Spain Approves New Law Granting Dual Citizenship to Descendents of Exiled Jews

In 1492 the Catholic monarchs Isabella & Ferdinand ordered around 300,000 Jews living in Spain to convert to Catholicism or be exiled forever. Today, an estimated 3.5 million Sephardi Jews from around the world could apply for Spanish citizenship.

By News Agencies & Israel Hayom Staff


The Spanish government approved a law on Friday allowing descendants of Jews expelled from the country in 1492 to seek Spanish nationality without giving up their current citizenship.

A synagogue in Toledo, Spain, built in 1180 – Photo: Reuters

Spain’s Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said Spain owed the Sephardi community a debt for spreading the Spanish language and culture around the world as well as fixing what the government calls the “historic mistake” of sending Jews into exile.

The word Sephardi comes from Sepharad, or Spain in Hebrew.

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,” said Ruiz-Gallardón.

Around 300,000 Jews lived in Spain before the “Reyes Católicos,” Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, ordered Jews and Muslims to convert to the Catholic faith or leave the country.

The old Jewish quarters in medieval Spanish cities such as Córdoba and Toledo, where Jews lived among Christians and Muslims before the Catholic victory over the Muslims, making rich contributions to science, music and literature, now attract thousands of tourists every year.

The law potentially allows an estimated 3.5 million residents of countries where many Sephardi Jews eventually settled, such as Israel, France, the U.S., Turkey, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, to apply for Spanish nationality.

There is no accepted figure for the global Sephardi population. Reasonable estimates would range between a fifth and a third of the world’s roughly 13 million Jews.

Hundreds of thousands live in France and already have EU passports. But the largest community is in Israel, where almost half of the 6 million Jews are considered Sephardi.

“We’re very pleased to hear the Spanish government has facilitated the process of allowing Sephardi Jews to seek Spanish nationality without giving up their citizenship,” Lynne Winters, director of the American Sephardi Federation in New York told Reuters by telephone.

Spanish law does not normally allow dual citizenship except for people from neighboring Andorra or Portugal or former colonies such as the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea or Latin American countries.

Prospective applicants must prove their Sephardi background through their surnames, language or ancestry and get a certificate from the federation of Jewish communities in Spain.

Applicants do not have to be practicing Jews, Ruiz-Gallardón said.

“Many … kept the keys of the house from which they were expelled, now they have the door open,” he said.


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