and scholarly books have written about her story in the contexts of folklore and Muslim-Jewish social relations in Morocco. There are heartfelt poems, written in Hebrew and Arabic, related to the life and death of Solica.
In 1853, the French painter, Alfred Dehodencq became the first foreign artist to live in Morocco for an extended number of years. Over a ten-year period, he produced many of his most famous paintings depicting Jewish life in Morocco. His most famous piece, painted between 1860-1862, is a dramatic interpretation of Solica’s beheading (“Execution d’une juive au Maroc” – Execution of a Jewess in Morocco ). This is the painting that has inspired articles and books throughout the years. It now resides in the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris.
It is easy for us, the descendants, to weave a romantic tale about a gentle and pure girl who was forced by the mean and evil Muslims to renounce her faith, but who steadfastly held to her beliefs. Remember that in every divorce, and to every tale, there is his side, her side and the truth. Solica’s story must be placed in the context of the political, social, economic, and legal situations in Morocco at the time. Dissertations and scholarly books have been and are being written about her story in these contexts . Authors have written books for the mass market. Ruth Knafo Setton’s The Road to Fez uses Solica’s story to explore her character’s family interactions. Said Sayagh has written a historical novel about the martyrdom of Solica called The Other Jewish – Lalla Soulika, The Tsadika. A multitude of articles have told her story in journals and magazines through the years. In modern times, the internet has allowed an even wider dissemination of Solica’s story.
The many renditions of Solica’s story continue to inspire people well into the 21st century. The motifs of apostasy, assimilation, belief, conviction, and external threats to the Jewish people continue to captivate and arouse the emotions of audiences around the world, far beyond the borders of the Fez cemetery in which she is buried.