For Spanish citizenship, Jews must prove Sephardic link

For Spanish citizenship, Jews must prove Sephardic link

Bill on legal return to Spain for Inquisition descendents elicits excited response from Sephardic Jews, alongside rabbinic objections

The Spanish Inquisition Tribunal, a 19th century work by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY)
The Spanish Inquisition Tribunal, a 19th century work by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY)

Jews of Sephardic origin seeking to apply for Spanish citizenship under a proposed law to enable a right of return for the descendants of 1492 expellees must establish that they are presently members of the Sephardic Jewish community. In addition, applicants must also prove their ancestry by having a surname of Spanish origin or providing evidence that their family speaks Ladino.

According to a yet-to-be-finalized version of the bill, applicants must gain approval from Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities that they are indeed affiliated with the Sephardic community. Jews in countries other than Spain must also obtain confirmation from rabbinic authorities in their country of residence and apply at the Spanish embassy in their home countries.

While no final list of accepted surnames has yet been released to the Jewish community, the bill makes reference to such lists multiple times.

The drafted legislation aims to accelerate the citizenship process for Sephardic Jews for a set period of two years.

On Friday, Spain’s government approved the bill, which was filed last month by the ruling Popular Party and proposes to amend previous legislation that allowed for granting citizenship to Sephardic Jews who chose to apply for it.

The bill proposes to allow dual nationality, enabling people who can prove Sephardic ancestry to also retain their other citizenships. Reports about the bill did not say when it would go up for a vote by lawmakers of Spain’s Congress of Deputies.

News of the bill prompted a flurry of excited responses from the Sephardic Jewish community, and criticism from national-religious rabbis in Israel. Maya Weiss-Tamir, an attorney who handles these requests, told Channel 2 she had received 150 applications since the bill approval announcement.

“The motives vary,” she said. “There are those who are interested in citizenship for sentimental reasons; the connection to their Spanish roots and the symbolism in receiving Spanish citizenship. And there are those who are looking at the practical reasons — like the option to work and study in Europe.”

However, prominent Orthodox rabbis in Israel panned the proposal.

“Spain is seeking support, they are in difficult economic straits,” Rav Shlomo Aviner said, according to Walla. “Suddenly they are courting us to give us citizenship that has no use for us. An Israeli passport is worth more.”

Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, a Sephardic rabbi, also denounced the bill. “There is an ancient [rabbinic] ban against returning to Spain,” he said.

Spain already granted citizenship to individuals who applied based on previous naturalization laws for Sephardic Jews, but had no procedure in place to process such requests, the Terra Espana news site reported Friday.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain and Portugal during the 15th and 16th centuries, when they were persecuted by the Catholic church and the royal houses of both countries.

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