Spain naturalizes 220 Sephardim, including Jerusalem’s chief rabbi

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — The Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, was among the latest group of recipients of the Spanish nationality under that country’s law of return for descendants of Sephardic Jews.

The Spanish nationality was conferred on Amar Friday, according to the EFE news agency, along with 219 others. They were made Spanish nationals by a decree as per legislation that passed last year, under which descendants of Sephardic Jews with proven ties to Spain may naturalize as Spanish citizens. Over 4,300 have been awarded Spanish nationality under the law.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain after 1492, when the Catholic Church and the country’s royal house instituted a campaign of persecution, forced conversion to Christianity and dispossession against Jews known as the Spanish Inquisition.

Spanish officials said they enacted a Sephardic law of return to correct that historical wrong. The legislation in Spain followed the 2013 passing of a Sephardic law of return in Portugal, where the inquisition began in 1536.

Portugal’s law for naturlaization of the descendants of Sephardic Jews is less strict that Spain’s, which requires applicants demonstrate knowledge of Spanish culture and language. The Portuguese law makes no such requirements.

The legislation occurred at a time of economical crisis in Spain and Portugal, where unemployment is more than double the European median and in some parts as high as 40 percent among young workers under 25. Both countries have invested millions of dollars in attracting tourists to their Jewish heritage sites and, separately, have also offered residency and eventual citizenship to affluent investors in so-called golden visa programs.

Both Spain and Portugal are members of the European Union and their citizens may settle and work in any of the bloc’s 28 member states.

Many of the Jews who fled Spain and Portugal as refugees settled in North Africa, including the descendants of Amar, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel who was born in Casablanca, Morocco.

In a statement, his office said the Spanish government conferred honorary citizenship on him in recognition of his work on behalf of the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, adding that he had not requested Spanish citizenship.