Portugal’s government established new laws granting the possibility of Portuguese Nationality for Sephardic Descendants. Portuguese Nationality for Sephardic Descendants or in other words dual citizenship will be granted to those whom can prove according to the new legislation “a traditional connection.”
The Portuguese government approved these news laws last Thursday. The laws enable Portuguese Nationality for Sephardic Descendants who were persecuted Jews from 500 years ago. This was done after Spain adopted similar legislation the year before.
The Portuguese government’s cabinet spokesman Luis Marques Guedes noted that the government passed the new changes to the nationality law to allow Portuguese Nationality for Sephardic Descendants. Sephardic Jews are Jews used to live on the Iberian Peninsula around five to seven centuries ago.
Portuguese Nationality for Sephardic Descendants will be granted to those according to the new legislation, who can demonstrate "a traditional connection," citing evidence such as “family names, family language, and direct or collateral ancestry."
All those looking to apply for dual citizenship will need to be vetted by the intuitions that are run by the PortugueseJewish Community and checked by government agencies. Applicants also must reveal if they have a criminal record.
The Portuguese Parliament endorsed the laws back in 2013. Since the endorsement, the government has been creating the legal details and designing the administrative procedures around providing Portuguese Nationality for Sephardic Descendants. The laws commencement was not immediately announced by the Portuguese interior minister. However, the legislation is going to be published in the country’s official newspaper.
The Portuguese community leaders have commented that the application procedure of Portuguese Nationality for Sephardic Descendants can be fully complete around four months. The applicants will also not have to travel to Portugal.
Portuguese Kings during the medieval period were desiring a high tax revenue. Jewish talent at the time helped Portugal become of Europe’s wealthiest nations during the Age of Expansion which occurred in the 1400s. Therefore, the Portugal monarchy was protective of their Sephardic community.
Spain drove the Jews out of their country due in the early 1490s. Around 80,000 Jews then crossed the border into Portuguese territory. King Joao II imposed a “fleeing Jews tax” on the Sephardic Jews in exchange of their shelter and protection. The Portuguese King promised to provide them with ships (which was an expensive process in those days) so they could sail to another country, but then later decided to change his mind.
In 1496, King Joao successor King Manuel I, desired for a good relationship with Spain’s monarchy. Spain had powerful Catholic rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabella of Aragon, have the Sephardic Jews 10 months to convert to Catholicism or leave Portuguese territory. The Jews made the decision that they were going to leave but then King Manuel issued a new decree. The decree stated that the Jews were not allowed to depart Portugal and instead they had to embrace Roman Catholicism. They became known as the “New Christians.”
The “New Christians” took on new names, inter-married with the Portuguese natives and ate pork to prove that they were devoted to Catholicism. However, some of them secretly kept their traditions alive, secretly observing the Sabbath at home then going to Church on Sunday. They also circumcised their sons and observed Yom Kippur, calling it in Portuguese the "dia puro," or pure day.
Although the “New Christians” were officially accepted by the monarchy, they were heavily discriminated against. In the Easter massacre of Jewish converts which occurred in 1506 in the centre of Lisbon, more than 2000 Jews were murdered by the local population. Historians are not sure of the exact number of Jews murdered.
A few decades after the massacre of Lisbon, the Portuguese Inquisition was established. It was established at the request of King Manuel’s successor King John III in 1536. It was sometimes crueller than the earlier Spanish Inquisition. During the Portuguese Inquisition, tens of thousands of Jews were persecuted, tortured and burned at the stake.
The events of the Portuguese Inquisition are viewed as a stain on Portuguese history by many people today. The president of Portugal in 1988, Mario Soares met with members of Portuguese Jewish Community and made a formal apology for the Inquisition. The apology was criticised by some European journalists citing that the events of the Inquisition was not the fault of any of Portugal’s citizens living today and that not one Portuguese citizen would ever and have never commit such acts today, so why should they have to apologise for the faults of their ancestors?
There is also the argument against the Portuguese Nationality for Sephardic Descendants laws. European commentators have argued that you cannot undo the wrongs of the past and instead to learn from the past and look forward into the future. Making new laws or offering citizenship won’t fix the wrongs from the past. Portugal should only look forward and learn from the past to create a better future, not try to fix it, because at the end of the day you cannot change history.
In 2000, Portugal’s top ranked Catholic Church official also issued an apology for the suffering imposed by the Catholic Church. Later, in 2008, a monument for the Jews that were slaughtered in the Inquisition was erected outside Sao Domingo’s church where the Easter massacre began in 1506.