SEPHARDIM (Heb. סְפָרַדִּים, sing. סְפָרַדִּי, Sephardi), descendants of Jews who lived in Spain or Portugal before the expulsion of 1492. (The term Sephardim is often erroneously used for other Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin.) *Sepharad, mentioned in Obadiah 1:20, was connected fancifully or erroneously with Hispania, the Latin name for Spain.
Legend holds that there were Jews in *Spain as early as Solomon's time. In any case, the settlement is extremely old. Jews suffered persecution there during the period of the Visigoths, which ended when the Arabs conquered the country in 711 c.e. Thus politically and linguistically the Jews of Spain were put in touch with the center of Jewish life in Babylonia-Iraq and carried on the tradition of Babylonian Jewry. The Muslim era in Spain gave rise to the "Golden Age" of Spanish
Jewry, which produced such figures as the statesman *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut, the statesman, poet, and halachist *Samuel ha-Nagid, the poet Moses *ibn Ezra, the poets and philosophers Solomon ibn *Gabirol and *Judah Halevi, and above all, the physician, philosopher, and halakhist Moses *Maimonides.
After the Almohad persecutions of 1148, Jewish life in Spain was concentrated in the Christian parts of the country, which, in the course of the Reconquista, gradually extended over the entire peninsula. The vigorous and creative Jewish community was disrupted in 1391 by an outbreak of persecutions that led to wholesale insincere conversions to Christianity, creating so-called "New *Christians," or Conversos, many of whom in fact only outwardly professed Christianity but practiced Judaism in secret and taught their children to do likewise. The Inquisition was established to extirpate the scandal of Christians relapsing to a previous "dead" faith, but its work was hampered by the presence of unconverted Jews over whom the Inquisition had no authority. Accordingly, in March 1492 a decree of expulsion was issued against all Jews who refused to accept Christianity, and this edict officially remained in force until 1968. Some accepted conversion; others, perhaps as many as 250,000, moved away to North Africa, Italy, and especially Turkey, where Sultan Bayazid ii admitted them gladly. The seaport of *Salonika, in particular, became a great center of Sephardim, with all the important Spanish towns and districts being represented there by congregations that maintained their identity.
Thus was created the Sephardi Diaspora, a dispersion within a dispersion that not only looked back to Ereẓ Israel as its homeland, but had been indelibly impressed by a long sojourn in Spain. The exiles took with them the language and songs of Spain, which they preserved with fidelity; the foods of Spain, so that the Bulgarian or Serbian Jew would eat pastel or pandeleon; and children's games, so that in the Balkans a game with nuts called el castillo was played to the recitation of an old Spanish quatrain; while R. Joseph *Caro, the Sephardi author of the *Shulḥan Arukh (the standard code of Orthodox Judaism) draws on words like panadas (a kind of croquette with meat), pala (a baker's peel), or limones (lemons) to express domestic items for which he found no equivalent in the rabbinic Hebrew of his day. The Sephardim bore Spanish personal and family names, and their world view had been shaped by the customs and conduct of their Spanish neighbors.
A century later the formation of another branch of Sephardi Jewry began – the Marrano *Diaspora. Many *Crypto-Jews had moved to Portugal, where the danger of detection was less. From there they slipped away in increasing numbers to lands where they could cast off their Christian mask and reassume Judaism. The freedom which Holland achieved from Spain at about this time made *Amsterdam the great center of the Marrano Diaspora, which evolved into the Western Sephardi Diaspora or Portuguese Nacion. Portuguese Jews moved there in great numbers, especially during the 17th century, often totally ignorant of Jewish practice and the Hebrew language, but anxious to learn. A magnificent synagogue was built, and educational institutions were founded whose students are thus described in 1680 by the much traveled Shabbetai *Bass:
In my eyes they were as giants on account of their expertise in the Bible text and Hebrew grammar. Moreover they can compose songs and poems, and speak Hebrew fluently… the teachers are paid from community funds according to their merits and do not need to flatter anyone…
Subsequent migrations of Sephardim took place to England and the Americas, as well as to centers of Western Europe such as *Bordeaux, *Bayonne, and *Hamburg. These Sephardim differed from the Sephardim of the East in that their day-today language was Portuguese, although they also knew Spanish, which they used for commerce and as a semi-sacred language for Bible translation. They remained in the mainstream of West European culture, frequently writing their vernacular in Roman rather than Hebrew script.
The Spanish language, as it was preserved by the Sephardim, is called *Ladino, Judezmo, or Judeo-Spanish. It has a number of archaic characteristics (e.g., the preservation of original j and sh sounds, which standard Spanish has lost, as well as peculiar lexical and syntactic features, including loan words from Hebrew, Turkish, and other languages) and makes a quaint and pleasing impression on speakers of the standard language. According to the research of David Bunis, Judeo-Spanish came to contain a great many Hebrew and Aramaic loan words since the 16th century. It was greatly influenced by regional languages like Ottoman-Turkish, Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, and after the mid-19th century French and Italian. In Spanish Morocco, in the communities of Tangiers, Tetuan, Melilla, Ceuta, and elsewhere, the dialect of the language was called Haketia. Ladino was formerly written in the rabbinic cursive script called Solitreo (the modern, originally Ashkenazi, Hebrew cursive never having been in use among Sephardim), but with efforts at modernization in Turkey, the Roman alphabet was adapted to Ladino and is now generally used. Ladino is still spoken by Jews in Turkey, Greece, and adjacent countries, as well as by immigrants to Israel, the U.S., Latin America, and elsewhere. It seems probable, however, that the dialect will be extinct within a short time, and efforts are being made in Jerusalem and Madrid to record the language systematically. Portuguese survived as the language of the Marrano Diaspora until the early 19th century; it still survives in some centers in certain fossilized usages, for example in the prayer for the queen in Amsterdam and the announcement of congregational honors and elections in London.
The literature of the Sephardim may be divided into three categories:
(1) works written in Hebrew;
(2) works written in Spanish (including Ladino) and Portuguese;
(3) anonymous folk literature in Ladino.
The first category, consisting of Bible commentary, polemic literature, poetry, drama, legal texts, and kabbalistic works by such individuals as Isaac *Abrabanel, Joseph Caro, *Manasseh Ben Israel, and David Franco *Mendes, forms part of the mainstream of Hebrew literature of the period and will not be treated here.
The second category includes works written before the expulsion of the Jews. Notable are the Proverbios Morales of *Santob de Carrión (based on talmudic sources) and the Bible translation with glosses made by Moses *Arragel at the command of Don Luis de Guzman (1430). Writing subsequent to the expulsion tends to be derivative or polemical, directed mainly toward the edification of those deficient in Hebrew. In consequence, translations or adaptations from the Hebrew form a substantial part of this literature. The famous Ferrara Bible of 1553 was soon adapted to a Ladino version for the benefit of eastern Sephardim. Other parts of the Bible which appeared in Spanish were a Pentateuch paraphrase by Isaac *Aboab da Fonseca (Amsterdam, 1681), a paraphrase of the Psalms by Hamburg-born Leon *Templo, and paraphrases of the Song of Songs, based on the Targum, for liturgical use. The Mishnah was translated into Spanish, as were other monuments of Jewish literature such as Judah Halevi's Kuzari, translated by Jacob *Abendana (Amsterdam, 1663), Baḥya ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart (Amsterdam, 1610), of which a Portuguese version by Samuel Abbas appeared in 1670, and later still a Ladino version. Even Ben Sira was translated into Ladino by a Serbian rabbi, Israel Ḥaim (1818).
Leading polemical works include Samuel *Usque'sConsolaçam as Tribulaçõens de Israel (Ferrara, 1553), a set of dialogues in Portuguese relating Jewish history from earliest times and intended to confirm the Conversos in their faith and display the divine plan for Israel. Manasseh Ben Israel wrote his Conciliador ("The Conciliator", 1632), reconciling places in scripture which appear to contradict one another, and his Experanza de Israel, on the *Ten Lost Tribes, was translated into Latin, English, Dutch, Hebrew, and German during the 19th century. David *Nieto, rabbi of the London community, wrote the Matteh Dan (London, 1714) to demonstrate the authority of the Oral Law. Isaac *Cardozo, who was born in Portugal and reassumed Judaism in Italy, wrote Las Excelencias y Calunias de los Hebreos (Amsterdam, 1679), in which he describes at length the ten privileges of the Jewish people and the ten slanders brought against them.
Ethical and inspirational works included Moses *Almosnino's Regimento de la Vida (Salonika, 1564) and Extremos y grandezas de Constantinople (Madrid, 1638), and Abraham Israel Pereira's La Certeza del Camino (Amsterdam, 1666), a treatise on divine providence and the love of God. Preeminent is the *Me-Am Lo'ez, an elaborate commentary on the Bible based on talmudic and midrashic sources which was initiated by the Turkish scholar Jacob *Culi and continued after his death by others. This work rapidly became the vade mecum of the Ladino-speaking Sephardim and achieved the status of a sacred book. Its imaginative character, combined with its religious themes, made it a perfect vehicle of combined entertainment and edification. It derived from a circle of Jewish savants who deliberately aimed at raising the spiritual level of the Jews of the Ottoman Empire, among whom poverty, ignorance, and illiteracy were rife. Other members of this circle included Abraham de Toledo, who wrote Complas de Yosef (Constantinople, 1722); Isaac Magrizo; and Abraham Asa.
Original writers include Daniel Levi *Barrios, who was born in Spain, reassumed Judaism in Italy, and from there went to Amsterdam. He wrote sonnets, pastoral romances, and a panegyric on three martyrs burned alive in Cordoba in 1665 entitled Contra la Verdad no hay Fuerça (Amsterdam, 1666). Another poem of 550 lines celebrating a martyr burned alive in 1644 was written by Antonio Enríquez *Gómez. The Poema de la Reyna Esther (Rouen, 1637) by João Pinto *Delgado can be understood only in the light of its rabbinic background.
The folk literature of the Sephardim consists of an enormous corpus of ballads in Ladino, the romancero, which survives in manuscripts and, precariously, in the memories of the older generation of Ladino speakers. Menendez Pelayo published ten ballads he received from Salonika in 1885, and this was followed by Menéndez Pidal's Catálogo del romancero judío-español (in El Romancero, Madrid, 1927). The work of collection and publication goes on, chiefly in Israel and the U.S.
While the Sephardim do not differ from the Ashkenazim in the basic tenets of Judaism, with both groups viewing the Babylonian Talmud as their ultimate authority in belief and practice, there are great differences in matters of detail and outlook. Once the trauma of persecution in Spain had worn off, many Sephardim settled in places where they enjoyed a life relatively free of external constraints in the practice of their religion, and they had a fair measure of security of life and property. This may be the reason why many of them displayed a more sympathetic attitude to outside culture, and were ready to see good outside the "four cubits of the law." Sephardim follow the codification of R. Joseph Caro (Maran "our master"), the Shulḥan Arukh, in matters of religious law without regard to the strictures of R. Moses b. Israel *Isserles, whom they call Moram, which may mean equivocally "our teacher and master R. Moses" or "their teacher" (i.e., of the Ashkenazim). The compilation by R. Joseph Caro represents a more liberal and permissive trend than that approved by the Ashkenazi authorities. For example, Sephardi authorities permit rice to be eaten on Passover, and allow whole eggs found inside a slaughtered chicken or vegetables cooked in a pot previously used for meat to be eaten with milk products. Ashkenazi authorities forbid all such practices, and instances could be multiplied.
Many differences, however, simply reflect a difference in custom or interpretation, with no implication of leniency. Thus, a blessing is recited on the head phylactery only if there has been an interruption after placing that for the hand, and the straps are wound outwards rather than inwards. The festive branch used on the festival of Sukkot is bound together without the holder used by the Ashkenazim and is often decorated with colored ribbons. At the Passover home service, lettuce, rather than horseradish, is used for bitter herbs.
The synagogue service differs considerably from that of the Ashkenazim. The Scroll of the Law is raised before its public reading, rather than after, and the script in which it is written is characteristically different. The synagogue itself has a somewhat different arrangement. The reading desk is at the west end, and all services are conducted from it, unlike Ashkenazi practice where certain prayers are read from the desk at the side of the ark. Their ark is frequently a triple structure, consisting of a large closet in the middle and a smaller one on either side. The text of the prayers differs in detail; the involved synagogue poetry of the *Kallir (sharply criticized by Abraham ibn Ezra in his commentary to Eccles. 5:1) is totally absent, being replaced by compositions of the Spanish poets Judah Halevi, Moses ibn Ezra, and Solomon ibn Gabirol. The synagogue chants are simpler and brighter than those of the Ashkenazim, who nevertheless find them monotonous and lacking in warmth. Sephardim tend to be especially punctilious in their rendition of the sacred scrolls. Sephardi pronunciation of Hebrew is particular to place the tonic accent on the syllable prescribed by grammar, predominantly the ultimate, and distinguishes two complementarily distributed colorations (a and o) of the vowel qameṣ.
Many religious technical terms (e.g., the names of the notes used in the cantillation of the scrolls) are different from those of the Ashkenazim, and these serve as a shibboleth which marks the Ashkenazi as soon as he uses one of his terms. (See Table: Sephardim: Common Terms.)
Sephardim tend to be very insistent on preserving these slight differences, probably because they are conscious of their minority status within the Jewish community, and tend to develop the same rigorous adherence to custom vis-à-vis the Ashkenazi community as the Orthodox Jewish community as a whole does to the outside world. It is not uncommon at the present time for a deep or even fanatical attachment to Sephardi tradition to be coupled with laxity in observance of Jewish law.
[Alan D. Corre]
Patterns of Secularization of the Western Sephardi Diaspora in the 17th Century in Jewish Law
Examined here is the secular direction of the processes of change which took place among the West European Sephardi Diaspora by referring to two separate historical and social meanings which the term "secularization" can have within Jewish society.
One meaning is that of departure or liberation from religious influence in areas of social and cultural activity which had previously been strictly in the domain of religion.
The second meaning is the transfer or translation of religious symbols and values to a secular context. The differentiation between these two meanings is of particular importance for analyzing the processes of change which took place among the Western Sephardi Diaspora in the 17th century in light of the possibility, already discernible, that the Jews would abandon the Torah and the commandments without taking this to be a withdrawal from the content of Jewish life or Jewish society. In order to gain some notion of the secular trend among the group under discussion, it is sufficient to refer to the social and historical significance of the concept ummah ("nation"; Spanish: nación; Portuguese: nação) and to the increasing emphasis among this Diaspora on communality of race and blood.
There is no doubt that the term ummah denotes first and foremost, in the social and historical context under discussion, communality of fate and social and cultural solidarity among the Marranos (who were forced to convert to Christianity), former Marranos, and at times also "New Christians" (who may or may not have been forced to convert) scattered throughout the "Terras de judesmo" (Lands of Judaism, i.e., where Judaism could be practiced freely) and "Terras de idolatria" (Lands of Idolatry, i.e., countries under the influence of Spain and Portugal), including the Lands of Forced Conversion (arẓot ha-shemad) in the Iberian peninsula. Communality of fate is of course problematic from the aspect of Jewish law (halakhah), when speaking of "New Christians," and when referring to actual Marranos, who had the opportunity to leave their countries of residence but did not do so. Yet even more important is the term ummah itself or the Western Sephardi self-identification as benei ha-ummah (members of the nation; Spanish: miembros de la nación; Portuguese: membros da nação). These terms appear frequently in the community registers of the Western Sephardi congregations and were often used by the rabbis of that period as a substitute for Kehillah Kedoshah (holy congregation) and as a general appellation for members of the Western Sephardi Diaspora as well as the general Sephardi Diaspora, both eastern and western. Moreover, even though the communality which the term ummah denotes was not initially intended to serve a religious value but rather a social, economic, and political one, and despite the fact that this term in the specific context of "trading nation" and in the broader context of "cittadini di un dato paese viventi in paese straniero" ("citizens of a given country living in a foreign country"), which does not refer especially to Jewish society,6 we see that it becomes intertwined with the ritual sphere. Thus, for instance, rule 39 of the Book of Regulations (Livro dos Acordos da Nação Ascamot) of the Amsterdam congregation "Talmud Torah" admonishes against performing a circumcision upon anyone who is not included among benei ummatenu, "members of our nation." This is also the case regarding the blurring of the limits of the term "congreção" and the term "nação" as they appear in texts of excommunication (ḥerem) warnings as can be seen a number of times, for example, in the Livro de Memorias of that same community.
A blurring of the distinction between a situation which can be described as "natural" and between an existence with "holy" religious significance is distinctly noticeable also in the repeated use of the concept "shimmur" (Spanish: conservación; Portuguese: conservação) in the community books of the Western Sephardi congregations by its systematic combination precisely with the term Kahal Kados ("holy congregation"), and not to the concept of worshiping God. This is so much the case that at times it seems that the "holiness" of the Jewish people or the holiness of a certain community takes the place, as it were, of the "holiness" of the Torah, and that the true destiny of Jewish religion is to serve the needs of man or, alternatively, the needs of the society to which he belongs.
In the same vein is the emphasis placed on communality of blood and race by the former Marrano Isaac *Cardozo in his Las Excelencias de los Hebreos, as well as in statements by *Manasseh Ben Israel in his Iggerert ha-Anavah concerning nobility and the purity of blood of the Jewish people. This is also true for the former Marrano Isaac *Orobio de Castro, who expresses a skeptical opinion regarding those who join the nation as converts, since "they will never become Israel nor of the seed of Abraham," even "if they are beloved by God," because "Israel is not a spiritual entity, but a nation."
This stringency over lineage in the blood, the nobility in the race, and the biological connection to society, goes beyond the concepts of religious superiority demonstrated by the rabbis of that time, such as for example, Saul Levi *Morteira and Isaac *Aboab da Fonseca. It certainly does not mesh with the position of the majority of the sages of Israel, foremost among them being Moses *Maimonides who feels that this nation is from the beginning of its history a "nation of converts," and that the father of Israel is the father for anyone who follows in the way of Abraham. Yet it is clear that this stringency concerning race and blood reflects a certain development in thought, based on an awareness that Judaism has national content which is not dependent upon accepting the commandments.
A number of historians have noted these phenomena and claimed that this specific development on the issue of "Who is a Jew?" is to be found in the Spanish concepts of honra (honor) and hidalguia (pedigree) and in the ideological socio-cultural model of purity of blood (*limpieza de sangre) which already existed in Spain in the 15th century. Although this explanation is interesting and even daring in its humanistic perspective, it is not quite correct historically.
If we refer not only to terminology, then the biological belonging to "the seed of Abraham who loves Him," which serves as a barrier against converts in a certain historical context, is that which safeguards and encourages, in a different historical context, the continuation of the connection of the Marranos themselves to the Jewish nation. This can be understood from the testimonies of Profiat Duran of the 14th century, Isaac *Arama of the 15th century, and even from statements of Isaac *Abrabanel who was among the exiles leaving Spain in 1492. The difference between the version of Orobio di Castro and that of Duran, Arama, and Abrabanel is that the latter are not stringent over the purity of origin and blood of someone seeking to take upon himself the obligation of the commandments, but rather to the purity of the origin and blood of one who disengages himself from that obligation.
The skeptical declaration by Orobio di Castro that they who join the Jewish nation as converts, that is, who become observant Jews, "will never be part of Israel and not of the seed of Abraham," leads not only to the past of Di Castro as a Marrano, but also to the distinction in the Book of Numbers between the declaration of Moses, "and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God" (Num. 15:40), and that of Korah, "seeing all the congregation are holy" (Num. 16:3).
In the dispute between Moses and Korah, Korah was punished for saying things unacceptable to Moses and apparently irritating to God. Yet the concept of "Holy Nation" (goy kadosh) in "essence" appears, albeit in a different, secondary status in Judaism, over and over again in traditional Jewish thought. For *Judah Halevi the convert can approach God but cannot become a prophet, because prophecy is the heritage only of descendants of Jacob. According to the Zohar, the soul of the convert is not on the same level as that of the Jew by birth despite the fact that this new soul descends upon him from heaven during the conversion process.
In Orot Yisrael by the 20th-century rabbi Abraham Isaac *Kook, the Patriarchs influence the natural side of the Jewish people while Moses influences the studious side (through the Torah, the spiritual base). "In the future," writes Rabbi Kook, "Moses will be completely linked with the Patriarchs and the Messiah will be revealed."
The national, primordial as it were, content of Judaism may be discernible in history and Jewish thought wherever it is not enough to contrast the Jewish people with other nations over the observance of commandments. This is so both whether against the background of deep divisions between societies and peoples, or the background of rapprochement between societies and nations, and the fear of the blurring of the boundaries of the minority society with the majority.
At least Jewish society was still in the process of building its "centers," to use the terminology proposed by the sociologist E. Shils, a society in which a large part of the members were taking their first steps in Judaism, when speaking of observing commandments.
In the same social and historical setting, Rabbi 'Moses Raphael D'*Aguillar stresses the hesitations and difficulties facing those Jews as Jews in the transfer from their places of residence (neste captiveyro) in Spain and Portugal to their new places of residence and observance of Judaism, including the objective difficulties of learning the "holy doctrine" (sagrada doctrina). Others also describe these problems, among them the former Marrano physician Elijah di Montalto, who lived in Paris, and Immanuel *Aboab.
In Western Sephardi society of the 17th century, the emphasis on the biological-racial foundations, as it were, of Judaism served a certain function, namely, a social need which was one of the expressions of "faith for the sake of the nation".
To be sure, when speaking of Mannaseh ben Israel, his address when he extols the special virtues of the Jewish people, i.e., its nobility and purity of blood, is the English society of the time of the Cromwell protectorate, and not Jewish society. However, neither Di Castro nor Isaac Cardozo discusses these virtues except as a barrier and fortress for Jewish existence in the face of Christianity.
When speaking in Jewish historiography about processes of secularization among the Western Sephardi Diaspora in the 17th century, it is usual to speak of "emancipation" or "emerging from" the influence of religion in the areas of social and cultural activity which had previously been controlled by religion. In the same context, emphasis is placed on the integration of Sephardi Jews into the world of intellectual creativity of Western Europe, their contribution to the European "crisis of conscience" of the 17th century, and their part in the development of capitalist economy in the new centers in northwest Europe, Hamburg, Amsterdam, and London.
However, a question which has not been asked but should be is: What is the social and historical significance of the process of "liberation" and "emancipation"? What was "liberated," and to which social models within Jewish society itself did this "emergence" lead in replacing old models?
This question was apparently not relevant in the generation of Rabbi Moses *Hagiz, who in his work Sefat Emet did not distinguish between the social aim of integration within the non-Jewish majority society and the goals of change directed toward the Jewish society of origin. He therefore calls both by the term ḥolelim, a term which was derived from the Hebrew root ḥ, l, l, which means contempt and derision of the holy by turning it into the profane. However, this question is relevant, because even if there is a historical link between the two aims, a differentiation must be made between one who goes from identifying with one religious national, social, cultural unit to identifying with another, and one who does not accept the authority of halakhic tradition, but stubbornly insists on his historical, ethnic, and social belonging.
This distinction is to be found even when speaking of the extreme heterodox such as Juan de *Prado, on the one hand, and *Spinoza, on the other. Both of them leaned towards Deism and to the rationalism of the early Enlightenment, but their attitude to the Jewish community and to the question of their belonging to that community was completely different. While Prado sought to have the excommunication placed on him repealed and to be readmitted to the Jewish community, Spinoza apparently accepted his banishment from the community without regret.
The fact that within the confines of Western Sephardi society the patterns of community organization and leadership were maintained in their traditional form throughout the 17th century and most of the 18th demands an explanation. A negative explanation, that during this period the historical conditions were not ripe for the development of an "ideology of change intended to lead to a change in the patterns of Jewish society," is inadequate. The weakness of this explanation is that it focuses mainly on the perspective of Jewish-Christian relations, in an attempt to latch onto a historical process at the final point of that historical process (Jewish integration into modern Western civilization) and in its understanding the concept of secularization as denoting the process of emancipation from the yoke of religion. This approach ignores the main characteristic of secularization in this society, that is, the transfer or translation of concepts, symbols, and beliefs from their transcendental-salvational origin to temporal uses, more specifically, to the sphere of society itself as an autonomous entity, distinct from Jewish religion.
To ignore this characteristic of secularization is also to ignore that for the public involved there was clearly a basic element of enjoyment in belonging to the congregation, and not only a feeling of subservience and sacrifice. This is also the case with the upper classes, the big businessmen, who enjoyed the relative freedom in which they could finally live as members of the elite, even when they were among their own people. The fact that during the 18th century there was a relative increase among Sephardi merchants who refused to take upon themselves any role in the community, or to contribute to it financially, is linked both to the process of leaving one world of collective being and joining another and to the gradual economic decline of this social class.
The question is not of the stability of the social system during this period of change, but rather the nature of that stability. What did the conformism to the social order of the iehidim, elected community leaders, represent?
Placing the stress on iehidim rather than institutions is important, since it has happened in Jewish history that communal organizations continued to exist even in order to serve the social and political needs of the non-Jewish majority society, needs which have nothing to do with religious tradition or even Jewish solidarity. The question is whether the stability of the social system represents the original historical effort at creating a sphere of religious "holiness," where whatever located outside of it becomes secular, or does it represent social needs linked to ensuring the maintenance of the society as a cultural, historical, ethnic unit, with no alternative framework for its existence?
One who succeeded in describing the basic features of the secularization of the society under discussion was Spinoza, who determined – albeit not precisely in relation to Jewish society – that "it is almost impossible to know what a person is, that is, whether he is a Christian, Turk, Jew, or pagan, except… by the fact that he visits this or that house of worship, or finally by the fact that he is devoted to this or that outlook and is accustomed to answering Amen to the words of his teacher."
Spinoza does indeed include among his statements on collective signs of recognition issues of manner and dress, but from the text cited we can see that even those signs of recognition were not important for him.
What would have been significant for him was apparently the fact that the Ma'amad of the congregations of Amsterdam, Hamburg, or London could enact regulations and obligate the iehidim to obey them "Em nome del Dio Benditto" ("in the name of blessed God") and "para sevico… de Dio Benditto" (in service to blessed God), even when between this activity and the religious idea of the kehillah there was nothing more in common than the public itself and the structural significance of the religious notion.
If we use as an example the Dotar of Amsterdam, we find that this institution, which was called "Santa Companhia" (Hebrew: ḥevrah kedoshah, "holy society") maintained close connections with Marranos and even with "New Christians," who were still in conflict over their religious identification. The institution in any case considered itself their patron and assisted them.
Albeit as far as Spinoza was concerned, "the reason for this evil" (the devaluation which had taken place with regard to the esteem of religious "holiness") was that the Church "is becoming a mass movement in the guise of religion." Yet, with his aristocratic, overbearing attitude to the "masses," Spinoza ignores the fact that the church is changing not only because of an ostensible lowering of the value of religious "holiness," but also because the "Church" is the body which will take upon itself in situations of social or national crises, the role of the model society (the "good," "true" society) which is embedded in the base of all social organization.
From the point of view of religion itself, one of the indications of the decline of religion is its turning into the servant of society and the social order. An outstanding example of this trend can be taken from the statements of Leone *Modena in his Magen ve-Ẓinnah (in referring to D'Acosta's objections to Rabbinical Judaism) that "a basic element of the divine intention in the Torah is that we should all of us observe it and each detail in one manner, and not one this way and one another, for if not so Israel will not be one nation!"
In Sefat Emet by Moses Hagiz, the opposite trend emerges whereby "ammudei ha-Torah" ("pillars of the Torah") take precedence over the existence of the world and the existence of the Jewish people itself. "For this purpose (being tested and observing commandments)," says Hagiz, "He, God, made us one nation in our land."
One of the most striking institutional manifestations demonstrating that the territory of "religious" holiness (halakhic-institutional, in the term of Y. Leibowitz) was growing ever more restricted in this society, was the historical fact that the Western Sephardi congregations had problems in training rabbis from among themselves, not only in the difficult times of their establishment but also at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries. The small number of people looking for a career for themselves as rabbis (most of the young "devote their time exclusively to commerce," according to the statement of Rabbi Judah Leib of Zelichev), while the prestige of the rabbi or of the talmid ḥakham was declining, as can be learnt from Rabbi Moses Hagiz or even Rabbi Judah Leib of Zelichev. There was also a significant decline in the power of the sages of the community who served alongside the parnasim, the sages who were also called by the title "Ḥaḥam da nação" ("sage of the nation").
Even the Amsterdam community, despite its central position in matters of halakhah among the Marrano Diaspora of Western Europe, already in the early 17th century had to seek the assistance of the Sephardi centers in the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, and Italy when looking for rabbis. This is also true of the Sha'ar Shomayim congregation in London and the Beth Israel community of Hamburg, which struggled fiercely over issues of the rabbinate. The decline in the status of the talmid ḥakham was also attributable to the increased importance of other "wisdom" (ḥokhmah) or "knowledge," representing a non-Torah sphere of learning.
It is to this type of knowledge to which Abraham Pereira is referring in his book Espejo de la Vanidad del Mundo, where he is careful to differentiate between that side of man's nature with which he searches for truth wherever it may be found and "conducts research," and another side of his character whereby he admires things "because they are new." The latter facet is considered by Pereira to be likely to lead to the disowning of tradition, because "What could be a greater new thing than to turn a sinner towards God?" But this distinction of Pereira's between knowledge and truth depends in effect upon the recognition that Jewish tradition does not ignore the realm of non-Torah knowledge, and does not even oppose it (on condition that it does not contradict the teaching of the Torah).
Maimonides himself mentions in his Guide for the Perplexed, "the Spaniards of our people" (i.e., of the 12th century) "who all accept the words of the philosophers and lean toward their interpretations as long as they do not contradict any fundament of the Torah." Long before Maimonides, Midrash Lamentations Rabbah (2:13) stated: "If someone should say to you that there is wisdom among the nations, believe [him]; there is Torah among the nations, do not believe [him]." This shows us that even when dealing with the confrontation of the individual Jew with a culture foreign to him, it does not necessarily follow that there is a conflict with the binding nature of tradition, or alternatively of "social deviation."
The prevailing error among historians on this point generally stems, as J. Katz has shown, "by analogy to the 19th century," to a period in which "the traditional society was no longer a total society, but one with peripheral members who have abandoned tradition," and despite this, or apparently because of this, it is ostensibly more "traditional" than in the traditional period in its own time.
The same is true in the economic sphere. There was nothing improper in the participation of the Jews in the stock exchange of Amsterdam or London, as long as they also reserved for themselves time for Torah study. Yet there was serious fault to be found in Jews going to the stock exchange as described by the Sephardi Jew Joseph Penso de la *Vega in his satirical work, Confusion de Confusiones, written in Amsterdam in 1688, because in that stock exchange "whoever steals more earns more." It is not accidental that the book includes no discussion of the halakhic or Jewish significance of dealing in the stock exchange despite the fact that it is directed to Sephardi Jews, not only because Jews like Joseph Penso de la Vega knew how to separate the "holy" from the "profane," but mainly because the book's intention is to "entertain" and "to paint with the brush of truth" the reality of the exchange itself. The statements quoted above with regard to the intellectual and economic spheres apply as well to the area of the arts. Here too halakhah recognizes various degrees of approaching the profane.
In terms of institutions, in the same way that the obligation of discipline binding on individuals of the congregation towards the leaders of the community was not derived in Western Sephardi society exclusively from a religious command to "pay heed to the voice of their elders, the makers of fences, and the protectors of the hedges," so the presence of the iehidim in the synagogue was not dependent exclusively upon observing the commandments and religious obligations. It is a fact that even the heretics, such as Spinoza, maintained a seat for themselves in the Great Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam almost up to their excommunications. Perhaps, as J. Katz says – albeit in a different context – because "the most traditional, rooted sub-meaning of the adjective Jew is connected to religion." The regulations and prohibitions on business conversations in the synagogue and the need for emphasizing time and again the biblical commandment "Revere my sanctuaries" (Lev. 26:2) – as for example the emphasis of Pereira on the respect and awe which we are to bring to the Holy Temple" – lead to the assumption that there were mundane conversations during prayer services. Yet, although prayer must come from the heart and "with humility," we would not suggest that in this too one should not see excess criticism of the patterns of behavior of Sephardi Jews in the synagogue.
Regular conversations as well as those concerning livelihood were carried on in the synagogue and even were the subject of conflicts, almost through the entire history of this institution. It was not without reason that a distinction was made between the synagogue as a place of gathering for prayer and study and as a place in which all come together is already found in the Talmud (B. Shab. 32a), "R. Ishmael ben Eleazar said: Because of two sins ammei ha-areẓ die – because they call the holy ark (aron kodesh) arana (a plain cabinet) and because they call the bet keneset a meeting hall (bet ha-am)."
One should not assume that the ammei ha-areẓ about whom the baraita is speaking had committed such as grave sin as to deserve death (albeit, divine and not by a court) only because they were not fluent in the language of the sages (lashon ha-kodesh, i.e., Hebrew), since they were Aramaic speakers. They were guilty of having blurred the boundaries between the "holy" and the "profane."
At the same time, the threat of secularization does not draw its strength precisely from the secular concepts of the surrounding, non-Jewish society or culture, but from the contrastive parallel which socio-historical reality creates between the synagogue and the holy ark, on the one hand, and the meeting hall and the cabinet, on the other.
This is to be stressed not in order to show that tendencies towards secularization existed in traditional Jewish society many centuries before the meeting with pre-modern or modern secular society, which is an important fact in itself. We emphasize this issue in order to learn of the very possibility of blurring the borders between the "holy" and the "profane" within the boundaries of the synagogue or within the limits of the community itself.
Eclipse of Sephardi Jewry
After the middle of the 17th century a contraction in the importance of the Sephardi element in relation to the rest of the Jewish world took place. During the Middle Ages (from c. 1000 to 1492) the Jews of Spain formed a most numerous and active part of the Jewish people, perhaps at least one half of world Jewry. From the mid-17th century, however, their relative (though not absolute) importance dwindled. Shabbateanism, the movement of the false messiah Shabbetai Ẓevi, which was extremely popular in Salonika and Izmir from the 1650s until his messianic proclamation, arrest, and conversion to Islam in 1666, brought the Ottoman communities to spiritual and economic ruin. The reverberations of the movement were later felt in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Altona, and Poland in the early 17th century. Support and suspicion of Shabbateanism caused division between Sephardi communities in these areas of Northern Europe.
In modern times the Ashkenazi portion of the Jewish people has constituted approximately nine-tenths of the whole. Before the Holocaust, of the approximately 16,500,000 Jews in the world, about 15,000,000 were Ashkenazim and only 1,500,000 Sephardim and other non-Ashkenazi communities. The numerical decline was inevitably accompanied by a contraction in intellectual and cultural productivity, and the energetic Ashkenazi Jews took the lead. Eminent Sephardim in the modern period include Sir Moses *Montefiore and Adolphe *Crémieux; Benjamin *Disraeli also came from a Sephardi family. Among the fathers of the rebirth of the Jewish settlement in Ereẓ Israel were, besides Montefiore, the American Sephardi Judah *Touro, and the Bosnian rabbi Judah *Alkalai.
By the 19th century the celebrated old Sephardi communities in Western Europe and the U.S., established in the 16th and 17th centuries, had been numerically far outnumbered by the Ashkenazi element there. Although contributing less to Jewish culture, the Sephardim preserved their former homogeneity and pride in their historical heritage. The greatest center of this group was still Amsterdam, though the Spanish and Portuguese community in London had attained great significance. In the *Ottoman Empire the Sephardim still preserved their ancestral traditions, and their economic and political position was favorable. They had the same rights as other minorities in the Ottoman Empire (see *Capitulations). *Salonika continued to be the greatest center of Sephardi Jewry in the world. Its Sephardi Jews contributed greatly to the industrialization of the city, the Alliance Israélite Universelle had eight schools in the city, the community had numerous daily newspapers in Judeo-Spanish and French, and an active Judeo-Spanish theater existed from the latter quarter of the 19th century until the Holocaust. It had an elaborate philanthropic structure and an active Zionist movement. The ultra-secular and anti-Zionist Jewish socialist workers movement numbering some 6,000 Jewish Sephardi tobacco workers represented a fourth of the local Jewish community, and laid the foundations for the Greek Communist movement. *Izmir and *Sarajevo were also prolific Sephardi communities with yeshivot, numerous synagogues, and communal mutual aid societies. Izmir had an active Judeo-Spanish press and theater life. Sarajevo had a special rabbinical seminary and strong Sephardi youth and cultural movements. In North Africa the degree of Jewish well-being was proportionate to the extent of European influence. Westernization and the British penetration into Egypt brought considerable amelioration of the condition of the Jews there. In *Algiers the French had conferred full rights of French citizenship on the Jews, though this led to a local antisemitic movement, and an outbreak of anti-Jewish rioting in 1897. The French occupation of *Tunis was also beneficial to the Jews, but in most of *Morocco the old medieval maltreatment and code still prevailed.
After World War i
The hopes that western influences would gradually lead to a marked improvement in the position of the Jews in the Balkans and Middle East did not materialize. After World War i, when large stretches of the former Ottoman Empire passed to the various Balkan powers, large populations were transferred in order to lessen friction between Greece and Turkey by ensuring greater homogeneity. In Salonika, the Jewish population, formerly in the majority, was reduced to about one-fifth of the total, and the Greek authorities began to take steps to replace Jewish economic and cultural influence by Greek. In Turkey, now being reorganized on national lines, the former privileged position of ethnic minorities came to an end. Many Jews emigrated from both Greece and Turkey to Western Europe, America, and especially to Spanish America. Istanbul Jewry underwent Turkification after the founding of the modern Turkish Republic in 1924, became greatly secularized, and Judeo-Spanish was put aside at the expense of modern Turkish. Political Zionism was scorned. As all international movements were banned in Turkey, Zionist activities went underground and dwindled. The 1934 antisemitic riots in Eastern Thrace and in the region of the Dardanelles and Tekirdag, prompted by Armenian, far-right Turkish, and pro-Nazi nationalist elements, was the beginning of the end for the old Sephardi Jewish community of Edirne (Adrianople) and other Sephardic communities in European Turkey and the Dardanelles. Some 12,000 Jews became refugees and moved to Istanbul.
During World War ii, the Nazis first tried to sow division by discriminating between Jews of various origins. In Holland, the Sephardim were left until last, but eventually almost all were "liquidated." The small communities came to an end, and the illustrious Spanish and Portuguese community of Amsterdam was reduced to one-tenth of its former number. In Italy, the old Sephardi communities of *Venice, *Ferrara, *Florence, and *Leghorn suffered appallingly. The victimization of the Jews in the Balkans was carried out on a far larger scale, and most were eventually sent to the death camps. In Bulgaria, which had a long tradition of just treatment of the Jews, the government was able to evade the enforcement of the German orders, but most males were sent to forced labor and more than half of the Jews of Sofia were moved to the periphery. That strongly Zionist community survived almost intact to find its way after the war en masse to Ereẓ Israel. The Bulgarian pro-German government deported the Jews of Yugoslavian Macedonia and Greek Thrace to their deaths in Treblinka, and the Bulgarians shot on the shore of the Danube River some 1,100 Jews from Cavalla and Cuomotini, Greece, who were sent by boat from Lom, Bulgaria. The local Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian Fascists and their German masters in Yugoslavia almost wholly annihilated the Jewish population there. Most of the Jews of the vibrant Sephardi communities in Belgrade and Sarajevo were murdered on Yugoslavian soil in concentration camps and the Jasenovac death camp run by the Croatian Fascist Ustase movement. The traditional Sephardi communities of Monastir and Skopje were deported by the Bulgarian occupier to Treblinka, where all those deported were gassed upon arrival. Although the small Athens community suffered less owing to the aid of the Orthodox patriarch Damascenos, the number of those deported in the rest of Greece rose in some places to 99%, and almost the whole of the Salonika community perished.
The Jews of Turkey suffered from the Varlik Vergisi luxury tax in 1942. Many who could not pay the exorbitant sums were sent to forced labor in camps like Askale. In Izmir, the wealthy industrialist Rabenu Politi paid the equivalent of $46 million to ransom his community members from harsh labor. As a result of this wealth tax, most of Turkish Jewry moved to Israel in the late 1940s and early 1950s, leaving 20,000 Jews mainly in Istanbul and only 1,500 Jews in Izmir.
In Romania, 12,000 Sephardi Jews perished in the Holocaust. The Sephardi communities in Bucharest, Craiova, Braila, Turnu Severin, Timishoara, and elsewhere ceased to exist.
In Holland, 4,000 of the country's 5,000 Sephardim from Amsterdam and The Hague were deported by the Nazis to Sobibor, Auschwitz, and Theresienstadt. The majority of the Sephardim in Vienna and Hamburg were also murdered in the Holocaust.
After World War ii
As antisemitism had spread in Europe, the attitudes toward Jews in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East changed for the worse. Ostensibly this was bound up with artificially stimulated opposition to Zionism in the Arab and Muslim countries. After Israel's *War of Independence (1948), the position of the Jews in this region became increasingly precarious. A mass emigration began, in which many eventually arrived in Israel.
While Sephardi Jewry was almost annihilated in Europe and had largely moved from Asia (except Israel), a new Sephardi Diaspora came into being in circumstances very different from the old. In the interwar years emigrants from the eastern Mediterranean countries augmented the old Sephardi communities of *London, *Paris, and New York (see below). New Sephardi groupings were also founded, including congregations in *Salisbury (Rhodesia) and the Belgian *Congo by emigrants from *Rhodes (whose ancient community was almost annihilated by the Nazis during World War ii). Large numbers of emigrants established themselves in Central and South America, where they found themselves linguistically more at home. The rapid growth of the new communities in *Latin America has been one of the most remarkable and significant events in Jewish history of the past generation. In Buenos Aires, the Damascan and Aleppoan Jews had their own synagogues and institutions. The Rhodian and Turkish Jews had their own synagogues in the Buenos Aires area, but they were more secular than the Syrian Jews. There also was a small Moroccan community in Buenos Aires. Since the 1990s, the Sephardim in Mexico City have been a majority of the general Jewish community. The Judeo-Spanish speaking community, and the separate Monte Sinai (Damascan) and Aleppoan communities with their synagogues, schools, and cultural and philanthropic organizations outnumber the Ashkenazim, and are a major part of the future communal trend.
Whereas the majority of Jews in Latin America and North America are of Ashkenazi origin, increasing numbers are speaking Spanish, and an important Jewish-Spanish cultural life is developing. Thus while the antecedents and synagogue rites of these communities are Ashkenazi, their cultural life links up with that of medieval Spain and cannot fail to be influenced by the Spanish intellectual and literary traditions.
[Cecil Roth /
Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]
In the United States
In 1654, 23 Jews fleeing Portuguese reprisals in Brazil found refuge in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (see *New York), where they established the Shearith Israel Congregation, popularly known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City. Other Sephardi congregations followed along the Atlantic coast. The contribution of the Sephardim was greater than their small numbers would suggest. They were prominent in the struggle for civil rights, and as craftsmen, merchants, ship owners, manufacturers, professionals, public servants, and writers they enriched the life of the general American community. They constituted about half of the estimated 2,000 Jews living in the American colonies. Many of the colonial Sephardim migrated to the British colonies from the Sephardi communities in the Caribbean, where there had been Jewish Portuguese settlement since the late 16th century under the British, Dutch, and Danish in *Jamaica, *Curacao, *Barbados, and later in Nevis, St. Eustatius, the *Dominican Republic, St. Croix, Trinidad, Tobago, *St. Thomas, and elsewhere. With the increase in English, German, and Polish Ashkenazim during the 19th century, the Sephardim played a correspondingly lesser role in the life of the U.S. Jewish community. However, the descendants of these "Founding Fathers" continue to hold a very respectable place in U.S. society. They often take the initiative in cultivating Sephardi religious and cultural activities, and take pride in their distinctive "Portuguese minhag," a hallmark in dignified Jewish worship. From 1900 onward, marked numbers of Oriental Sephardim immigrated to the U.S. from the Balkans, Asia Minor, and Syria. The exodus was precipitated by natural disasters, the rise of nationalism among the Balkan peoples, and the general economic and political deterioration in the Ottoman Empire. In the period from the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 to the fixing of U.S. immigration quotas in 1924–25, 50,000–60,000 Sephardim arrived in the U.S. After World War ii, the U.S. Sephardi community was augmented by several thousands from Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Israel, and some of those who left Cuba after 1959.
The 20th-century arrivals from the Levant were segregated from the mass of Yiddish-speaking East European Ashkenazim by linguistic, social, and cultural barriers, and they also felt estranged from the highborn indigenous Sephardim. Moreover, they further divided themselves into three language groupings: Judeo-Spanish, Greek, and Arabic. Dispersed through the efforts of the Industrial Removal Office, small Sephardi colonies were soon to be found in *Rochester, *Philadelphia, *Cincinnati, *Chicago, *Atlanta, *Montgomery, *Portland (Oregon), *Seattle, and *Los Angeles. More than 30,000 Sephardim, however, settled in New York City and provided the basis for organized Jewish communal life.
Following the pattern of their Ashkenazi brethren, they established mutual aid societies named after their native towns. Several attempts were made to unite the Sephardim. The first, encouraged by the kehillah of New York City, was the Federation of Oriental Jews, founded in 1912. All three language groups were represented, but it failed to receive the financial support of its constituent societies and disappeared within a few years. In 1924 the Spanish-speaking societies united to form the Sephardic Jewish Community of New York. The hub of its activities was its center in Harlem. With the decline of Sephardim in the area and the economic depression from 1929, the "Community" fell apart in 1933.
Between 1915 and 1952 mergers took place among the various mutual aid societies to form the most representative self-help organization, the Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America. It claims a membership of more than 3,000 families. The Central Sephardic Jewish Community of America, founded in 1941, tried to pattern itself after the old world Sephardi kehillah by appointing as its head a chief rabbi to coordinate the religious and educational activities of its constituent institutions. The csjca worked with Jewish national organizations in aiding victims of the Holocaust and supporting projects on behalf of Sephardi students in Israel and in Arab countries. One beneficiary was the Sephardic Home for the Aged. The home has a central concern for all Sephardim in the New York area. It served the needs of the Sephardi aged and also as a focus for community-wide functions. A singular loss to the Sephardi community was the discontinuance of the Ladino press. Two publications, La America (1910–23) and La Vara (1922–49), served as a strong unifying force, at least for those who knew the language. No English periodical emerged to fill the role formerly served by this press.
In 1971 there were some 33 Sephardi synagogues situated in 15 U.S. cities loosely affiliated with each other either through the Union of Sephardic Congregations and/or the World Sephardi Federation. The larger congregations maintain talmud torahs, where an attempt is made to transmit Sephardi traditions and the Sephardi nusaḥ. Two day schools were sponsored by "Syrian" communities in Brooklyn, the Magen David Yeshivah and Aḥi-Ezer. Sephardi children from Aleppo and Damascus received maximal Hebraic-religious education, which enabled them to pursue advanced Jewish studies. A concerted effort was made by Yeshiva University beginning in 1964 to train leadership through its Sephardic Studies Program. Future rabbis, teachers, and scholars were trained to meet the needs of the Sephardi community. Since the death of Ḥakham Solomon Gaon in 1994 and the resignation of Dr. Mitchel Serrels, the program has floundered and has little effect on the strengthening of Sephardi life in North America. The American Sephardi Federation was founded in 1976 by Prof. Daniel Elazar and strengthened in the 1980s and afterward by the New York-born philanthropist Leon Levy, who was of Turkish familial origin.
[Hyman Joseph Campeas /
Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]
In Ereẓ Israel
The emigration of the Jews from Spain that took place in the 15th and 16th centuries coincided with a relatively liberal Ottoman regime which allowed the Jewish refugees to settle in all parts of the empire, including Ereẓ Israel. The Jewish population of the country consisted at the time of four distinct communities: the Ashkenazi, which then included other immigrants from European countries, e.g., from Italy; the Sephardi, i.e., refugees from Spain; the North African, known as the "Moghrabi"; the "Mustarabs" or "Moriscos," i.e., the autochthonous Jews who had never left the country. After the expulsion from Spain, the Sephardim quickly became the predominant element in the larger towns of the country, and from the 16th century they played a decisive role in transforming *Safed into the spiritual center of world Jewry, particularly by their leading scholars, religious poets, and mystics who settled there. They were able to produce their epoch-making works (e.g., Joseph Caro's Shulḥan Arukh, Solomon Alkabez's religious poetry, Moses Cordovero's and Ḥayyim Vital's mystic philosophy, etc.) while living and working in a relatively free and economically productive and self-supporting Jewish population, in contrast to Jerusalem and other towns in Ereẓ Israel and in most Diaspora countries. In the same period, Don Joseph *Nasi and Doña Gracia Mendes made their bold attempt at settling Jews in the reconstructed town of Tiberias and its neighborhood. The Sephardim also outgrew in numbers and influenced the other Jewish communities in Jerusalem, though the immigration of *Judah Ḥasid and the first waves of ḥasidic immigrants from Eastern Europe in the 18th century tended to change the balance. At first both primary communities, the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi, cooperated in sending emissaries to Diaspora countries for collecting funds and defending Jewish interests vis-à-vis the authorities. But with the introduction of the "*capitulations" for non-Ottoman residents in the 19th century, and the organization of the first separate kolelim which later merged into a "general committee" (va'ad kelali) of all Ashkenazi groups, the dividing line between Sephardim and Ashkenazim became greatly stressed, particularly when the Sephardi chief rabbi in Jerusalem, bearing the title rishon le-Zion, was, from 1842, recognized officially as the *ḥakham bashi. This process, which culminated during the British Mandatory period in the establishment of a dual Ashkenazi-Sephardi chief rabbinate, caused all non-Ashkenazi "Oriental" communities to affiliate with the Sephardi rabbinical authorities, thus creating the semantic confusion around the term "Sephardim" in both Ereẓ Israel and the Diaspora. In appointing Jews as officials, the British administration in Palestine often preferred members of old Sephardi and other non-Ashkenazi families, born in the country and speaking Arabic as well as Hebrew, to the "newly arrived" Zionist Ashkenazim. However, it did not succeed by this and other methods in politically dividing the Jewish population along the "ethnic" community line, and many Sephardi Jews, born in the country, held important positions in the *Va'ad Le'ummi and all other yishuv bodies. The dual chief rabbinate, however, continued to exist under the State of Israel. Only in the Israel army did a quick process of unification of religious services, including a unified prayer book (nusaḥ aḥid), take place under the guidance of the army rabbinate. During the mass immigration to Israel of the 1950s and 1960s, the Oriental communities greatly increased, and through their high birthrate, tended to outnumber the Western, mostly Ashkenazi, element in the country. But only a minority of the new non-Ashkenazi immigrants – those from Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, and some North Africans – are, strictly speaking, Sephardim, i.e., descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews whose vernacular was Ladino. Some attempts were made to exploit politically the fact that many of the Oriental Jews from Muslim and other Afro-Asian countries, like India, belong to the lower strata of society, often feel underprivileged, and can only gradually – with considerable difficulties – work their way up into the upper strata of Israel society. But on the whole these attempts failed, mainly because of the general trend of the "merger of exiles" fostered by the organized efforts of the state in the schools, the army, settlement projects, etc. However, in the framework of preserving the vanishing "ethnic" community culture, efforts were made by the Ben Zvi Institute as well as by specialists in the field, to record and publish Sephardi liturgy and songs, often under the auspices of commercial record companies like Hed Artzi and Adama in Israel, Tara in New York, Tecnosaga in Madrid, Spain, and The Jewish Music Research Center of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the National Library in Jerusalem. The performance of Sephardi folklore, such as the show Bustan Sefaradi by Yiẓḥak Navon (1971) and Sephardi romanceros, enjoy much popularity with the Israel public. Ladino radio broadcasting in Jerusalem began in the late 1970s with the musical composer Yitzhak Levy, and was continued by Moshe Shaul, who also edits the Judeo-Spanish Latin-letter Sephardi periodical Aki Yerushalayim, which places the emphasis on Judeo-Spanish revival. The Council of the Sephardi Community in Jerusalem in 1971 announced plans to establish a Center for the Study of Sephardi culture under the auspices of the Hebrew University, to be called Misgav Yerushalayim and to be located in the Old City. Since the 1980s, the institute has been housed on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In the late 1990s, the Israeli government promulgated a law to establish national authorities for Yiddish and Ladino. The National Authority for Ladino Culture – established in Jerusalem and with branches in Tel Aviv, Beersheva, and Haifa – has a teacher training program, sponsors courses and scholarships for Ladino studies at Israeli universities, and organizes public seminars and weekend retreats. Ladino is available as an Israeli baccalaureate exam for those who wish to specialize in it, and it is taught at the high school level at the Amalia Religious Girls School in Jerusalem. In the 1990s, Avner Perez founded the Sefarad Institute for research into Ladino literature in Ma'aleh Adumim. Ladino language and literature university programs were started at Bar-Ilan University and Ben-Gurion University. Dr. Shmuel Refael started the discipline at Bar-Ilan University in the early 1990s, and the department was endowed by Naima and Yehoshua Salti of Istanbul. At Ben-Gurion University, Prof. Tamar Alexander chaired the Moshe David Gaon Department for Ladino Culture from 2003, assisted by the scholars Avner Perez and Eliezer Papo. Unfortunately, funding for the Eliashar Center for Sephardi Studies at the same university was cut severely in 2002 by the Israel Ministry of Education, and most of its courses were canceled.
1992: The Quincentennial Year of the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain
celebrations, commemoration, remembrance, and public awareness
The 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain was commemorated throughout the Sephardi world. In the United States, synagogues put Sephardi themes on their cultural agendas. The community of Indianapolis, for example, produced over 20 relevant events during 1992. Laurence Salzmann's exhibition on Turkish Jewry entitled "Anyos Munchos y Buenos" traveled to dozens of cities in the United States and also in Europe. Other traveling exhibitions included "Mosaic: Jewish Life in Florida"; the Beth Hatefutsoth (Diaspora Museum of Tel Aviv) exhibition "In the Footsteps of Columbus: Jews in America in 1654–1880"; "Turkish Jews: 500 Years of Harmony" organized by the Quincentennial Foundation of Istanbul (qfi); and the Anti-Defamation League's "Voyages to Freedom: 500 Years of Jewish Life in Latin America and the Caribbean." At the Yeshiva University Museum in New York, the exhibition "The Sephardic Journey: 1492–1992" was displayed throughout most of the year. The Judeo-Spanish singing groups "Voice of the Turtle" and "Voices of Sepharad" had busy concert schedules in the usa and in Europe.
In addition, various academic conferences were held in the U.S. Arizona and Mexico were centers for activities highlighting the recent revelation of numerous crypto-Jews of Spanish-speaking origin among their population. The University of Tucson has taken an active interest in Sephardi studies and promoted Sephardi scholarship and guest lectures.
In England, Rabbi Abraham Levy of the Spanish and Portuguese Lauderdale Road Synagogue produced and sponsored numerous publications, lectures, and other cultural events. The Jewish community of Brussels and its local "Sepharad '92" group were extremely active. In Thessaloniki, Greece, the Society for the Study of Greek Jewry and the local Jewish community organized numerous lectures. Large academic conferences were held in Istanbul and in Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki also hosted an international Judeo-Spanish song festival and an exhibition. France saw a memorial service at the Salonikan-founded Rue de St. Lazare synagogue and an academic conference, part of which was hosted in Geneva, Switzerland.
In Israel, the Shazar Center organized numerous international academic conferences and historical workshops on the Sephardi experience. The Sephardi Public Council of Jerusalem produced several cultural events, and the Committee of Sephardi and Oriental Communities in Jerusalem hosted several concerts. The Center for Spanish Jewish Studies of Lewinsky College in Ramat Aviv presented a lecture program, and the Museum of Tel Aviv University put on exhibits on the Jewish experience in Spain. Branches of the Turkish Immigrant Association organized evenings of Judeo-Spanish conversation and song.
Several Sephardi families in Israel organized reunions around the quincentennial year, including the Castel, Meyuhas, and Abravanel families. The Abravanel family sponsored a reunion and conference in New York City, while the Toledanos assembled in Spain.
The Public Council for the 500 Year Festivities was headed by former Israeli president Itzhak Navon, who hosted the Israeli Television series "Jerusalem in Spain."
In Spain, the March 31, 1992, ceremony, where King Juan Carlos annulled the expulsion decree, attracted the attention of world Jewry and the media. Spain hosted numerous academic conferences, and Spanish presses published hundreds of scholarly books on Spanish and Sephardi Jewry.
The only major foundation created for the 1992 festivities, which produced results, was the Quincentennial Foundation of Istanbul. It organized two major academic conferences and a gala banquet attended by Israeli President Herzog, Turkish President Ozal, and Turkish Prime Minister Demirel, began restoration of the Ochrid Synagogue, sponsored a photo exhibition, a film, concerts, and planned an educational kit.
In Latin America, major conferences were held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil. The Asociación Internacional de Escritores Judios En Lengua Hispana y Portuguese and noaj, Revista Literaria sponsored two monumental conferences; one in Jerusalem and another in Miami. In Mexico City, several cultural events were held and Sephardi books were published.
In England, a lengthy film was made on the liturgical music of the Sephardi Diaspora communities. In New York, the film Ottoman Salonika was finished and presented at the end of the year. Several of the films about Columbus' discovery of America mentioned the presence of a Jew in his crew, but none went into depth on this point or related to his alleged Jewish background, which in any case was disproved convincingly by two Mexican Jewish historians and the veteran historical biographer of Columbus, Taviani.
General: M. Molho, Usos y costumbres de los Sefardíes de Salónica (1950); M.J. Bernadete, Hispanic Culture and Character of the Sephardic Jew (1953); H.J. Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sephardim (1958); J.M. Estrugo, Los Sefardies (1958); R. Renard, Sepharad. Le Monde et la Langue judéo-espagnole des Sephardim (1967); A.D. Corré, in: jsos, 28 (1966), 99–107; Sefarad (Madrid, 1941). History: M. Levy, Die Sephardim in Bosnien (1911); A. Cassuto, Gedenkschrift der portugiesisch-juedischen Gemeinde in Hamburg (1927); J.S. da Silva Rosa, Geschiedenis der Portugeesche Joden te Amsterdam 1593–1925 (1927); J. Nehama, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique, 5 vols. (1935–59); A. Galanté, Histoire des Juifs d'Istanbul (1941); A.M. Hyamson, Sephardim of England (1951); D. de Sola Pool, An Old Faith in the New World (1955); Roth, Marranos; idem, World of the Sephardim (1954); A.D. Corré and M.H. Stern, in: ajhsq, 59 (1969), 23–82; S.B. Liebman, The Jews in New Spain (1970). language: M.L. Wagner, Beitraege zur Kenntnis der Judenspanischen von Konstantinopel (1914); idem, Caracteres Generales de Judeo-Español de Oriente (1930); C.M. Crews, Récherches sur le judéo-espagnol dans les pays balkaniques (1935); J. Subak, in: Zeitschrift fuer Romanische Philologie, 30 (1906), 129–85. literature: M. Gruenbaum, Juedisch-spanische Chrestomathie (1896); I. González Llubera, Proverbios Morales (1947); I.S. Revah, João Pinto Delgado (1954); M. Molho, Literatura Sefardita de Oriente (1960); D. Gonzalo Maeso, Me-Am Lo'ez. El gran comentario biblico Sefardi (1964); S. Usque, Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel, tr. by M.A. Cohen (1965); J.M. Millas Vallicrosa, Literatura hebraico española (19682); I.J. Lévy, Prolegom to the Study of the Refranero Sefardi (1969). the romancero: I. González Llubera, Coplas de Yoçef (1935); M. Menéndez y Pelayo, Antología de Poetas Liricos Castellanos, 8 (1944); M. Attias, Romancero Sefaradi (1956); H.V. Besso, in: Sefarad, 21 (1961), 343–74; S. Armistead and J. Silverman, Diez romances Hispánicos en un manuscrito sefardí de la isla de Rodas (1962). Bibliographies: Kayserling, Bibl; J.S. da Silva Rosa, Die spanischen und portugiesischen gedruckten Judaica in der Bibliothek… "Ets Ḥaïm" in Amsterdam (1933); H.V. Besso, Ladino Books in the Library of Congress (1963). In the U.S.: A. Wiznitzer, The Records of the Earliest Jewish Community in the New World (1954); The American Sephardi; M. Behar, in: Les Cahiers Sefardis (Sept. 1947); A. Matarasso, ibid. (June, Sept. 1947); L.M. Friedman, Rabbi Ḥayyim Isaac Carigal, his Newport Sermon and his Yale Portrait (1940); M.A. Gutstein, The Story of the Jews of Newport, 1658–1908 (1936); L. Hacker, in: Jewish Social Service Quarterly (Dec. 1926), 32–40. add. bibliography: B. Rivlin, Y. Kerem, and L. Bornstein Makovetsky, Pinkas Hakehillot Yavan (1999); E. Benbassa and A. Rodrigue, Sephardi Jewry, A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 14th–20th Centuries (2000); J. Gerber, The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (1992); G. Nahon, Métropoles et périphéries sefarades d'Occident (1993); David M. Bunis, A Lexicon of the Hebrew and Aramaic Elements in Modern Judezmo (1993).
ETHNONYM: Oriental Jews
Strictly speaking, Sephardic Jews (singular, Sephardi; plural, Sephardim) are descendants of Jews who lived in Spain or Portugal before they were expelled from the former in 1492. The name "Sephardim" is derived from "Sephard," the term used by Jews in medieval times to refer to the Iberian Peninsula. Also included in the Sephardic category are Conversos (Marranos, New Christians, Judeos, Chuetas), Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism in Spain and Portugal but continued to practice Judaism and maintain their Jewish identity in secret. Today, the label "Sephardic Jew" is often used in a broader sense to include all Jews who follow Sephardic religious practice, as contrasted with those who follow Ashkenazic traditions. Because of the dissemination of Sephardic publications and, after 1492, the resettlement of Sephardic Jews throughout the Middle East and North Africa, many Jews from these regions are today classified as Sephardim, whether or not they are descended from Jews from the Iberian Peninsula.
One major distinction between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews was language. The language of Sephardic Judaism was Ladino (Judeo-Spanish, Judezmo, Hakatia), which originated in Spain and was later spoken in Sephardic communities in Turkey, North Africa, and the Balkans. Ladino is best described as a dialect of Castilian Spanish, with loanwords from Hebrew, Turkish, and other languages. Originally, Ladino was written with Hebrew characters and later with the Latin alphabet. It is unlikely that Ladino is now the day-to-day Language in any Sephardic community, as most Sephardic Jews now speak the language of the nations where they live. However, there are individuals who still speak Ladino, and systematic efforts are under way to record the language. Sephardic Jews in Portugal and in diaspora communities mainly spoke Portuguese, although many also spoke Spanish.
Sephardic Judaism has an especially rich literature Including religious works written in Hebrew, literature written in Spanish and Ladino, translations into Spanish and Ladino, political tracts written and translated into various Languages, biblical commentaries, inspirational works, and a rich folk literature in Ladino, featuring ballads (romancero ), a number of which have now been recorded and are still performed.
Although the first date of Jewish settlement in Spain is unknown, it is believed that Jews lived on the Iberian Peninsula as early as Roman times. Between 100 and 300 c.e. large Jewish populations had settled in towns in southeastern Spain, and the region south of Cordoba became a region of major Jewish settlement. Jews lived as farmers and landowners under the Visigoths, but they also suffered various persecutions; in 689 all were reduced to the status of slaves. In 711 Arab Muslims conquered the region and granted Jews Religious, though not complete economic or political, freedom, and the period described as the "golden age" of Spanish Jewry began. This golden age lasted roughly to near the end of the fourteenth century and saw the advancement of many Jews in instrumental roles as political advisers and physicians and the development of Sephardic Jewish traditions in poetry, Literature, philosophy, and biblical interpretation. Jews were active participants in Spanish society, and many felt that they were Spanish as well as Jewish. In 1136 the practice of Judaism was prohibited and Jews began to suffer from increased persecution, although restrictions were less in the Christian north, where the community continued to thrive. But beginning in 1391, the Jewish community came under increasing pressure, entire communities disappeared, and the golden age ended. From that point on, the Spanish Jewish community was regularly persecuted: restrictions were placed on participation in public life, many were forced to convert to Christianity, Jews and their property were attacked, and they were finally expulsed from Spain in 1492. Estimates place the number of Jews who left Spain at anywhere from 50,000 to 250,000. Most went to lands in what was then the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans), Portugal, and Italy (especially northern Italy). In 1496 Portugal moved to expulse all Jews, but in 1497 substituted a policy of forced conversion. Near the close of the next century a second diaspora of Sephardic Jews took place, this time involving Conversos from Portugal who moved to the Netherlands, and later to England, northern Europe, and the New World. Some of these Conversos reestablished their Jewish identity, while others assimilated into the Christian population. The third major movement of the Sephardim has taken place since World War II, with the settlement of many Middle Eastern and North African Sephardim in Israel, immigration to the United States, and migration from North Africa to France and Spain.
If we use the broad definition of Sephardic Jew, the countries with the largest Sephardic populations in the 1980s (all figures are estimates) were Israel (1.7 million), the United States (350,000), and France (260,000). Other countries with large Sephardic populations include Argentina (34,000), Brazil (30,000), Italy (30,000), Turkey (22,000), Mexico (15,000), Morocco (13,000), and Spain (12,000). For the most part, in most countries of the New World (i.e., Argentina, Brazil, the United States) where Sephardic Jews (sometimes Conversos) formed the earliest Jewish Communities, they are now far outnumbered by the descendants of Ashkenazic Jews whose ancestors arrived later. Similarly, diaspora communities founded by Conversos in Europe eventually disappeared as the Conversos either assimilated or reasserted their Jewish identity. However, Converso communities are reported as still existing in Mexico and on Majorca.
As with Ashkenazic Jews, Sephardim follow the Babylonian tradition, and they view the Babylonian Talmud as the ultimate guide to belief and practice. In matters involving Religious law, Sephardim follow Joseph Caro's codification, the Shulhan Arukh, which is more permissive in many ways than Ashkenazic religious law. Sephardim and Ashkenazim differ not only in degree of permissiveness on some matters (especially dietary rules) but also in religious practice. Differences involve variations in religious garb for rabbis, the use of ritual decorations, the internal organization of the synagogue, texts recited at specific times, terms used for ritual objects and practices, melodies in chants, and the pronunciation of Hebrew. While many of these distinctions are minor, adherence to them by Sephardic Jews is today an important marker of Sephardic identity in a Jewish world largely dominated by the Ashkenazim. In Israel today, there are both Sephardic and Ashkenazic chief rabbis.
See also Andalusians
Bunis, David M. (1981). Sephardic Studies: A Research Bibliography Incorporating Judezmo Language, Literature and Folklore, and Historical Background. New York: Garland.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971). New York: Macmillan.
Lerman, Antony (1989). The Jewish Communities of the World. London: Macmillan.
Moore, Kenneth (1977). Those of the Street—The Catholic Jews of Mallorca. South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.
Raphael, Chaim (1985). The Road from Babylon: The Story of Sephardi and Oriental Jews. New York: Harper & Row.
Speake, Graham (1984). Atlas of the Jewish World. New York: Facts on File.
Tapia, Claude (1986). Les juifs sepharades en France, 1965—1985: Etudes psychosociologiques et historiques. Paris: L'Harmattan.
Sephardim (səfär´dəm), one of the two major geographic divisions of the Jewish people, consisting of those Jews whose forebears in the Middle Ages resided in the Iberian Peninsula, as distinguished from those who lived in Germanic lands, who came to be known as the Ashkenazim (see Ashkenaz). The name comes from the placename Sepharad (Obad. 20), which early biblical commentators identified with Iberia. With the migration of the Iberian Jews, particularly following their formal expulsion from Spain in 1492 (and Portugal in 1497), Sephardic communities were established throughout Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, in some cases absorbing smaller local Jewish populations. Smaller groups of Sephardim also settled in Holland and elsewhere in Western Europe. In many areas, Sephardic Jews retained many aspects of Judeo-Spanish culture, including a language called Judezmo (or Ladino, Judeo-Spanish, or Spanioli), which retained many characteristics of medieval Castilian combined with Hebrew, Turkish, Arabic, and other elements. Literature in the language includes religious works (e.g., the Bible translations of the 14th and 15th cent.), as well as folktales, songs (romanceros), essays, and journalism.
Those Sephardim who were forced to convert to Christianity during the period lasting from the 1391 massacres in Spain to the 1497 forced baptisms in Portugal, and who secretly maintained a Jewish life, were given the pejorative title of Marrano [pig] by the Christian populace. As time passed, many made their way to more tolerant lands, where they openly returned to Judaism, ending their double lives. They or their descendants founded the Jewish communities of Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and New Amsterdam (New York City), among others. Many Sephardic communities were decimated in the Holocaust, and others were depleted by emigration to Israel and elsewhere. A Portuguese law adopted in 2013 (effective 2015) allowed the descendants of Jews who had been expelled to apply (under certain conditions) for citizenship; Spain enacted (2015) a similar law, but imposed a more restrictive process.
See C. Roth, A History of the Marranos (1932, repr. 1966) and The Spanish Inquisition (1937, repr. 1964); D. De Sola Pool, An Old Faith in the New World (1955); I. J. Baer, The Jews in Christian Spain (2 vol., 1961); M. Lazar, ed., The Sephardic Tradition (1972); J. Prinz, The Secret Jews (1973); D. J. Elazar, The Other Jews: The Sephardim Today (1988); Y. Yovel, The Other Within: The Marranos: Split Identity and Emerging Modernity (2009).