The Full Wiki

Arab Jews: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Yemeni Jew in 1914

Arab Jews (Arabic: اليهود العربAl-Yahūd al-`Arab, Hebrew: יהודים ערביםYehudim `Aravim) is a controversial term referring to Jews living in the Arab World, or Jews descended from such persons.[1]

The term was occasionally used in the early 20th century, mainly by Arab nationalists, to describe the 1 million Jews living in the Arab world at the time. Most of this population has since left for Israel, Western Europe and to a smaller degree the United States and South America. They spoke Arabic, using one of the many Arabic dialects (see also Judæo-Arabic languages) as their primary community language, with Hebrew reserved as a liturgical language. They usually followed Sephardi Jewish liturgy, making them one of the largest groups among Mizrahi Jews.

In recent decades the term has come back into some usage by Jews who self-identify as Arab Jews, such as Albert Memmi, a Zionist who uses the term to claim his rights in the Middle East, and Ella Shohat, an anti-Zionist who uses the term in contrast to the Zionists establishment's categorization of Jews as either Ashkenazim or Mizrahim, the latter she believe have been oppressed as the Arabs have. Other public figures who refer to themselves as Arab Jews include David Shasha, Director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage, and Amiel Alcalay, a professor at Queens College in New York who began emphasizing the importance of his identity as an Arab Jew in the 1990s.[2] André Azoulay, Jewish adviser to Moroccan King Mohammed VI, also defines himself as an Arab Jew,[3] as does Sasson Somekh in a recent memoir [4]



According to Salim Tamari, the term Arab-Jew generally referred to a period of history when some Eastern Jews (Sephardic and Mizrahi) identified with the Arab national movement that emerged in the lead up to the dismantlement of the Ottoman empire, as early as the Ottoman administrative reforms of 1839, owing to shared language and culture with their Muslim and Christian compatriots in Greater Syria, Iraq, and Egypt.

David Rabeeya, a self-identified Arab Jew, extends that identification back even further, noting the long history of Arab Jews in the Arab world that remained in place after the dawn of Islam in the 7th century until midway through the 20th century.[5] He writes that Arab Jews, like Arab Muslims and Arab Christians, were culturally Arab with religious commitments to Judaism.[5] He notes that Arab Jews named their progeny with Arabic names and "Like every Arab, Arab Jews were proud of their Arabic language and its dialects, and held a deep emotional attachment to its beauty and richness."[5]

In his book, The Arab Jews (2006), Yehouda Shenhav, an Israeli sociologist, traced the origins of the conceptualization of the Mizrahi Jews as Arab Jews. He interprets Zionism as an ideological practice with three simultaneous and symbiotic categories: "Nationality", "Religion" and "Ethnicity". In order to be included in the national collective they had to be "de-Arabized". According to Shenhav, Religion distinguished between Arabs and Arab Jews, thus marking nationality among the Arab Jews. [6]


The term "Arab Jews" was used during the First World War by Jews of Middle Eastern origin living in western countries, to support their case that they were not Turks and should not be treated as enemy aliens.[7] Today the term is sometimes used by newspapers and official bodies in some countries, to express the belief that Jewish identity is a matter of religion rather than ethnicity or nationality. Most Jews disagree with this, do not use the term and, where it appears to them to be calculated to deny the existence of a distinct Jewish identity in favour of reducing the Jewish diaspora to a religious entity, even consider it offensive. However, some Mizrahi activists, particularly those not born in Arab countries or who emigrated from them at a very young age, define themselves as Arab Jews. Notable proponents of such an identity include Naeim Giladi, Ella Habiba Shohat, Sami Shalom Chetrit and David Rabeeya.

Proponents of the term "Arab Jews" argue that "Arab" is a linguistic and cultural rather than an ethnic, racial or religious term; that the Jews in Arab countries fully participated in that culture; and that all ethnic minorities who did so are "Arabs". On this view, the correct distinction is between Jews, Muslims, Christians and other religious groups, rather than between groups such as Jews and "Arabs". Similarly the Christian population of countries such as Egypt, Lebanon or Syria are often described as "Arabs", even though most are (like most of their corresponding Muslim counterparts) descended from the pre-Islamic pre-Arab-culture population of each individual country. However, the use of the term "Arab" to define Christian Copts (Egypt), Maronites (Lebanon), or Assyrians (Iraq) is controversial among those communities. Others may regard "Arab Jews" as simply shorthand for "Jews of Arab lands" or "Arabic-speaking Jews", and identify as "Arab Jews" while definitely not regarding themselves as "Arabs".

The principal argument against the term "Arab Jews", particularly among Jewish communities descended from Arab lands, is that Jews constitute a diaspora and ethnic group, not simply a "religious" group, and that use of the term "Arab" suggests otherwise. A related argument is that Jewish communities in Arab lands never referred to themselves as "Arab Jews" and that it is only after the exit of most Jewish communities from such lands that the term has been proposed. Hence, in most North African and Near and Middle Eastern communities, people spoke of Arab Muslims and Arab Christians, but never of Arab Jews: the Jews were regarded and regarded themselves as an ethnic as well as a religious minority, similar to other ethnic minorities such as the Assyrians, Berbers or Kurds (although the latter two are not defined by religion either, as they may include Berber Muslims and Kurdish Muslims, Berber Christians and Kurdish Christians, and Berber Jews and Kurdish Jews), and none of these are today referred to or refer to themselves as "Arabs". Indeed, some of the communities referred to originated as early as the Babylonian captivity (6th century BCE), antedating the Arab Muslim conquest by a millennium. (To underscore this point, Iraqi Jews on some occasions prefer to call themselves "Babylonian Jews"). Rather, "Arab Jews" as a term was created no earlier than the rise of secular ethnic nationalism in the early twentieth century, when many Jews sought integration into the new national identities (Iraqi, Tunisian etc.) as an escape from their previous minority status, in much the same way as some nineteenth century German Jews preferred to identify as "Germans of the Mosaic faith" rather than as "Jews" and, even then, identification in national terms (with respect to the country) was far more common among Jews of this intellectual stream than was affinity to a pan-Arab identity.

Proponents of the argument against "Arab Jews", including most Jews from Arab lands, do not seek to deny the strong Arabic cultural influence on Jews in those countries. In North Africa, some Jews spoke Judeo-Arabic languages while others spoke French; and in some areas there are still Jews who dress quite like Arabs. Their argument is that “Arabness” referred to more than just a common shared culture. One could therefore legitimately speak of “Arabized” Jews, or "Jews of Arab countries", just as one can speak of "English Jews" or "British Jews" or "Polish Jews", whereas many Jews would object to terms such as "Saxon Jews", "Celtic Jews", or "Slavic Jews" as the latter refer to ethnic groups and therefore, implicitly, deny the existence of a distinct Jewish ethnic identity. The term "Arab Jews" is seen as more akin to the latter, both by those who oppose it and, on occasion, by those who affirm it as a manner in which to deny so-called "Arab Jews" a distinct ethnic or national identity. A better translation of the traditional term Musta'arabim (Arabizers), used to distinguish the older Arabic-speaking communities of those countries from post-1492 Sephardim, would provide those who wish to refer to Jews from Arab lands with respect to linguistic and cultural markers, but do not wish to assert that there exists no Jewish diaspora or Jewish people.

Finally, a third view is that the term "Arab Jew" has a certain legitimacy, but should only describe the Jewish communities of Arabia itself, such as the Banu Qaynuqa of the time of Muhammad and, possibly, the Yemenite Jews: see Arab Jewish tribes. This view is typically put forward as stemming from the view of Arab identity as a geographical rather than ethno-linguistic or cultural but, because it refers to a far more restricted understanding of "Arab" geography as referring to the Arabian peninsula, comes into conflict with the modern pan-Arabism exemplified by the Arab League.

Jews of Arabia before Islam

Main article Arab Jewish tribes

Jewish populations have existed in the Arabian Peninsula since before Islam; in the north where they were connected to the Jewish populations of the Levant and Iraq, in the Ihsaa' coastal plains, and in the south, i.e. in Yemen.

While Jewish populations around the world as far as India and Ethiopia have always claimed descent from the toratic twelve tribes, it is unclear whether all or some of the Jewish populations of Arabia did have such an ancestry, or were locals who have adopted Judaism as a faith, or mixtures of both cases.

Other facts bearing on the controversy

  • According to Salim Tamari, in most places in the world today, the term "Arab Jew" is considered an oxymoron.[1]
  • According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, all Jews are of Semitic origin, in Aramaic Mesopotamia.
  • Approximately one half of Israeli-Jews, (nearly 2,900,000 out of 5,840,000) could be described as Arab-Jews; thus using the term would imply that Israel (with an additional near 20% of the population defined as Palestinian-Arabs) is a 70% Arab state.
  • The prevalence of the 'Y-DNA Haplogoup' may demonstrate the genetic homogeneity of all Semitic-speaking peoples.[8] Specifically, "Jewish communities, Mizrahim, Sephardim and Ashkenazim are more closely related to each other and to other Middle Eastern Semitic populations -- Palestinians, Syrians, and Druze -- than to their neighboring non-Jewish populations in the Diaspora."[9]
  • Some Jews falling within boundaries of distinct non-Arab ethno-linguistic communities which are themselves inside boundaries of countries today considered Arab, identified as that ethno-linguistic community (along with Muslims and any other religious groups within that non-Arab ethnic identity) rather than as Arabs. Such is the case in Morocco with the Berber Jews together with Berber Muslims and the tiny Berber Christian minority identifying as Berbers, or in Iraq with the Kurdish Jews together with Kurdish Muslims, and Kurdish Yazidi, Kurdish Yarsan, and Kurdish Christian minorities identifying as Kurds.
  • There is considerable opposition because of political rivalry and different opinions regarding Zionism and issues concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Overwhelming majority of Mizrahi Jews reject the term, since it is not conforming with more popular in Israelmelting pot ethos.
  • The term is mostly used by politically left-wing or anti-Zionist activists in Israel,and so perceived as politicization of identity and opposed by right-wing, centrist and moderate left Mizrahi Jews in Israel.
  • On-going inter-marriage among Jews of different background means that ethnic groupings based on origin are increasingly irrelevant except among highly-orthodox Jews.

See also


External links



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address