The designation of “Sephardic Jews” refers to the descendants of the
ancient Jews and traditional Jewish communities of the Iberian
Peninsula (Sefarad or Hispania),
that is, Portugal and Spain.
The presence of these communities in the Iberian Peninsula goes a
long way back, and in fact precedes the formation of the Iberian
Christian kingdoms, namely Portugal. Until
the 15th century, some Jews occupied very prominent places in
Portuguese political and economic life.
Following the Alhambra Edict of 1492 and their persecution by
the Spanish Inquisition, a very large number of Spanish Jews sought
refuge in Portugal and joined the Portuguese Jewish communities.
However, King Manuel I of Portugal, who had initially issued a
royal-decree law guaranteeing their protection, ordered in 1496 the
expulsion of all Jews that did not convert to Catholicism.
Notorious anti-New Christian riots broke out in 1506, killing up to
four thousand in a massacre in Lisbon. After the massacre the crown
softened its New Christian stance for a time, allowing migration. In
1515 the king requested to establish an inquisition to
systematically persecute New Christians, but it was initially denied
by the Pope.
Inquisition was formally established in Portugal in1536
under King João III and, although the
last public auto-da-fé took place in 1765, was
only extinguished in 1821
when the country went through a constitutionalist insurrection.
The Inquisition focused its attention on New Christians and
fact that anyone arrested by the Inquisition was subject to having
his property confiscated insured that the campaign was carried out
with alacrity. Tribunals were set up in a number of towns in
Portugal, but also in the kingdom’s overseas possessions, namely
Brazil, Goa and Cape Verde.
According to historian António José Saraiva, 40,000 individuals were
charged by the Portuguese Inquisition. Of them, in the mainland
venues alone, 1,175 were burned at the stake, and an additional 633
burned in effigy.
Thus, many Sephardic Jews were forced into exile and compelled to
leave Portugal from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century
onwards, including those who
had converted to Catholicism – the conversos, also known as New
Christians, Anusim or Marranos. Some hid their practice of Judaism
over the years and are generally designated as secret, hidden or
Portuguese Jews and New-Christians who managed to escape, settled in
several Mediterranean countries like Morocco, France, Italy,
Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan,
Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, Northern Europe cities such as
London, Nantes, Paris, Antwerp, Brussels, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Glückstadt,
Hamburg or Cologne and other countries like Brazil, Argentina,
Mexico, Antilles and the US, among others.
Despite the expulsion and the persecution of their ancestral
territory, they have kept, along with their descendants, not only
the Portuguese language, in some cases, but also the traditional
rites of the ancient Jewish worship in Portugal, saving their
surnames over generations, objects and documents proving their
Portuguese origin, along with a strong memorial connection to
Portugal. Consequently, they are often referred to as “Portuguese
Jews” or “Jews of the Portuguese Nation”.
Considering this historical heritage, the Portuguese Citizenship Act
(Lei da Nacionalidade) was amended as to permit the acquisition of
Portuguese citizenship by the descendants of Portugal's Sephardic
All the legal requirements regarding the application of descendants
of Sephardic Jews of Portuguese origin for Portuguese nationality
(through naturalization) are clearly stated in the Portuguese
of February 27th, 2015. Applications should be presented
at the Central Registry Offices (Conservatória dos Registos
Centrais) in Lisbon, in diplomatic services, and the Portuguese Minister of Justice was
invested the power of granting nationality.
STEP 1 - APPLYING FOR CERTIFICATION AT THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF
In view of the difficulties that may arise while checking the
findings concerning historical and genealogical evidence, the
Decree-Law allows Portuguese Jewish Communities - duly registered
locally under the status of religious legal entities, that is, the
Jewish Communities of Lisbon (CIL) and Porto (CIP) – to issue valid
certificates. Further, there seems to be no other alternative but to
start the process by requiring the certification of direct
or collateral progeny, family relationship to a Sephardic community
of Portuguese origin and the tradition of belonging to a Sephardic
community of Portuguese origin from a
Portuguese Jewish community.
The Jewish Community of Lisbon has made available:
1. Administration staff – to answer all questions,
receive and perform a pre-check of the documentation. You’ll find
all the contacts below.
2. A Committee of Experts in Jewish Sephardic
genealogy and the historical routes of the Jewish Iberian Diaspora –
to evaluate the provided means of proof.
3. A Certification Committee – to issue the
certificates to be mailed to the applicants or to their legal
The “burden of proof” rests on the applicant, who must provide as
much evidence as possible, of all kinds, showing direct or
collateral progeny and the tradition
of belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin.
In fact, since a very large number of Spanish Jews migrated to
Portugal when they were expelled from Spain, proving Spanish
ancestry from families known to have lived in Portugal is also
acceptable. Mind that our internal Experts’ Committee checks the
information provided but does not run genealogical studies itself.
1. Filling and signing in good faith an application
all the required personal details, including the place of
2. A simple copy of a valid passport (page containing
personal data, picture and signature).
3. A birth certificate (including name and parents’
name, proof of name changes when applicable, place and date of
4. A valid and specific power of attorney (when not
presented by the applicant himself).
Means of proof
Applicants are expected to provide different means of proof and it
is understood that they will not be the same in each particular case
and some people won’t be able to provide all of them:
1. Personal – family name, records and documents
(including image, video and audio) of family ceremonies, weddings,
burials, registration at Jewish communities, birth certificates,
property deeds, bibliography and book quotes, copies of inquisition
archives and alike.
2. Genealogical – a family genealogical tree as
complete as possible including changes on the family name.
3. Testimonial – to be provided either/or by external
experts, your Sephardic community’s rabbi, people who know the
4. Emotional memory – we expect the applicant to
explain in short his motivation to apply for Portuguese nationality
based on his Sephardic family and tradition roots. A simple letter
will do. If/when possible, evidence of some level of ladino speaking
proficiency/culture will be highly appreciated although it’s not a
All the above may be presented in Portuguese, Spanish, French or
All the applications and attached documents/means of proof are kept
in our records for future reference and a list of all issued
certificates is sent monthly to the Portuguese Ministry of Justice.
Please check with our staff for donations to the Jewish Community of
Lisbon in relation to this process. Donations are very welcome and
shall be used to maintaining
and further developing Jewish and community life, culture and
traditions, both internally and within the Portuguese society, as
well as for the various solidarity programs to which the community
Our administration staff does try to perform a non-binding pre-check
of the documentation sent before accepting any donation but the
final decision whether to require further means of proof is made by
our Committee of Experts.
IBAN: PT 50 0007 0006 0025 6930 0064 8
Owner: Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa (CIL)
Bank: Novo Banco
Agency: Praça do Brasil (Lisboa - Portugal)
Account nr. : 0062 5693 0006
Phone: (+351) 213 931 139 | (+351) 213 931 130
Office hours: Monday to Thursday from 10am to 5pm | Friday: 10am to
Closed on Shabbat, Jewish Holydays and Portuguese Bank Holydays
STEP 2 - APPLYING FOR PORTUGUESE NATIONALITY BEFORE THE MINISTRY OF
The application should be presented to the Portuguese Central
Registry Office (Conservatória dos Registos Centrais) in
Lisbon and the Jewish Community of Lisbon has no involvement in the
decision or even in the process.
However the law does state that the following documents should be
presented, including their translation into Portuguese, duly
certified by the Portuguese consulate at the country of origin or
residence and bearing the Hague Convention Apostille:
Certificate – statement of direct or collateral
progeny, family relationship to a Sephardic community of Portuguese
origin and the tradition of belonging to a Sephardic community of
Portuguese origin. As mentioned above, the Jewish communities of
Lisbon and Porto, bearing the status of religious legal persons
legally based in Portugal, were empowered to issue such certificate;
2. Full copy of the applicant’s passport;
3. Certificate of residence;
4. Birth certificate issued in the previous six
5. Criminal record’s certificates issued
by the applicant’s country of birth and countries in which he has
resided more than one year, within the previous ninety days. Any
conviction with a crime punishable in Portugal with three years or
more years’ imprisonment will make the applicant non-eligible;
6. Power of attorney, when not presented by the
The Portuguese Central Registry Office charges a non-refundable and
pre-paid 250 € fee per applicant.
You may obtain further and accurate information at the nearest
Conservatória dos Registos Centrais
Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, 198
Phone: (+351) 213 817 600
Fax: (+351) 213 817 698
STEP 3 - GETTING A PORTUGUESE ID CARD / PASSPORT
Upon the granting of nationality, the Central Registry Office shall
issue and mail to the applicant’s address a Portuguese birth
certificate. Portuguese ID documents, such as passports, may then be
issued by the nearest Portuguese Consulate.
Do I have to come to Portugal in person? Do I have to reside in
Portugal? Do I have to speak Portuguese?
The answer to all the above questions is “no”. You may be
represented by a third party in your application and you neither
have to come or reside in Portugal nor to speak Portuguese.
Does my family name have to be in “the list of Sephardic names”?
No. There are indeed some family names which are commonly accepted
to belong to descendants of Portuguese Jewish families but your
family name may have changed along the years. In such case, please
provide proof of your genealogical relation despite the name
Do I have to hire the services of a lawyer?
There is no such requirement concerning the issuing of Jewish
Community of Lisbon’s certification and our community has neither a
special partnership with any law office nor shall recommend any
specific one. We receive daily applications both from individuals
and law firms. However, regarding the stage of preparation and
submission of the applications to the Portuguese authorities, you
may find that the services of an experienced and qualified lawyer
will proof to be quite useful.
Can I file a family application? Can my spouse be granted
nationality as well?
Each member of the family, including the children, should file the
application separately although, for the purpose of the
certification issued by our community (step 1 above), having already
checked the documentation of a member of the same family does make
it easier to check the documentation. Spouses may apply later for
citizenship through the Portuguese Central Registry Office, not
under this law amendment or its provisions but as any foreign spouse
of a Portuguese citizen.
Did anyone get the Portuguese nationality yet? How long does it
Since March 2015, several hundreds of foreign citizens were indeed
granted Portuguese nationality under this law amendment and only a
very small number were refused, mostly due to legal and technical
reasons or lack of documentation. The process itself is not
complicated but it does take time for the documentation to be
gathered, duly translated and certified, and obviously thoroughly
verified by all the parties involved. Altogether, there are
thousands of pending applications and you should be patient and
expect the process to take over one year.
The certification by the Lisbon Jewish Community itself should
normally take up to no more than 30 days, from the moment we get all
Portuguese Decree-Law 30-A/2015,
of February 27th, 2015
Application form –
Jewish Community of Lisbon (CIL)