Who are the Mizrahi Jews?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Mizrahi Jews are Jews of Middle Eastern, North African, and Asian descent. They are also sometimes referred to as Eastern, Oriental, or Arab Jews, and they represent the oldest Jewish communities in the world, with roots stretching back to the origins of Judaism in the Middle East. The bulk of the Mizrahi population today lives in Israel, with small communities in major cities around the world, and reduced numbers of Mizrahim scattered across Africa and the Middle East.

Mizrahi Jews are of Middle Eastern descent, with most of the current population living in Israel.
Mizrahi Jews are of Middle Eastern descent, with most of the current population living in Israel.

Some Mizrahi Jews practice a culturally distinct form of Judaism known as Mizrahi Judaism, which involves small variations in the liturgy and observance of particular religious practices when compared to other Jewish cultural traditions. Others practice Sephardi Judaism, the result of intermingling between Spanish Jews and the Mizrahi community after the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. All are descended from Jewish populations with roots which can be traced back to the second millennium BCE.

Mizrahi Jews trace their roots back to some of the old Jewish communities in the Middle East.
Mizrahi Jews trace their roots back to some of the old Jewish communities in the Middle East.

As Jewish populations began to spread outward from the Middle East, the foundations of many Mizrahi communities were laid across North Africa and parts of Asia. The Mizrahim often integrated closely with the communities they lived in, and a great deal of cultural exchange between the Mizrahim and native populations occurred. The cultural traditions of Christianity and Islam were clearly heavily influenced by Judaism, in no small part because of the thriving Mizrahi communities which pre-dated the rise of these religions.

The languages spoken by Mizrahi Jews are quite varied. At one time, Mizrahi Jewish populations were found in most nations in the Middle East, and they spoke regional Arabic dialects along with languages like Persian and Aramaic. As many Jewish populations in the Middle East were expelled after the establishment of Israel, the Mizrahi Jews settled in Israel and began speaking Hebrew, losing some traditional languages along the way.

Some historians claim that the situation of the Mizrahi Jews is particularly unfortunate, as the Mizrahi Jews lost a great deal of their culture in the 20th century as a result of being forcibly expelled from Muslim nations in the Middle East where they had once lived peaceably with Muslim and Christian neighbors. This expulsion occurred after Israel was established in 1948, and political tensions led many Arab nations to push their Jewish populations to relocate, ignoring the fact that many of these individuals had ancient family ties to the region. The unique nature of the Mizrahim has been further diluted by people who lump the Mizrahi Jews in with the Sephardi Jews, a culturally distinct Jewish population.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@anon277403: It is impossible for any Jew not to relate to the Jewish race, since there can be no distinction between genealogy and the unique status of being "chosen" in accordance to (G-d)'s will and a people to whom you must belong.

You refer to a Saudi being Muslim and that of a Chinese convert. You must realize that, although a Chinese person may not be Saudi, they may both be Muslim (as equals or brothers). With reference to Judaism. it does not matter your race, whether you are a convert or a born Jew, there is no such thing. A convert is a Jew, the same. There is only one exception and the same applies to a Jew born Jewish: A Cohen or Levi being that particular Jew with a heritage of the priestly tribe of one of the 12 tribes.

Secondly, a Jew rises in scholarship and level of distinction when he becomes a holy individual who observantly keeps his obligations given to him by birth. This is a Jew's portion given to him by birth. Each Jew has his portion in both this world and the next.

A black person, namely African, may claim to be Mexican, and that's his entitlement. It is his choice to be who he wants to be. A person wants to belong in this world because humanity builds a fence and cages him in. I knew a person who so desperately wanted to be Jewish because he wanted to be the same, that he poured out his soul and almost committed suicide.

Being Jewish is an ethno-religious priority and a prerequisite at all times. I encourage you to look deeper into Jewish history, and you will find that being Jewish is a lifelong resolve and a rewarding experience.

How ever you relate to the Jewish race and identity, you are the face of a future that the world will come to recognize. I hope it is a face that brings enlightenment to our times. --Yoel C.


What I wish to know is can a person of Asian/White family who has converted to Judaism be considered as part of the Mizrahim?


@anon277403: Check your DNA. You'll find that you are related to the Mizrahim. You are the result of hundreds of years of Diaspora of intermixing with white populations who converted to Judaism. DNA results have matched Russian Jewish DNA with Puerto Ricans of Sephardic descent. (Look it up)

Be proud of all your Middle East roots and the Jewish people. Remember that white supremacist and Muslim groups view you and all Jews of all colors as the same, just as the Nazis killed white and tan Jews in the Holocaust.


I am Jewish but at the same time am totally unrelated to the Jewish race. The Jewish race means Arab race, but being white and Jew is like being Chinese and Muslim. Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of Islam, but through trade in the past now there are 40 million Chinese Muslims. Are they Saudi? No. Are they Muslim? Yes, through conversion, so how could one be white and at the same time call himself Semitic? That's the fraud of the 21st century. Do you understand what I am trying to say? It's like a Chinese Muslim claim he is Saudi or a white claim he is black or a black man claim he is white.


Persians are not related to the Israelites. Persians are Aryan, Jews are Semitic. The DNA difference is as big as the USA.

There are Persian Jews, though, as mentioned. That's a different story.


When nations decided to expel or murder their Jewish populations, these nations were essentially committing national suicide. Historically, much of the intellectual and political power of a nation has come from the Jewish population, who tend to have a higher IQ than any other demographic, as well as a strongly reinforced wisdom tradition. This is due to the immense power that the Judeo-Christian Scripture has had on their thinking, and the book of Proverbs is crammed full of excellent memes for governing a family and a society. Europe owes its global power to Jewish thinking.


It is sad that so many of these tribes have either disappeared or completely intermingled in the Middle East. It is entirely possible that most Iranians are descended from the Israelites who were brought captive there in the BC era. New genetic research is being done which would seem to indicate a close genetic connection between Iranians and Israelites. How sad, then, to see the Persians hating their brother people.


Ashkenazim may tend to consider Mizrahim to be Sephardic due to appearances. The Ashkenazim tend to look somewhat northern European and often have Germanic surnames. Mizrahim and Sephardim have kept much of their older Mediterranean appearance through the ages, due to staying near to that region. It is important to recognize the distinctions between the two in order to avoid causing offense.


Jews from Iraq and Iran are Mizrahi Jews. Jews from Yemen and Oman are Temani Jews.

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