Spain’s Proposed Law of Return for Sephardim
by Alain Farhi (Webmaster)

June 2015


In 1492, under the Spanish Inquisition , Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain under the Alhambra decree. Many Jews immigrated to Portugal (where they were expelled a few years later) to North Africa, Europe, and Italy but mainly to the Ottoman Empire where the Sultan Bajazet welcomed them. Many Conversos, Jews who secretly kept Jewish traditions while appearing outwardly Christian, later emigrated from Spain as well.

Since 2012, Spain has proposed a law as a conciliatory gesture toward Sephardic Jews, to attract the Sephardim to resettle back in Spain and grant them citizenship. The law had many restrictive conditions.

On Feb. 7, 2014, the Spanish government approved a draft citizenship bill which is much more flexible than the 2012 version. The new proposal that got visibility first in the Israeli press and then worldwide has renewed interest among Jews to find their Sephardi origins.

On June 6th, 2014, the Spanish Cabinet approved a bill allowing Sephardim Jews the right of dual citizenship. The Parliement needs to vote on it.

On June 11, 2015 Sapin voted a law to allowing dual nationality to descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled or persecuted 5 centuries ago. The law takes effect October 1st 2015 and applications must be received within 3 years. For more information on the vetting process, check the following announcements

Federacion de Communidates Judias de Espana
Jerusalem Post

The Spanish government has not issued a list of Sephardim surnames but lists gathered from various Sephardic sites and books including surnames that in the Middle East were really from formerly Mizrahim and Ashkenazim have been circulating on the Internet.

Proposed Law

Under the new draft, Spain would offer citizenship to anyone, Jewish or not, who meet one of these four criteria:

• Certification from the Spanish Federation of Jewish community or local Rabbis where they live
• Rabbinical certification of Sephardic ancestry and financial links (real estate investment or donations to charities) to Spain
• Demosnstrate knowledge of the Spanish Constitution, language & culture.


The Jews (about 200,000) who settled elsewhere after 1492 were called Sephardim (Sefarad is the word for Spain in Hebrew) they settled in all provinces of the Empire alongside Jews who already lived there: Mizrahim (local and Jews from the East) and Romaniotes (from Rome and Greece). Karaites Jews who split from the Rabbanites in the 8th century were not considered Jews by Rabbanites Jews and the two communities never mixed.

During the 16th century and later, more Jews fled to then Protestant Amsterdam in the Netherlands and from there to England. New immigrants arrived in the Ottoman Empire from Italy (often called Franco by Jews in the Middle East) and Eastern Europe and Russia (Ashkenazim). In many of these countries, the Sephardi liturgy became the norm and many Jews called themselves “Sephardim” regardless of their origins.

In some provinces of the Ottoman Empire, Sephardim from Spain spoke a Judeo-Spanish language and wrote Hebrew with Spanish characters (Ladino). In Morocco, Jews spoke haketia a language very similar to eastern Mediterranean Judeo-Spanish and written using the same Sephardic cursive Hebrew characters. They also had a similar romancero. In most Middle East Arabic speaking countries, Sephardim spoke Turkish, Arabic, French, Hebrew and some other foreign languages but not Judeo-Spanish. Sephardic Jews in the Netherlands, England, Germany, (or for that matter, Spain itself) and the New World never spoke Judeo-Spanish, which developed as a composite in the early diaspora. They spoke Portuguese or the local version of the Spanish vernacular (Catalan, Castilian, Aragonese, etc.). Many Ashkenazim settling in Sephardic lands like Turkey spoke Judeo-Spanish without having any Iberian roots.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the emigration of Jews from Arab Lands, these Sephardim emigrated to Israel, North and South America, Europe, Australia and many other countries.

Who Qualifies

Since 2012, Spain published a proposed law that remains to be debated and voted upon by the Spanish parliament. The final version may be amended extensively. They call for granting citizenship to descendants of Jews who left Spain in 1492.

The current proposal calls for about 3.5 millions of Sephardim to claim citizenship without losing the current passport. Once the law is passed a two-year window will be opened for qualified candidates to apply. No official Spanish list of acceptable surnames is known to exist.

You could find in Spanish archives reference of your surname but proving that you are a descendant of that person is very difficult and almost impossible to trace one’s ancestry back to 1492.

Furthermore, many Jews has in the Ottoman Empire have change family names for various reasons.

Many did not retain their original Sephardic surnames and instead adopted new place names like Aragon, Catalan (became Katalan), Taranto, etc. Most Sephardic surnames in Italy were also were Italian place surnames which did not exist in Spain. In contrast, Sephardic Jews who fled Spain in the 2 centuries before the Alhambra decree often did retain their Spanish surnames, which is why the oldest such names are often found in North Africa.

More Information

From the Forward
Can Sephardic Jews go home by Joshua Nathan Kazis

From the YNet News
When YNet News reported the possible granting of Spanish passport, many readers of Sephardi origins saw a way to a EU passport with open access to any European Union country for residence, work, education and welfare.

This article in Hebrew (,7340,L-4486415,00.html) suggests that Spain has published a list of Jewish family names that was departed by force 522 years ago.  

This same pagein English is at,7340,L-4486514,00.html

Here is a document in Spanish of Sephardi names

The Ynet list has been compiled from information found on websites and does not necessary include Sephardi surnames that existed only in pre-1492 Spain by

Mr. Alex Santi Pereiro
Director de Consultas Genealogicas de la Asociacion Cultural de Tarbut Shrashim
La Cultura de las Raices Judais
Barcelona, Espana

From the Financial Times
Spain proposes citizenship for Sephardic Jews

From the New York Times
Prospect of Spanish Citizenship Appeals to Descendants of Jews Expelled in 1492

From the Times of Israel
Premature excitement in Sephardic Jews’ repatriation? With new seemingly lenient eligibility for citizenship, many Israelis have contracted ‘Spanish fever’. The cure? Spanish bureaucracy

From Haaretz of Israel
Spain approves bill granting citizenship ro Sephardic Jews.

What To Do

The Spanish law has been voted upon, and will take effect on October 1st 2015.

We would suspect that in the end what will be required is evidence that your surname can be found in Spanish archives or otherwise known to be of Spanish origins and then have some Jewish authority in Spain certify that they agree. The government of Spain may require applicants to produce a certificate from Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain or the rabbinical authority in their home country stating their eligibility. The Jewish community in Spain is not set up to do this and is reluctant to get involved.

Where To Get Help

Those who are interested in acquiring Spanish citizenship based on Jewish ancestry to pre 1492 Spain need to contact their local consulates and embassies of Spain for accurate details on their requirements
When the law is enacted, lawyers in Spain and in countries with large Sephardim populations will likely set up special operations to assist applicants for citizenship.

Created with the help of Jeff Malka, Sephardic Genealogy Resources (