The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on 31 March 1492, by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of practicing Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and its territories and possessions by 31 July of that year. The primary purpose was to eliminate their influence on Spain's large converso population and ensure they did not revert to Judaism. Over half of Spain's Jews had converted as a result of the religious persecution and pogroms which occurred in 1391, and as such were not subject to the Decree or to expulsion. A further number of those remaining chose to avoid expulsion as a result of the edict. As a result of the Alhambra decree and persecution in prior years, over 200,000 Jews converted to Catholicism and between 40,000 and 100,000 were expelled, an indeterminate number returning to Spain in the years following the expulsion.
The edict was formally revoked on 16 December 1968, following the Second Vatican Council and a full century after Jews had been once more been allowed to openly practice their religion in Spain and synagogues being allowed to be used as places of worship under Spain's Laws of Religious Freedom.
In 2014, the government of Spain passed a law allowing dual citizenship to Jewish descendants who apply, in order to "compensate for shameful events in the country's past." Thus, Sephardi Jews who are descendants of those Jews expelled from Spain due to the Alhambra Decree, and can prove it, can "become Spaniards without leaving home or giving up their present nationality."
Beginning in the 8th century, Muslims had conquered and settled most of the Iberian Peninsula. Jews, who had lived in these regions since Roman times, were considered "People of the Book" and given special status and often thrived. The tolerance of the Muslim Moorish rulers of al-Andalus attracted Jewish immigration, and Jewish enclaves in Muslim Iberian cities flourished as places of learning and commerce.
The Reconquista, the gradual reconquest of Muslim Iberia by the Christian kingdoms, was driven by a powerful religious motivation: to reclaim Iberia for Christendom following the Umayyad conquest of Hispania centuries before. By the 14th century, most of the Iberian Peninsula (present-day Spain and Portugal) had been conquered by the Christian kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, León, Galicia, Navarre, and Portugal.
Overt hostility against Jews became more pronounced, finding expression in brutal episodes of violence and oppression. Thousands of Jews sought to escape these attacks by converting to Christianity; they were commonly called conversos, New Christians, or marranos. At first these conversions seemed an effective solution to the cultural conflict: many converso families met with social and commercial success. But eventually their success made these new Catholics unpopular with some of the clergy of the Church and royal hierarchies.
These suspicions on the part of Christians were only heightened by the fact that some of the coerced conversions were undoubtedly insincere. Some, but not all, conversos had understandably chosen to salvage their social and commercial positions or their lives by the only option open to them – baptism and embrace of Christianity – while privately adhering to their Jewish practice and faith. These secret practitioners are commonly referred to as crypto-Jews or marranos.
The existence of crypto-Jews was a provocation for secular and ecclesiastical leaders who were already hostile toward Spain's Jewry. The uncertainty over the sincerity of Jewish converts added fuel to the fire of antisemitism in 15th century Spain.
From the 13th to the 16th centuries European countries expelled the Jews from their territory on at least 15 occasions. Spain was preceded by England, France and some German states, among many others, and succeeded by at least five more expulsions.
Ferdinand and Isabella
The hostility toward Jews was brought to a climax by the "Catholic Monarchs" Ferdinand and Isabella, whose marriage in 1469 formed a personal union of the crowns of Aragon and Castile, with coordinated policies between their distinct kingdoms.
Ferdinand and Isabella were disturbed at reports that most Jewish converts to Christianity were insincere in their conversion, continued to practice Judaism in secret (see Crypto-Judaism), and were trying to draw other conversos back into the Jewish fold. In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella made formal application to Rome for a tribunal of the Inquisition in Castile to investigate these and other suspicions. In 1487, King Ferdinand promoted the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition Tribunals in Castille; in Aragon, it was first instituted in XIII century to combat the Albigense heresy.
The independent Islamic Emirate of Granada had been a tributary state to Castile since 1238. In 1491, in preparation for an imminent transition to Castilian territory, the Treaty of Granada was signed by Emir Muhammad XII and the Queen of Castile, protecting the religious freedoms of the Muslims there. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Catholic Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula from Islamic al-Andalus by victory in the Battle of Granada.
The king and queen issued the Alhambra Decree less than three months after the surrender of Granada. This was primarily a decision of Isabella, not her husband Fernando. That her confessor had just changed from the tolerant Hernando de Talavera to the very intolerant Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros suggests that Cisneros may well have had a role in Isabel's decision. In it, Jews were accused of trying "to subvert their holy Catholic faith and trying to draw faithful Christians away from their beliefs." These measures were not new in Europe.
Some Jews were only given four months and ordered to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Under the edict, Jews were promised royal "protection and security" for the effective three-month window before the deadline. They were permitted to take their belongings with them – except "...gold or silver or minted money or other things prohibited by the laws of our kingdoms...".
The punishment for any Jew who did not convert or leave by the deadline was summary execution. The punishment for a non-Jew who sheltered or hid Jews was the confiscation of all belongings and hereditary privileges.
The Spanish Jews who chose to leave Spain instead of converting dispersed throughout the region of North Africa known as the Maghreb. In those regions, they often intermingled with the already existing Mizrahi Arabic or Berber speaking communities, becoming the ancestors of the Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian and Libyan Jewish communities.
Many Spanish Jews also fled to the Ottoman Empire, where they were given refuge. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire, learning about the expulsion of Jews from Spain, dispatched the Ottoman Navy to bring the Jews safely to Ottoman lands, mainly to the cities of Thessaloniki (currently in Greece) and İzmir (currently in Turkey). Many of these Jews also settled in other parts of the Balkans ruled by the Ottomans such as the areas that are now Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia.
Throughout history, scholars have given widely differing numbers of Jews expelled from Spain. However, the figure is likely to be below the 100,000 Jews who had not yet converted to Christianity by 1492, possibly as low as 40,000. Many went to Portugal, gaining only a few years of respite from persecution. The Jewish community in Portugal (perhaps then some 10% of that country's population) were then declared Christians by Royal decree unless they left.
Such figures exclude the significant number of Jews who returned to Spain due to the hostile reception they received in their countries of refuge, notably Fez. The situation of returnees was legalized with the Ordinance of the 10 of November 1492 which established that civil and church authorities should be witness to baptisim and, in the case that they were baptized before arrival, proof and witnesses of baptism were required. Furthermore, all property could be recovered by returnees at the same price at which it was sold. Returnees are documented as late as 1499. On the other hand, the Provision of the Royal Council of 24 of October 1493 set harsh sanctions for those who slandered these New Christians with insulting terms such as tornadizos.
A majority of Spain's Jewish population had converted to Christianity during the waves of religious persecutions prior to the Decree—a total of 200,000 converts according to Joseph Pérez. Ensuring the definite conversion of such a large convert population was one of the main objectives of the expulsion of practicing Jews. Of the 100,000 Jews that remained true to their faith by 1492, an additional number chose to convert and join the Converso community rather than face expulsion. Recent conversos were subject to additional suspicion by the Inquisition, which persecuted religious heresy with a strong focus on Judaism. Additionally, Limpieza de Sangre Statutes instituted legal discrimination against converso descendants, barring them from certain positions and forbidding them from emigrating to the Americas. Such measures slowly faded away as converso identity was forgotten and this community merged into Spain's dominant Catholic culture. There were, however, a few exceptions, most notably the Chuetas of the island of Majorca, whose discrimination lasted into early 20th Century.
A Y chromosome DNA test conducted by the University of Leicester and the Pompeu Fabra University has indicated that around 20% of Spaniards today have direct patrilineal descent from historical populations from the Near East which colonized the region in historical times, including Jews, Phoenicians and Syrians. In New Mexico, a number of women have been diagnosed as having the BRCA gene, transmitted through their descendents from Spanish conversos.
Modern Spanish policy
The Spanish government has actively pursued a policy of reconciliation with the descendants of its expelled Jews. In 1992, in a ceremony marking the 500th anniversary of the Edict of Expulsion, King Juan Carlos (wearing a skullcap) prayed alongside Israeli president Chaim Herzog and members of the Jewish community in the Beth Yaacov Synagogue. The King said: "Sefarad (the Hebrew name for Spain) is no longer nostalgia, but a place where Jews should not be told to feel as if at home [a customary greeting to guests in Spain], because Hispano-Jews are at home in Spain. What matters ... is the desire to analyse and project the past in regards to our future."
From November 2012 Sephardi Jews have had the right to automatic Spanish nationality without the requirement of residence in Spain. Prior to November 2012, Sephardi Jews already had the right to obtain Spanish citizenship after a reduced residency period of two years (versus ten years for foreigners). While their citizenship is being processed, Sephardi Jews are entitled to the consular protection of the Kingdom of Spain. This makes Spain the only nation that currently grants automatic citizenship to the descendants of Jews expelled during the European medieval evictions. As of November 2015, 4300 Sephardi Jews have benefited from this law and acquired Spanish citizenship, swearing allegiance to the Spanish Constitution. In 2013, the number of Jews in Spain was estimated to range between 40,000 and 50,000 people.
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[English translation] The Sephardi result may be overestimated, since there is much diversity in those genes and maybe absorbed other genes from the Middle East. Puts Calafell in doubt the validity of ancestry tests? They can be good for the Americans, we already know from where we come from.
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We think it might be an over estimate. The genetic makeup of Sephardic Jews is probably common to other Middle Eastern populations, such as the Phoenicians, that also settled the Iberian Peninsula," Calafell says: "In our study, that would have all fallen under the Jewish label.
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[English translation] Dr. Calafell clarifies that ... the genetic markers used to distinguish the population with Sephardi ancestry may produce distortions. The 25% of Spaniards that are identified as having Sephardi ancestry in the study could have inherited that same marker from older movements like the Phoenicians, or even the first Neolithic settlers thousands of years ago.
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