Return From Exile
500 Years of Solitude

Spain is welcoming back the descendants of the Sephardic Jews it expelled in 1492, giving out passports to whoever can prove their lineage.

Published on: May 7, 2014
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  • Anthony

    “Suddenly the distance has shrunk….” 25 generations (using a generation = 20 years) a very long lineage to trace back to – good luck to Sephardis; perhaps even a conviviencia (as under the Moors of Spain).

  • Avi_in_Jerusalem

    In my experience the Sepharadim were and are very particular in retaining their lineage. They take great pride in coming from Spain. Generally, in the areas that they found themselves, whether in Morocco or the Ottoman Empire or in Holland and England (after they had fled to Portugal in 1492 and then been expelled again 1497) and elsewhere, they looked down on the existing Jewish populations and generally kept themselves apart. There is a recognised name by which they refer to themselves, “Sepharadi tahor” – pure Sepharadi.
    I recall that when I was at University in Manchester, England, in the early 1970s, I was signing students up for the Jewish student society. Along cam one young man, blond hair and blue eyes. “What is your name?” I asked him. “Haim Toledo” he said. “Where are you from?” I asked. “Spain” he said. “Oh” I said. “Yes, but we have been living in Turkey for the past 450 years…..”
    The story of the Jewish people is much richer and more convoluted than many people think.

    • jankel

      Origin of Ladino and Yiddish is NEGATED by Jewish History and Wissenschaft der Judentum and actually by the Common Opinion: Ladino like Yiddish came from an admixion of more than 50% of Local people converted by a much more proselytizing Judaism as ours, shrunk since the Crusades times…Foreigner men and women whose genetical traces are Now evident among the Jewish People !. (this wasn’t accepted still in the beginning 2000..! ) who brought and hebraicized their local idiom into the Jewish community; herself in daily contact with the outer pagan world and idiom…probably following its Evolution until the Community has been expelled from the area for another farer exile. Until the 11th century, Christian authorities complained to face an intolerable Jewish proselytism…(See Bernhard Blumenkranz Books-CNRS Editions-1966)

  • Curious Mayhem

    Tracing the descent won’t be easy, not over 500+ years. I wonder what sort of criteria the Spanish and Portuguese governments will adopt.

    The misuse of “Sephardi” to describe Jews from the Levant and Middle East is common, including in Israel. They are properly called “Mizrachim,” or “easterners.” But when the Israeli rabbinate was created, Sephardim and Mizachim were lumped together, since both had lived under Islamic rule, to distinguish them from the European or Ashkenazi Jews who had lived in Christendom.

    You’d be amazed at where the issue of Sephardi descent comes up, for example, the controversy over crypto-Jews in New Spain:

  • Breif2

    1. “There is bitter irony in the fact that many young Israelis have been opting for ‘descent’, mostly to the US and Europe (Berlin, of all places, has a large community of Israeli emigrants). How many will now choose to ‘descend’ to Spain?”

    A question pop historians like to bat around is why the Jewish population today is small compared to what simple models would seem to predict. Here’s a proposal: those “missing” Jews are those who were too stupid to learn from history, or who simply did not care about it.


    [The Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II] ridiculed the conduct of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile in expelling a class of people so useful to their subjects. “You venture to call Ferdinand a wise ruler,” he said to his courtiers — “he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!”

    • jankel

      You are perfectly right: actual jews are the most rough stubborn smart and resilient Jews the World has ever increased. Darwinistic Selection made also the prevailing Jewish Intelligence (Genetic and Cultural…)
      We can regret also to haven’t shown more courage neither…Are we the future Vanished from Jewish History?

  • Tevye Sonberg

    “why the Jewish population today is small compared” — actually, if you calculate the increase from the supposed one million ‘bamidbar’ to say 18 million now, it is about the same growth rate (0.01%) as from the supposed 6 million humans 10,000 years ago to 7 billion now.

    • Breif2

      There you go, trying to ruin my rhetoric with arithmetic! 🙂

      Anyone interested in a quick survey can check Wikipedia. Briefly, the “missing Jews” thesis depends on their supposed numbers at the time of the early Roman Empire, while the thesis can be negated by disbelieving those numbers and instead accepting those given for the Middle Ages.

      All these numbers are necessarily inaccurate, and all pose puzzles regarding apparent population explosions or busts. My previous comment was purely rhetorical, and I have no firm opinion on the actual facts.

    • jankel

      Right and wrong: Jews were about 6 millions roman citizen among 100 millions of Roman Citizen of Vespasian times…..They paid TAXES…personal ones, each head one tax… and were relatively perfectly counted by the Administration ! …They SHOULD BE NOW NORMALLY ABOUT 250 MILLIONS ! But they MOSTLY vanished into Christianity, they vanished into Islam, they vanished just like that, and remained since only 18 millions before WWII. 6 millions vanished in the Shoah, and remain in relative stagnation to actually 13 millions….Not rhetorical…

      • Terry Goldman

        Of course! The way to get an accurate count is taxes! And about the right number for growth over 1000 years of the original State of Israel at less than 0.2% per year typical of pre-technology humanity.

  • El Gringo

    The article makes small mention of the fact that it was not only the Jews that were expelled. Yet, somehow, I don’t imagine the Spanish government will be taking great pains to offer citizenship to the Muslim descendents of the Moriscos.

  • Given the current state of the Spanish economy, the prospect of thousands of entrepenuer immigrants must be encouraging.

  • Gary Novak

    Why do you suppose Berger did not pay much attention to the article in The New York Times about the Spanish government’s offer of dual citizenship to exiled Sephardic
    Jews but found the article in The Christian Century on that topic suddenly
    intriguing? He notes that the Century article mentions the young Israeli
    entrepreneur who seemed to value the business advantages of Spanish (and EU)
    citizenship more than Sephardic nostalgia for the (real or imagined) Jewish
    condition in Spain before the expulsion.

    The Times article can be read as a celebration of multiculturalism and the end of what
    Berger, whose tongue seems to be in his cheek, calls “500 years of solitude.”
    (Meanwhile, Avi_in_Jerusalem offers the anecdote of the Spanish Jew living in
    Turkey for 450 years as pretty straightforward evidence of the strength of
    Sephardic identity.) The issue is not whether an authentic identity can be
    based on identification with traditional values (with a corresponding “ascent”
    or “descent” to the appropriate geography) but whether an authentic identity
    can be based on race (or “ethnicity”—now frequently used as a polite but
    essentialist proxy for race). As Berger says, “There is a cruel irony in this
    certification [of Sephardic identity] process,” in which “the criteria for eligibility
    would be racial or ethnic rather than religious.” In other words. the Spanish
    government will determine “authentic” identity the same way the Inquisition and
    the Nazis did. That its intentions are benign does not remove the danger of bad
    faith in the process. In this connection, it is helpful to recall Sartre’s
    Anti-Semite and Jew: anti-Semites are in bad faith, and so are “essentialist”
    Jews. One can be an authentic Jew, an authentic Sephardic Jew, only by
    recognizing “the heretical imperative.”

    Berger speaks of the Lurianic cosmology of exile with respect and appreciation. (He discussed the Lurianic contraction of God [tsimtsum] ten years ago in Questions of
    Faith.) But if he treats the idea of mystical and Messianic cosmic repair as
    viable, notice that he places the “reparation” efforts of governments in scare
    quotes. One can be forgiven for thinking that liberal guilt is not a likely
    source of cosmic healing. Those inclined to see Berger as a Frankfurt school
    Marxist intent on bashing Christianity to make room for an anything-goes
    cultural relativism will no doubt also view his suggestion that Luria’s
    cosmology may have an experiential basis in the expulsion of the Jews from Spain
    as an attempt to discredit it as a delusional projection of mundane concerns
    into the heavens. It doesn’t hurt to repeat that Berger’s theology holds that
    human experience can reflect reality, as well as project itself onto it. But
    our experience, even when we attend closely to its nexus with tradition through
    “motif research” can only give us signals of transcendence, not inerrant texts.
    God graciously withdraws to afford us an opportunity, through our faith seeking
    understanding, to participate in the repair of the universe.

  • popculturez13 has been reporting about this, too…

  • Hard Little Machine

    I believe this is a Trojan Horse so that the violently anti Israeli Spaniards can then turn around and scream “Look what WE did for YOU! Why can’t YOU do that for the poor poor poor poor pathetic ‘palestinians’???”.

    • diderot à la campagne

      well you seem to be full of hate, aren´t you?
      relax man.

  • diderot à la campagne

    great but what also about the expulsion of moriscos by Isabel de Castilla 1498 and Philip II at the middle of 1500th century?

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