World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Mizrahi Jews

Mizrahi Jews
Nouriel Roubini
Mirra Alfassa
Ovadia Yosef
David Sassoon
Achinoam Nini
Gavriil Ilizarov
J. F. R. Jacob
Paula Abdul
Shai Agassi
Regions with significant populations
Middle East  
 Israel 2,921,000 (full or partial Mizrahi descent)[1]
 Iran 8,700
 Georgia 8,000
 Egypt <400
 Yemen <400
 Iraq <100
 Syria <100
 Lebanon <50
 Bahrain 37
Central and South Asia  
 Kazakhstan 15,000
 Uzbekistan 12,000
 Azerbaijan 11,000
 Kyrgyzstan 1,000
 Tajikistan 100
Americas, East Asia, Europe, and Oceania  
 United States 250,000
 Russia Over 30,000
 Brazil 7,000
 United Kingdom 7,000
 Canada 3,522
 Argentina 2,000
 Australia 1,000
 Belgium 800
 Spain 701
 Armenia 500
 Hong Kong[2] 420
 Philippines 150
 Japan 109
 Turkey 100
Judaism (Sephardic rite and Karaites)
Related ethnic groups
Ashkenazi Jews, Maghrebi Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Sephardi Jews other Jewish ethnic divisions.

Mizrahi Jews, Mizrahim (Maghrebi and Sephardic. Furthermore, some even reclassify the whole Israeli Jewish society as "Mizrahi" as compared with the Western Jews of Europe and the Americas.

The use of the term Mizrahi can be somewhat controversial. Before the establishment of the state of Israel, Mizrahi Jews did not identify themselves as a separate ethnic subgroup. Instead, Mizrahi Jews generally characterized themselves as Sephardi, because they follow the traditions of [4] Mizrahi Jews make up the largest ethnic group in Israel.[5] As of 2005, 61% of Israeli Jews are of Mizrahi ancestry.[6]


  • Usage 1
  • Religious rite designations 2
  • Language 3
    • Arabic 3.1
    • Aramaic 3.2
    • Persian and other languages 3.3
  • Migration 4
    • Post-1948 dispersal 4.1
    • Absorption into Israeli society 4.2
      • Disparities and integration 4.2.1
  • Notable Mizrahim 5
    • Business people 5.1
    • Entertainers 5.2
    • Scientists 5.3
    • Inventors 5.4
    • Politicians and military 5.5
    • Religious figures 5.6
    • Sports and game players 5.7
    • Visual arts 5.8
    • Writers and academics 5.9
  • See also 6
  • References 7
    • Bibliography 7.1
  • External links 8


"Mizrahi" is literally translated as "Oriental", "Eastern", מזרח (Mizraḥ), Hebrew for "east." In the past the word "Mizrahim," corresponding to the Arabic word Mashriqiyyun (Easterners), referred to the natives of Syria, 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 the Europe, North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia, followers of Ashkenazi, Sephardic and 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.[7]

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 "Sephardic" in its broader meaning.

Religious rite designations

Today, many identify all non-Ashkenasi rite Jews as Sephardic - 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 Sephardic rite absorbed the unique rite of the Yemenite Jews and lately the Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders in Israel have also joined the Sefardic rite collectivities, especially following rejection of their Jewishness by Ashkenasi and Hassidic circles.

Yemenite Jew blowing shofar, 1947

The reason for this classification of all Mizrahim under Sephardic rite is that most Mizrahi communities use much the same religious rituals as Sephardim proper due to historical reasons. The prevalence of the Sephardic rite among Mizrahim is partially a result of Sephardim proper joining some of Mizrahi communities following the 1492 expulsion 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 Sephardic Jews exiled from Spain resettled in greater or lesser numbers in many Arabic-speaking countries, such as Syria and Morocco. In Syria, most eventually intermarried with and assimilated into the larger established communities of Arabic-speaking Jews and Mizrahi Jews. In some North African countries such as Morocco, Sephardic 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 Sephardic rite, led to the popular designation and conflation of most non-Ashkenasi Jewish communities from the Middle East and North Africa as "Sephardic" rite, whether or not they were descended from Spanish Jews, which is what the terms "Sephardic Jews" and "Sepharadim" properly implied when used in the ethnic as opposed to the religious sense.

In some Arabic countries such as Egypt and Syria, the Sephardic Jews arrived via the Ottoman Empire would distinguish themselves from the already established Arabic-speaking Jews known as Moriscos (Moorish-like in Ladino), in some others such as Morocco and Algeria, the two communities largely intermarried with the latters embracing the Sephardic customs and thus forming a single community.



In Arab nations (such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria), Mizrahim most often speak Arabic,[3] 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.

Neo-Aramaic is a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. It is identified as a "Jewish language", since it is the language 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 yeshivoth, as many rabbinic texts are written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. The current alphabet used for Hebrew, known as "Assyrian lettering" (Ktav Ashurit) or the "square script" (Ktav Meruba), was in fact borrowed from Aramaic.

In Kurdistan, the language of the Mizrahim is a variant of ancient Aramaic.[3] As spoken by the Kurdish Jews, Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialects are descended from Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, as could be seen from its hundreds of reflexes in Jewish Neo-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.[8]

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 (immigration to Israel) of 1950-51. This ended thousands of years of Jewish history in what had been Assyria and Babylonia.

Persian and other languages

Among other languages associated with Mizrahim are Bukhori, Kurdish, Juhuri, Marathi and Judeo-Malayalam. Most Persian Jews speak standard Persian, as do many other Jews from Iran, Afghanistan, and Bukhara (Uzbekistan),[3] as well as the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan and Russian Dagestan, who speak a dialect of Persian called Juhuri.


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.[3]

Post-1948 dispersal

After the establishment of the [4] According to the 2009 Statistical Abstract of Israel, 50.2% of Israeli Jews are of Mizrahi or Sephardic origin.[9]

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. 25,000 Mizrahi Jews from Egypt left 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.[10] There are few Maghrebim remaining in the Arab world too. 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

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.[11] 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. Many, especially those from North Africa and the fertile crescent, spoke Arabic dialects; those from Iran spoke Juhuri 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

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.[12] 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).[13] It has been claimed that intermarriage does not tend to decrease ethnic differences in socio-economic status,[14] however that does not apply to the children of inter-ethnic marriages.[15]

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.[16] Furthermore, the percentage of Mizrahim who seek a university education remains low compared to second-generation immigrant groups of Ashkenazi origin, such as Russians.[17] According to a survey by the Adva Center,[18] the average income of Ashkenazim was 36 percent higher than that of Mizrahim in 2004.[19]

Notable Mizrahim

Business people




Politicians and military

Religious figures

Sports and game players

Visual arts

  • 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

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ "통계청 - KOSIS 국가통계포털". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Mizrahi Jews".  
  4. ^ a b "Jews of the Middle East". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  5. ^ My Promised Land, by Ari Shavit, (London 2014), page 288
  6. ^ Jews, Arabs, and Arab Jews: The Politics of Identity and Reproduction in Israel, Ducker, Clare Louise, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands
  7. ^ 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)
  8. ^ Mordechai Zaken, Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan: A Study in Survival, Brill: Boston and Leiden, 2007.
    Based on new oral sources, carefully analyzed, this book explores the relationships between Jewish subjects and their tribal chieftains in Kurdistan, focusing on the patronage and justice provided by the chieftains and the financial support provided by the Jews to endure troubles and caprices of chieftains. New reports and vivid tales unveil the status of Jews in the tribal setting; the slavery of rural Jews; the conversion to Islam and the defense mechanisms adopted by Jewish leaders to annul conversion of abducted women. Other topics are the trade and occupations of the Jews and their financial exploitation by chieftains. The last part explores the experience of Jewish communities in Iraqi Kurdistan between World War I and the mass-migration to Israel (1951-52).
    The author, Mordechai Zaken, Ph.D. (2004) in Near Eastern Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializes in the history of the Kurds, the oriental Jewry, and the minorities in the region. He served as the Adviser on Arab Affairs to the Prime Minister of Israel (1997-99).
  9. ^ Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2009, CBS. "Table 2.24 – Jews, by country of origin and age" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  10. ^ The Jewish Population of the World, The Jewish Virtual Library
  11. ^ Ella Shohat: “Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims,” Social Text, No.19/20 (1988), p.32
  12. ^ "Int J Urban & Regional Res, Volume 24 Issue 2 Page 418-438, June 2000 (Article Abstract)". Blackwell Synergy. 2003-03-07. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  13. ^ Barbara S. Okun, Orna Khait-Marelly. 2006. Socioeconomic Status and Demographic Behavior of Adult Multiethnics: Jews in Israel.
  14. ^ "Project MUSE". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "97_gr_.xls" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  18. ^ Adva Center
  19. ^ Hebrew PDF
  20. ^ "Gelt Complex: Bukharians Swing Big, A First For Russian Jews, Arab Principal Honored –". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  21. ^ "'המוזיקה המזרחית - זבל שהשטן לא ברא'".  


  • Zaken, Mordechai (2007). Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan: A Study in Survival. Boston and Leiden: Brill. 
  • Lavie, Smadar (2014). Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-1-78238-222-5 hardback; 978-1-78238-223-2 ebook.

External links


  • World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries
  • Sephardic Pizmonim Project Music of Mizrahi Jews.
  • JIMENA Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa
  • Multiculturalism Project - Middle Eastern and North African Jews
  • Hakeshet Hademocratit Hamizrachit - An organization of Mizrahi Jews in Israel
  • Harif: Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa (British-based)
  • Ha' Yisrayli Torah Brith Yahad, Mizrahi Jewish Int'l Medical Humanitarian NGO recognized by the United Nations Civil Society and Economic Development Division (USA Based)


  • , (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989; New Edition, London: I.B. Tauris, 2010).Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of RepresentationElla Shohat,
  • Ella Shohat, Le sionisme du point de vue de ses victimes juives: les juifs orientaux en Israel (first published in 1988, with a new introduction, La fabrique editions, Paris, 2006).
  • (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).Taboo Memories, Diasporic VoicesElla Shohat,
  • Vol. 21, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 49-74Social Text,Ella Shohat, "Rupture and Return: Zionist Discourse and the Study of Arab Jews,"
  • Vol. 29, No. 1 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 5-20Journal of Palestine Studies,Ella Shohat, "The Invention of the Mizrahim,"
  • (Spring, 1997), pp. 3-18Critique,Ella Shohat, "The Narrative of the Nation and the Discourse of Modernization: The Case of the Mizrahim,"
  • No. 178 (Sep.-Oct., 1992), pp. 25-29Middle East Report,Ella Shohat, "Rethinking Jews and Muslims: Quincentennial Reflections,"
  • (London) (Special issue on "The Wake of Utopia"), 21 (Winter 1992 93), pp. 95, 105Third TextElla Shohat, "Staging the Quincentenary: The Middle East and the Americas,"
  • #5 (Fall-Winter, 1992), p.8Movement Research: Performance JournalElla Shohat, "Dislocated Identites: Reflection of an Arab Jew,"
  • No. 19/20 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 1-35Social Text,Ella Shohat, "Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims,"
  • Mizrahi Wanderings - Nancy Hawker on Samir Naqqash, one of Israel’s foremost Arab-language Mizrahi novelists
  • The Middle East's Forgotten Refugees A chronicle of Mizrahi refugees by Semha Alwaya
  • The Forgotten Refugees
  • Moshe Levy The story of an Iraqi Jew in the Israeli Navy and his survival on the war-ship Eilat
  • My Life in Iraq Yeheskel Kojaman describes his life as a Mizrahi Jew in Iraq in the 50s and 60s
  • Audio interview with Ammiel Alcalay discussing Mizrahi literature
  • by Norman StillmanThe Jews of Arab Lands in Modern TimesExcerpt from
  • The Reproduction of the Model ‘Oriental’ in the Israeli Social Space; the 50s and the speedy immigration.Etan Bloom, Tel-Aviv Univ. M.A in the Unit for Culture Research, 2003. (Hebrew, with summary in English.)
  • Saul Silas Fathi Full Circle: Escape From Baghdad and the Return by Saul Silas Fathi, A prominent Iraqi Jewish family's escape from persecution.
  • Road From Damascus, Tablet Magazine
  • The Way, The Prophetic Messianic Voice, by Rabbi Shalomim Y. HaLahawi MD(AM),I-NMD, PsyD. An Introduction to Ancient Mizrahi Jewish beliefs & customs,464 pages [ulu Press, 2007]


  • of No Return One-stop blog on Jews from Arab and Muslim lands (English)
  • Bukharian Jews Bukharian Jewish community (English and Russian)
  • Persian Jewish community
  • Kurdish Jewry (Hebrew)
  • The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center Disseminating the 3000-year-old heritage of Babylonian Jewry (English and Hebrew)
  • Iraqi Jews Iraqi American Jewish Community in New York. Perpetuating the history, heritage, culture and traditions of Babylonian Jewry.
  • Tradition of the Iraqi Jews (mostly Hebrew, with links to recordings)
  • Sha'ar Binyamin Damascus Jewry (Hebrew and Spanish)
  • Jews of Lebanon
  • Historical Society of Jews from Egypt
  • Tunisian Jewish site (French)
  • Algerian Jewish site (French)
  • Moroccan Jewish site (French)
  • The Nash Didan Community Persian Azerbaijany, Aramaic speaking community (Hebrew, some English and Aramaic)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.