Reclaiming Spains Jews

Posted By on May 13, 2014

By Gwynne Dyer

The Spanish parliament still has to pass the new citizenship law, but the cabinet has already approved it and Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardn is sure there wont be a problem. In Spain, a clear majority realize we have committed a historical error and have an opportunity to repair it, so I am sure that law will pass with an immense majority in parliament, he said.

Historical apologies are in fashion ex-South African president F.W. De Klerk apologized for apartheid, ex-British prime minister Tony Blair apologized for the slave trade and the Irish potato famine, and Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Churchs historical oppression of women.

But Spain isnt just saying sorry for expelling its Jews 522 years ago.

Its offering to give their descendants back their citizenship.

Spains Jews were given only four months in 1492 to choose between becoming Christian or leaving their homes forever. Most left, settling in Muslim-ruled North Africa and the Ottoman Empire or in other parts of Christian Europe. They kept their Spanish language in the form of Ladino Castilian written in the Hebrew script and became know as Sephardic (i.e. Spanish) Jews.

Ladino is now a dying language, but the Sephardim have retained their distinctive identity and are estimated to number up to a third of the worlds 13 million Jews today. Spains planned new law potentially covers almost all of them, for it is written very broadly.

Applicants for Spanish citizenship need not speak Ladino or even be religious. They need only be able to show a link to Sephardic culture (it could be as little as a Sephardic family name).

In most cases, however, the simplest route to Spanish citizenship would be to have a local rabbi certify their Sephardic ancestry, or to get certification of their Sephardic heritage from a recognized Spanish-Jewish community.

Spains justice minister reckons only about 150,000 Sephardic Jews will take him up on the offer (which will remain open for two years), and he doesnt think that many of them will actually want to move to Spain. But he promises the government will not be strict in deciding who qualifies as Sephardic We are opening the door, he said and he may be surprised by how many actually apply.

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Reclaiming Spains Jews

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