Three months after Portugal passed a law granting descendants of Jews forced into exile centuries ago the right to citizenship, 250 applicants – most from Turkey – have already received official certification that they qualify.
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This certification establishes that the applicants have provided sufficient proof of their connection to the Sephardic Portuguese community that existed before the 16th century Inquisition. The Portuguese government has delegated the Jewish communities of Lisbon and Porto with responsibility for vetting certification requests.
According to Portuguese Jewish leaders, 200 certificates have thus far been issued by the Porto community and another 50 by Lisbon. The law took effect in March. Last week, Spain passed a similar law, which will take effect in October.
Once candidates receive certification, they are requested to produce documents required of any other candidates applying for citizenship in Portugal. But Jews of Portuguese descent, unlike others applying for Portuguese citizenship, are not required to relocate to the country. Their citizenship applications also go through an expedited process, and rather than wait the usual six-seven years, they will be notified within six months to a year if they have been approved.
Michael Rothwell, a spokesman for the Jewish community of Porto, said 900 applications had been received by their offices in the past three months, and 200 certificates had already been issued, among them 150 to Jews from Turkey. Another 15 certificates had been issued to Israeli Jews, and an identical number to American Jews. The rest, he said, were split among applicants from 15 different countries.
“For many of them, it is a desire to formalize the emotional connection to Portugal they’ve kept in their families for many centuries,” said Rothwell, explaining why these Jews were applying for Portuguese citizenship. “Others, particularly those in Turkey, are thinking about coming to live in Portugal.”
Jose Carp, president of the Jewish community of Lisbon, told Haaretz that he has already received 500 inquiries by mail and by phone from prospective applicants. Of the total number of certificates authorized by the Jewish community of Lisbon, 24 were issued to Israelis, 12 to Brazilians, five to Moroccans, three to Americans, three to Turks, and one each to a Russian, British and South African descendant of Portuguese Jews.
He said that 10 percent of the applications for certification had not yet been approved because important documents were missing.
“The people who have made inquiries have absolutely not been thinking about relocating,” said Carp. “The reason they are doing it is that they would like to have a European Sephardic identity. They’re very proud of it, and this provides a piece of proof that they can transmit to their descendants.”
The Jewish community of Lisbon, he said, is providing certification not only to halakhic Jews but also to descendants of the Sephardic community forced to convert to Christianity (also known as conversos). The Jewish community of Porto, on the other hand, is only providing certification to those who meet the halakhic requirements.