Who Are the Mizrahi? Originally Published October 25-26, 2019.

Last week we mentioned the Mizrahi.  Then over the weekend I came upon a copy of a Young People’s Zionist League newsletter from 1919 which carried a story about the Mizrachi Organization.  I took it as a sign.

Mizrahi Jews (מִזְרָחִים) (coined in the 1950s, from the term Edot Hammizrah, Communities of the East) derive from a tradition found in some African and eastern regions, not Ashkenazi and not quite Sephardic.  They are sometimes referred to as Oriental Jews.  Some of the communities date to Biblical times (Late Antiquity).  They include Babylonian Jews from modern Iraq and Kurdistan, Syrian Jews, Yemenite Jews, Georgian Jews, Mountain Jews from Dagestan and Azerbaijan, Persian Jews, Bukharan Jews from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and others.  Sometimes the term is applied to descendants of Maghrebi and Sephardi Jews of North Africa, Turkey, and other middle eastern regions, and also from as far east as India, central Asia, and China.

They had been considered (even by themselves) as Sephardi, until the differences became clear upon meeting in Israel.  Their practices and customs were different in significant ways from those of the Ashkenazi, Yemenite, and Sephardi culture.  Their languages are many, including variants of Aramaic, in addition to the languages of the countries from which they derive.  In the 1970s there was a movement for freedom of identity by the Mizrahi, including Israeli Black Panthers, against the attempted (perceived) conversion by the Ashkenazi through public schools and secular life.  Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews together comprise more than 50% of the Israeli population.

On the other hand, the Mizrachi Organization in 1919 was a Zionist entity that was meant to bring all formats of Jewish practice together in a secular Zionism, formed as a distinct party in the Zionist movement.  The name comes from Merkaz Ruhani, “religious center.”  Founded in the early 1900s in Vilnius, they originally sought the complete regeneration of the Jewish people and the Jewish spirit, together with the restoration of the Jewish homeland.  They remain an Orthodox secular Zionist global movement.

Seems to me that the Mizrahi and Mizrachi may well have had some interesting conversations over the years.