A genealogical review of evidence supplied by the Jewish Community of Porto in support of their certifying the Sephardic ancestry of Mr Roman Abramovich

3 Nisan 5782

4 April 2022

On 31 March 2022, the administrator of a Hebrew-language Facebook group that provides advice to people seeking Portuguese citizenship shared a link to a document that purports to be the evidence used by the Jewish Community of Porto (CIP) in certifying that Mr Roman Abramovich has Sephardic ancestry. This is the first time the document came to our attention. The administrator is believed to an admirer of Rabbi Daniel Litvak of the Jewish Community of Porto.

The single CIP document appears to have been made into a PDF on 23 March 2022 at 18:21. It is currently known to be on at least two servers. It is not known who posted it online or when. The Jewish Telegraph Agency published the link, which had already been shared on social media, on 1 April 2022. The document looks authentic. We have contacted the authors of several of the items included requesting verification, but have not received any reply.

We are genealogists. We are not legally qualified or making a legal argument. Also, the text of Decreto-Lei n.º 30-A/2015 contains misunderstandings of genealogy and Sephardic history, and is not compliant with genealogical standards. Below we describe the documents and make some concluding points. The standards we use are the:

a) Genealogical Proof Standard.

b) Code of Conduct/Ethics of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.

c) Code of Conduct of the Sephardic Genealogical Society (“the Code”).

Assuming the documents shared online are authentic, and for the sake of this commentary we are treating them as if they are, the Jewish Community of Porto (CIP) supplied 14 documents that will be individually described. We assume that this is the information that CIP recently provided to the Ministry of Justice or to one of the investigative agencies.

We assume that Mr Abramovich’s application was submitted to CIP on or after 7 July 2020, the date of Rabbi Garzon’s report. We assume that CIP communicated their approval to Mr Abramovich on or before 20 July 2020, the date of the SWIFT payment.

1. Certificate of Sephardic ancestry. On 24 August 2020 someone at CIP wrote a letter that certified that Roman Abramovich had Sephardic ancestry. The letter was digitally signed by Isabel Maria de Barros Teixeira da Silva Ferreira Lopes on 3 September 2020. The letter references: “à sua genealogia conhecida, aos territórios onde estiveram radicados os seus ascende memórias e tradições de família”. This references genealogy, where the family lived, memories and family traditions. This is what is required in Decreto-Lei n.º 30-A/2015. The Code states that a “family tradition can reinforce documented and sourced evidence, but do not constitute evidence in itself.” That is to say, the Government of Portugal and CIP on one hand, and the Sephardic Genealogical Society on the other, operate to different evidential standards. Ours are stricter than theirs.

2. SWIFT payment confirmation. This document confirms a payment of €250 apparently made on 20 July 2020 from a UBS Swiss bank account with respect to the issuance of a certificate. Such a payment is a standard part of the process.

3. Note written by Rabbi Daniel Litvak. This is a hand-written Spanish-language note (Rabbi Litvak was born in Argentina) dated 3 Tishrei 5782 [9 September 2021], after the certification of Mr Abramovich’s Sephardic ancestry became public knowledge. Rabbi Litvak describes himself as Chief Rabbi of the city of Oporto. He made five points:

a. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel had confirmed Mr Abramovich’s Jewish status with relation to his application for Israeli citizenship.

b. Mr Abramovich’s paternal Sephardic ancestry had been attested by the Russian Chief Rabbinate.

c. Mr Abramovich had supported the Chabad [Hassidic] movement for more than 20 years. This movement has a tradition of Portuguese origin. The family memory was attested by Rabbi Lazar.

d. Mr Abramovich’s grandparents lived in Lithuania, where his children have citizenship. So, he does not need Portuguese citizenship to have access to the European Union.

e. The Chabad movement and B'nai B'rith International state that Mr Abramovich has Sephardic ancestry.

4. An undated certificate (#10) issued by Rabbi Alexander Baroda, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. Rabbi Baroda states that Mr Abramovich:

a. Is a descendant of Sephardic Jews;

b. Preserved sentimental connection to Portugal;

c. Member of Sephardic community;

d. Is of Portuguese ancestry;

e. Is Sephardic Portuguese Jew.

Rabbi Baroda states: “This certification is based as [sic] on my acquaintance with Roman Abramovich testimonies and a personal interview that I conducted. I confirm that Roman Abramovich preserves Sephardic rituals, lifestyle, traditions and food customs.” Rabbi Baroda provides no genealogical evidence in support of his statement. Rabbi Baroda is believed to belong to the Chabad Hassidic movement.

5. Surname Report dated 7 July 2020 by Rabbi Benito Garzon former Chief Rabbi of Madrid who is now at the Sephardic Educational Center. The report argues that:

a. ABRAMOVICH signifies “son of Abraham”. This is correct, in Eastern Slavic usage. Garzon suggests that Abramovich’s surname is derived from the Sephardic surname Abrabanel. Unfortunately he provides no evidence in support of the claim. In Hamburg, the spelling Abarbanel was preferred. If he has evidence that an Abarbanel from Hamburg migrated to eastern Europe he should reference the archival source. We are unaware of anyone previously making the claim. A number of Jewish, Christian and Muslim families have names derived from the Patriarch Abraham but do not claim to be of Sephardic origin. Jews in the Russian Empire were compelled to adopt surnames in the early 19th Century. Mr Abramovich may wish to take a Y-DNA test. Ashkenazi Jews derive from a relatively small ancestral population, so such ancestry may be quickly apparent. It is also possible he will match a member of a tested Sephardic family or someone else.

The document references:

i. Unspecified Sephardic customs and traditions in the family

ii. Mr Abramovich’s knowledge of Sephardic history

iii. His commendable attachment to his Sephardic ancestors.

The document goes on to say that they “can and do affirm without the slightest doubt that ABRAMOVICH IS A SURNAME OF SEPHARDIC ORIGIN”. We are not in any way persuaded. We understand “-vich” to be a Slavic patronymic. Having a Biblical given name is not alone evidence of Sephardic origin.

b. LEIBOVICH is a Sephardic origin surname. The argument is that the LEIBOVICH surname means son of Leib. The given name Leib is Yiddish for “lion”, and later morphed into a surname LEIBOVICH, son of Leib. Leon, also meaning lion, was a kingdom and now region of Spain. It is used as a surname in Spanish, with Leáo as the Portuguese variant. The analysis concluded that the Yiddish LEIB derived from the Spanish LEON. Probably this claim does not require genealogical review.

The Sephardic Genealogical Society’s Code states “5. Surname Reports”. “Surname reports” are studies that show that surnames in an applicant’s family were previously used by Sephardic Jews and/or ”New Christians”. In the absence of genealogy, these reports can be inappropriately used to imply that there is a familial connection between two unconnected individuals of the same surname, even when divided by centuries and continents.

6. Declaration by Rabbi Yona Leib Lebel, undated. He is a minor rabbi descended from a prominent Hassidic rabbi and with no obvious connection to the Sephardic community. He lives in Ashdod in Israel, a city also associated with Rabbi Daniel Litvak. He is described as a “mekubal”, a practitioner of kabbalah, esoteric Jewish practices that are rejected by the Portuguese-Jewish tradition. It is not known if Rabbi Lebel speaks English, the language in which the Declaration is written.

a. The Declaration states that there were 14,000 Sephardim in Hamburg circa 1850. This is more likely the total Jewish population of Hamburg at the time, which included a small number of Sephardim.

b. The Declaration states that the family were Sephardic from Hamburg, intermarried with Ashkenazim and later moved to eastern Europe adopting an Ashkenazi surname. For a time they lived in Poznan in Poland, from where the Chabad Hassidic movement originated.

c. The name Leib, Lion, could derive from the Lion or Judah or from the Kingdom of Leon.

d. Mr Abramovich has been a great benefactor of the Chabad movement which also claims Portuguese roots.

No genealogical evidence is supplied. The first two claims are inconsistent with our understanding of Sephardic history based on study of archival records. We are surprised that a theologically-focused Hassidic rabbi has opinions on medieval Spanish and early modern Sephardic history.

7. Various lists of “Sephardic surnames”

a. A list of Jewish surnames, mostly Sephardic, posted by someone to Ancestry.com in 2005. We do not know the identity of expertise of the person who posted this list. This is not information from Ancestry.com, but a posting to their platform. The list probably derives from the former sephardim.com website of the late Harry Stein, an Ashkenazi Jew. We believe he was the inventor of “Sephardic surnames”. At the top of the page it states that the names are not guaranteed to be Sephardic. At various times it has been claimed that any surname ever used by a New Christian or Sephardic Jew is “Jewish”. This includes virtually every Iberian surname. The lists of surnames in Decreto-Lei n.º 30-A/2015 is a hangover of this. We are unclear why the inclusion of “Abramovitch/Abramowitz” and “Leibowich” on a list of mostly Sephardic surnames is relevant to the application

b. An excerpt from a book by Artur Villares that references the presence of Leáo in the Sephardic community of Hamburg. We confirm this as being correct. If there is evidence of a Leáo adopting a Yiddish name or migrating to the Pale of Settlement, we would be grateful to see it. Artur Villares does not make such a claim.

c. A note from the Nationality Law Committee of the Jewish Community of Porto. This document is in English, not Portuguese. It references a list prepared by Professor Dov Cohen, former rabbi of the community, and now an academic at Bar Ilan University. There is nothing of genealogical value in this document.

8. Chabad and Portugal. An article published by Rebbetzin Raizel Rosenfeld published in Portuguese Jewish News on 11 January 2022, after the award of citizenship to Mr Abramovich came to public attention. A Rebbetzin is a rabbi’s wife. Rebbetzin Raizel Rosenfeld is rebbetzin of Chabad Portugal of which Mr Abramovich is an honorary member. She quotes Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, a former Chabad Rebbe, stating that large numbers of Portuguese Jews lived in the Polish city of Poznan in the 1600s. This is an unevidenced claim and seems not to be part of mainstream Chabad belief. If there had been a “large amount of Portuguese Jewish families” in Poznan we would expect some reference in the vast contemporary Sephardic and west European archives. We know of none. It is stated that a family had the surname “Portugaler” in the late 17th Century but no evidence is given in support of this statement. Surnames were not widely adopted by Ashkenazim in the Russian Empire until the early 19th Century.

9. Holocaust Period

a. A letter from S. Abramovitch dated 1 August 1940, written at the suggestion of the secretary of Bevis Marks, a Sephardic synagogue in the City of London. In #14 it is reported that the letter was written by a Polish relative of Mr Abramovich to the Jewish community of Porto in neutral Portugal asking them to write to his family in Poland.

b. The memorial hall at the Holocaust Museum of Oporto, including people called Abramowicz and Leibovich. We do not know the relevance to Portugal.

10. Unsourced. Relating to Mr Abramovich’s grandmother.

a. A tradition from the BERKOVER family that they have Sephardic ancestry.

b. Part of an online family tree of the Sephardic COHEN DE LARA family. The implication that an apparently Ashkenazi COHEN/KOGAN family are the same as the Sephardic COHEN DE LARA. At that time, a Western Sephardic Jew who married an Ashkenazi would be disowned by the community. If there is genealogical evidence, we hope it is shared.

c. It is implied that two brothers with common Jewish given names (Aron and Abraham) in two families separated by 400 years have a family relationship. This is without genealogical merit.

d. There is a reference to a Rabbi Movsha Goldshteyn in the town of Keidany in 1846.

e. There is a detailed account reportedly relayed by Mr Abramovich’s relating to her great-great-grandfather’s alleged migration from Hamburg. There is a link to a website called khazaria.com which included articles discussing the disproven alleged Turkic ancestry of Ashkenazim, a belief popular in some antisemitic quarters.

f. An unevidenced account of the family migrating to Lithuania/Belarus. There is a link to the keidaner.com website which does not reference Sephardim in the town of Keidan.

g. Sephardic traditions in the family are discussed, including:

i. A Passover tradition that is believed to be similar to a Sephardic one. It seems similar to Megorashi (Moroccan Sephardic) custom, but not Western/Portuguese Sephardic. We do not know about Ashkenazi customs.

ii. Reported family clash of customs over eating rice at Passover. Tauba is reported as saying her Portuguese-Sephardic family ate rice at Passover. The Portuguese-Sephardic custom is not to eat rice at Passover. Mizrahi Jews (often erroneously called ‘Sephardic’ in Israel) eat rice.

11. Mr Abramovich’s Israeli passport.

12. Report of Mr Abramovich’s 2018 visit to Lithuania from delfi.lt/en

13. A visit to Moscow

a. Image from the Shabbat Meals Project

b. Photograph from May 2018. We believe these are Rabbi Berl Lazar (C), Rabbi Alexander Baroda (L) and someone else.

c. A Spanish-language report of a visit to Moscow.

14. Jewish News Syndicate (JNS), column by Miriam Assor, dated 23 December 2021.

a. Article originally published in Israel Hayom.

b. Discusses Mr Abramovich’s philanthropy, including planting memorial trees in Lithuania and restoration of the Portuguese cemetery of Altona (Hamburg).

c. Claims of Portuguese ancestry

d. Honorary member of Chabad Portugal (Cascais) and B'nai B'rith International Portugal.

e. 1940 letter from London to Lisbon.

f. The antisemitic targeting of Mr Abramovich.

g. Positive community work of Chelsea FC.

h. Activities in Jewish-Arab reconciliation.


a) There is no genealogy to review. Genealogy relies on documents such as Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates to prove relationships between individuals. To verify Mr Abramovich’s claims, we would need to see an unbroken chain of such documents connecting him with a believed Sephardic ancestor in the Sephardic community of Hamburg.

b) A number of the documents are of no genealogical relevance and some were not part of the original application are included in the batch.

c) Rabbi Alexander Baroda and Rabbi Yona Leib Lebel have made statements that require evidential support before we can review them according to genealogical standards. #9 of the Code states: Ashkenazim, ‘Crypto-Jews’/’Bnei Anusim’ and other who believe they have distant Sephardic ancestry are under the same requirement to supply clear genealogy as everyone else. A family tradition can reinforce documented and sourced evidence, but do not constitute evidence in itself.”

d) We are of the opinion that the report on surnames by Rabbi Benito Garzon is without merit.

e) In the absence of archival evidence for the existence of a Rabbi Portugaler, one possibility is that he was the product of Hassidic magical storytelling. The belief in a Sephardic origin of the Hassidic movement is not supported by recent historical research.

f) The IAJGS Code of Conduct/Ethics states that “Any potential conflicts of interest should be disclosed.” Mr Abramovich is a notable philanthropist. We believe that any individual or group providing evidence in support of the application that has benefitted from Mr Abramovich’s philanthropy should make this clear. Not to do so may give rise to baseless speculation.

g) Mr Abramovich believes he has Sephardic ancestry. This is a common and sincerely held belief in many Ashkenazi families. Aside from Ashkenazim and Sephardim who have married each other since around 1800, except in a handful of exceptional cases, this belief is not supported by archival or genetic research.

h) We cannot comment on the legalities of the case. The application certified by the Jewish Community of Porto and approved by the Portuguese Ministry of Justice does not meet the requirements of the Sephardic Genealogical Society but may be compliant with Portuguese Law.

i) The Portuguese people may have questions about the genealogy supporting other certificates issued by the Jewish Community of Porto and approved by the Portuguese Ministry of Justice. The Sephardic Genealogical Society emailed the Jewish Community of Porto offering to review these applications and have publicly made the same offer to the Ministry of Justice.


On 1 April 2022, Hamburg rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky told SIC that he was not aware of any connection between Roman Abramovich and the city's Sephardic Jewish community.

Rabbi Daniel Litvak also has a relationship with Shavei Israel, a Jewish group dedicated to finding “Lost Tribes”. Over recent years members of a Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group of former head-hunters and then Protestants in northeast India have been identified by Shavei Israel as the lost tribe of Menasseh. A view not entirely shared by mainstream academia. Rabbi Litvak suggested to Shavei’s blog that he could identify Jewish ancestry from a surname.

On 25 March 2022 the Sephardic Genealogical Society published a report on reform of the Portuguese nationality concession. The Portuguese Government had briefly sought historic reconciliation with Sephardim but are now (with Decreto-Lei n.º 26/2022) imposing collective punishment on our community subsequent to their awarding Portuguese citizenship to Roman Abramovich based on the advice of someone non-Sephardic. With confidence, we believe that the Jewish Community of Lisbon – now the only group confirming Sephardic ancestry - would not have certified Mr Abramovich’s application. Clearly, the evidence accepted by the Portuguese Ministry of Justice does not meet the standards of the Sephardic Genealogical Society or, we believe, that any mainstream genealogical society.

The Sephardic Genealogical Society hosts free weekly online meetings on Sephardic genealogy and history. We are innovative in the application of technology to genealogy, including the use of artificial intelligence to read historic manuscripts. We need funding for our projects, and have probably just burnt a number of bridges! If you can afford a small monthly donation, please visit our Patreon page. If you can help fund a project such as digitisation or indexing of a historic archive or cemetery, please get in touch.

President Putin gives an award to Rabbi Alexander Baroda in March 2016