Monday, March 31, 2014

The Alhambra Decree

There is an ethnic subdivision of Jews called Sephardic Jews. "Sephardic" comes from the Hebrew Sepharad, which referred to Hispania. More specifically, Sephardic Jews are those descended from Jews who lived in Spain in the 15th century. They migrated from the Middle East to The Iberian Peninsula/Sepharad/Hispania/Spain/ about 1000 CE.

Several weeks ago, the government of Spain passed a law that allows Sephardic Jews—no matter where they live, no matter in what country they currently have citizenship—to receive dual citizenship for the asking. Wherever they live now, they could receive Spanish citizenship without having to renounce citizenship elsewhere or even move to Spain. The reason, as explained in a recent  article in The Economist, is "righting an historical wrong."

The "historical wrong" was the Alhambra Decree.

The Alhambra Decree was issued on 31 March 1492 by the rulers of the majority of the Iberian Peninsula. (The peninsula comprised Portugal, Castile, Granada, Aragon, Navarre.) Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon ordered the expulsion of all Jews from their two kingdoms. The deadline for departure was 31 July 1492.*

Like England in an earlier century, a choice was offered: you may convert to Christianity and stay, or remain Jewish and leave, taking your possessions with you (except for gold, silver, currency, arms or horses). Refusing these choices meant immediate execution, and a non-Jew who aided a Jew through hiding him would suffer the loss of all property and privileges.

The Alhambra Decree, also known as the Edict of Expulsion, was formally revoked by Spain on 16 December 1968, as a result of reforms that came from the Second Vatican Council.

Where did the Jews go? What were their choices for a new homeland? There were a few options, some close by. But that's a topic for another day.

*Columbus departed on his maiden voyage across the Atlantic on 3 August, a mere four days after the Expulsion deadline.

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