Portugal's Jewish Law of Return Moves from Facebook to Statute Book

Social Media Launched Powerful Political Force

Coming Home: Descendants of Jews who were expelled during the Inquisition are returning to Portugal.
Coming Home: Descendants of Jews who were expelled during the Inquisition are returning to Portugal.

By JTA

Published July 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Until 2009, right-wing Portuguese politician Jose Ribeiro e Castro didn’t have much interest in the expulsion of his country’s Jewish community in the 16th century. That changed once Ribeiro e Castro opened a Facebook account.

Online, the 60-year-old lawmaker and journalist connected to several Sephardic Jews, descendants of a once robust Jewish community numbering in the hundreds of thousands, many of whom were forced into exile in 1536 during the Portuguese Inquisition. Eventually the encounters morphed into a commitment to rectify a historic injustice.

A Jewish man enters the Sinagogue Bet Eliahu of Belmonte, north of Lisbon.
Getty Images
A Jewish man enters the Sinagogue Bet Eliahu of Belmonte, north of Lisbon.

For Ribeiro e Castro, correcting the injustice meant spearheading a bill to naturalize the Jewish descendants of expelled Jews, a measure that unanimously passed the Portuguese parliament in April and went on the books last week.

“The law is a commendable initiative,” said Nuno Wahnon Martins, the Lisbon-born director of European affairs for B’nai B’rith International. “It has economic considerations as well, which do not subtract from parliament’s worthy decision.”

Portugal’s initiative comes as countries across Europe continue to invest millions to develop Jewish heritage sites – an effort they say is rooted in their belated recognition of the continent’s vibrant Jewish history, but often is also an acknowledged attempt to attract tourist dollars at a time of economic stagnation.

Last year, Spain announced a similar repatriation plan to Portugal’s, though the effort has yet to advance. And the country boasts a network of nearly two dozen cities and towns, known as Red de Juderias, aimed at preserving Spain’s Jewish cultural history in an effort to attract tourists.

Later this month, Portugal will open a $1.5 million learning center in Trancoso, a town once home to many Jews. The prime minister is slated to attend the July 19 opening of the center, which will be aimed at the area’s anusim, descendants of Jews forcibly converted during the Inquisition.


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!
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "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.
  • 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.