Forward Thinking

Should I Apply for Spanish Citizenship as Sephardic Jew?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

  • Print
  • Share Share

Will I apply?

That’s what people are asking me today, as news circulates of the law the Spanish cabinet just approved to offer citizenship to Sephardic Jews.

Two weeks ago, the Forward published a long essay I wrote about this citizenship offer, which the Spanish justice and foreign ministers first proposed in 2012. I went to Spain in November 2013, at first thinking I would apply for a passport myself. When it turned out that that wasn’t yet possible, I tried figure out why the law had not been passed.

Three months after my trip, the text of the law is finally available. Spain’s Ministry of Justice posted it online today after it was approved by the Council of Ministers. It still must be voted on by the Parliament before it becomes law.

The bill allows the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 to apply for Spanish citizenship, even if they choose not to live in Spain. But the text leaves open lots of questions. As I wrote in my essay, it’s complicated to claim blood ties to people who died half a millennium ago. A Spanish government official working on the draft legislation acknowledged that defining “Sephardic” for the purposes of the law was complicated when we spoke in November. “If you have any suggestion to do that in a different way, please tell me,” he said.

Spain’s answer appears, on first read, to be jumbled. On the one hand, the law says that you don’t actually need to be Jewish to claim citizenship as a Sephardic Jew. On the other hand, two of the five ways the law offers to prove that you are Sephardic involve Jewish institutions or religious authorities.

The law states that the official Jewish federation will be charged with giving certificates that accredit applicants as Sephardic, though it doesn’t say how the federation will make that determination. And though it also says that local rabbinical authorities in applicants’ countries of origin can provide similar documents, it also says that those rabbis should be “legally recognized” — a category that doesn’t exist in the United States, where there are no state-recognized religious authorities.

The law doesn’t venture into the stickier questions of bloodline. It doesn’t say how many Sephardic grandparents you need, or whether Syrian Jews qualify as Sephardic.

They do say having a Sephardic surname and speaking a Sephardic language will help. (And they name-check Haketia, the Moroccan Judeo-Spanish language that I joked that the Spanish justice minister likely hadn’t heard of in my essay. Guess he had.)

There’s no quota here for how many people the government will accept under this law, and there’s a provision under which the government will only accept applications for two years after the law is passed. So even if every single Jew can claim eligibility, as the Georgia Tech scientist Joshua Weitz suggested in my essay, we won’t all have E.U. passports by 2016.

There’s also the possibility that the law doesn’t make it through the Parliament. Spain will have general elections sometime in the next two years, and it’s likely that the current right-wing government will fall. It’s not clear that the socialist party would continue to support the bill. So hold off on that Barcelona pied-à-terre downpayment.

For now, though, the progress of the law seems like a bit of good news for the thousands of Sephardic Jews who have gotten in touch with the Spanish Jewish federation over the past few years. As for me, I’m not sure.

I wasn’t joking when, at the end of my essay, I wrote that I didn’t want to be Spanish. I set out for Spain on a lark, but I came back feeling alienated — and more American than ever.

So, no, I don’t think I’m going to apply. But let me know if you are — it will be a great story.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: law, citizenship, Spain, Sephardic Jews

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.