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

(page 2 of 2)

“The tourism drive and the repatriation effort in Portugal and Spain are connected on several levels,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit that runs outreach programs for anusim and will operate the Trancoso center. “The Sephardic Diaspora can be viewed as a large pool with the potential to benefit Spain and Portugal’s economies, provided that pool can be drawn to visit, settle and invest.”

Ribeiro e Castro, a soft-spoken man who tends to gesticulate vibrantly when discussing politics, insists he has no ulterior motives for promoting the legislation.

“For me, this is purely a historical and emotional goal,” he said. “These efforts got stuck in Spain had remained stuck also in Portugal for a long time, until we move them along.”

According to Ribeiro e Castro, his involvement in the project began as an experiment. In 2010, he encouraged several of his Jewish Facebook friends to apply for Portuguese citizenship, “just to see what happens.”

At first, Portugal’s powerful Socialist Party was none too thrilled about inviting descendants of Portuguese Jews to return. But the Socialists eventually came around, submitting their own bill to naturalize Sephardic Jews that ultimately was incorporated into Ribeiro e Castro’s amendment to the Law on Nationality.

The new legislation says “the government will give nationality … to Sephardic Jews of Portuguese ancestry who belong to a tradition of a Portuguese-descended Sephardic community, based on objective prerequisites proving a connection to Portugal through names, language and ancestry.”

The law names Ladino, the Spanish-based Jewish dialect spoken by some 100,000 people worldwide, as a viable “linguistic connection.”

Whatever his motivation, focusing international attention on the Catholic Church’s dark history is a bold choice for Ribeiro e Castro, a Catholic himself and former director of the Church-affiliated TVI network. He attributes his decision to an old high school buddy who taught him about Sephardic traditions in Portugal, and to his father, who served as Portugal’s colonial governor in Angola in the 1970s.

“My father was an admirer of what he called ‘small history,’ minor developments with a huge impact,” Ribeiro e Castro said. “Naturalizing the Sephardim could be that.”

For the law to have any impact, bureaucrats in Lisbon first need to address a host of complications. The Portuguese Bar Association already has warned that the law could compromise the constitutional principle of equality before the law.

And then there are practical issues.

“Differentiating between Jews whose families were exiled [from] Spain and those who fled Portugal is very difficult,” said Jose Oulman Carp, president of Lisbon’s Jewish community. “Clearly the Jewish communities [of Portugal] will need to be consulted on the screening process and we can provide some input, but the distinction is nearly impossible in many cases.”

But whatever the end result, merely the effort to lure back Portuguese Jews constitutes, in Freund’s mind, an ironic twist of history.

“Five centuries ago, the expulsion happened partly because the Iberian rulers wanted the Jews’ assets,” Freund said. “Now we see efforts to welcome back the Jews partly for the same reason.”


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!
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • 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.