Mizrahi Jews or Mizrahim, also referred to as Edot HaMizrach (Communities of the East) are Jews descended from the Jewish communities of the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus. With the exception of Yemenite Jews, who are sometimes included but more often considered to comprise a group in their own right, the Mizrahi category includes Jews from the Arab world and adjacent countries, primarily Muslim-majority, including Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Lebanese Jews, Persian Jews, Bukharian Jews, Maghrebi Jews, Berber Jews and Kurdish Jews, as well as communities such as Mountain Jews and Georgian Jews, and among the Jews of India and Pakistan the Baghdadi Jews (descendants of relatively recent Iraqi Jews settled in the last few centuries, in contrast to Jewish communities of the Indian subcontinent established millennia earlier).
Despite their heterogeneous origins, Mizrahi Jews generally practise traditional Sephardic Judaism, although with some differences among the minhagim of the particular communities. The prevalence of the Sephardic rite among Mizrahim is largely as a result of Sephardic expelees joining their communities so that ultimately, over the last few centuries, the previously distinctive rites of the Mizrahi communities were influenced, superimposed or altogether replaced by the more prestigiously perceived Sephardic rite. This fact has resulted in a conflation of terms, with the term Sephardi Jews often used with the implicit encompassing of Mizrahi Jews, especially in the prevalent Israeli usage.
Many Mizrahim today reject this (or any) umbrella description and prefer to identify themselves by their particular country of origin, or that of their immediate ancestors, e.g. "Iranian/Persian Jew", "Iraqi Jew", "Tunisian Jew", etc. Another description sometimes heard is "Oriental Jews". This term is still frequently used by people in the western hemisphere.
Additionally, 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 community of Arabic-speaking Jews. In North African countries, by contrast, where the Sephardim came to outnumber the pre-existing Arab and Berber Jews, it was some of the latter that assimilated into the more prosperous and prestigious Sephardic communities, though in Morocco a distinction remained between the purely Sephardic Gerush Castilia of the Spanish-speaking northern strip and the more ethnically mixed Arabic or Berber-speaking communities of the interior. Either way, this assimilation, combined with the use of the Sephardic rite, led to the popular designation and conflation of most non-Ashkenazic Jewish communities from the Middle East and North Africa as "Sephardic", whether or not they are actually descended from Spanish Jews, which is what the terms "Sephardic Jews" and "Sepharadim" properly imply when used in the ethnic as opposed to the religious sense.
In many Arab countries, older Arabic-speaking communities distinguished between themselves and the newer arrivals speaking Judeo-Romance languages, that is, Sephardim expelled from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497. The established Arabic-speaking Jews called themselves Musta'arabim (Arabic for Arabizers), while the newer Sephardi arrivals called them Moriscos (Ladino for Moorish).
Among other languages associated with Mizrahim are Judeo-Persian (Dzhidi), Gruzinic, Bukhori, Kurdish, Judeo-Berber, Juhuri, Judeo-Marathi, Judeo-Malayalam and Judeo-Aramaic dialects. Most Persian Jews speak standard Persian.
Aramaic is 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. As spoken by the Jews of Kurdistan, Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialects are descended from Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, as could be seen from its hundreds of reflexes in Jewish Neo-Aramaic. In addition to Judeo-Aramaic, some Kurdish Jews speak an unrelated language called "Judeo-Kurdish" which is a "Jewish" form of the Indo-European Kurdish language.
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 (emigration to Israel) of 1950-51. This ended thousands of years of Jewish history in what had been Assyria and Babylonia.
Anti-Jewish actions by Arab governments in the 1950s and 1960s, including the expulsion 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.
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 . There are few 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 1,000 or fewer Jews. A trickle of emigration continues, mainly to Israel and the United States. A number have been arrested, mostly for alleged connections with Israel and the United States. Some have been executed, with religious intolerance often cited as the main contributing factor.
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. 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) and later sent to 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. 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 Persian; Baghdadi Jews from India and Gruzinic arrived with English; Mizrahim from elsewhere brought Georgian, Tajik, Juhuri and various other languages with them. Hebrew had historically been a language of prayer only 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, but with time they became more assimilated, creating a new, Israeli identity.
The cultural differences between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews impacted the degree and rate of assimilation into Israeli society, and sometimes the divide between European and Middle Eastern Jews was quite sharp. Segregation, especially in the area of housing, limited integration possibilities over the years. Intermarriage between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim is now relatively common in Israel, however, it has been found that intermarriage does not tend to decrease ethnic differences in socio-economic status.
It appears that despite increased social integration, 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 Ashkenazi are up to twice more likely to study in a university than Israeli-born Mizrahim. Furthermore, the percentage of Mizrahim who seek a university education remains low compared to second-generation immigrant groups of Ashkenazi origin, such as Russians. According to a survey by the Adva Center, the average income of Ashkenazim was 36 percent higher than that of Mizrahim in 2004. This difference is declining as the communities integrate.
Populist Bids Israeli Voters Back to Labor; Amir Peretz Invokes Traditional Themes in Campaign to Return Party to Power
Mar 26, 2006; Amir Peretz is everything that previous leaders of Israel's Labor Party were not: North African by birth, populist in his...