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Volume 18:292-305  (2007)

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SEPHARDIM (Heb. סְפַָרדִּים , sing. סְפַָרִדּי , 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 17t 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


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 16t century. It was greatly influenced

by regional languages like Ottoman-Turkish, Turkish, Greek,

Bulgarian, Serbian, and after the mid-19t 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 19t 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


(1) works written in Hebrew;

(2) works written in Spanish (including Ladino) and


(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 Carrion (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‘s Consolaçam

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

19t 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 Enriquez *Gomez. The Poema

de la Reyna Esther (Rouen, 1637) by Joao 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 Menendez 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.

Religious Practice

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-a-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 17t 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 17t 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: nacion; Portuguese: nacao) 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 nacion; Portuguese: membros da nacao).

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 “congrecao” and

the term “nacao” 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: conservacion;

Portuguese: conservacao) 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 15t 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 14tcentury,

Isaac *Arama of the 15t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 20t-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


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 17t 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

17t 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 17t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

17t century and most of the 18t 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 18t 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

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 17tand beginning

of the 18t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 nacao”

(“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 17t 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 12t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 19t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

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.

[Ezer Kahanov]

Eclipse of Sephardi Jewry

After the middle of the 17t 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-17t 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 17t 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

*Cremieux; 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 19t century the celebrated old Sephardi communities

in Western Europe and the U.S., established in the 16t

and 17t 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

dustrialization of the city, the Alliance Israelite 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 19t

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


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

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


[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 16t 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 19t 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

1924–5, 50,000–0,000 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 20t-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 organisephardim

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 15t and 16t 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 16t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 Dona 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 18t

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-a-vis the authorities. But

with the introduction of the “*capitulations” for non-Ottoman

residents in the 19t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


PUBLIC AWARENESS. The 500t 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 1654–880”; “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:

1492–992” 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,


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


In Latin America, major conferences were held in Buenos

Aires, Argentina, and in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Asociacion 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.

[Yitzhak Kerem]

Bibliography: 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. Corre, 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

15931925 (1927); J. Nehama, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique, 5

vols. (1935–59); A. Galante, 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. Corre 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. Gonzalez 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. Levy, Prolegom to the Study of the Refranero

Sefardi (1969). The Romancero: I. Gonzalez Llubera, Coplas

de Yoçef (1935); M. Menendez 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 Ḥaïmin 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, 16581908 (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, 14t–0t 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).

SEPHARVAIM (Heb. סְפַרְוִַים ,סְפַרְוִָים ), one of the cities from

which the king of Assyria brought settlers to Samaria, after the

conquest of the Kingdom of Israel (II Kings 17:24). Sepharvaim

is also mentioned among the city-states which, as King Sennacherib

of Assyria boasts, were unable to hold out against the

king of Assyria (I Kings 18:34; 19:13 = Isa. 36:19; 37:38).

Two principal suggestions have been made for the identification

of the city. Some identify it with Sippar, one of Babylonia’s

leading sacred cities, on the ground that it is mentioned

together with Babylon and Cuthah (II Kings 17:24), and indeed

the annals of Sennacherib tell of the deportation of inhabitants

from both Sippar and Cuthah. The identification

of Sippar with Sepharvaim is supported by the forms ספרים

(I Kings 17:31) and 1) ספריים QIsaa 36:19; 37:13), (Heb. (ספרוים

being apparently a scribal error due to the similarity of the

letters vav and yod. The name (Heb. ספרוים ) appears to be the

dual form, indicating a twin-city, and in fact Sippar consisted

of Si-ip-ar ša Šamaš and Si-ip-ar ša A-nu-ni-tum (“Sippar of

the god Shamash” and “Sippar of the goddess Anunitum”).

Others identify Sepharvaim with Sibraim (Ezek. 47:16), situated

in Syria between Damascus and Hamath. This identification

is based on the fact that in II Kings 18:34 Sepharvaim

is mentioned together with Hamath and Arpad, and that the

Peshitta of Ezekiel 47:16 reads Sepharvaim instead of Sibraim.

The gods of Sepharvaim, *Adrammelech and *Anammelech

(II Kings 17:31), were worshiped, according to the proponents

of the first identification, in Sippar in Babylonia, and according

to the proponents of the second, in Sibraim in Syria. It is

difficult to decide definitely in favor of one rather than the

other identification. The suggestion that the biblical passages

are to be explained as referring at times to Sippar and

at times to Sibraim is not very probable, since in four of the

passages (I Kings 18:34; 19:13; Isa. 36:10; 37:15) the three cities

Hamath, Ivvah (Avva), and Sepharvaim are named together,

showing that the same Sepharvaim is meant in all of them,

and it is difficult to suppose that a different one is intended

in I Kings 17:31.

Bibliography: G.R. Driver, in: Eretz Israel, 5 (1959), 18–20

(Eng.). See commentaries to II King 17–18 and Isaiah 36–37.

[Isaac Avishur]

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