Sephardi Jewish couple from Sarajevo in traditional clothing
Sephardi Jewish couple from Sarajevo in traditional clothing WikiCommons

Jewish organisations estimate that 3.5 million descendants of Jews who were expelled from Catholic Spain in 1492, will qualify to apply for Spanish citizenship after the country's Justice Ministry approved a draft law to return in the European country.

The Madrid government approved a law allowing the Jewish descendants of those banished from Spain 522 years ago, under the Alhambra Decree of King Fernando II and Queen Isabella I.

The law will grant citizenship upon request to those who can prove their ancestry through their family name, language skills, inheritance or cultural ties to Spain.

Israel's Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese association (OLIM) reported that Jews of Hispanic origin - known as Sephardi - around the world have already started to apply en masse to get a foothold in the European Union.

"People want to work there (Spain) and there are also feelings involved," Maya Weiss-Tamir, a lawyer dealing with Spanish nationality applications, told El Mundo.

The word Sephardic comes from Sefarad, Hebrew for Spain. People who speak Ladino –Judeo-Spanish – will also be considered for the application.

Justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallrdon said upon approval: "The law we've passed today has a deep historic meaning: not only because it concerns events in our past of which we should not be proud, like the decree to expel the Jews in 1492, but because it reflects the reality of Spain as an open and plural society".

Spanish Jewry, whose history on the Iberian peninsula dates back to the Roman period, were once of the largest and richest Jewish communities in Western Europe and lived in peace with Christian and Muslim neighbours under Moorish rule, in what was considered a 'Golden Age' of tolerance and culture.

Spanish Jewish history ended with the hostility of the Catholic monarchs and the Alhambra Decree (1492) ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon .

Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or being killed and expelled from Spain. The full force of the Spanish Inquisition was turned against them.

Many migrated to Holland, the Arab world and as far as Turkey, Jamaica and South America but the distinctive traditions of the Spanish period - style of prayer, cuisine and the Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) language - has been passed on down the centuries.