December 16, 1968 – Spain Declares Ban on Jews is Void After Almost 500 Years

On this day in history – note – 1968! – the Spanish Government declared null and void the order of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordering the Jews expelled from Spain. (Public prayer services for non-Catholics had only been legalized the year before.)

On March 31, 1492, the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) had ordered the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and its territories and possessions by July 31 of that year. (The Spain they ruled encompassed territory well beyond the borders of the Spain of today, including petty kingdoms located in modern-day Italy and Portugal and lesser claims in modern-day Greece and France.)

If any Jews wanted to stay in Spain, they had to convert to Christianity. The Spanish Jews who left Spain were permitted to take their belongings with them, except “gold or silver or minted money.”


Prior to this time, around 400,000 Jews lived in Spain, and in fact, Toledo was known as the Jerusalem of the West. But thousands of Jews had been killed in anti-Semitic riots; and hundreds of thousands more had submitted to forced conversion to escape death.

Today, estimates of the number of Jews currently living in Spain range from 12,000 to 30,000 — out of a total Spanish population of 47 million.

In 2012, Spain sought to make further amends with the Jews of Spanish (also known as Sephardic) ancestry by passing a statute granting dual citizenship to people of Sephardic ancestry who meet a number of qualifications, such as documented proof of a connection between the surname of a contemporary claimant and the recorded use of that surname among the Jews of Spain before 1492. But the criteria are not clearly understood, and authorities in Spain have not given much assistance. Thus, as of one year after the citizenship initiative, fewer than 100 Sephardic Jews had been granted citizenship by the Justice Ministry.

In any event, Jews believe the reason for the legislation stemmed less from a putative desire to “compensate for shameful events in the country’s past” than as a ploy to lure a pool of people to invest in the country and thus benefit the economy. (You can read other theories of possible motives here.)

It may also be that the prospect of Spanish citizenship doesn’t seem so attractive to Jews. Just one week after announcing the Right of Return for Sephardic Jews, Madrid voted in favor of upgrading the status of the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations. Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004-2011) made no secret of his disdain for Zionism, sent funds to the Palestinians, and took pride in his anti-Israel and anti-Jewish outbursts. And according to the Gatestone Institute of International Policy Council (a non-partisan, not-for-profit international policy council and think tank), Spain consistently ranks as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe, with a steady rise of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish persons and property in the country. A spring 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Pew Global Attitudes Project found 46% of the Spanish rating Jews unfavorably. Spain was the only country in Europe where negative views of Jews outweighed positive views.



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