Portugal Poised to Adopt Jewish Return Law

Portugal, which expelled Jews in 1536, are offering descendants of the local Sephardi community the right of return.

Reuters

Portugal’s law on naturalizing descendants of Sephardi Jews could become effective before March 15, a leader of the country’s Jewish community said.

The law, passed by parliament in 2013, is expected to be approved by Portugal’s Council of Ministers on Thursday, the president of Lisbon’s Jewish community, Jose Oulman Carp, told JTA. The final wording is to be published by February 6, he said.

"We expect the law to be effective by mid-February or the beginning of March 2015," Oulman Carp added.

According to the legislation, “the government will give nationality to Sephardi Jews of Portuguese ancestry who belong to a tradition of a Portuguese-descended Sephardi community, based on objective prerequisites proving a connection to Portugal through names, language and ancestry."

Oulman Carp said it also will apply to non-Jewish descendants of Sephardim, Oulman Carp said.

Existing legislation on the naturalization of Sephardim has not been applied because it still does not contain regulations for bureaucrats, which may be published along with the final letter of the law.

The authors described the legislation as an act of atonement for the expulsion of Portuguese Jewry in 1536 during the Portuguese Inquisition. Similar legislation is underway in Spain, where it awaits a final vote in Congress. Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Iberia from 1492 on because of Church-led persecution.

In both countries, legislators and government officials said Jewish communities would be consulted and perhaps made partially in charge of screening applicants. The Jewish community of Lisbon, where the vast majority of Portugal’s 800 Jews live, has rejected applications because the final letter of the law has not yet been published, Oulman Carp said.

“Most of the applications will be channeled through the local Portuguese consulate of the applicant’s country of residence,” he said.

The significantly smaller Jewish community of Porto, however, announced last month in a statement that it was already receiving applications and that the first applicant was an American former model and descendant of Joseph Karo, a renowned rabbi who lived in the 15th century in the Iberian Peninsula. She was not named.