Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spain Wants Descendants of Inquisition Jews Back- From Citizenship to the First Seder In 500 years

The Spanish Inquisition was one of the dark spots in the history of Christianity when in the late 1400s King Ferdinand and his Queen Isabela gave the Jews of Spain the choice of either converting to Catholicism if they wanted to stay, or being exiled. 200,000 or so Jews left, the ones who stayed converted, although it is thought they still practiced Judaism in secret. The newly converted Christians were called Maranos.

Perhaps Spain is trying to atone for its treatment of the Jews back in the Middle Ages, because it looks like the Spaniards are beginning to embrace the Jews from their past.

First, a town in Spain is set to host an official Passover seder. Apparently, the last one was held centuries ago in 1492 before the non-converted Jews fled Spain that year. This March 25, Ribadavia, a town in South Galicia in Northern Spain, will hold a seder in the old town center, sponsored by the tourism board and the Center for Medieval Studies (CMS) with the honorary president of the CMS, Abraham Haim, conducting the seder. The meal will cost $40.00 per person and anyone can attend, although they are only expecting a few dozen. It seems Ribadavia is trying to ramp up tourism to the city by establishing an interest in its Jewish past.

But more importantly, Spain is offering citizenship to any descendants of Sephardic Jews who can prove it.

Spain’s Justice Minister, Alberto Ruizo-Gallardon, announced the offer to descendants of Spain’s former Jews in November at a Jewish center in Madrid.
“In the long journey Spain has undertaken to rediscover a part of herself, few occasions are as moving as today,” he said. “The measure we’re announcing will let anyone who can prove their Sephardic origins obtain Spanish nationality.”

Currently, there are only approximately 40,000 Jews in Spain but the offer has prompted quite a lot of global interest. According to the head of the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities:

“I can tell you that in less than a month we have received about 6,000 inquiries, among which I would highlight one from an American member of Congress.” 

No word on who. But NY Times Paris reporter Doreen Carvajal is also interested since she discovered she had Sephardic roots.

“My initial reaction was that it was a really thrilling moment,” Carvajal said. “That it was an act of justice. They held this news conference with top ministers to offer automatic citizenship to descendents [sic] of all Sephardic Jews who left during inquisition. Point blank done. 363 It was a romantic notion on my part. I told my husband, I think I’m going to try and get the passport because it closes a circle. It was very poetic." [snip]

But Carvajal says that when she contacted Spain’s Jewish Federation, she learned she didn’t qualify. Not yet anyway.

Part of Carvajal’s family was Sephardic Jew. But when they left Spain for Costa Rica, they converted to Catholicism, at least officially, out of fear of Spanish Inquisitors. The Inquisition hunted down and persecuted Jews even in the far-off Spanish colonies.

So, Carvajal is technically the descendent [sic] of converts or, conversos. She’s not a practicing Jew herself. She says she was told she’d have to convert to become Spanish.

“I felt like another it was act of being forced,” she said. “Here are [the] these people, the descendents [sic] of the anousim, the forced ones, the conversos, being told you have to do this, you have to be a certain religion? So what happens if you’re a secular Jew? It was a bittersweet moment for me when I realized there were a lot of clauses there and it really wasn’t an automatic offer for everyone.”

Some people, including Carvajal, seem to think the offer is possibly a means of trying to infuse Jewish wealth into a failing Spanish economy. I have to admit I thought the same thing. Historian Maria Josep Estanyol says the Spanish economy tanked after the Jews left in 1492.

Many Iberian Jews were wealthy textile traders and jewelers and bankers.
“At the time of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan was said to have commented that he couldn’t understand why a great Spanish king like Ferdinand would go without the Jews, who were such a source of wealth, and just give them to him. The Sultan was very pleased to receive these Jewish families, who went on to enrich his empire,” Estanyol said.

Yet others wonder if it might be a peace offer after Spain helped get Palestine U.N. recognition as a state. Maybe it's a little of both.

But Muslims, who were also later expelled from Spain, are balking at the "unfairness" of not having citizenship extended to them.  According to

"...some Muslim scholars are denouncing the offer as unfair. They point out that their ancestors were expelled from Iberia too, just a few years after the Jews. But no one’s inviting them back."

They might think it's unfair, but do they not realize why they might have the same invitation extended to them.

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