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.
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.
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.