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!
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • 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.
  • 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.