Mizrahi Jews
Total population
3.5 million
Regions with significant populations
Middle East  
 Israel 3,200,000
 Iran 8,756 (2012)[1]
 Egypt 200 (2008)[2]
 Yemen 50 (2016)[3]
 Iraq 8 in Baghdad (2008)[4]
400–730 families in Iraqi Kurdistan (2015)[5]
 Syria >20 (2015)[6]
 Lebanon <100 (2012)[7]
 Bahrain 37 (2010)[8]
Central and South Asia  
 Kazakhstan 15,000
 Uzbekistan 12,000
 Kyrgyzstan 1,000
 Tajikistan 100
Europe and Eurasia  
 Russia Over 30,000
 Azerbaijan 11,000
 Georgia 8,000
 United Kingdom* 7,000
 Belgium* 800
 Spain* 701
 Armenia 100
 Turkey 100
East and Southeast Asia  
 Hong Kong[9] 420
 Philippines 150
 Japan 109
 China 90
The Americas  
 United States 250,000


Related ethnic groups

Ashkenazi Jews, Maghrebi Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Sephardi Jews, other Jewish ethnic divisions.

* denotes the country as a member of the EU

Mizrahi Jews, Mizrahim (Hebrew: מִזְרָחִים‎), also referred to as Edot HaMizrach (עֲדוֹת-הַמִּזְרָח; "Communities of the East"; Mizrahi Hebrew: ʿEdot(h) Ha(m)Mizraḥ), Bene HaMizrah ("Sons of the East"), or Oriental Jews,[10] are descendants of local Jewish communities in the Middle East from biblical times into the modern era. They include descendants of Babylonian Jews and Mountain Jews from modern Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Dagestan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Uzbekistan, the Caucasus, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. Yemenite Jews, as well as North African Jews are sometimes also included, but their histories are separate from Babylonian Jewry.

The use of the term Mizrahi can be somewhat controversial. The term Mizrahim is sometimes applied to descendants of Maghrebi and Sephardi Jews, who had lived in North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco), the Sephardi-proper communities of Turkey, and the mixed Levantine communities of Lebanon, Israel, and Syria. Before the establishment of the state of Israel, Mizrahi Jews did not identify themselves as a separate Jewish subgroup. Instead, Mizrahi Jews generally characterized themselves as Sephardi, as they follow the traditions of Sephardi Judaism (but with some differences among the minhag "customs" of particular communities). That has resulted in a conflation of terms, particularly in Israel and in religious usage, with "Sephardi" being used in a broad sense and including Mizrahi Jews and North African Jews as well as Sephardim proper. From the point of view of the official Israeli rabbinate, any rabbis of Mizrahi origin in Israel are under the jurisdiction of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel.

As of 2005, 61% of Israeli Jews were of full or partial Mizrahi ancestry.[11]

Usage[edit | edit source]

"Mizrahi" is literally translated as "Oriental", "Eastern", מזרח Mizraḥ, Hebrew for "east". In Arabic, "Misr" means Egypt; and that is also the term used for Egypt in the Bible. In the past the word "Mizrahim", corresponding to the Arabic word Mashriqiyyun (Easterners), referred to the natives of Kurdistan, Iraq and other Asian countries, as distinct from those of North Africa (Maghribiyyun). In medieval and early modern times, the corresponding Hebrew word ma'arav was used for North Africa. In Talmudic and Geonic times, however, this word "ma'arav" referred to the land of Israel, as contrasted with Babylonia. For this reason, many object to the use of "Mizrahi" to include Moroccan and other North African Jews.

The term Mizrahim or Edot Hamizraḥ, Oriental communities, grew in Israel under the circumstances of the meeting of waves of Jewish immigrants from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, followers of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Temani (Yemenite) rites. In modern Israeli usage, it refers to all Jews from Central and West Asian countries, many of them Arabic-speaking Muslim-majority countries. The term came to be widely used more by Mizrahi activists in the early 1990s. Since then in Israel it has become an accepted semi-official and media designation.[12]

Most of the "Mizrahi" activists actually originated from North African Jewish communities, traditionally called "Westerners" (Maghrebi), rather than "Easterners" (Mashreqi). Many Jews originated from Arab and Muslim countries today reject "Mizrahi" (or any) umbrella description, and prefer to identify themselves by their particular country of origin, or that of their immediate ancestors, e. g., "Moroccan Jew", or prefer to use the old term "Sephardi" in its broader meaning. Some modern Arab Muslims and Christians are probably descendants of biblical/ancient Jews who later converted to Christianity and Islam.[13][14] [15][16][13][17][18]

Religious rite designations[edit | edit source]

Today, many identify all non-Ashkenazi rite Jews as Sephardi - in modern Hebrew "Sfaradim", mixing ancestral origin and religious rite. This broader definition of "Sephardim" as including all, or most, Mizrahi Jews is also common in Jewish religious circles. During the past century, the Sephardi rite absorbed the unique rite of the Yemenite Jews, and lately, Beta Israel religious leaders in Israel have also joined Sefardi rite collectivities, especially following rejection of their Jewishness by some Ashkenazi circles.

File:Yemenite Elder Blowing Shofat, February 1, 1949.jpg

Yemenite Jew blowing shofar, 1947

The reason for this classification of all Mizrahim under Sephardi rite is that most Mizrahi communities use much the same religious rituals as Sephardim proper due to historical reasons. The prevalence of the Sephardi rite among Mizrahim is partially a result of Sephardim proper joining some of Mizrahi communities following the 1492 Alhambra Decree, which expelled Jews from Sepharad (Spain and Portugal). Over the last few centuries, the previously distinctive rites of the Mizrahi communities were influenced, superimposed upon or altogether replaced by the rite of the Sephardim, perceived as more prestigious. Even before this assimilation, the original rite of many Jewish Oriental communities was already closer to the Sephardi rite than to the Ashkenazi one. For this reason, "Sephardim" has come to mean not only "Spanish Jews" proper but "Jews of the Spanish rite", just as "Ashkenazim" is used for "Jews of the German rite", whether or not their families originate in Germany.

Many of the Sephardi Jews exiled from Spain resettled in greater or lesser numbers in the Arab world, such as Syria and Morocco. In Syria, most eventually intermarried with, and assimilated into, the larger established communities of Musta'rabim and Mizrahim. In some North African countries, such as Morocco, Sephardi Jews came in greater numbers, and largely contributed to the Jewish settlements that the pre-existing Jews were assimilated by them. Either way, this assimilation, combined with the use of the Sephardi rite, led to the popular designation and conflation of most non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities from the Middle East and North Africa as "Sephardi rite", whether or not they were descended from Spanish Jews, which is what the terms "Sephardi Jews" and "Sfaradim" properly implied when used in the ethnic as opposed to the religious sense.

In some Arabic countries, such as Egypt and Syria, Sephardi Jews arrived via the Ottoman Empire would distinguish themselves from the already established Musta'rabim, while in others, such as Morocco and Algeria, the two communities largely intermarried, with the latter embracing Sephardi customs and thus forming a single community.

Language[edit | edit source]

Arabic[edit | edit source]

In the Arab world (such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria), Mizrahim most often speak Arabic,[10] although Arabic is now mainly used as a second language, especially by the older generation. Most of the many notable philosophical, religious and literary works of the Jews in Spain, North Africa and Asia were written in Arabic using a modified Hebrew alphabet.

Aramaic[edit | edit source]

Kurdish Jews in Rawanduz, northern Iraq, 1905.

Aramaic is a Semitic language subfamily. Specific varieties of Aramaic are identified as "Jewish languages" since they are the languages of major Jewish texts such as the Talmud and Zohar, and many ritual recitations such as the Kaddish. Traditionally, Aramaic has been a language of Talmudic debate in yeshivot, as many rabbinic texts are written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. The current Hebrew alphabet, known as "Assyrian lettering" or "the square script", was in fact borrowed from Aramaic.

In Kurdistan, the language of the Mizrahim is a variant of Aramaic.[10] As spoken by the Kurdish Jews, Judeo-Aramaic languages are Neo-Aramaic languages descended from Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. They are related to the Christian Aramaic dialects spoken by Assyrian people.

In 2007, a book was published, authored by Mordechai Zaken, describing the unique relationship between Jews in urban and rural Kurdistan and the tribal society under whose patronage the Jews lived for hundreds of years. Tribal chieftains, or aghas, granted patronage to the Jews who needed protection in the wild tribal region of Kurdistan; the Jews gave their chieftains dues, gifts and services. The text provides numerous tales and examples about the skills, maneuvers and innovations used by Kurdistani Jews in their daily life to confront their abuse and extortion by greedy chieftains and tribesmen. The text also tells the stories of Kurdish chieftains who saved and protected the Jews unconditionally.[19]

By the early 1950s, virtually the entire Jewish community of Kurdistan — a rugged, mostly mountainous region comprising parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the Caucasus, where Jews had lived since antiquity — relocated to Israel. The vast majority of Kurdish Jews, who were primarily concentrated in northern Iraq, left Kurdistan in the mass aliyah of 1950-51. This ended thousands of years of Jewish history in what had been Assyria and Babylonia.

Persian and other languages[edit | edit source]

Among other languages associated with Mizrahim are Judeo-Iranian languages such as Judeo-Persian, the Bukhori dialect, Judeo-Tat, and Kurdish languages; Georgian; Marathi; and Judeo-Malayalam. Most Persian Jews speak standard Persian, as do many other Jews from Iran, Afghanistan, and Bukhara (Uzbekistan),[10] Judeo-Tat, a form of Persian, is spoken by the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan and Russian Dagestan, and in other Caucasian territories in Russia.

Migration[edit | edit source]

Some Mizrahim migrated to India, other parts of Central Asia, and China. In some Mizrahi Jewish communities (notably those of Yemen and Iran), polygyny has been practiced.[10]

Post-1948 dispersal[edit | edit source]

After the establishment of the State of Israel and subsequent 1948 Arab–Israeli War, most Mizrahim were either expelled by their Arab rulers or chose to leave and emigrated to Israel.[20] According to the 2009 Statistical Abstract of Israel, 50.2% of Israeli Jews are of Mizrahi or Sephardi origin.[21]

Anti-Jewish actions by Arab governments in the 1950s and 1960s, in the context of the founding of the State of Israel, led to the departure of large numbers of Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East. The exodus of 25,000 Mizrahi Jews from Egypt after the 1956 Suez Crisis led to the overwhelming majority of Mizrahim leaving Arab countries. They became refugees. Most went to Israel. Many Moroccan and Algerian Jews went to France. Thousands of Lebanese, Syrian and Egyptian Jews emigrated to the United States and to Brazil.

Template:Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries

Today, as many as 40,000 Mizrahim still remain in communities scattered throughout the non-Arab Muslim world, primarily in Iran, but also Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.[22] There are few Maghrebim remaining in the Arab world. About 5,000 remain in Morocco and fewer than 2,000 in Tunisia. Other countries with remnants of ancient Jewish communities with official recognition, such as Lebanon, have 100 or fewer Jews. A trickle of emigration continues, mainly to Israel and the United States.

Absorption into Israeli society[edit | edit source]

Refuge in Israel was not without its tragedies: "In a generation or two, millennia of rooted Oriental civilization, unified even in its diversity", had been wiped out, writes Mizrahi scholar Ella Shohat.[23] The trauma of rupture from their countries of origin was further complicated by the difficulty of the transition upon arrival in Israel; Mizrahi immigrants and refugees were placed in rudimentary and hastily erected tent cities (Ma'abarot) often in development towns on the peripheries of Israel. Settlement in Moshavim (cooperative farming villages) was only partially successful, because Mizrahim had historically filled a niche as craftsmen and merchants and most did not traditionally engage in farmwork. As the majority left their property behind in their home countries as they journeyed to Israel, many suffered a severe decrease in their socio-economic status aggravated by their cultural and political differences with the dominant Ashkenazi community. Furthermore, a policy of austerity was enforced at that time due to economic hardships.

Mizrahi immigrants arrived with many mother tongues:

Mizrahim from elsewhere brought Georgian, Judaeo-Georgian and various other languages with them. Hebrew had historically been a language only of prayer for most Jews not living in Israel, including the Mizrahim. Thus, with their arrival in Israel, the Mizrahim retained culture, customs and language distinct from their Ashkenazi counterparts.

Disparities and integration[edit | edit source]

The cultural differences between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews impacted the degree and rate of assimilation into Israeli society, and sometimes the divide between Eastern European and Middle Eastern Jews was quite sharp. Segregation, especially in the area of housing, limited integration possibilities over the years.[24] Intermarriage between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim is increasingly common in Israel and by the late 1990s 28% of all Israeli children had multi-ethnic parents (up from 14% in the 1950s).[25] It has been claimed that intermarriage does not tend to decrease ethnic differences in socio-economic status,[26] however that does not apply to the children of inter-ethnic marriages.[27]

Although social integration is constantly improving, disparities persist. A study conducted by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), Mizrahi Jews are less likely to pursue academic studies than Ashkenazi Jews. Israeli-born Ashkenazim are up to twice more likely to study in a university than Israeli-born Mizrahim.[28] Furthermore, the percentage of Mizrahim who seek a university education remains low compared to second-generation immigrant groups of Ashkenazi origin, such as Russians.[29] According to a survey by the Adva Center, the average income of Ashkenazim was 36 percent higher than that of Mizrahim in 2004.[30]

Notable Mizrahim[edit | edit source]

Business people[edit | edit source]

Entertainers[edit | edit source]

Scientists and Nobel prize laureates[edit | edit source]

Inventors[edit | edit source]

Politicians and military[edit | edit source]

Religious figures[edit | edit source]

Sportspeople[edit | edit source]

Visual arts[edit | edit source]

  • Adi Ness - photographer of Iranian descent
  • Israel Tsvaygenbaum, Russian-American painter of mixed Polish and Mountain Jewish descent
  • Anish Kapoor, British-Indian sculptor, born in Mumbai to a Hindu father and Baghdadi Jewish mother

Writers and academics[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ "Jewish woman brutally murdered in Iran over property dispute". The Times of Israel. November 28, 2012. http://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-woman-brutally-murdered-in-iran-over-property-dispute/#ixzz3Ac6duaqw. ""A government census published earlier this year indicated there were a mere 8,756 Jews left in Iran"" 
  2. ^ "Egypt, International Religious Freedom Report 2008". Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. September 19, 2008. https://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2008/108481.htm. 
  3. ^ "Some of the last Jews of Yemen brought to Israel in secret mission". The Jerusalem Post. 21 March 2016. http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Report-Some-of-the-last-Jews-of-Yemen-brought-to-Israel-in-secret-mission-448639. "The Jewish Agency noted that some fifty Jews remain in Yemen..." 
  4. ^ Farrell, Stephan (1 June 2008). "Baghdad Jews Have Become a Fearful Few". The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/world/middleeast/01babylon.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&pagewanted=all. 
  5. ^ Sokol, Sam (18 October 2016). "Jew appointed to official position in Iraqi Kurdistan". The Jerusalem Post. http://www.jpost.com/page.aspx?pageid=7&articleid=426320. 
  6. ^ J. Prince, Cathryn (12 November 2015). "The stunning tale of the escape of Aleppo’s last Jews". The Times of Israel. http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-stunning-tale-of-the-escape-of-aleppos-last-jews/. 
  7. ^ "Jews in Islamic Countries: Lebanon". Jewish Virtual Library. October 2014. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/lebjews.html#_edn1. 
  8. ^ Ya'ar, Chana (28 November 2010). "King of Bahrain Appoints Jewish Woman to Parliament". Arutz Sheva. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/140873. 
  9. ^ "통계청 - KOSIS 국가통계포털". Kosis.kr. http://kosis.kr/statisticsList/statisticsList_03List.jsp?vwcd=MT_RTITLE&parmTabId=M_03_01. 
  10. ^ a b c d e "Mizrahi Jews". Encyclopædia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/432355/Oriental-Jews. 
  11. ^ Jews, Arabs, and Arab Jews: The Politics of Identity and Reproduction in Israel, Ducker, Clare Louise, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands
  12. ^ Shohat, Ella (May 2001). "Rupture And Return: A Mizrahi Perspective On The Zionist Discourse (archives)". The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies. https://web.archive.org/web/20040501000000*/http://web.mit.edu/cis/www/mitejmes/issues/200105/download/Shohat.doc.  (clicking on archived links leads to document download)
  13. ^ a b Alain F. Corcos (2005). The Myth of the Jewish Race: A Biologist's Point of View. Lehigh University Press. pp. 100–. ISBN 978-0-934223-79-9. https://books.google.com/books?id=oU9iNYsObjIC&pg=PA100. 
  14. ^ The Jewish Intelligencer: A Monthly Publication. 1837. pp. 182–. https://books.google.com/books?id=xkJOAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA182. 
  15. ^ Mazin B. Qumsiyeh (2004). Sharing the land of Canaan: human rights and the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0-7453-2248-3. https://books.google.com/books?id=_YRtAAAAMAAJ. 
  16. ^ Bernard Spolsky (27 March 2014). The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 190–. ISBN 978-1-139-91714-8. https://books.google.com/books?id=5Xk9AwAAQBAJ&pg=PA190. 
  17. ^ Sarah Stroumsa (20 November 2011). Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker. Princeton University Press. pp. 60–. ISBN 0-691-15252-7. https://books.google.com/books?id=oHjWaXf7NKsC&pg=PA60. 
  18. ^ Norman K. Gottwald (28 October 2008). The Hebrew Bible: A Brief Socio-Literary Introduction. Fortress Press. pp. 156–. ISBN 978-0-8006-6308-7. https://books.google.com/books?id=WvrMK3l4bLgC&pg=PA156. 
  19. ^ Mordechai Zaken, Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan: A Study in Survival, Brill: Boston and Leiden, 2007.
  20. ^ "Jews of the Middle East". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/mejews.html. 
  21. ^ Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2009, CBS. "Table 2.24 – Jews, by country of origin and age" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  22. ^ The Jewish Population of the World, The Jewish Virtual Library
  23. ^ Ella Shohat: "Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims", Social Text, No.19/20 (1988), p. 32
  24. ^ "Int J Urban & Regional Res, Volume 24 Issue 2 Page 418-438, June 2000 (Article Abstract)". Blackwell Synergy. 2003-03-07. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1468-2427.00255. 
  25. ^ Barbara S. Okun, Orna Khait-Marelly. 2006. Socioeconomic Status and Demographic Behavior of Adult Multiethnics: Jews in Israel.
  26. ^ "Project MUSE". Muse.jhu.edu. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/demography/v041/41.1okun.html. 
  27. ^ "Children of Ethnic Intermarriage in Israeli Schools: Are They Marginal?". https://www.jstor.org/pss/351810. 
  28. ^ http://www.cbs.gov.il/publications/educ_demog_05/pdf/t16.pdf
  29. ^ "97_gr_.xls" (PDF). http://www.cbs.gov.il/publications/educ_demog_05/pdf/gr14.pdf. 
  30. ^ Hebrew PDF Script error: No such module "webarchive".
  31. ^ "Gelt Complex: Bukharians Swing Big, A First For Russian Jews, Arab Principal Honored –". Forward.com. http://www.forward.com/articles/11878/. 
  32. ^ "'המוזיקה המזרחית - זבל שהשטן לא ברא'". Ynet. 2011-03-09. http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4039633,00.html. "בסופו של דבר אני רואה את עצמי כבן עדות המזרח גאה, ודווקא מהנקודה הזו אני נותן ביקורת כואבת." 

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

Organizations[edit | edit source]

Articles[edit | edit source]

Communities[edit | edit source]

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