In response to Norman Berdichevsky’s attempt to clarify the confusion about the difference between Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, Point of No Return commenter Sylvia puts forward her explanation:
try to address that question while at the same time explain how we call
ourselves as well as show that there is much in common between Asians
Family of Iraqi Jews. Edot Ha’Mizrah?
ASHKENAZIM Jews from Germany (Ashkenaz) or whose
religious centers were in Germany. Also known as Jews of the North in
the Middle ages.
EDOT HAMIZRAH (The communities of the East) Jews
of the Middle East and the areas formerly dependent of the Babylonian
Geonate as religious center before that center moved to North Africa
(Kairouan). This includes communities of the Middle East and Asia as far
East as the Indus as far North as Samarkand including Egypt, Lebanon
Iraq, Iran, etc. It is in the plural because they lived among different
peoples with different languages, laws and customs. Not all knew
Judeo-Arabic which has become by the 8th century the language of
communication of the Gaon and many go by different names.
HA MA’ARAVIT (The Maghreban community or Western Community) of North
Africa including Morocco Algeria Tunisia and Western Libya.
It is in
the singular because they lived among one single people (the Berbers)
who dwelt from Morocco to Egypt and ruled in parts of Spain for a while.
Yet the religious rulings came from Babylonia just like for all the
other communities of the East, people some of the youth went to study in
those academies (for example Dunash Ibn Labrat, born in Fez) until the
center of learning passed to Kairouan(today Tunisia) and from there to
Fez with the Rif (Rabbi isaac El Fassi) then to Spain where the Rif
founded the Academy of Lucena (where Maimonides fathers has studied)
From Hesperia (the West), as the Romans used to call Spain. That is
where the two currents of Sephardi religious philosophy-the mystic and
the rational met and developed. They studied the Babylonian Talmud and
worshipped in Babylonian synagogues (The synagogue institution was
founded by the leadership in Babylon).
MIZRAHIM (ORIENTALS). This
is an artificial construct that was imposed by a Knesset education
committee in the mid 1970s, without our consent and without us being
consulted, without even our knowledge. It was done mostly for campaign
purposes, but there were many other reasons. Contrary to what the author
of the article believes, we North African Jews have never accepted the
name Mizrahi, which is nothing more than an unrelated geographic
designation and without a history or heritage.
HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
The term “Mizrahi heritage”, purposedly in the singular yet meant to
include the heritage of the various Jewish communities of the East,
North Africa and the dispersed Sephardim, was an artificial construct
imposed on March 21, 1976 by the Culture and Education Committee of the
What was billed as a Seminar or Study day on Jews
from Muslim countries following calls for cultural pluralism turned out
to be an ambush.
Despite fierce opposition to the absurd wording
on the part of academics, the committee stood its ground and the formula
passed as worded and academic Israel obeyed. The subtitle of the
journal Peamim of the Ben Zvi Institute, for example was “Studies in the
Cultural Heritage of Oriental Jewry”.
Yet historians were in a bind:how does one teach and write about the heritage without mentioning the heirs?
was much criticism from abroad as well and there were those who
compared the new orders to the institution of Black Studies in the
United States. All this turmoil was confined to the academic community
and took place over the head of the general population.
Historian Shaul Shaked thus expressed the complexity of the dilemma:
if we ignore the public dimension of the issue as well as the external
pressure on the universities and research institutes to give voice to
the human cultural and Jewish equality of the “Oriental” half of the
Israeli people, introspective debate is still necessary.”
The late Historian Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson was less forgiving:
topic presented to us today, as it is worded, is based on the
assumption that the Jews of the East had a common background. This is
not true. This was not true in the past, this is not true in the
Anyone speaking of “Oriental Jewish Heritage” in the
singular as of one concrete bloc is committing an injustice toward the
many heritages and their living differences, and by setting them in the
splint of something artificial, prevents them from contributing all they
can contribute to their sons and to the global national culture.