Tag: Jews of Spain

Spain rejects thousands of applications for citizenship

When it comes to granting citizenship to applicants of Sephardi origin, Spain appears to have had a change of heart. It has rejected or failed to respond to 20,000 applications. One reason could be that the current government is an alliance of the PSOE socialist party and hard-left Podemos, neither known for being philosemitic or pro-Israel. Although the Spanish deadline expires in September 2021, Sephardim can still apply for Portuguese citizenship, which is open-ended. Times of Israel has picked up the story: 

A street in the juderia of Cordoba

Spain has been widely rejecting applications for citizenship by the descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country more than 500 years ago, according to The New York Times.

The Spanish government has extended citizenship to 34,000 people since advancing the 2015 law to redress the “historical mistake” Spain committed when it forced its Jewish population to convert or go into exile in 1492.

But according to The New York Times, which cited Spanish government data, while just a single applicant was denied citizenship before this year, 3,000 applications have been suddenly rejected in the past few months and 17,000 others have received no response.

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132,000 Sephardi Jews apply for Spanish citizenship

The deadline has expired for Sephardi Jews applying for Spanish citizenship: 132,000 applications have been received, mainly from Jews living in Latin America, AFP reports via Israel National News. The Portuguese law granting citizenship to Sephardi Jews is open-ended. So far, 10,000 applications have been approved (roughly a third).

Under the legislation, those able to prove their Jewish heritage and their “special connection” to Spain, were able to apply for citizenship, with the justice ministry saying it received 132,226



More than half of them were filed in the past month when the ministry received some 72,000 applications.

 The vast majority came from Latin American countries, with around 20,000 from Mexico, followed by another 15,000 from Venezuela and 14,000 from Colombia, the ministry said, without giving exact figures.

 More than 4,000 applications came from Argentine Jews and around 3,000 from those living in Israel.

So far, only 6,000 people have been granted citizenship, given the long and complex process involved.

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Spain throws up hurdles to citizenship for Sephardim

As the deadline approaches,  Sephardi Jews applying for Spanish citizenship have been frustrated by bureaucratic hurdles and exams to demonstrate linguistic and historical knowledge. Fewer than 10,000 Jews are supposed to have been successful, Soeren Kern argues in The Gatestone Institute. The process to apply for Portuguese citizenship is much easier:

A piece of much-heralded legislation to grant Spanish citizenship to up to 3.5 million descendants of Jews expelled from the country in 1492 is about to end in failure: fewer than 10,000 Jews have been awarded Spanish passports ahead of an October 1, 2019 deadline.

 Spanish leaders promised that the law — which entered into force on October 1, 2015 for a period of three years and was extended for one additional year — would “right a historic wrong” and demonstrate that more than 500 years after the Inquisition began, Jews are once again welcome in Spain.

The legislation, however, introduced so many cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles to obtain Spanish citizenship that most prospective hopefuls appear to have been deterred from even initiating the application process.

 Also known as the “Right of Return” for Sephardic Jews (Sepharad means “Spain” in Hebrew), the law purported to grant Spanish citizenship to anyone able to meet two seemingly straightforward requirements: prove Sephardic heritage and demonstrate a “special connection” to Spain.

In practice, however, the process has been far more complicated.

 The legislation’s main barriers to Spanish citizenship have been obligatory exams on Spanish language and socio-cultural history, the need to travel to Spain and exorbitant fees and costs.

Although prospective applicants do not need to be practicing Jews, they must prove their Sephardic background through a combination of factors, including ancestry, surnames and spoken language (either Ladino, a Jewish language that evolved from medieval Spanish, or Haketia, a mixture of Hebrew, Spanish and Judeo-Moroccan Arabic).

According to the law, even if applicants speak Ladino or Haketia — essentially dying languages that are spoken mostly by the elderly in some parts of Latin America, Morocco and Turkey — they are still required to pass a Spanish-language proficiency exam.

Congregants at the synagogue in Porto, Portugal

 In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País, the director of the Sephardic Center in Istanbul, Karen Gerson Şarhon, noted the paradox that even though Sephardic Jews have preserved Ladino or Haketia for hundreds of years, proficiency in those languages in and of itself does not qualify them for Spanish citizenship. “A Sephardic Jew who speaks Ladino perfectly understands spoken Spanish,” she said, “but fails the exam because the differences in the written and the oral are very great.”

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Melanie Lidman article (Times of Israel)

New Sephardi Museum planned for Netanya

The Sefarad Museum: Sefardi and Oriental Jewry Heritage Center, in Netanya, Israel, is scheduled to break ground in 2018, to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary, according to Canadian Jewish News. Note that this project will be devoted to the Jews of Spain, and should not be confused with the Museum of Jews from Arab Countries, which is projected to be built in Jerusalem. (With thanks: Imre)

Artist’s impression of the Netanya Museum

It promises to be the most significant museum of its kind, illuminating over 2,000 years of Sephardi and Oriental Jewry’s intellectual and cultural contributions to Judaism.

The 5,000-square-meter facility, set on four floors, has been spearheaded by the Netanya Academic College and the municipality of Netanya, with support from Israel’s Ministry of Culture and Sport, as well as Jewish donors from around the world.

 Integrating traditional display techniques with interactive technologies, including virtual reality displays and interactive touch screens, the museum’s highlights will include a Ladino music centre, a state-of-the-art research library, a gallery on Christopher Columbus and Sephardi Jewish maritime achievements in the Middle Ages, exhibits on Maimonides and Judah Halevy, and a history of Spanish Jewry.

 It’s slated to open in about three years.

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A guide to Sephardi surnames

When Jews were expelled by the Spanish  Inquisition, they often took their Spanish patronymics with them. Miriam Raphael has been compiling a fascinating list with their meanings. Here’s her list (A’s and B’s) of some of the most famous names of the Sephardic community. Click on the link below for names up to ‘V’. (with thanks: Imre)


Abarbanel: From the Hebrew word ‘Av’ meaning ‘father’ , ‘Rabban’ meaning ‘priest’ and ‘El’ meaning ‘God’. One of the oldest Spanish family names which traces its origin from King David.

Abecassis: From the word ‘Av’ meaning Father and Arabic ‘kassas’ meaning storyteller. In Algeria, community leaders and rabbis were given the title ‘Kassis’. Many Jews from Gibraltar, Portugal and Morocco share this name.

Adatto: From the Italian word meaning ‘suitable’ or ‘appropriate’. Jews that left Spain for Turkey via Italy took on this name.

Alhadeff: The name means “weaver” and is of Spanish/Moorish origin found most often among Jews who left Spain after the expulsion for the Greek Island of Rhodes.

Alkana: Meaning ‘God bought’ in Hebrew.

Almo/Almosimo: From Spanish meaning ‘One who gives to the poor’.
Amiel: From the Hebrew words ‘Am’ (nation) and ‘El’ (God) meaning ‘God’s people’ or ‘the people of God’.

Angel: The surname comes from the Hebrew word of ‘malach’ meaning ‘angel’. The Angel family traces back to medieval Spain and migrated to Greece and the Island of Rhodes.

Ashkenazi/Eshkenazi: Ashkenazi meaning ‘German’. The Sephardic carriers of the surname would have some Ashkenazi ancestors who moved to Sephardi countries and joined and were adopted by those communities.

Azose: Anglicized version of the surname ‘Azuz’. The root of the name comes from the Hebrew word for strength – ‘Oz’.

Behar: Many origins of the Behar surname. From the Hebrew ‘behor’ meaning ‘eldest’ and the Turkish word, ‘Bahar’, meaning Spring. Also from Spanish ‘abeja’ meaning bee. Behar is of pre-roman origin and is also the name of a town in the Spanish province of Salamanca and was probably a habitational name for many Jews of that province. Many Sephardic Jews from Bulgaria and Greece carry this surname.

Benarouch: A patronymic name meaning ‘son of the head (leader)’ in Hebrew.
BenPorat: A patronymic name meaning ‘son of the prosperous’ in Hebrew.
Benezra: A patronymic name meaning ‘son of the helper’ in Hebrew and a popular name among Spanish Jews. There is a tradition that this family name is of priestly (Cohen) lineage.

Benaroya: From “Ben” meaning son and “Arroyo” meaning rivulet or river in Spanish. Banaroya is a variant of BenArroyo or BenArollia.

Benveniste: From the Latin ‘veniste’ meaning ‘you came’ and ‘ben’ meaning ‘son’ in Hebrew. This was a widespread Sephardic family originating in Spain that dispersed throughout the Ottoman Empire following the expulsion.

Benzaquen: Patronymic name meaning ‘son of the elder’ in Hebrew.

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