Prior to 1948, Jewish communties were found discontinuously in an area stretching from southwest Asia across North Africa, from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the north to Yemen in the south, and from Afghanistan in the east to Morocco in the west. The label "Oriental Jews" is sometimes applied to Jews in this region, although it also includes Jews of India. The label "Jews of Islam" is also used, but some communities exist in regions where Christianity is the dominant religion, such as in Soviet Georgia. Obviously, when applied to Jewish communities, the term "Middle East" applies to lands not generally thought of as Middle Eastern, such as Uzbekistan. In general, in the Middle East and elsewhere, Jewish cultures can be viewed as both subcultures within a larger "Jewish civilization" and as minority groups in the society where they live.
Of the various criteria used by anthropologists to delineate culture-bearing units, four apply to the Jews of the Middle East: religion, region, language, and economic-ecological position.