Granting of Portuguese Nationality to descendents of Sepharadic Jews

Granting of Portuguese Nationality to descendents of Sepharadic Jews

Decreto Lei nº 30-A/2015 de 27 de Fevereiro

The designation of “Sephardic Jews” refers to the descendants of the ancient Jews and traditional Jewish communities of the Iberian Peninsula (Sefarad or Hispania), that is, Portugal and Spain.

The presence of these communities in the Iberian Peninsula goes a long way back, and in fact precedes the formation of the Iberian Christian kingdoms, namely Portugal. Until the 15th century, some Jews occupied very prominent places in Portuguese political and economic life.

Following the Alhambra Edict of 1492 and their persecution by the Spanish Inquisition, a very large number of Spanish Jews sought refuge in Portugal and joined the Portuguese Jewish communities. However, King Manuel I of Portugal, who had initially issued a royal-decree law guaranteeing their protection, ordered in 1496 the expulsion of all Jews that did not convert to Catholicism.

Notorious anti-New Christian riots broke out in 1506, killing up to four thousand in a massacre in Lisbon. After the massacre the crown softened its New Christian stance for a time, allowing migration. In 1515 the king requested to establish an inquisition to systematically persecute New Christians, but it was initially denied by the Pope.

The Portuguese Inquisition was formally established in Portugal in1536 under King João III and, although the last public auto-da-fé took place in 1765, was only extinguished in 1821 when the country went through a constitutionalist insurrection.

The Inquisition focused its attention on New Christians and crypto-Jews. The fact that anyone arrested by the Inquisition was subject to having his property confiscated insured that the campaign was carried out with alacrity. Tribunals were set up in a number of towns in Portugal, but also in the kingdom’s overseas possessions, namely Brazil, Goa and Cape Verde.

According to historian António José Saraiva, 40,000 individuals were charged by the Portuguese Inquisition. Of them, in the mainland venues alone, 1,175 were burned at the stake, and an additional 633 burned in effigy.

Thus, many Sephardic Jews were forced into exile and compelled to leave Portugal from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century onwards, including those who had converted to Catholicism – the conversos, also known as New Christians, Anusim or Marranos. Some hid their practice of Judaism over the years and are generally designated as secret, hidden or crypto-Jews.

Portuguese Jews and New-Christians who managed to escape, settled in several Mediterranean countries like Morocco, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, Northern Europe cities such as London, Nantes, Paris, Antwerp, Brussels, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Glückstadt, Hamburg  or Cologne and other countries like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Antilles and the US, among others.

Despite the expulsion and the persecution of their ancestral territory, they have kept, along with their descendants, not only the Portuguese language, in some cases, but also the traditional rites of the ancient Jewish worship in Portugal, saving their surnames over generations, objects and documents proving their Portuguese origin, along with a strong memorial connection to Portugal. Consequently, they are often referred to as “Portuguese Jews” or “Jews of the Portuguese Nation”.

Considering this historical heritage, the Portuguese Citizenship Act (Lei da Nacionalidade) was amended as to permit the acquisition of Portuguese citizenship by the descendants of Portugal’s Sephardic Jews.

All the legal requirements regarding the application of descendants of Sephardic Jews of Portuguese origin for Portuguese nationality (through naturalization) are clearly stated in the Portuguese Decree-Law 30-A/2015, of February 27th, 2015. Applications should be presented at the Central Registry Offices (Conservatória dos Registos Centrais) in Lisbon, in diplomatic services, and the Portuguese Minister of Justice was invested the power of granting nationality.