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Sephardic Jews, also known as Sephardi Jews or Sephardim, are a Jewish ethnic group whose roots are in Sepharad, Spain, or the Iberian Peninsula.

Historically, Sephardim settled throughout what is now Spain and Portugal, establishing distinctive Sephardic communities, where they remained until they were exiled in the late 1400s, moving to Anatolia, southern and southeastern Europe, northern Africa, North and South America, and elsewhere.

Today, traditionally Eastern Jewish people of West Asia and beyond are often referred to as Sephardim, although they are genealogically unrelated to the Sephardic people of Spain. The reason for this is that they have adopted a style of liturgy similar to the Sephardic liturgies, as well as Sephardic traditions and laws, gained through centuries of contact with Sephardic exiles and their progeny.

Thus, in the narrower, ethnic sense, a Sephardic Jew is one who is descended from those who lived on the Iberian Peninsula in the late 1400s

However, in the larger, religious sense, a Sephardic Jew is one that excludes ethnic considerations, applying to any Jew who follows the Sephardi religious customs and traditions. In that sense, the Sephardim include most non-Ashkenazi Jews who use a Sephardic style of liturgy. This includes most of the Mizrahi Jews, whose origins are in the Middle East.

Several divisions occurred within the original Sephardi Jews as a result of the edicts of expulsion from Spain and Portugal. They were given three options: to convert to Catholicism and be permitted to remain, to remain Jewish and be expelled by the stipulated deadline, or to be subject to execution. By the late 1400s, more than half of the Jews in Spain had already chosen to convert, and were therefore not subject to the decrees.

Those who chose to remain Jewish were subject to expulsion through a series of decrees, and they were divided according to the parts of the world in which they eventually settled, including those who chose to convert to Catholicism but later reverted to Judaism after leaving Iberia.

Today, Sephardi Jews are divided by a combination of geographic considerations, Jewish identity, religious evolution, language, and chronology.

Common divisions among the Sephardic Jews include Eastern Sephardim, who are those who left Spain as Jews in 1492 or before. They settled various parts of what was then the Ottoman Empire.

The North African Sephardim left Spain as Jews in 1492, settling in North Africa, except for Egypt, eventually adopting a form of Judeo-Arabic as a language. Several of these leter emigrated back to the Iberian Peninsula.

The Western Sephardim are those whose families subjected themselves to conversion to Catholicism, thus being allowed to remain in Spain and Portugual, later reverting to Judaism or practicing Judaism in secret all along. Due to continued persecution, some of these later emigrated to more tolerant countries in Western Europe.

The Sephardic Bnue Anusim are descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who assimilated to Catholicism, moving to Iberian colonial possessions in South America or Mexico. In the past two decades, many of these are rediscovering their Jewish heritage. Most of them have surnames that were known to have been used by Sephardim during the 15th century, but which are not specifically Sephardic.

Relations between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews have been tense, with each claiming the inferiority of the other, although there have been intermarriages.

As both Sephardi and Ashkanazi Jews originated from the ancient Iraqi and Iranian Jews in the Mediterranean basin, they are genetically close.

The practice of Judaism by the Sephardim follows the same traditions of worship, but with different ethnic or cultural traditions. The Sephardic Rite is not truly a religious movement or denomination in the manner of Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, or Reform. Rather, the Sephardim consists of various Jewish communities with distinct cultural, judicial, and philosophical traditions.

However, for the sake of categorization, we will list them here as a denomination or sect, while recognizing that they are not truly such.

Sephardic Jews accept the Torah, as interpreted and supplemented by the Talmud. The Torah forms the basis for law.

The Sephardi Jews are descendants of those who originally followed the Judaean or Galilaean Jewish religions traditions, while the Ashkanazi Jews followed the Babylonian Jewish traditions.

When they were expelled from Spain and Portugal, the Sephardim took their liturgy with them to the various parts of the world where they settled, and soon assumed rabbinic and other leadership positions. They formed their own distinct communities, but the native Jewish communities often adopted Sephardic liturgies.

 

 

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