The Jewish Diaspora after the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by the Romans. Part 4

The Mazrahi Jews

Mizrahi” is literally translated as “Eastern”, מזרח (Mizrach), 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 (Maghrabiyyun).For this reason some speakers still object to the use of “Mizrahi” to include Moroccan Jews. The term Mizrahim or Adot Hamizrah – Oriental communities- was born especially in Israel in the circumstances of the meeting there of waves of immigrants from both the Ashkenazi and the Sefardic and Oriental Jewish collectivities. In modern Israeli usage, it refers to all Jews from North African and West Asian countries, many of them Arabic-speaking Muslim-majority countries. The term came to be widely used more by so-called Mizrahi activists in the early 1990s, and since then has become an accepted semi-official and media designation.

Many “Mizrahi”, in translation – “Oriental” Jews today reject this (or any) umbrella and simplistic 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, or prefer to use the old term “Sefardic” in its broader meaning.

Most of the so-called Oriental Jewish or Mizrahi communities spoke Arabic and a number of Judeo-Arabic dialects such as Maghrebi, though these are 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 the Orient were written in Arabic using a modified Hebrew alphabet.

From the time of the Israelites’ exile, causing them to be scattered all over the known world, there has always been a significant number who chose to stay in the place to which their grandparents and great grandparents were exiled.For centuries, Jews have lived alongside their neighbors in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria and other countries, but were seldom treated as equals. Jews were often considered “dhimmis,” which means “protected person” and refers to non-Muslims living in Islamic territory who receive safety in return for paying capital tax. They were subjected to dhimmi laws, which prevented them from serving in the military, bearing arms, riding horses or camels, having houses taller than their Muslim neighbors, or synagogues taller than their neighboring mosques. A dhimmi was also not allowed to give evidence against a Muslim in an Islamic court and a dhimmi’s oath was found unacceptable. While some people even today say that because “dhimmi” is a word that means “protected,” that somehow these laws were good for the Jews and later on, the Christians. Ihe times when the Jews seemed the most “safe” was when they were the most subordinate to these laws. Some of the dhimmi laws inspired the genocide of European Jews in the 1940s. In the ninth century, for example, Baghdad’s Caliph al-Mutawakkil designated a yellow badge for Jews, setting a precedent that would be followed centuries later in Nazi Germany.

As of 2005, 61% of Israeli Jews were of full or partial Mizrahi ancestry. From 1948 to 1980, over 850,000 Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews were expelled, fled or evacuated from Arab or Muslim countries.

Image: Yemenite Jewish wedding, from


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