Mizrahi Jews

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Mizrahi Jews
יהודים מזרחים
يهود مزراحي
Total population
4.6 million (2018)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Middle East [citation needed]
 Israel4,200,000 (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]
 Syria0 (2019)[11]
Central and South Asia [citation needed]
Europe and Eurasia [citation needed]
 RussiaOver 30,000
 United Kingdom7,000
East and Southeast Asia [citation needed]
 Hong Kong[12]420
The Americas [citation needed]
 United States300,000+
Oceania [citation needed]
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 (Hebrew: יהודי המִזְרָח‎; Arabic:يهود مزراحي) or Mizrahim (מִזְרָחִים; ), also referred to as Mizrachi (מִזְרָחִי), Edot HaMizrach (עֲדוֹת-הַמִּזְרָח; "Communities of the East"; Mizrahi Hebrew: ʿEdot(h) Ha(m)Mizraḥ), or Oriental Jews,[13] is a term transferred to the descendants of the 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[14] of Eastern European Jews' German name: "Ostjuden",[15][16] as seen in The Mizrahi Movement, Bank Mizrahi and in HaPoel HaMizrahi[17]; 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, the Israeli officials - who themselves were mostly Ostjuden - had transferred the name to them (even as the surname "Mizrachi" which was coined to them by the immigration clerks, despite having other surnames prior[18]; which is also the most desired surname to be changed by Israelis[19]), even though most of them arrived from lands located further Westwards than even Central Europe[20] - which was not to these Oriental Jews' likings. Many scholars claim that the transferring of the name "Mizrahim" and "Orientalism"[21] towards the Oriental Jews was the same derogatory act that the Westjuden had done to the Ostjuden, labeling them as "second class" and remoting them from possible positions of power.[22][23]

The ones now called "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),[24] 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.[25] As of 2005, 61% of Israeli Jews were of full or partial Mizrahi ancestry.[26]

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 either descend from these Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula or because 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.[27][28]


"Mizrahi" is literally translated as "Oriental", "Eastern", מזרח Mizraḥ, Hebrew for "east". In the past the word "Mizrahim", corresponding to the Arabic word Mashriqiyyun (Arabic "مشريقيون" or 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.[29]

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.[citation needed] Some modern Arab Muslims and Christians are probably descendants of biblical/ancient Jews who later converted to Christianity and Islam.[30][31][32][33][30][34][35]

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,[13] 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.[13] 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.[36]

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]

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),[13] 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.[13]

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.[37] According to the 2009 Statistical Abstract of Israel, 50.2% of Israeli Jews are of Mizrahi or Sephardi origin.[38]

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.[39] 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]

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.[40] 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.[41]

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.[42] 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).[43] It has been claimed that intermarriage does not tend to decrease ethnic differences in socio-economic status,[44] however that does not apply to the children of inter-ethnic marriages.[45]

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.[46] Furthermore, the percentage of Mizrahim who seek a university education remains low compared to second-generation immigrant groups of Ashkenazi origin, such as Russians.[47] According to a survey by the Adva Center, the average income of Ashkenazim was 36 percent higher than that of Mizrahim in 2004.[48]

Notable Mizrahim[edit]

Business people[edit]


Scientists and Nobel prize laureates[edit]


Politicians and military[edit]

Religious figures[edit]


Visual arts[edit]

  • 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]


  1. ^ "No Israel is not a country of privileged and powerful white Europeans". Los Angeles Times. May 20, 2019. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  2. ^ "Ethnic origin and identity in the Jewish population of Israel" (PDF). Journal of Ethnic and MIgration Studies. 27 Jun 2018. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  3. ^ "Jewish woman brutally murdered in Iran over property dispute". The Times of Israel. November 28, 2012. Retrieved Aug 16, 2014. A government census published earlier this year indicated there were a mere 8,756 Jews left in Iran
  4. ^ "Egypt's Jewish community diminished to 6 women after death of Lucy Saul". egyptindependent.com. Retrieved 2017-03-03.
  5. ^ "Muslims in Egypt are trying to preserve its Jewish heritage". The Economist. 5 September 2017.
  6. ^ "Some of the last Jews of Yemen brought to Israel in secret mission". The Jerusalem Post. 21 March 2016. Retrieved 14 September 2016. The Jewish Agency noted that some fifty Jews remain in Yemen...
  7. ^ Farrell, Stephan (1 June 2008). "Baghdad Jews Have Become a Fearful Few". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  8. ^ Sokol, Sam (18 October 2016). "Jew appointed to official position in Iraqi Kurdistan". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  9. ^ "Jews in Islamic Countries: Lebanon". Jewish Virtual Library. October 2014. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  10. ^ Ya'ar, Chana (28 November 2010). "King of Bahrain Appoints Jewish Woman to Parliament". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  11. ^ "Community is gone, but Putin claims to help Syrian Jews restore their holy sites". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  12. ^ "통계청 - KOSIS 국가통계포털". Kosis.kr. Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Mizrahi Jews". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  14. ^ Ruvik Rosental, PhD., "Western Sepharadim and Eastern Ashkenazim" at his website, September 9th, 2000.
  15. ^ Shohat, Ella (1999). "The Invention of the Mizrahim". Journal of Palestine Studies. 29 (1): 5–20. doi:10.2307/2676427. JSTOR 2676427.
  16. ^ Aziza Khazzoom, "Mizrahim, Mizrachiut, and the Future of Israeli Studies", Israel Studies Forum, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Spring 2002), pp. 94-106.
  17. ^ Ruvik Rosental, PhD., "Western Sepharadim and Eastern Ashkenazim" at his website, September 9th, 2000.
  18. ^ For God's Sake: Why Are There So Many More Israelis with the Surname "Mizrahi" Than "Friedmans"?, by Michal Margalit, January 17th, 2014, Ynet.
  19. ^ The Surname that Israelis Change the Most: "Mizrahi", Ofer Aderet, Haaretz, February 17th, 2017.
  20. ^ "The Settling of Western Jews in Jerusalem", Official Israeli Ministry of Education paper for high school students about North African Jews who prior were called "Western Jews" &/ "Mugrabi Jews" as opposed to "Mizrahi/Eastern Jews".
  21. ^ Alon Gan, "Victimhood Book", Israel Democracy Institute, 2014. Pp. 137-139.
  22. ^ Dina Haruvi and Hadas Shabbat-Nadir, "Have You Ever Met A Streotypical Mizrahi?"" (in Hebrew), Ohio State University.
  23. ^ Haggai Ram, "Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession", Stanford University Press.
  24. ^ "Ancient Jewish History: Jews of the Middle East". JVL.
  25. ^ Eyal, Gil (2006), "The "One Million Plan" and the Development of a Discourse about the Absorption of the Jews from Arab Countries", The Disenchantment of the Orient: Expertise in Arab Affairs and the Israeli State, Stanford University Press, pp. 86–89, ISBN 9780804754033: "The principal significance of this plan lies in the fact, noted by Yehuda Shenhav, that this was the first time in Zionist history that Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries were all packaged together in one category as the target of an immigration plan. There were earlier plans to bring specific groups, such as the Yemenites, but the "one million plan" was, as Shenhav says, "the zero point," the moment when the category of mizrahi jews in the current sense of this term, as an ethnic group distinct from European-born jews, was invented."
  26. ^ Jews, Arabs, and Arab Jews: The Politics of Identity and Reproduction in Israel, Ducker, Clare Louise, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands
  27. ^ Hoge, Warren (2007-11-05). "Group seeks justice for 'forgotten' Jews". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-12.
  28. ^ Aharoni, Ada (2003). "The Forced Migration of Jews from Arab Countries". Peace Review. 15: 53–60. doi:10.1080/1040265032000059742.
  29. ^ Shohat, Ella (May 2001). "Rupture And Return: A Mizrahi Perspective On The Zionist Discourse (archives)". The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies. Retrieved 8 March 2015. (clicking on archived links leads to document download)
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ The Jewish Intelligencer: A Monthly Publication. 1837. pp. 182–.
  32. ^ Mazin B. Qumsiyeh (2004). Sharing the land of Canaan: human rights and the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0-7453-2248-3.
  33. ^ Bernard Spolsky (27 March 2014). The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 190–. ISBN 978-1-139-91714-8.
  34. ^ Sarah Stroumsa (20 November 2011). Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker. Princeton University Press. pp. 60–. ISBN 978-0-691-15252-3.
  35. ^ Norman K. Gottwald (28 October 2008). The Hebrew Bible: A Brief Socio-Literary Introduction. Fortress Press. pp. 156–. ISBN 978-0-8006-6308-7.
  36. ^ Mordechai Zaken, Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan: A Study in Survival, Brill: Boston and Leiden, 2007.
  37. ^ "Jews of the Middle East". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  38. ^ Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2009, CBS. "Table 2.24 – Jews, by country of origin and age" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  39. ^ The Jewish Population of the World, The Jewish Virtual Library
  40. ^ Ella Shohat: "Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims", Social Text, No.19/20 (1988), p. 32
  41. ^ "Op-Ed: No, Israel isn't a country of privileged and powerful white Europeans". Los Angeles Times. 2019-05-20. Retrieved 2019-09-26.
  42. ^ Yiftachel, Oren (2003-03-07). "Social Control, Urban Planning and Ethno-class Relations: Mizrahi Jews in Israel's 'Development Towns'". International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 24 (2): 418–438. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.00255.
  43. ^ Barbara S. Okun, Orna Khait-Marelly. 2006. Socioeconomic Status and Demographic Behavior of Adult Multiethnics: Jews in Israel.
  44. ^ "Project MUSE". Muse.jhu.edu. Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  45. ^ Yogev, Abraham; Jamshy, Haia (1983). "Children of Ethnic Intermarriage in Israeli Schools: Are They Marginal?". Journal of Marriage and Family. 45 (4): 965–974. doi:10.2307/351810. JSTOR 351810.
  46. ^ http://www.cbs.gov.il/publications/educ_demog_05/pdf/t16.pdf
  47. ^ "97_gr_.xls" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  48. ^ Hebrew PDF Archived December 17, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  49. ^ "Gelt Complex: Bukharians Swing Big, A First For Russian Jews, Arab Principal Honored –". Forward.com. Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  50. ^ "Rus Yusupov - Co-founder @ Hype | Crunchbase". Crunchbase. Retrieved 2018-01-30.
  51. ^ Clark, Kate. "HQ Trivia names new CEO and teases upcoming Wheel of Fortune-style game". TechCrunch.
  52. ^ "המוזיקה המזרחית - זבל שהשטן לא ברא". Ynet. 2011-03-09. Retrieved 2011-03-09. בסופו של דבר אני רואה את עצמי כבן עדות המזרח גאה, ודווקא מהנקודה הזו אני נותן ביקורת כואבת.


External links[edit]