PORTUGUESE CITIZENSHIP FOR SEPHARDIC JEWS
The designation of "Sephardic Jews" refers to the descendants of the ancient Jews and the traditional Jewish communities of the Iberian Peninsula (Sepharad or Hispania) – Portugal and Spain.
The presence of these communities in the Iberian Peninsula is remote and in fact precedes the formation of the Christian Iberian Kingdoms, namely, Portugal. Since the Roman Empire and until the fifteenth century, many Jews occupied prominent places in Portuguese political and economic life.
After the Edict of Alhambra in 1492 and the persecution carried out by the Spanish Inquisition, a large number of Spanish Jews sought refuge in Portugal and settled in Portuguese Jewish communities. However, King Dom Manuel I of Portugal, who had originally issued a royal decree guaranteeing his protection, ordered in 1496 the expulsion of all Jews who had not converted to Catholicism.
The Portuguese Inquisition was formally established in 1536 under the reign of Dom João III, although the last “auto da fé” ("act of faith") was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition or the Portuguese Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed), took place in 1765, it was only extinguished in 1821 when the country was undergoing a constitutionalist revolution.
The Inquisition focused its attention on new Christians and crypto-Jews. The fact that any person arrested by the Inquisition was subject to the confiscation of its property ensured that the campaign was carried out with alacrity. Courts were set up in several Portuguese cities, but also in the overseas possessions of the kingdom, namely in Brazil, Goa and Cape Verde.
Consequently, many Sephardic Jews were forced into exile and forced to leave Portugal from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century onward, including those who had already converted to Catholicism.
Many of these Portuguese Jews and new Christians were able to flee and establish themselves in some Mediterranean countries such as Morocco, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria; to cities in Northern Europe such as London, Nantes, Paris, Antwerp, Brussels, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Glückstadt, Hamburg and Cologne, and to other countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, the Antilles and the United States, among others.
In spite of the expulsion and persecution in their ancestral land, they maintained, with their descendants, not only the Portuguese language, in some cases, but also the traditional rituals of the old Jewish cult in Portugal, keeping their nicknames throughout generations, as well as objects and documents proving its Portuguese origins and at the same time keeping a strong memorial connection to Portugal in the Diaspora. Consequently, they are often referred to as "Portuguese Jews" or "Jews of the Portuguese Nation."
Considering this historical heritage, the Law of Nationality was changed by the Portuguese Government in order to grant the acquisition of Portuguese citizenship to the descendants of the Sephardic Jews of Portugal.
All legal requirements regarding the application of descendants of Sephardic Jews of Portuguese origin to obtain Portuguese nationality (through naturalization) are listed below. The applicant who aims to acquire Portuguese nationality shall require a certificate to the Portuguese Jewish Community. This certificate is mandatory to attest his roots with a Sephardic Community of Portuguese origin. The request to obtain the certificate must be addressed to the Jewish Community of Porto or the Jewish Community of Lisbon. Having this certificate, applications must be submitted to the Central Registry Office in Lisbon and the Portuguese Minister of Justice has been given the power to grant these nationalities, provided the following steps are complied with:
STEP 1 - CERTIFICATION IN THE ISRAELI COMMUNITY
Applicants must fill in and sign the application form in good faith with all personal data requested, provide a copy of a valid passport and birth certificate, and a power of attorney whenever the applicant himself does not present the process.
Applicants are expected to provide different means of proof, although it is comprehensible that they will not be the same for each particular case and that only some are able to present them all.
I. Personal – family name, records and documents (including photographs, videos and audio files) of family ceremonies, weddings, funerals, records in Jewish communities, birth certificates, property records, bibliography and citations of books.
II. Genealogical – In accordance with the directives of the Central Registry, certificates issued by the Jewish Communities must be accompanied by an applicant's family tree. Therefore, the certification of the tradition of Sephardic Jewish membership to obtain Portuguese nationality, it must be attached the above-mentioned family tree with indication of dates and places of birth, death and marriage of the ascendants.
III. Witnesses – to be provided by external experts, or by the rabbi of the Sephardic Community, or even people who know the candidate.
IV. Oral history of the family – it is required that the applicant should briefly explain the reasons for applying for Portuguese nationality based on the history of his Sephardic family and their traditions. An informal letter will be enough for the purpose.
All documents above must be presented in Portuguese, Spanish, French or English languages. The price to pay for this certification is a donation to the Jewish Community, determined at the time of the application. This Certificate takes between one and two months to be issued.
STEP 2 – PROCEDURE BEFORE THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
The application must be submitted at the Central Registry of Lisbon and the Israeli Community has no involvement in the decision or in the procedure.
However, the law sets out that the following documents must be submitted, including their translation into Portuguese, duly certified by the Portuguese consulate in the country of origin or in the country where the applicant is domiciled and eventually apostilled:
I. Certificate – declaration of direct or collateral descent, family relationship and tradition of belonging to a Sephardic Community of Portuguese origin, as mentioned above.
II. Full copy of applicant's passport.
III. Certificate of residence.
IV. Birth certificate issued in the last six months.
V. Clean criminal records issued by the competent authorities of the countries where the applicant was born and resided for more than one year, issued within a period of nine months.
VI. Power of attorney, when the applicant himself does not submit the application.
The services of the Central Registry Office charge a fee of € 250 for each application and the procedure last between one and two years, provided all documentation submitted is correct.
Lisbon, February 2019
This information is intended for general distribution to clients and colleagues and the information contained herein is provided as a general and abstract overview. It should not be used as a basis on which to make decisions and professional legal advice should be sought for specific cases.