Spain opens door to Sephardic Jews after historic expulsion
The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks or months that offers citizenship to the descendants of legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492.
By Aron Hellerjorge Sainz
The Associated Press
MADRID — They were burned at the stake, forced to convert or chased into exile. Now Spain is moving to right a half-millennium old “historic mistake” against its onetime flourishing Sephardic Jewish community: the European Union (EU) country is on the verge of offering citizenship to descendants of victims estimated to number in the millions.
The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks or months in Parliament that offers citizenship to the descendants of legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492. Asked whether the new law amounted to an apology, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón replied: “Without a doubt.”
“What the law will do, five centuries later, is make amends for a terrible historic mistake, one of the worst that Spaniards ever made,” Ruiz-Gallardón said in an interview.
Descendants of Sephardic Jews, he said, will be considered “children of Spain.”
The term “Sephardic” literally means “Spanish” in Hebrew, but the label has come also to apply to one of the two main variants of Jewish religious practice. The other — and globally dominant one — being “Ashkenazic,” which applies to Jews whose lineage, in recent times, is traced to northern and Eastern Europe.
Because of mixing between the groups and other factors, there is no accepted figure for the global Sephardic population, but reasonable estimates would range between a fifth and a third of the world’s roughly 13 million Jews. Hundreds of thousands live in France and have EU passports. But the largest community is in Israel, where almost half of the 6 million Jews are considered Sephardic.
It is not clear how much of a historical link Spain will require. Most of Israel’s Sephardics hail from northern Africa and southern Europe, which were early ports of call after the expulsion from Spain, and so they may be able to easily show direct links. But other communities, from places such as Iraq and Yemen, are considered Sephardic by religious practice yet may have trouble proving a connection to Spain.
Either way, interest already is running high. Hundreds of Israelis claiming Sephardic ancestry have contacted the Spanish Embassy in Tel Aviv, begun researching their family histories and taken to the airwaves to discuss their newfound citizenship possibilities.
To some, the prospect of Spanish citizenship marks a significant dose of historic justice. To others, it simply offers an EU passport. That’s a big deal in a country that is still technically at war with many of its neighbors and where prosperity is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Israel’s per capita GDP of nearly $40,000 year is significantly higher than that of Spain — which has been wracked by economic crisis in recent years — and on a par with rich nations like France and Britain.
But the Sephardics in Israel, despite their large numbers, have yet to close the socio-economic gap with the European Jews who founded the country and control most levers of power. There has never been a Sephardic prime minister, and the Ashkenazi Jews still earn more on average and are overwhelmingly dominant in academia and other key areas.
“I want to live somewhere else, and if I can do it without too much of a fuss, I will,” said Maoz Mizrachi, 25, a salesman whose father’s family traces its roots to Spain. “It’s tough for young people to get ahead here, and this gives me the opportunity to try somewhere else.”
Leon Amiras, who heads an association of immigrants to Israel from Latin countries, said his phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the news emerged. “People from every corner are interested, from professors to doctors, engineers to plumbers and bus drivers,” he said.
The reform will allow dual nationality, enabling the newly minted Spaniards to retain their previous citizenship. Such an arrangement would give Sephardic Jews the same dual-nationality privilege Spain currently grants only to Latin Americans. Elsewhere in Europe, Germany offers citizenship to descendants of Jews forced to flee the Nazis. Israel itself offers automatic citizenship to Jews.
Previously, under a 1924 law, the government had discretionary powers to award Sephardic Jews nationality, but the new law is much more far-reaching: According to Ruiz-Gallardón, Spanish nationality to those who can prove ancestry will be a right the authorities must honor.
The nuts and bolts of the new law, the government says, will be relatively simple: Applicants need only have their ancestry certified by a rabbi in any country and the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities. Genetic testing has not been mentioned as an option.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, doubted that Spain will receive a flood of applications for citizenship. But he said key questions remain on how people will prove eligibility.
“I’m sure it could be a bureaucratic nightmare to determine who is eligible and who is not,” he said during a visit this week to Madrid in which he met with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Juan Carlos.
Because Israel has association agreements with the EU, Israelis can generally travel there with great ease already. But an EU passport enables residence and work in the entire 28-nation bloc, giving access to high-quality, subsidized education.
Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree, also known as the Edict of Expulsion in March 1492, banishing Jews as part of a ruthless policy to unite Spain under the banner of Catholicism. The edict accuses the Spanish Jews — one of the great Jewish centers of learning from that era — of trying “to steal faithful Christians from our holy Catholic faith … and subvert them to their own wicked belief and conviction.”
Inaki Galipiento, a Madrid restaurant owner, said he has no problem with the proposed new law because it rights a wrong of the past. “In those times it was also permitted to burn and behead people,” said Galipiento, 46. “What they have now approved corrects a historic atrocity, and that’s fine.”
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The Alhambra Decree ( the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on 31 March 31, 1492 by the joint Christian Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon by July 31, 1492.
Some common terms
Semitic people are Afroasiatic (black African and Asian mix). Semitic languages include: Arabic, Aramaic, Amharic , Hebrew, Tigrinya and Chadic languages (that includes Hausa spoken in West Africa).
Hebrews are a Semitic people who are said to have arrived in Canaan (known today as Israel) around 1250 BCE (Before the Common Era or BC). Canaan the name for a region approximating present-day Lebanon, parts of Jordan and Syria west of the Litani River. Over time many Hebrews in what is now known as the Middle East converted to Islam or Christianity.
Ashkenazi Jews-The name Ashkenaz was applied in the Middle Ages to white European Jews living along the Rhine River in northern France and western Germany. The Rhineland today is the general name for areas of Germany along the river Rhine between Bingen and the Dutch border. The center of Ashkenazi Jews later spread to Poland-Lithuania, Hungary, Russia, Eastern Europe and now there are Ashkenazi settlements all over the world. The term “Ashkenaz” became identified primarily with German customs and descendants of white German Jews.
In the 10th and 11th century, the first Ashkenazim, Jewish merchants in France and Germany, were economic pioneers, treated well because of their trading connections with the Mediterranean and the East. In the 12th and 13th centuries, many Ashkenazi Jews became moneylenders. They were supported by the secular rulers who benefited from taxes imposed on the Jews.
In 1182, Jews were expelled from France. Ashkenazi Jews continued to build communities in Germany until they faced riots and massacres in the 1200s and 1300s. Some Jews moved to Sephardi Spain while others set up Ashkenazi communities in Poland.
Yiddish is a High German language. Yiddish was the common language of Ashkenazi Jews in eastern and central Europe.
Sephardi Jews– The descendants of European Jews who left Spain or Portugal after the 1492 expulsion are referred to as Sephardim. The word “Sephardim” comes from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sepharad. In the year 587 C.E., King Reccared, the Visigoth king in Spain, converted to Christian Roman Catholicism and made it the state religion. In the year 589 C.E., a canon was passed forbidding the marriage between Christians and Jews; and in 612 C.E., the Council of Gundemar of Toledo ordered that all Jews submit to Christian baptism within the year. In 638 C.E., the Arian Visigoths declared that “only Christian Catholics could live in Spain.” The situation improved in 711 when Spain fell under the rule of the black African Muslim Moors. Both Moorish Muslims and European Jews built a civilization, based in Cordoba, known as Al-Andalus, which was more advanced than any civilization in Europe at that time. The era of Muslim rule in Spain (8th-11th century) was considered the “Golden Age” for Spanish Jewry. Jewish intellectual and spiritual life flourished and many Jews served in Spanish courts. Jewish economic expansion was unparalleled. In Toledo, Jews were involved in translating Arabic texts to the romance languages, as well as translating Greek and Hebrew texts into Arabic. Islamic culture also influenced the Jews. Muslim and Jewish customs and practices became intertwined. For example, Arabic was used for prayers rather than Hebrew or Spanish. Before entering the synagogue, Jews washed their hands and feet, which is a practice done before entering a mosque. In the first Sephardi Diaspora, a large number of Jews settled in North Africa and in the Ottoman Empire, especially, Turkey and Greece. The Sephardi Jews preserved their special language, which was a combination of Hebrew and Spanish, known as Ladino.
Mizrahim Jews– Jews who never left the Middle East and North Africa are known as Mizrahim Jews. This includes Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Lebanese Jews, Yemenite Jews, Persian Jews, Afghan Jews, Bukharian Jews, Maghrebi Jews, Berber Jews, Kurdish Jews, Mountain Jews and Georgian Jews.
Palestine– derives from the word Philistine, a non-Semitic people who left Crete, the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, and arrived in Canaan at the beginning of the 12th century B.C.E. The Philistines inhabited the Mediterranean coast of Canaan whose borders approximate the modern Gaza Strip. The Philistines occupation of Canaan is to have taken place during the reign of Egypt’s Ramesses III of the Twentieth Dynasty, ca. 1180 to 1150 BCE. After the European Romans conquered the region in the second century C.E., the Romans used the term Palestinia.
European rule of Egypt (KM.T or Kemet)
Greek rule of Egypt took place when Alexander the Great invaded and conquered Egypt (KM.T or Kemet) in 332 B.C.E. and created the city of Alexandria. The rulers of this period of Egypt is known by the name of the Ptolemaic dynasty. The area came under Roman rule in 30 B.C.. The Romans expelled the Semitic Hebrews a number of times from what is now Israel.
Brief history of Jews in the United Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Before 1066 there was no real evidence of presence of Jews in Britain.
In the late 11th Century William the Conqueror brought Jews from Rouen, in northern France on the River Seine, to London.
In 1066 in the wake of the Norman conquest of England, Jews left Normandy (France) and settled in London and later in York, Norwich, Oxford, Bristol and Lincoln.
In 1078 Christian Pope Gregory VII, of Rome, prohibited Jews from holding offices in Christendom.
In the 12th Century the First Charter of Protection to Jews was given in England.
In 1177 Jews were permitted to purchase burial grounds outside of London and any city where they lived. Before Jews of England had to use the burial ground in London.
In 1181 Jews were forbidden to hold Arms in England.
In 1189 the coronation of Richard Lion-Heart led to a series of massacres of Jews.
In 1231 Jews were expelled from Leicester. This proved to be the start of a host of expulsions from various cities and towns in England.
In 1253 Restrictive measures against Jews were put into place.
In 1264 Attack on the Jews of London and elsewhere.
In 1290 an Edict expelling Jews from England was given.
In 1656 had readmission into England. Jewish residents of London began living openly as Jews. The first Synagogue wasestablished after Readmission.
In 1664 Jews granted Royal protection.
In 1692 the first Ashkenazi Synagogue was established.
In 1858 the first Jew, Lionel Rothschild, takes seat in House of Commons.
In 1896 the first version of Theodor Herzl’s “The Jewish State” published in Jewish Chronicle. Theodor Herzl is the the visionary of Zionism and was born in Budapest.
In 1902 Anti-Jewish disturbances in South Wales.
In 1903 The Uganda Proposal. Theodor Herzl sought support from the great powers for the creation of a Jewish homeland. He turned to Great Britain, and met with Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary and others. The British agreed, in principle, to Jewish settlement in East Africa “on conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs.” ‘
In 1905 The Uganda Program was finally rejected by the Zionist movement at the Seventh Zionist Congress.
In 1911 Anti-Jewish riots took place in Tredegar in south-east Wales.
In 1917 The Balfour Declaration was stated. The British government decided to endorse the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine. After discussions within the cabinet and consultations with Jewish leaders, the decision was made public in a letter from British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild. The contents of this letter became known as the Balfour Declaration.
In 1920 the Palestine Mandate was assigned to Britain. The British Mandate for Palestine was a legal commission for the administration of the territory that had formerly constituted the parts of the Ottoman Empire ruled Middle East. It was confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922. The mandate document formalized the division of the British protectorates – Palestine, to include a national home for the Jewish people, under direct British rule, and the Hashemite Emirate of Transjordan.
In 1921 the British placed restrictions on Jewish land purchases in what remained of Palestine.
In 1933 Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and the flight of Jews out of Nazi Germany began. Most Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria found it very difficult to enter Britain.
In 1936 the migration of Jews was still underway out of Nazi Germany.
By 1939 about 70,000 Jews had been granted refuge in Britain. The main area of settlement was North-West London.
Also, in 1939 the British introduced a White Paper of 1939, which limited Jewish immigration over the course of the war to 75,000 and restricted purchase of land by Jews, perhaps in response to the Great Arab Uprising (1936-1939).
In 1942 the confirmation of extermination of Jews by German Nazis was announced to the House of Commons.
In 1947 the UN Partition Plan – the United Nations General Assembly passed the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine (UN General Assembly Resolution 181), a plan to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict by partitioning the territory into separate Jewish and Arab states.
In 1948 the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, one day before the expiry of the Palestine Mandate.
In 1949 Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949.
Source: The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise
See link to the relationship of African black Moors leaving Spain and Jews leaving Spain