There is excitement among Jews in Israel and around the world as Spain overturns the expulsion order passed over 500 years ago by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. The Spanish Council of Ministers announced passage of a draft bill last week which would simplify the process for Jews of Spanish ancestry to obtain Spanish nationality by allowing them to have dual citizenship between Spain and their home countries.
Parliament must still vote passage of the bill before it can become law. Two years ago, a law was passed allowing Jews who could prove their Sephardic roots to become Spanish citizens. That law, however, requires Jews to relinquish their current citizenship.
Once Parliament approves the law, applications to become Spaniards must be made within two years of its passage. However, the Council of Ministers has retained the right to extend the application period for another year. The Spanish Embassy in Israel has been flooded with applications by Jews excited to be welcome back, as Spain verges on overturning the expulsion ordered more than 500 years ago.
On its website, the Embassy of Spain lists several means which the law provides for proving Sephardic ancestry. Candidates need only fulfill any one or more of the following criteria:
• Obtain a certificate from a legally recognized rabbi in their town of residence;
• Have a Sephardic surname;
• Demonstrate knowledge of the Sephardic language known as Ladino;
• Obtain a certificate of confirmation from the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities of Sephardic Jewish identity;
• The inclusion of the applicant’s name or that he/she is a direct descendant of someone whose name appears in a list of Jewish families under Spanish protection; or
• Have a link or relationship with a person or family meeting the above-listed criteria.
The measure has been extremely popular among Israelis, and the announcement of the revised version is making the prospect of European Union citizenship via Spain even more attractive. But proving historical links from 500 years ago is not always easy. Maya Weiss-Tamir, an Israeli attorney who specializes in Spanish citizenship applications, believes the new law will “lighten the burden on the descendants of the expelled.”
Yiddish, the Jewish dialect of German, is widely spoken among Jews throughout the world. Knowledge of the 15th Century Sephardic Spanish dialect known as Ladino is much more rare. Some Sephardic families have handed down not only their unique language from generation to generation throughout the centuries, but also keys to family houses left behind. Spain’s Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, declared, “Five centuries later, the door is reopened.”
Director of the American Sephardi Federation in New York, Lynne Winters, said members of the federation are very pleased with the new initiative. Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations reported that a delegation of American Jewish leaders was in Spain last week to meet with members of the government, including his majesty King Juan Carlos I and President Mariano Rajoy. Hoenlein’s group also applauds the new legislation, which he said will help to guarantee that “the history of violence and exile will never be forgotten.”
The official reason Queen Isabella gave for driving out the Jews in 1492 was their “crimes and delicts against our holy Catholic faith.” The statement refers to encouragement given by Jews to secretly practicing members of their community known as Marranos. The queen believed this unlawful encouragement interfered with the conversos (Jews who converted to Catholicism) ability to become good Christians. Acquisition by the crown of Jewish lands and treasure resulting from the expulsion was hardly a disincentive. Prior to that time, Jewish communities had flourished on the Iberian Peninsula since the days of King Solomon.
Ruiz-Gallardon expressed that the new law “concerns events in our past of which we should not be proud.” He added that it also “reflects the reality of Spain as an open and plural society.” As Spain’s government overturns the expulsion order of 500 years ago, excitement is growing among Jews in Israel and around the world, who finally feel welcome back.
By Melissa Roddy