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Portugal’s Jewish Law of Return


Sephardic Judaism and thePortuguese Law of Return

Sephardic Jewsare the descendants of ancient, traditional Jewish communities from the IberianPeninsula. These Jewish communities predated the formation of Portugal and theother Iberian Christian kingdoms. Sefarad, in Hebrew, means Spain. Thus,Sephardic means Spanish, and Sephardi refers to the Jews who lived throughoutthe Iberian Peninsula until 1492 and to their descendants.

Oppression and Exile

From the late fifteenth century, afterthe Alhambra Edict of 1492, these Sephardic communities became the target ofpersecution by the Spanish Inquisition. Many of these Jews took refuge inPortugal. However, King Manuel, who had initially guaranteed their protection,later ordered the expulsion of all the Jews who would not submit to RomanCatholic baptism. Thus, the Sephardic Jews were expelled from the Iberianpeninsula altogether.


The surviving Sephardi reestablishedtheir communities in small pockets throughout the world; in countries like theNetherlands, the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Turkey, as well as North Africaand, later, the Americas. Despite their persecution and expulsion from theirancestral territory, many Sephardic Jews of Portuguese origin retained theirnative language and their ancient rites of worship. Moreover, many of these Sephardiccommunities preserved their original surnames, artifacts, and texts thatconfirm their identification as Sephardic Jews of Portuguese ancestry or Jewsof the Portuguese Nation. For this reason, under the Law of Jewish Return,Sephardic Jews can reclaim their Portuguese citizenship.

Can I Apply for Citizenship if I'm Not Jewish?

Yes, you can. The Law of Return isopen to Jewish and non-Jewish people who can prove their Sephardic ancestry.The religion of the applicants does not matter; what matters is their Sephardicancestry.

How Can I Prove My Sephardic Origin?

An applicant's first step towardsPortuguese citizenship will be the acquisition from a Sephardic Jewishcommunity, a certificate of origin. This certificate attests to ties with aSephardic community of Portuguese origin. Once obtained, the applicant shouldsend the document to either the Jewish community in Porto or Lisbon.


Required Documents for Obtaining the Certificate:

A. Evidenceof the applicant's family history and connections to a Portuguese Sephardiccommunity, such as surnames, genealogical histories, or other significant indicationsof this ancient Portuguese connection;

B. Use of Ladino in the applicant’s home or as part a related kinship tradition; demonstrated,for instance, in home movies, photographs of family graves (with Ladinoinscriptions), or ancestral documents written in Ladino;

C. Official documentation that verifies the applicant possesses Sephardic ancestry, such asbirth data, genetic testing, Brit Milah records, municipal census data, orpassenger lists.