Mizrahi Jews

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Mizrahi Jews
יהודים מזרחים
Total population
4.6 million (2018)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Middle East [citation needed]
 Israel3,232,800 (2018)[2]
 Iran8,756 (2012)[3]
 Egypt< 20 (2017)[4][5]
 Yemen50 (2016)[6]
 Iraq8 in Baghdad (2008)[7]
400–730 families in Iraqi Kurdistan (2015)[8]
 Lebanon<100 (2012)[9]
 Bahrain37 (2010)[10]
Central Asia [citation needed]
Europe and Eurasia [citation needed]
 RussiaOver 30,000
 United Kingdom7,000
East Asia [citation needed]
 Hong Kong[11]420
 China (mainland)90
Southeast Asia [citation needed]
The Americas [citation needed]
 United States300,000+
Oceania [citation needed]
Judaism (secular, Masortim, Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox)
Related ethnic groups
Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardi Jews, Maghrebi Jews, Karaite Jews and other Jewish ethnic divisions. Other Middle Eastern groups Samaritans, Levantines, Aramaic-Assyrians, Arabs.

* indicates that the country is a member of the EU

Mizrahi Jews (Hebrew: יהודי המִזְרָח‎) or Mizrahim (מִזְרָחִים), also referred to as Mizrachi (מִזְרָחִי), Edot HaMizrach (עֲדוֹת-הַמִּזְרָח; "[Jewish] Communities of the [Middle] East"; Mizrahi Hebrew: ʿEdot(h) Ha(m)Mizraḥ), or Oriental Jews,[12] are the descendants of the local Jewish communities that had existed in the Middle East and North Africa from biblical times into the modern era. Originally, the term Mizrahi was the Hebrew translation[13] of Eastern European Jews' German name Ostjuden,[14][15] as seen in the Mizrahi Movement, Bank Mizrahi and in HaPoel HaMizrahi.[13] In the 1950s the Jews who came from the communities listed above were simply called and known as Jews (Yahud in Arabic) and in order to distinguish them in the Jewish sub-ethnicities, Israeli officials, who themselves were mostly Eastern European Jews, transferred the name to them (even as the surname "Mizrachi", assigned by immigration clerks, replacing previously held surnames), though most of these immigrants arrived from lands located further westward than Central Europe.[16][17] Mizrahi is subsequently the surname most often changed by Israelis,[18] and many scholars claim that the transferring of the name "Mizrahim" was a form of Orientalism[19] towards the Oriental Jews, similar to the ways in which Westjuden had labeled Ostjuden as "second class" and excluded them from possible positions of power.[20][21]

"Mizrahim" include descendants of Babylonian Jews from modern Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, Syrian Jews, Yemenite Jews, Georgian Jews, Mountain Jews from Dagestan and Azerbaijan, Persian Jews from Iran, Bukharan Jews from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The term Mizrahim is also sometimes applied to descendants of Maghrebi Jews and Sephardi Jews, who had lived in North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco),[22] the Sephardi communities of Turkey, and the mixed Levantine communities of Lebanon, Old Yishuv, and Syria. These various Jewish communities were first grouped into a single ethnic identity officially in the Jewish Agency's 1944 One Million Plan.[23] As of 2005, 61% of Israeli Jews were of full or partial Mizrahi ancestry.[24]

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 customs and 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, 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.

From 1948 to 1980, over 850,000 Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews were expelled, fled or evacuated from Arab and Muslim countries.[25][26]


"Mizrahi" is literally translated as "Oriental", "Eastern", מזרחMizraḥ, Hebrew for "east". In the past the word "Mizrahim", corresponding to the Arabic word Mashriqiyyun (Arabic "مشريقيون" or Easterners), referred to the natives of 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.[27]

Sami Michael goes against the terms "Mizrahim" and "Edot HaMizrach", claiming it's a Mapai's fictitious identity to preserve a "rival" to the "Ashkenazim" and help them push the "Mizrahim" below in the social-economic ladder and behind them, so they won't ever be in line with the Israeli elites of European Jewish descent.[28] He's also going against the Mapai manner of labeling all the Oriental Jews as "one folk" and erasing their unique and individual history as separated communities; he wonders why the real Easterners of his time who were the Eastern European Jewish peasants from the villages weren't labeled as "Mizrahi" in Israel while fitting it more than the Oriental Jews who were labeled that way. Michael is also against the inclusion of Oriental Jewish communities who do not descend from Sepharadic Jews, as his own Iraqi Jews, as "Sepharadim" by the Israeli politicians, calling it "historically inaccurate". He also mentions that his work as an author is always referred to as "Ethnic" while European Jews' work, even if histoic in theme, isn't for that very racism.[28]

Most of the "Mizrahi" activists actually originated from North African Jewish communities, traditionally called "Westerners" (Maghrebi), rather than "Easterners" (Mashreqi). The Jews who made Aliya from North Africa in the 19th Century and prior started their own political and religious organization in 1860 which operated in Jerusalem was called "The Western Jewish Diaspora Council" (Hebrew: "ועד העדה המערבית בירושלים"). 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.[29]

On 15 October 2020 an interview with Lior Ashkenazi, a famous Israeli actor whose parents made aliyah from turkey, came out where he referred to his view on the term "Mizrahi": "All my life I and the rest of us were identified and identifying as Sephardic Jews; until Miri Regev's comment on Foxtrot in 2017 I never was called 'Mizrahi' nor knew I'm one. We grew up as Sephardic and someone decided one day to change the labels and to refer to us as 'Mizrahim', probably as a political spin. It was a non-issue till the mid 1980s; today it's taken as part of a political discussion I find to be bizzare." [30]

Religious rite designations[edit]

Today, many identify 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,[citation needed] and lately, Beta Israel religious leaders in Israel have also joined Sefardi rite collectivities,[citation needed] especially following rejection of their Jewishness by some Ashkenazi circles.

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 so largely contributed to the Jewish settlements that the pre-existing Jews were assimilated by the more recently arrived Sephardi Jews. 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.



In the Arab world (such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria), Mizrahim most often speak Arabic,[12] 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.


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.[12] 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.

Persian and other languages[edit]

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),[12] Judeo-Tat, a form of Persian, is spoken by the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan and Russian Dagestan, and in other Caucasian territories in Russia.


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.[12]

Post-1948 dispersal[edit]

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.[31] According to the 2009 Statistical Abstract of Israel, 50.2% of Israeli Jews are of Mizrahi or Sephardi origin.[32]

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.[citation needed] 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.

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.[33] There are few Maghrebim remaining in the Arab world. About 3,000 remain in Morocco and 1,100 in Tunisia.[34][35] 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]

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.[36] 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 speaking many languages:

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. The collective estimate for Mizrahim (circa 2018) is at 4,000,000.[37]

Disparities and integration[edit]

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.[38] 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).[39] It has been claimed that intermarriage does not tend to decrease ethnic differences in socio-economic status,[40] however that does not apply to the children of inter-ethnic marriages.[41]

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.[42] Furthermore, the percentage of Mizrahim who seek a university education remains low compared to second-generation immigrant groups of Ashkenazi origin, such as Russians.[43] According to a survey by the Adva Center, the average income of Ashkenazim was 36 percent higher than that of Mizrahim in 2004.[44]

Notable Mizrahim[edit]

Business people[edit]


Scientists and Nobel prize laureates[edit]


Politicians and military[edit]

Religious figures[edit]


Visual arts[edit]

Writers and academics[edit]


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