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500 Years Later, Portugal Offers Citizenship to Descendants of Expelled Jews

Portugal welcomes back the Sephardic Jews it drove out in 1492 as part of the Inquisition.

King Manuel I, responsible for expelling tens of thousands of Jews from Portugal. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1492 King Manuel of Portugal, in an effort to forge stronger ties with Spain, drove out tens of thousands of Sephardic Jews, many of whom had settled there after being expelled from Spain during the Inquisition. Now, more than 500 years later, Portugal will grant citizenship to their ancestors. The Portuguese parliament is finally implementing a law it endorsed back in 2013 to give dual citizenship to anyone who can prove descendence from the Sephardic Jewish victims of the Portuguese inquisition.

"There is no possibility to amend what was done," Portuguese Justice Minister Paula Teixeira da Cruz said, according to the Associated Press. "I would say it is the attribution of a right."

The AP reports that applicants can verify their eligibility under the law through a demonstration of “traditional connection” by way of “family names, family language, and direct or collateral ancestry.” They will also be screened by Jewish insitutitions. Already, the Jewish Community of Oporto reports that it has recieved over 100 requests for certification.

Today, the descendents of Portugal’s Sephardic Jews live in Israel, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and some parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Many of them no longer identify as Jewish, as their ancestors were subject to forced religious conversions.

There are also some Sephardic descendents in Portugal, whose ancestors in 1492 were forcibly converted to Christianity. They were designated as “New Christians,” and while many of them adopted the faith wholesale, there were some who continued to practice Judaism in secret.

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