The New York Times, in today's paper, has a remarkable article on an initiative I missed (first week of classes), Interest in Israel as Spain Weighs Citizenship for Sephardic Jews. I went right past this today in my US to 1865 course, but I covered it in Western Civ last fall. In 1492, beside the first voyage of Christopher Columbus and (probably as a result of) the reconquista of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella expelled Spain's Sephardic Jews (the ones who couldn't be coerced into conversion), and now, over 500 years later, Spain wants to restore their Spanish citizenship.
For the Jewish community of the world, this is a BIG DEAL. How it affects us, below the Great Orange divider doodle.
It's not a done deal yet, but, at least in Israel, the inquiries about citizenship have begun.
Under the draft bill [introduced last week], Spain is offering citizenship to any person — whether Jewish or not — whose Sephardic origins can be certified. The bill removes some onerous existing requirements that include the need for applicants to renounce their current citizenship. It still requires final approval from the Spanish Parliament.Indeed. From the Encyclopedia Judaica (thank you, San Francisco Public Library, for an excellent database online)
The legislation was first presented in November 2012 by Spain’s foreign and justice ministers as a conciliatory gesture toward Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors were expelled in 1492 in one of the darkest chapters in Spanish history.
Tomás de *Torquemada , confessor to the queen, was appointed inquisitor-general in the autumn of 1483, providing the Inquisition with a new impetus and stricter organization. His activities stretched from town to town throughout the whole kingdom, bringing terror to Jewish communities everywhere since they were inevitably linked with the Conversos. In less than 12 years the Inquisition condemned no less than 13,000 Conversos, men and women, who had continued to practice Judaism in secret. Yet these were no more than a fraction of the mass of Conversos. When the last bastion of Muslim power in Spain fell with the triumphant entry of the Catholic monarchs into Granada on Jan. 2, 1492, the urge toward complete religious unity of the kingdom was reinforced. The scandal of the Conversos who had remained true to Judaism had shown that segregation of the Jews and limitation of their rights did not suffice to suppress their influence. They must be totally removed from the face of Spain. Thus on March 31, 1492 the edict of expulsion was signed in Granada, although it was not promulgated until between April 29 and May 1. All Jews who were willing to accept Christianity were, of course, to be permitted to stay.Torquemada. The Spanish Inquisition. Examining Christian converts to make SURE none of them were doing ANYTHING that could be considered Jewish practice and condemning anyone who did.
In May the exodus began, the majority of the exiles – around 100,000 people – finding temporary refuge in Portugal (from where the Jews were expelled in 1496–97), the rest making for North Africa and Turkey, the only major country which opened its doors to them. A few found provisional homes in the little kingdom of Navarre, where there was still an ancient Jewish community in existence, but there too their stay was brief, for the Jews were expelled in 1498. Considerable numbers of Spanish Jews, including the chief rabbi Abraham Seneor and most of the members of the influential families, preferred baptism to exile, adding their number to the thousands of Conversos who had chosen this road at an earlier date. On July 31 (the 7th of Av), 1492, the last Jew left Spain. Yet Spanish (or Sephardi) Jewry had by no means disappeared, for almost everywhere the refugees reconstituted their communities, clinging to their former language and culture. In most areas, especially in North Africa, they met with descendants of refugees from the 1391 persecutions. In Ereẓ Israel they had been preceded by several groups of Spanish Jews who had gone there as a result of the various messianic movements which had shaken Spanish Jewry. Officially, no Jews were left in Spain. All that were left were the Conversos, a great number of whom remained true to their original faith. Some later fell victim to the Inquisition; others managed to flee from Spain and return openly to Judaism in the Sephardi communities of the Orient and Europe.
Anyhow, an Israeli newspaper has published a list of around 50 Sephardic surnames (their examples are Abutbul, Medina and Zuaretz, and the ones I know are Secunda and Solis-Cohen), and Israelis who can trace their roots back are making inquiries. People like this:
Mordechai Ben-Abir, 88, said he hoped to be the first to obtain Spanish citizenship if the law was passed. Mr. Ben-Abir, who now lives in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, began researching his family roots when he was in his 70s, went on to obtain a doctorate in philology at the University of Barcelona and has traced his Catalan ancestry back to the expulsion of 1492. To return to Spain 500 years later with a Spanish passport, he said, would be “a victory” for his family and the Jewish peopleI hope this happens soon. The Spanish foreign ministry is circulating a statement that Parliament might not approve the bill for several months and that, even then, it might be modified.
Why go back to Spain? Family reasons, and, perhaps more important, a European passpport which will allow the bearer to work anywhere in Europe. My guess is that gay and lesbian Sephardic Jews will be at the forefront of the emigrants, since same sex couples can be married in Spain, but not in Israel.
Even more surprising is the estimate made by Natan Sharansky, who many of you will remember spent years in Soviet prisons for his activities on behalf of human rights, as chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, that many (hundreds of thousands) of the Conversos
are exploring ways of returning to their Jewish roots. “The state of Israel must ease the way for their return,” said Mr. Sharansky.And why not? A conversion under duress is a conversion under duress even if your ancestor made it 500 or 600 years ago.
As Hillary Clinton said as Secretary of State, civil rights are human rights. This goes for religion as well, as far as it's the right to practice your own religion, not to impose your beliefs on others. One shechechayanu coming up. I didn't expect this.