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!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • 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.