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By: Sarina Roffé

In 2015, both Spain and Portugal passed legislation that granted citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled in 1492 and 1496. To understand just how grand a development this is, a short history lesson is required.

Prior to 1492, about 300,000 Jews lived in Spain. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued their decree of expulsion, about 90,000 Spanish Jews ended up in Portugal. Their refuge there was short-lived. In 1496, King Manuel of Portugal forcibly converted the Jews populating areas like Lisbon, Porto, Braganza, and Belmonte.

More than 500 years later, both Spain and Portugal are trying to rectify the past by allowing the descendants of these Jews to apply for citizenship. “The new legislation corrects a moral wrong. The long centuries of anti-Semitism in Portugal and the expulsions decreed by King D. Manuel I in 1496 cannot be denied,” said Deborah Elijah, a member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Community of Oporto (Portugal).

The Spain legislation however, is valid only until October 1, 2018. Applicants in Portugal have no expiration date as of yet. A certificate from the Jewish community must be issued before being considering the application. Applicants do not need to be Jewish, but do need to prove they are descendants of Sephardic Jews.

Why Apply?

To date, most applicants are from Turkey and France, with a smaller number being from South America, Israel, and the United States. Turkish applicants are applying so as to prepare to leave the country due to the rise of anti-Semitism. American and Israeliapplicants appear to be applying for business and personal reasons. Having dual citizenship and an EU passport enables one to do business freely in Europe and even live there. Residency in Europe enables applicants to use socialized medicine. Visas required of Americans traveling to some countries are not required of EU passport holders, who, by extension save on visa fees.

Applying for Certification
and Citizenship in Spain

The process of applying for citizenship in Spain can be difficult. Indeed, the law in its current form ensures that very few of the estimated 3.5 million Sephardic Jews in the world today will ever become Spanish citizens. Given that the fees can exceed $5,600 per individual, only people with high purchasing power can apply.

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

An applicant's "Sephardic condition" must be validated by means of a certificate from the Madrid-based Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain (FCJE). Applicants living outside ofSpain may obtain certifications from Jewish associations or rabbinical authorities in their home countries, but those
local certifications must still be validated by the FCJE.

Applicants will need to visit Spain at least once, if not twice, and pass both a citizenship test and a language test, while showing ties to the community. Applicants must file an application within three years of October 1, 2015, when the law was enacted.

Steps for Applying for Certification
and Citizenship in Spain

Step 1 ­Determining Eligibility

Eligibility can be demonstrated by:

1.A certificate issued by the Chairman of the Jewish community of the applicant’s place of residence or birth.

2.A certificate from the rabbinical authority that is legally recognized in the applicant’s country of residence.

3. The family language (Ladino or Haketia).

4.The birth certificate or the wedding certificate stating that the celebration was in accordance with Spanish Sephardic ritual.

5.The inclusion of the applicant or his or her ancestors on one of the special lists produced by the Spanish authorities in 1924 and 1948.

6.“Blood" (family) connections with the people indicated under point number five above.

7.The realization of studies about Spanish history and culture.

8.The realization of charity contributions to Spanish individuals or institutions, provided that they were dispensed on a regular basis.

9.Any other circumstances that demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the applicant is eligible.

10.A certificate issued bythe General Secretariat of the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities.

11. Sephardic surnames are an additional mean of evidence, but
not crucial.

Step 2 ­
Testing Requirements

Applicants must also pass a special test demonstrating their skill in Spanish language and culture. The culture
test is developed by the Cervantes Institute, which promotes Spanish language and culture abroad.

Step 3 ­Appling for Spanish Nationality

Applicants who successfully meet the requirements can then submit all of the documentation digitally to the Spanish Ministry of Justice. All documents, including birth and marriage certificates, as well as current police reports proving that the applicant hasno criminal record, must be accompanied by official translations and certified by a notary. The Ministry of Justice has one year to approve or deny an application. If an applicant does not hear back from the Ministry within one year, he can assume that his application has been denied.

Step 4 ­Loyalty to the King of Spain

Finally, applicants must affirm their loyalty to the Spanish king and pledge allegiance to the Spanish Constitution. This can be done either in Spain itself or at Spanish embassies or consulates abroad. Successful candidates are not required to relinquish their citizenships in other countries.