Spanish and Portuguese Jews - Terminology


In addition to the term "Spanish and Portuguese Jews", these people are sometimes designated as Portuguese Jews, Jews of the Portuguese nation, Spanish Jews (common mainly in Italy) and Western Sephardim.

The use of the terms Portuguese Jews and Jews of the Portuguese nation in some areas (mainly in the Netherlands and Hamburg/Scandinavia, and at one time in London) seems to have arisen primarily as a way for the Spanish and Portuguese Jews to distance themselves from Spain in the times of political tension and war between Spain and the Netherlands in the 17th century. Similar considerations may have played a role for Jews in Bayonne and Bordeaux, given their proximity to the Spanish border. Another reason for this coinage may have been that a relatively high proportion of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews had Portugal as their immediate point of departure from the Iberian peninsula, as the decree forbidding Judaism in Portugal took place some years later than the expulsion from Spain. The term "Sephardim" necessarily connotes a link with Spain; the distinguishing feature of the group in question was the added link with Portugal: thus as a subset of the Sephardim, "Portuguese" and "Spanish and Portuguese" could be used interchangeably.

In Italy, the term Spanish Jews (Ebrei Spagnoli) is frequently used, but includes the descendants of Jews expelled from the kingdom of Naples, as well as Spanish and Portuguese Jews proper (i.e. conversos and their descendants). In Venice, Spanish and Portuguese Jews were often described as Ponentine (western), to distinguish them from Levantine (eastern) Sephardim from eastern Mediterranean areas. Occasionally Italian Jews distinguish between the "Portuguese Jews" of Pisa and Livorno and the "Spanish Jews" of Venice, Modena and elsewhere.

The term Western Sephardim is frequently used in modern research literature, but it may be problematic. It has been used to refer to either Spanish and Portuguese Jews, or Spanish-Moroccan Jews, or, in some cases, both of these. It is even occasionally used to include Greek and Balkan Sephardim, so as to contrast European Sephardim in general with Mizrahi Jews.

The scholar Joseph Dan distinguishes "medieval Sephardim" (Spanish exiles in the Ottoman Empire) from "Renaissance Sephardim" (Spanish and Portuguese communities), referring to the respective times of their formative contacts with Spanish language and culture.

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