Spanish Jews: Reports of new Sephardic citizenship law, premature

Spain's Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon says Spain owes Sephardic community a debt for spreading the Spanish language and culture.

Marranos: Secret Seder in Spain 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Marranos: Secret Seder in Spain 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Reports that Spain had passed legislation granting citizenship to Sephardic Jews residing anywhere in the world were premature, representatives of the Spanish Jewish community told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
It was reported on Friday that the Spanish government had approved a law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492 to seek Spanish nationality without giving up their current citizenship.
“The law we’ve passed today has a deep historic meaning: not only because it concerns events in our past of which we should not be proud, like the decree to expel the Jews in 1492, but because it reflects the reality of Spain as an open and plural society,” Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon was reported as saying.
The minister also asserted that his nation owned the Sephardic community a debt for spreading the Spanish language and culture around the world.
The word Sephardic comes from Sefarad, Hebrew for Spain.
However, Friday saw not the passage of a new law but rather the approval of a draft bill that the government hopes to see passed by the legislature.
A spokeswoman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain told the Post that she believed it was “very important that the media get the story right in order to avoid a run on consuls around the world by people seeking Spanish nationality.”
Friday’s draft has to be presented to Congress and then to the Senate and then back to Congress. The text may also be modified during this process, which is expected to take several months, she added.
There are several ways in which a prospective citizen may prove Jewish identity, she added, reading from a draft copy of the bill obtained by the Federation and passed on to the Post.
An applicant will be required to present a certificate either from the Federation or from a recognized rabbinical body overseas.
“People who speak Ladino [Judeo-Spanish] will also be considered, and those who have Sephardi last names [will be accepted; however] how the list will be compiled and which names will appear on it is at present a complicated challenge, and any lists that have been published so far, claiming to be official, are not,” the spokeswoman said.
People living outside Spain can do this through consuls, and those in the country can approach the Direccion General de Registros y Notariado, the civil registry.
The draft bill, which has been under discussion for several years, is significant in that it will scrap several current restrictions on Sephardic Jews seeking Spanish citizenship. Today, an applicant must fulfill a residency requirement and give up any existing citizenship. However, under the draft bill, dual citizenship will be permitted and residency will no longer be a factor. As such, Jews around the world will be able to obtain citizenship by applying at a local Spanish consulate.
“It hasn’t been passed and they are still working on the text,” Fernando Vara de Rey, the director of Institutional Relations at the Centro Sefarad-Israel in Madrid, a government body, told the Post.
Vara de Rey said the Centro Sefarad-Israel welcomed the draft bill because it was another bridge between Spain and the Jews. The granting of citizenship would be civil in nature and not based on definitions contained in Jewish law. The paperwork necessary under the new rules will range from a ketuba, a Jewish marriage contract, to family documents showing a connection to Sephardic Jewry.
According to a draft copy seen by the Post, those who can prove that they are either Sephardic or have a “special connection” to Spain regardless of religion, ideology or belief, will be eligible.
This seemingly indicates that Spain will be willing to accept the descendants of so-called Marranos, Jews who hid their identity and ostensibly accepted Christianity. Not all such crypto- Jews, as they are known, are considered Jewish by Halacha, professor Michael Corinaldi of the Center for the Study of Hidden Jews at Netanya Academic College said in a statement.
Although accurate numbers are not known, it is estimated that around 300,000 Jews lived in Spain before the “Reyes Catolicos,” the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, ordered Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. The law potentially allows an estimated 3.5 million residents of countries where many Sephardic Jews eventually settled, such as Israel, France, the US, Turkey, Bulgaria, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, to apply for Spanish nationality.
The measure reaped praise from the Sephardic community with Dr. Abraham Haim, the president of the Council of Sephardi and Oriental Communities of Jerusalem, calling it “a very advanced step.”
This will provide “more flexibility to prove if the person is Sephardic,” he told the Post.
“If he has even a typical Sephardic family name it is enough.”
Reuters contributed to this report