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up to 16% of world Jewish population
|Regions with significant populations|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||2,000|
|Historical: Ladino, Haketia, Judeo-Portuguese, Catalanic, Arabic, Shuadit, local languages|
Modern: Local languages, primarily Hebrew, French, English, Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese, Ladino, Arabic.
|Related ethnic groups|
|Ashkenazi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Samaritans, other Jewish ethnic divisions, Spaniards and Portuguese|
up to 16% of world Jewish population
|Regions with significant populations|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||2,000|
|Historical: Ladino, Haketia, Judeo-Portuguese, Catalanic, Arabic, Shuadit, local languages|
Modern: Local languages, primarily Hebrew, French, English, Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese, Ladino, Arabic.
|Related ethnic groups|
|Ashkenazi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Samaritans, other Jewish ethnic divisions, Spaniards and Portuguese|
Sephardi Jews (Hebrew: סְפָרַדִּי, Modern Sfaraddi Tiberian Səp̄āraddî) is a general term referring to the descendants of Jewish settlers who trace their origins to the Israelite tribes of the Middle East, who lived in the Iberian Peninsula until their expulsion in 1492 under the Alhambra Decree. It can also refer to those who use a Sephardic style of liturgy, or would otherwise define themselves in terms of Jewish customs and traditions from the Iberian Peninsula. Accordingly, the term Sephardic Jew refers to Jews who follow Sephardic Halakha.
The term essentially means "Spanish". It comes from Sepharad (Hebrew: סְפָרַד, Modern Sfarád Tiberian Səp̄āráḏ ), a Biblical location. This location is disputed, but "Sepharad" was identified by later Jews as the Iberian Peninsula, and ספרד still means "Spain" in modern Hebrew.
In other languages and scripts, "Sephardi" may be translated as plural Hebrew: סְפָרַדִּים, Modern Sfaraddim Tiberian Səp̄āraddîm; sefardí or Spanish: Sefardíes; Portuguese: Sefarditas; sefardita or Catalan: Sefardites; Aragonese: Safardís; Basque: Sefardiak; French: Séfarades; Galician: Sefardís; Italian: Sefarditi; Greek: Σεφαρδίτες Sephardites; Bulgarian: Сефаради Sefaradi; Bosnian: Sefardi; Serbian: Сефарди Sefardi; Turkish: Sefarad, Judaeo-Spanish: Sefaradies/Sefaradim; and Arabic: سفارديون Safārdiyyūn.
A Sephardi Jew is a Jew descended from, or who follows the customs and traditions followed by, Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and modern Spain), before their expulsion in the late 15th century. This includes both the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain under the Alhambra decree of 1492, or from Portugal by order of King Manuel I in 1497, and the descendants of crypto-Jews who left the Peninsula in later centuries to the Americas, North Africa, Asia Minor, The Middle East and elsewhere around the world, and the descendants of crypto-Jews who remained in Iberia. This article is primarily concerned with Sephardim in the narrower ethnic sense.
The modern Israeli Hebrew definition is broader. For religious purposes, and in modern Israel, "Sephardim" is often used in a wider sense to include most Jews of West Asian origin, who commonly use a Sephardic style of liturgy. The term Sephardi in this sense describes the nusach (Hebrew language, "liturgical tradition") used by Sephardi Jews in their Siddur (prayer book). A nusach is defined by a liturgical tradition's choice of prayers, order of prayers, text of prayers and melodies used in the singing of prayers. Sephardim traditionally pray using Minhag Sefarad. For more details of the Sephardic liturgy see Sephardic Judaism. In modern times, the term has also been applied to Jews who may not have been born Sephardi (or even Jewish) but attend Sephardic synagogues and practice Sephardic traditions.
Today around 12,000 Jews live in Spain and 2,500 in Portugal. (When ordered to be expelled from Portugal, Jews were allowed to stay if they converted to Christianity, resulting in a high percentage being assimilated in the Portuguese population. See: History of the Jews in Portugal). A community of 600 Sephardic Jews live in Gibraltar. These are not necessarily Sephardi as defined ethnically above.
The name comes from Sepharad (Hebrew: ספרד, Modern Səfarád Tiberian Səp̄aráḏ / Səp̄āraḏ ; Turkish: Sefarad), a Biblical location. This was probably the "Saparda" mentioned in Persian inscriptions: the location of that is disputed, but may have been Sardis in Asia Minor. "Sepharad" was identified by later Jews as the Iberian Peninsula, and still means "Spain" in modern Hebrew.
Historically, Sephardim are those Jews associated with the Iberian Peninsula.
From the perspective of the present day, the first three sub-groups appeared to have developed as separate branches, each with its own traditions. Spanish and Portuguese congregations increasingly include Jews of other backgrounds, as descendants of Ashkenazim have migrated to those countries. Currently, many Ashkenazi looking names are translations of early Sepharadic roots, such as Zapatero (Sapoznik), Silva (Baum) and Rocha (Stein).
In earlier centuries, and as late as the editing of the Jewish Encyclopedia at the beginning of the 20th century, they were usually regarded as together forming a continuum. The Jewish community of Livorno acted as the clearing-house of personnel and traditions among the three sub-groups; it also developed as the chief publishing centre.[improper synthesis?].
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (January 2011)|
|The neutrality of this article is disputed. (January 2011)|
For religious purposes, the term Sephardim means all Jews who use a Sephardic style of liturgy, and therefore includes most Jews of North African (Maghrebim) and Middle Eastern (Mizrahim) background and have no historical connection to the Iberian Peninsula. Most of these communities (with some exceptions such as the Yemenites) do in fact use much the same religious ritual as the Sephardim proper and, like them, base their religious law on the Shulchan Aruch, without the glosses of Moses Isserles. When used in this sense, "Sephardim" should be translated not as "Spanish Jews" but as "Jews of the Spanish rite". (In the same way, Ashkenazim means "Jews of the German rite", though their families do not actually originate in Germany.)
Accordingly, in the vernacular of modern-day Jews in Israel and worldwide, especially many Ashkenazi Jews, "Sephardi" has become an umbrella term for any Jew, who is not Ashkenazi. This nomenclature is often perceived as unsatisfactory,[who?] and a variety of other terms have been coined.
A term in common use for non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities that historically are not of Spanish descent is Mizrahim. Mizrahim in Hebrew means "Easterners" ("Mashreqin" in Arabic), while "Maghrebim" means "Westerners" in Arabic (relating to North Africa). In current use, Mizrahi Jews is a convenient way to refer collectively to a wide range of Jewish communities, most of which are as unrelated to each other as they are to either the Sephardi (in the narrower sense) or Ashkenazi communities. They include in particular the communities living in, or coming from, Southern Arabia (Yemen), Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, Persia (Iran) and India. The distinction between Sephardim and Mizrahim is not watertight as many communities (e.g. Syrian Jews) are ethnically speaking a mixture between local Jews and later arrivals of Jews from Spain and Portugal.
North African Jews (sometimes known as "Maghrebi Jews") are closely associated with the Sephardim proper (Jews of Iberian descent), both because the Jewish community of Al-Andalus was itself partly of Maghrebi Jewish origin and because many Sephardim settled in North Africa after their expulsion from Spain.
Prior to 1492, substantial Jewish populations existed in most Spanish and Portuguese provinces. Among the more prominent were in Lisbon, Toledo, Córdoba, Seville, Málaga and Granada. Smaller towns such as Ocaña, Guadalajara, Buitrago de Lozoya, Lucena, Ribadavia, Hervás, and Almazán were founded or inhabited principally by Jews. In Castile, Aranda de Duero, Ávila, Alba de Tormes, Arévalo, Burgos, Calahorra, Carrión de los Condes, Cuéllar, Herrera del Duque, León, Medina del Campo, Ourense, Salamanca, Segovia, Soria, and Villalón were home to large Jewish communities or aljamas. Aragon and Catalonia had substantial Jewish communities in the famous Calls of Girona, Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia and Palma (Majorca).
The first Jews to leave Spain settled in what is today Algeria after the various persecutions that took place in 1391. Following the 1492 edit of expulsion from Spain, and the subsequent expulsions in Portugal (1497), these Jews, the nascent Sephardim, settled mainly in the Ottoman Empire (primarily in the provinces of Balkans Anatolia and Ottoman North Africa), Morocco and Algeria, southern France, Italy, Spanish North America (Puerto Rico, Cuba,Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, New Mexico, Texas (Tejano), Arizona, and Mexico), Spanish South America and Portuguese Brazil and Goa, as well as the Netherlands, whence a number of families continued on to the former Dutch possessions of Curaçao, Suriname, Aruba and New Netherland (present-day New York), England (as well as English colonies such as Barbados and Jamaica), Germany, Denmark, Poland, Austria and Hungary.
As a result of the more recent Jewish exodus from Arab lands, many of the Sephardim from the Middle East and North Africa relocated to either Israel or France, where they form a significant portion of the Jewish communities today. Other significant communities also exist in New York City, Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Montreal, Gibraltar, Puerto Rico, and Dominican Republic.
The most typical traditional language of Sephardim is Judeo-Spanish, also called Judezmo or Ladino. It is a Romance language derived mainly from Old Castilian (Spanish), with many borrowings from Turkish, and to a lesser extent from Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and French. Until recently, two different dialects of Judeo-Spanish were spoken in the Mediterranean region: Eastern Judeo-Spanish (in various distinctive regional variations) and Western or North African Judeo-Spanish (also known as Ḥakitía), once spoken, with little regional distinction, in six towns in Northern Morocco and, because of later emigration, also in Ceuta and Melilla (Spanish cities in North Africa), Gibraltar, Casablanca (Morocco), and Oran (Algeria). The Eastern Sephardic dialect is typified by its greater conservatism, its retention of numerous Old Spanish features in phonology, morphology, and lexicon, and its numerous borrowings from Turkish and, to a lesser extent, also from Greek and South Slavic. Both dialects have (or had) numerous borrowings from Hebrew, especially in reference to religious matters, but the number of Hebraisms in everyday speech or writing is in no way comparable to that found in Yiddish.
On the other hand the North African Sephardic dialect was, until the early 20th century, also highly conservative; its abundant Colloquial Arabic loan words retained most of the Arabic phonemes as functional components of a new, enriched Hispano-Semitic phonological system. During the Spanish colonial occupation of Northern Morocco (1912–1956), Ḥakitía was subjected to pervasive, massive influence from Modern Standard Spanish and most Moroccan Jews now speak a colloquial, Andalusian form of Spanish, with only an occasional use of the old language as a sign of in-group solidarity, somewhat as American Jews may now use an occasional Yiddishism in colloquial speech. Except for certain younger individuals, who continue to practice Ḥakitía as a matter of cultural pride, this splendid dialect, probably the most Arabized of the Romance languages apart from Mozarabic, has essentially ceased to exist. By contrast, Eastern Judeo-Spanish has fared somewhat better, especially in Israel, where newspapers, radio broadcasts, and elementary school and university programs strive to keep the language alive. But the old regional variations (i.e. Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Turkey for instance) are already either extinct or doomed to extinction. Only time will tell whether Judeo-Spanish koiné, now evolving in Israel—similar to that which developed among Sephardic immigrants to the United States early in the 20th century will prevail and survive into the next generation.
Judæo-Portuguese was used by Sephardim — especially among the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. The pidgin forms of Portuguese spoken among slaves and their Sephardic owners were an influence in the development of Papiamento and the Creole languages of Suriname.
Other Romance languages with Jewish forms, spoken historically by Sephardim, include Judeo-Catalan, often understimated, this language was the main language used by the Jewish communities in Catalonia, Balearic Isles and the Valencian region. The Gibraltar community has had a heavy influence on the Gibraltar dialect Llanito contributing several words to this English/Spanish patois.
Other languages associated with Sephardic Jews are mostly extinct, i.e., formerly spoken by some Sephardic communities in Italy. Judeo-Arabic and its dialects have been a large vernacular language for Sephardim who settled in North African kingdoms and Arabic-speaking parts of the Ottoman Empire. Low German. (Low Saxon), formerly used as the vernacular by Sephardim around Hamburg and Altona in Northern Germany, is also no longer in use as a specifically Jewish vernacular.
In other words, through their diaspora, Sephardim have been a polyglot population, often learning or exchanging words with the language of their host population, most commonly Italian, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Dutch and were easily integrated in the societies that hosted them. Within the last centuries and more particularly the 19th and 20th century, two languages have became dominant in the Sephardic diaspora; French introduced by the Alliance Israélite Universelle and Hebrew by the state of Israel.
The precise origins of the Jewish communities of the Iberian peninsula are unclear. There is fragmentary and inconclusive evidence of a Jewish presence on the Iberian Peninsula dating from pre-Roman times. More substantial references date from the Roman period.
Evidence that suggests Jewish connections with the Iberian Peninsula includes:
It is thought that substantial Jewish immigration probably occurred during the Roman period of Hispania. The province came under Roman control with the fall of Carthage after the Second Punic War (218–202 BC). Exactly how soon after this time Jews made their way onto the scene in this context is a matter of speculation. It is within the realm of possibility that they went there under the Romans as free men to take advantage of its rich resources.
Although the spread of Jews into Europe is most commonly associated with the Diaspora that ensued from the Roman conquest of Judea, emigration from Judea into the greater Roman Mediterranean area antedated the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans under Titus. Any Jews already in Hispania at this time would have been joined by those who had been enslaved by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus, and dispersed to the extreme west during the period of the Jewish Wars, and especially after the defeat of Judea in 70. One account placed the number carried off to Hispania at 80,000. Subsequent immigrations came into the area along both the northern African and southern European sides of the Mediterranean.
Among the earliest records that may refer specifically to Jews in the Iberian peninsula during the Roman period is Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Many[who?] have taken Paul's intention to go to Hispania to preach the gospel (Romans 15:24, 28) to indicate the presence of Jewish communities there, as well as the fact that Herod Antipas's banishment by Caligula in the year 39 may have been to Hispania.
From a slightly later period, Midrash Rabbah, Leviticus 29:2 makes reference to the return of the Diaspora from Hispania by 165.
Perhaps the most direct and substantial of early references are the several decrees of the Council of Elvira, convened in the early 4th century, which address proper Christian behavior with regard to the Jews of Hispania.
As citizens of the Roman Empire, the Jews of Hispania engaged in a variety of occupations, including agriculture. Until the adoption of Christianity, Jews had close relations with non-Jewish populations, and played an active role in the social and economic life of the province. The edicts of the Synod of Elvira, provide evidence of Jews who were integrated enough into the greater community to cause alarm among some. Of the Council's 80 canonic decisions, those that pertain to Jews maintained separation between the two communities. It seems that by this time the presence of Jews was of greater concern to Christian authorities than the presence of pagans. Canon 16, which prohibited marriage of Christians with Jews, was worded more strongly than canon 15, which prohibited marriage with pagans. Canon 78 threatens Christians who commit adultery with Jews with ostracism. Canon 48 forbade the blessing of Christian crops by Jews, and canon 50 forbade the sharing of meals by Christians and Jews.
Yet in comparison to Jewish life in Byzantium and Italy, life for the early Jews in Hispania and the rest of southern Europe was relatively tolerable. This is due in large measure to the difficulty the Church had in establishing itself in its western frontier. In the west, Germanic tribes such as the Suevi, the Vandals, and especially the Visigoths had more or less disrupted the political and ecclesiastical systems of the Roman empire, and for several centuries the Jews enjoyed a degree of peace their brethren to the east did not.
Barbarian invasions brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Visigothic rule by the early 5th century. Other than in their contempt for Orthodox Christians, who reminded them of the Romans and also because they were Arians, the Visigoths were largely uninterested in the religious creeds within their kingdom. It was not until 506, when Alaric II (484–507) published his Brevarium Alaricianum (Breviary of Alaric) (wherein he adopted the laws of the ousted Romans), that a Visigothic king concerned himself with the Jews.
The situation of the Jews changed after the conversion of the Visigothic royal family under Recared from Arianism to Roman Catholicism in 587. In their desire to consolidate the realm under the new religion, the Visigoths adopted an aggressive policy towards Jews. As the king and the church acted in a single interest, the Jews' situation deteriorated. Under successive Visigothic kings and under ecclesiastical authority, many orders of expulsion, forced conversion, isolation, enslavement, execution, and other punitive measures were made. By 612–621, the situation for Jews became intolerable and many left Spain for nearby northern Africa. In 711, thousands of Jews from North Africa accompanied the Moslems who invaded Spain, subsuming Catholic Spain and turning much of it into an Arab state, Al-Andalus. (N.H.Finkelstein, p. 13, 14)
The Jews of Hispania had been utterly embittered and alienated by Catholic rule by the time of the Muslim invasion. To them, the Moors were perceived as, and indeed were, a liberating force. Wherever they went, the Muslims were greeted by Jews eager to aid them in administering the country. In many conquered towns the garrison was left in the hands of the Jews before the Muslims proceeded further north. This began two centuries of Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula, which became known as the "Golden Age" of Sephardi Jewry.
With the victory of Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711, the lives of the Sephardim changed dramatically. Though Islamic law placed restrictions on dhimmis (non-Muslim members of monotheistic faiths), the coming of the Moors was by and large welcomed by the Jews of Iberia.
Both Muslim and Christian sources claim that Jews provided valuable aid to the Muslim invaders. Once captured, the defense of Cordoba was left in the hands of Jews, and Granada, Malaga, Seville, and Toledo were left to a mixed army of Jews and Moors. Although in some towns Jews may have been helpful to Muslim success, they were of limited impact overall. However it was frequently claimed by Christians in later centuries that the fall of Iberia was due in large part to Jewish perfidy.
In spite of the restrictions placed upon the Jews as dhimmis, life under Muslim rule was one of great opportunity and Jews flourished as they did not under the Christian Visigoths. Many Jews came to Iberia, seen as a land of tolerance and opportunity, from the Christian and Muslim worlds. Following initial Arab victories, and especially with the establishment of Umayyad rule by Abd al-Rahman I in 755, the native Jewish community was joined by Jews from the rest of Europe, as well as from Arab lands, from Morocco to Babylon. Jewish communities were enriched culturally, intellectually, and religiously by the commingling of these diverse Jewish traditions.
Arabic culture, of course, also made a lasting impact on Sephardic cultural development. General re-evaluation of scripture was prompted by Muslim anti-Jewish polemics and the spread of rationalism, as well as the anti-Rabbanite polemics of Karaite sectarianism (which was inspired by various Muslim schismatic movements). The cultural and intellectual achievements of the Arabs, and much of the scientific and philosophical speculation of Ancient Greek culture, which had been best preserved by Arab scholars, was made available to the educated Jew. The meticulous regard the Arabs had for grammar and style also had the effect of stimulating an interest in philological matters in general among Jews. Arabic became the main language of Sephardic science, philosophy, and everyday business, as had been the case with Babylonian geonim. This thorough adoption of the Arabic language also greatly facilitated the assimilation of Jews into Moorish culture, and Jewish activity in a variety of professions, including medicine, commerce, finance, and agriculture increased.
By the 9th century, some members of the Sephardic community felt confident enough to take part in proselytizing amongst Christians. Most famous were the heated correspondences sent between Bodo Eleazar, a former Christian deacon who had converted to Judaism in 838, and the Bishop of Córdoba Paulus Albarus, who had converted from Judaism to Christianity. Each man, using such epithets as "wretched compiler", tried to convince the other to return to his former faith, to no avail.
The Golden Age is most closely identified with the reign of Abd al-Rahman III (882–942), the first independent Caliph of Cordoba, and in particular with the career of his Jewish councilor, Hasdai ibn Shaprut (882–942). Within this context of cultural patronage, studies in Hebrew, literature, and linguistics flourished.
Hasdai benefitted world Jewry not only indirectly by creating a favorable environment for scholarly pursuits within Iberia, but also by using his influence to intervene on behalf of foreign Jews: in his letter to Byzantine Princess Helena, he requested protection for the Jews under Byzantine rule, attesting to the fair treatment of the Christians of al-Andalus, and perhaps indicating that such was contingent on the treatment of Jews abroad.
One notable contribution to Christian intellectualism is Ibn Gabirol's neo-Platonic Fons Vitae ("The Source of Life;" "Mekor Hayyim"). Thought by many to have been written by a Christian, this work was admired by Christians and studied in monasteries throughout the Middle Ages, though the work of Solomon Munk in the 19th century proved that the author of Fons Vitae was the Jewish ibn Gabirol.
In addition to contributions of original work, the Sephardim were active as translators. Mainly in Toledo, texts were translated between Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin. In translating the great works of Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek into Latin, Iberian Jews were instrumental in bringing the fields of science and philosophy, which formed much of the basis of Renaissance learning, into the rest of Europe.
In the early 11th century centralized authority based at Cordoba broke down following the Berber invasion and the ousting of the Umayyads. In its stead arose the independent taifa principalities under the rule of local Muladi, Arab, Berber, or Slavonic leaders. Rather than having a stifling effect, the disintegration of the caliphate expanded the opportunities to Jewish and other professionals. The services of Jewish scientists, doctors, traders, poets, and scholars were generally valued by Christian and Muslim rulers of regional centers, especially as order was restored in recently conquered towns. Rabbi Samuel ha-Nagid (ibn Naghrela) was the Vizier of Granada. He was succeeded by his son Joseph ibn Naghrela who was slain by an incited mob along with most of the Jewish community. The remnant fled to Lucena.
The decline of the Golden Age began before the completion of the Christian Reconquista, with the penetration and influence of the Almoravides, and then the Almohads, from North Africa. These fundamentalist sects abhorred the liberality of the Islamic culture of al-Andalus, including the position of authority some dhimmis held over Muslims. When the Almohads gave the Jews a choice of either death or conversion to Islam, many Jews emigrated. Some, such as the family of Maimonides, fled south and east to the more tolerant Muslim lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms.
Meanwhile the Reconquista continued in the north throughout the 12th century. As various Arab lands fell to the Christians, conditions for some Jews in the emerging Christian kingdoms became increasingly favorable. As had happened during the reconstruction of towns following the breakdown of authority under the Umayyads, the services of Jews were employed by the victorious Christian leaders. Sephardic knowledge of the language and culture of the enemy, their skills as diplomats and professionals, as well as their desire for relief from intolerable conditions — the very same reasons that they had proved useful to the Arabs in the early stages of the Muslim invasion — made their services very valuable.
However, the Jews from the Muslim south were not entirely secure in their northward migrations. Old prejudices were compounded by newer ones. Suspicions of complicity with the Muslims were alive and well as Jews immigrated, speaking Arabic. However, many of the newly arrived Jews of the north prospered during the late 11th and early 12th centuries. The majority of Latin documentation regarding Jews during this period refers to their landed property, fields, and vineyards.
In many ways life had come full circle for the Sephardim of al-Andalus. As conditions became more oppressive during the 12th and 13th centuries, Jews again looked to an outside culture for relief. Christian leaders of reconquered cities granted them extensive autonomy, and Jewish scholarship recovered somewhat and developed as communities grew in size and importance. However, the Reconquista Jews never reached the same heights as had those of the Golden Age.
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Among the Sephardim were many who were the descendants, or heads, of wealthy families and who, as Marranos, had occupied prominent positions in the countries they had left. Some had been state officials, others had held positions of dignity within the Church; many had been the heads of large banking-houses and mercantile establishments, and some were physicians or scholars who had officiated as teachers in high schools. Their Spanish or Portuguese was a lingua franca that enabled Sephardim from different countries to engage in commerce and diplomacy.
With their social equals they associated freely, without regard to religion and more likely with regard to equivalent or comparative education, for they were generally well read, which became a tradition and expectation. They were received at the courts of sultans, kings, and princes, and often were employed as ambassadors, envoys, or agents. The number of Sephardim who have rendered important services to different countries is considerable as Samuel Abravanel (or "Abrabanel" — financial councilor to the viceroy of Naples). Among other names mentioned are those of Belmonte, Nasi, Francisco Pacheco, Blas, Pedro de Herrera, Palache, Pimentel, Azevedo, Sagaste, Salvador, Sasportas, Costa, Curiel, Cansino, Schonenberg, Sapoznik (Zapatero)<Bima de Sapoznik em Tomar>, Toledo, Miranda, Toledano, Pereira, and Teixeira.
The Sephardim have distinguished themselves as physicians and statesmen, and have won the favor of rulers and princes, in both the Christian and the Islamic world. That the Sephardim were selected for prominent positions in every country where they settled was only in part due to the fact that Spanish had become a world-language through the expansion of Spain into the world spanning Spanish Empire—the cosmopolitan cultural background after long associations with Islamic scholars of the Sephardic families also made them extremely well educated for the times, even well into the European Enlightenment.
For a long time the Sephardim took an active part in Spanish literature; they wrote in prose and in rhyme, and were the authors of theological, philosophical, belletristic (aesthetic rather than content based writing), pedagogic (teaching), and mathematical works. The rabbis, who, in common with all the Sephardim, emphasized a pure and euphonious pronunciation of Hebrew, delivered their sermons in Spanish or in Portuguese. Several of these sermons have appeared in print. Their thirst for knowledge, together with the fact that they associated freely with the outer world, led the Sephardim to establish new educational systems. Wherever they settled, they founded schools that used Spanish as the medium of instruction. Theatre in Constantinople was in Judæo-Spanish since it was forbidden to Muslims.
In Portugal the Sephardim were given important roles in the sociopolitical sphere and enjoyed a certain amount of protection from the Crown (e.g. Yahia Ben Yahia, first "Rabino Maior" of Portugal and supervisor of the public revenue of the first King of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques). Even with the increasing pressure from the Catholic Church this state of affairs remained more or less constant and the number of Jews in Portugal grew with those running from Spain. This changed with the marriage of D. Manuel I of Portugal with the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs of the newly born Spain. In 1497 the Decree ordering the expulsion or forced conversion of all the Jews was passed, and the Sephardim either fled or went into secrecy under the guise of "Cristãos Novos", i.e. New Christians (this Decree was symbolically revoked in 1996 by the Portuguese Parliament). Those who fled to Genoa were only allowed to land provided they received baptism. Those who were fortunate enough to reach the Ottoman Empire had a better fate: the Sultan Bayezid II sarcastically sent his thanks to Ferdinand for sending him some of his best subjects, thus "impoverishing his own lands while enriching his (Bayezid's)". Jews arriving in the Ottoman Empire were mostly resettled in and around Thessalonica and to some extent in Constantinople and İzmir. This was followed by a great massacre of Jews in the city of Lisbon in 1506 and the establishment of the Portuguese Inquisition in 1536. This caused the flight of the Portuguese Jewish community, which continued until the extinction of the Courts of Inquisition in 1821; by then there were very few Jews in Portugal.
In Amsterdam, where Jews were especially prominent in the 17th century on account of their number, wealth, education, and influence, they established poetical academies after Spanish models; two of these were the Academia de los Sitibundos and the Academia de los Floridos. In the same city they also organized the first Jewish educational institution, with graduate classes in which, in addition to Talmudic studies, instruction was given in the Hebrew language. The most important synagogue, or Esnoga, as it is usually called amongst Spanish and Portuguese Jews, is the Amsterdam Esnoga — usually considered the "mother synagogue", and the historical centre of the Amsterdam minhag.
A sizable Sephardic community had settled in Morocco and other Northern African countries, which were colonized by France in the 19th century. Jews in Algeria were given French citizenship in 1870 by the décret Crémieux (previously Jews and Muslims could apply for French citizenship, but had to renounce the use of traditional religious courts and laws, which many did not want to do). When France withdrew from Algeria in 1962, the local Jewish communities largely relocated to France. There are some tensions between some of those communities and the earlier French Jewish population (who were mostly Ashkenazi Jews), and with Arabic-Muslim communities.
The largest part, likely a majority, of Spaniard Jews expelled in 1492 fled to Portugal, where they eluded persecution for a few years. The Jewish community in Portugal was perhaps then some 10% of that country's population. They were declared Christians by Royal decree unless they left, but the King hindered their departure, needing their artisanship and working population for Portugal's overseas enterprises and territories. Later Sephardic Jews settled in many trade areas controlled by the Empire of Philip II and others. With various countries in Europe also the Sephardi Jews established commercial relations. In a letter dated November 25, 1622, King Christian IV of Denmark invites Jews of Amsterdam to settle in Glückstadt, where, among other privileges, the free exercise of their religion would be assured to them.
Álvaro Caminha, in Cape Verde islands, who received the land as a grant from the crown, established a colony with Jews forced to stay on the island of São Tomé. Príncipe island was settled in 1500 under a similar arrangement. Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, the Jewish settlement was a success and their descendants settled many parts of Brazil.
In particular, Jews established the relations between the Dutch and South America. They contributed to the establishment of the Dutch West Indies Company in 1621, and some were members of the directorate. The ambitious schemes of the Dutch for the conquest of Brazil were carried into effect through Francisco Ribeiro, a Portuguese captain, who is said to have had Jewish relations in the Netherlands. Some years afterward, when the Dutch in Brazil appealed to the Netherlands for craftsmen of all kinds, many Jews went to Brazil. About 600 Jews left Amsterdam in 1642, accompanied by two distinguished scholars—Isaac Aboab da Fonseca and Moses Raphael de Aguilar. Jews supported the Dutch in the struggle between the Netherlands and Portugal for possession of Brazil.
In 1642, Aboab da Fonseca was appointed rabbi at Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue in the Dutch colony of Pernambuco (Recife), Brazil. Most of the white inhabitants of the town were Sephardic Jews from Portugal who had been banned by the Portuguese Inquisition to this town at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1624, the colony had been occupied by the Dutch. By becoming the rabbi of the community, Aboab da Fonseca was the first appointed rabbi of the Americas. The name of his congregation was Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue and the community had a synagogue, a mikveh and a yeshiva as well. However, during the time he was rabbi in Pernambuco, the Portuguese re-occupied the place again in 1654, after a struggle of nine years. Aboab da Fonseca managed to return to Amsterdam after the occupation of the Portuguese. Members of his community immigrated to North America and were among the founders of New York City, but some Jews took refuge in Seridó.
Besides merchants, a great number of physicians were among the Spanish Jews in Amsterdam: Samuel Abravanel, David Nieto, Elijah Montalto, and the Bueno family; Joseph Bueno was consulted in the illness of Prince Maurice (April 1623). Jews were admitted as students at the university, where they studied medicine as the only branch of science of practical use to them, for they were not permitted to practise law, and the oath they would be compelled to take excluded them from the professorships. Neither were Jews taken into the trade-guilds: a resolution passed by the city of Amsterdam in 1632 (the cities being autonomous) excluded them. Exceptions, however, were made in the case of trades that related to their religion: printing, bookselling, and the selling of meat, poultry, groceries, and drugs. In 1655 a Jew was, exceptionally, permitted to establish a sugar-refinery.
The Nazi war that devastated European Jewry and virtually destroyed its centuries-old culture also wiped out the great European population centers of Sephardi Jewry and led to the almost complete demise of its unique language and traditions. Sephardi Jewish communities from France and the Netherlands in the northwest to Yugoslavia and Greece in the southeast almost disappeared.
On the eve of World War II, the European Sephardi community was concentrated in the Balkan countries of Greece, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. Its leading centers were in Salonika, Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Sofia. The experience of the Balkan Jewish communities during the war varied greatly and depended on the type of regime under which they fell.
The Jewish communities of Serbia and northern Greece, including the 50,000 Jews of Salonika, fell under direct German occupation in April 1941 and bore the full weight and intensity of Nazi repressive measures from dispossession, humiliation, and forced labor to hostage taking, and finally deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau and died from malnutrition due to no food available towards the end of the war. The dead were incinerated in March–August 1943. The Jewish population of southern Greece fell under the jurisdiction of the Italians who eschewed the enactment of anti-Jewish legislation and resisted whenever possible German efforts to transfer them to occupied Poland, until the surrender of Italy on September 8, 1943 brought the Jews under German control.
Sephardi Jews in Bosnia and Croatia were ruled by a German-created Independent State of Croatia state from April 1941, which subjected them to pogrom-like actions before herding them into local camps where they were murdered side by side with Serbs and Roma (see Porajmos). The Jews of Macedonia and Thrace were controlled by Bulgarian occupation forces, which after rendering them stateless, rounded them up and turned them over to the Germans for deportation.
Finally, the Jews of Bulgaria proper were under the rule of a Nazi ally that subjected them to ruinous anti-Jewish legislation, but ultimately yielded to pressure from Bulgarian parliamentarians, clerics, and intellectuals not to deport them. More than 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were thus saved.
The Jews in North Africa, during WWII, identified themselves only as Jews or European Jews, westernized by French and Italian colonization. During WWII, the Jews of pro-Nazi Vichy Morocco/Algeria/Tunisia suffered the same antisemitic legislation, that Jews suffered in France metropole, in the continent. So did the Jews in Italian Libya. The Jewish communities in those European North Africa countries, in Bulgaria, and in Denmark were the only ones who were spared the mass deportation and mass murder that afflicted other Jewish communities. Following Operation Torche, the Allies saved more than 400,000 Jews in European North Africa.
Today, the Sephardim have preserved the romances and the ancient melodies and songs of Spain and Portugal, as well as a large number of old Portuguese and Spanish proverbs. A number of children's plays, like, for example, El Castillo, are still popular among them, and they still manifest a fondness for the dishes peculiar to Iberia, such as the pastel, or pastelico, a sort of meat-pie, and the pan de España, or pan de León. At their festivals they follow the Spanish custom of distributing dulces, or dolces, a confection wrapped in paper bearing a picture of the magen David (six pointed star).
In Mexico, the Sephardic community originates mainly from Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. In 1942 the Colegio Hebreo Tarbut was founded in collaboration with the Ashkenazi family and instruction was in Yiddish. In 1944 the Sephardim community established a separate "Colegio Hebreo Sefaradí" with 90 students where instruction was in Hebrew and complemented with classes on Jewish customs. By 1950 there were 500 students. In 1968 a group of young Sephardim created the group Tnuat Noar Jinujit Dor Jadash in support for the creation of the state of Israel. In 1972 the Majazike Tora institute is created aiming to prepare young male Jews for their Bar Mitzva (History of the Sephardim Community in Mexico).
While the majority of American Jews today are Ashkenazim, in Colonial times Sephardim made up the majority of the Jewish population. For example, the 1654 Jews who arrived in New Amsterdam fled from the colony of Recife, Brazil after the Portuguese seized it from the Dutch. Through most of the 18th century, American synagogues conducted and recorded their business in Portuguese, even if their daily language was English. It was not until widespread German immigration to the United States in the 19th century that the tables turned and Ashkenazim (initially from Germany but by the 20th century from Eastern Europe) began to dominate the American Jewish landscape.
As of April 2013, Sephardim who are descendants of those expelled in the inquisition are entitled to claim Portuguese citizenship provided that they 'belong to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin with ties to Portugal. The amendment to Portugal's "Law on Nationality" was approved unanimously on 11 April 2013. A similar law is being looked at in Spain.
The Sephardim usually have followed the general rules for Spanish and Portuguese names. Many used to bear Portuguese and Spanish names; however, it is noteworthy that a large number of Sephardic names are of Hebrew and Arabic roots and are totally absent in Iberian patronyms and are therefore often seen as typically Jewish. Many of the names are associated with non-Jewish (Christian) families and individuals, and are by no means exclusive to Jews. After 1492, many marranos changed their names to hide their Jewish origins and avoid persecution, adopting professions and even tranlsating such patronyms to local languages like German, Arabic or even Russian. It was common to choose the name of the Parish Church where they have been baptised into the Christian faith, such as Santa Cruz or the common name of the word "Messiah" (saviour/Salvador), or adopted the name of their Christian godparents. Dr. Mark Hilton's research demonstrated in IPS DNA testing that the last name of marranos linked with the location of the local parish were correlated 89.3%
In contrast to Ashkenazic Jews, who do not name newborn children after living relatives, Sephardic Jews often name their children after the children's grandparents, even if they are still alive. The first son and daughter are traditionally named after the paternal grandparents, then the maternal parents' names are next in line for the remaining children. After that, additional children's names are "free", so to speak, meaning that one can choose whatever name, without any more "naming obligations." The only instance in which Sephardic Jews will not name after their own parents is when one of the spouses shares a common first name with a mother/father-in-law (since Jews will not name their children after themselves.) There are times though when the "free" names are used to honor the memory of a deceased relative who died young or childless. These conflicting naming conventions can be troublesome when children are born into mixed Ashkenazic-Sephardic households.
A notable exception to the distinct Ashkenazi and Sephardi naming traditions is found among Dutch Jews, where Ashkenazim have for centuries followed the tradition otherwise attributed to Sephardim. See Chuts.
Great authority was given to the president of each congregation. He and the rabbinate of his congregation formed the "ma'amad," without whose approbation (often worded in Spanish or Portuguese, or Italian) no book of religious content might be published. The president not only had the power to make authoritative resolutions with regard to congregational affairs and to decide communal questions, but he had also the right to observe the religious conduct of the individual and to punish anyone suspected of heresy or of trespassing against the laws.
Due to their origin in the Mediterranean basin, there is a higher incidence of certain hereditary diseases and inherited disorders in Sephardi Jews. However, there are no specifically Sephardic genetic diseases, since the diseases in this group are not common to Sephardic Jews in general, but are instead common in the particular country of birth. The most important ones are:
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