Posted by: davidbancroft | February 22, 2014

Sephardic Jews Receive a Spanish Embrace

Five hundred years ago Spain implemented the Inquisition.  The Inquisition was originally intended in large part to ensure the orthodoxy of those who converted from Judaism and Islam. This regulation of the faith of the newly converted was intensified after the royal decrees issued in 1492 and 1501 ordering Jews and Muslims to convert or leave. The following report is a fascinating situation that evokes one question for me. Why would the decendants of the Jews of Spain want to return to a country that persecuted them so severely?

David Bancroft

By Aran Heller, 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 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-Gallardon 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- Gallardon told The Associated Press 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 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.

The largest community is in Israel, where almost half of the 6 million Jews are con­sidered Sephardic.

It is not completely clear how much of a historical link Spain will require.  Most of Israel’s Sephardics hail from  North 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 like Iraq and Yemen, are considered Sephardic by religious practice yet may have trouble proving  a connection to Spain.

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.

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