Letter from the Sephardic Genealogical Society

We write to you on behalf of the Sephardic Genealogical Society with respect to Projeto de Lei 909/XV/2.


The Sephardic Genealogical Society comprises members of the Sephardic community, people of Sephardic ancestry, and academics. We research Sephardic genealogy and history, with a focus on the Portuguese/Western Sephardic diaspora. We comply with genealogical standards and, with our partners (including Portuguese academics), are at the cutting edge of using technology, including AI and genetics, to research our history and genealogy.


Portugal’s decision to offer citizenship to people of proven Sephardic ancestry who were victims of Portuguese Inquisition and discrimination was a bold initiative and showed a strong commitment to righting a historic wrong, extending human rights, and offering reparatory justice.


On the surface, Decreto-Lei n.º 26/2022, de 18 de março treats everyone the same but in actuality, those of Jewish ancestry are excluded. Someone whose family had all their property confiscated by the Inquisition in the 17th or 18th Centuries is required, like a family of a recent emigrant, to show inherited property or a business in Portugal. This is an impossibility unless families seek historic restitution for confiscated property, which would create ill-will. We ask that this discriminatory Decree-Law be repealed.


We hope and believe that those who have so far received Portuguese citizenship and those who will do so under this programme in the future will make a positive contribution to Portugal’s future.


It is our sincere hope that people whose applications are currently in the pipeline, who have followed all the stages of the procedures laid down by the initial legislation but have not yet been approved, will also see their applications brought to a fair conclusion.


With no historic precedents on which to draw, Portugal was initially obliged to find some way of processing claims for citizenship. It was decided to split the process into two parts, (a) confirmation of Sephardic ancestry by the two leading Jewish communities in Portugal, and (b) granting of citizenship by the Ministry of Justice.  It would appear that there was no requirement to adhere to accepted genealogical standards. Nor was there government oversight of the confirmation process. This left the process open to error and abuse.


In the decade since the original Decree-Law was passed, there have been radical advances in data science and an increase in the quantity of historic data available. Furthermore, the field of genealogy has been transformed by multiple factors including machine learning, digitisation, geographic information systems (GIS), the spread of historic documentation on the internet and, most recently, artificial intelligence.  This means that Portugal is now far better equipped to meet the original objectives of the legislation than it was when the law originally came into effect.


Ending the offer of citizenship to people of Sephardic ancestry will be understood as an abandonment of the goal of reconciliation, which is especially painful at the current time. Instead, we propose that it should be revised and updated to reflect the advances in technology, as well as Portuguese concerns about migration. From the Sephardic side, we see value in an ongoing connection of the Sephardic diaspora (Portugal’s oldest diaspora) with Portugal.


The Sephardic Genealogy Society therefore proposes that new, more precise rules for Portuguese citizenship via Sephardic ancestry be introduced. This would see a significant reduction in the number of individuals qualifying and receiving Portuguese citizenship. The documents would form a unique archive and memorial to Portugal’s first diaspora.


We ask that you reject Projeto de Lei 909/XV/2 and repeal Decreto-Lei n.º 26/2022. Instead we request that the Ministry of Justice require that: (a) applications must be compliant with standards equivalent to our Code of Conduct (https://www.sephardic.world/code-of-conduct); and (b) applicants must have a reasonable connection with their Sephardic heritage, for example they have proven Sephardic ancestry and at least a grandparent born into a Sephardic congregation, or historically Sephardic congregation, or Sephardic ancestry and a meaningful connection with Sephardic culture (as defined by the Ministry of Justice).


Portugal unilaterally ending the relationship will undermine the purpose of the initiative and would send the wrong message to a watching world. We are happy to answer any questions the committee may have, or to supply any information they may require.