Spanish and Portuguese Jews

Spanish and Portuguese Jews

Spanish and Portuguese Jews are a distinctive sub-group of Sephardim who have their main ethnic origins within the crypto-Jewish communities of the Iberian peninsula and who shaped communities mainly in Western Europe and the Americas from the late 16th century on. These communities must be clearly distinguished from:
*the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497, who settled in Morocco and the countries of the Ottoman Empire, and
*the present day Jewish communities of Portugal and Spain, which were founded with the assistance of the "Spanish and Portuguese" communities outside the peninsula, but also include other ethnic groups.

Spanish and Portuguese Jews have a distinctive ritual based on that of pre-expulsion Spain, but influenced by the Spanish-Moroccan rite on the one side and the Italian rite on the other.


As well as "Spanish and Portuguese Jews", one sometimes comes across designations such as "Portuguese Jews", "Jews of the Portuguese nation", "Spanish Jews" (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) 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 rôle in the case of 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. It could be argued that, while all Sephardim had 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.

The term "Western Sephardim" is frequently used in modern research literature, but may be problematic in that it can be found to refer to either Spanish and Portuguese Jews or 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.


In Spain and Portugal

Spanish and Portuguese Jews were originally descended from conversos, i.e. Jews converted to Christianity, whose descendants later left the Iberian peninsula and reverted to Judaism.

Legend has it that conversos existed as early as the Visigothic period, and that there was a continuous phenomenon of crypto-Judaism from that time lasting throughout Spanish history. This is unlikely, as in the Muslim period there was no advantage in passing as a Christian instead of a Jew. The main wave of conversions, often forced, followed major anti-Jewish persecutions in 1391. Legal definitions of the time theoretically acknowledged that a forced baptism was not a valid sacrament, but confined this to cases where it was literally administered by physical force: a person who had chosen to be baptized as an alternative to death or serious injury was still regarded as a voluntary convert, and accordingly forbidden to revert to Judaism. [Raymond of Peñafort, Summa, lib. 1 p.33, citing D.45 c.5.] Crypto-Judaism as a large scale phenomenon mainly dates from that time.

Conversos, whatever their real religious views, often (but not always) tended to marry and associate among themselves, and occupied prominent positions in trade and in the Royal administration, attracting considerable resentment from the "Old Christians". The ostensible reason given for the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 was that the unconverted Jews had supported the conversos in their crypto-Jewish practices and thus delayed their assimilation into the Christian community.

Most of the (previously unconverted) Spanish Jews in 1492 chose exile rather than conversion, many of them crossing the border to Portugal. In Portugal, the Jews were given the choice of exile or conversion in 1497, but were mostly prevented from leaving, thus necessarily staying as ostensible converts whether they wished to or not. For this reason, crypto-Judaism was far more prevalent in Portugal than in Spain, even though many of these families were originally of Spanish rather than Portuguese descent.

Conversos fell into several groups. Given the secrecy surrounding their situation, they are not easy to distinguish, and scholars are still divided on the relative size and importance of these groups.
#Sincere Christians, who were still subject to discrimination and accusations of Judaizing on the part of the Inquisition; some of these appealed to the Pope and sought refuge in the Papal States.
#Those who had honestly tried their best to live as Christians, but who, on finding that they were still not accepted socially and still suspected of Judaizing, conceived intellectual doubts on the subject and decided to try Judaism, on the reasoning that suspicion creates what it suspects.
#Genuine crypto-Jews, who regarded their conversions as forced on them and reluctantly conformed to Catholicism until they found the first opportunity of living an open Jewish life.
#Opportunistic "cultural commuters" whose private views may have been quite sceptical and who conformed to the local form of Judaism or Christianity depending on where they were at the time.

For these reasons, there was a continuous flow of people leaving Spain and Portugal (mostly Portugal) for places where they could practise Judaism openly, from 1492 till the end of the eighteenth century. They were generally accepted by the host Jewish communities as "anusim" (forced converts), whose conversion, being involuntary, did not compromise their Jewish status.

Conversos of the first generation after the expulsion still had some knowledge of Judaism based on memory of contact with a living Jewish community. In later generations it was important to avoid known Jewish practices that might attract undesired attention: conversos in group 3 evolved a home-made Judaism with practices peculiar to themselves, while those in group 2 had a purely intellectual conception of Judaism based on their reading of Christian sources. Both groups therefore needed extensive re-education in Judaism on reaching their places of refuge outside the peninsula. This was achieved partly with the help of Sephardim living in Italy and partly with that of the 1492 exiles living in Morocco, who were the immediate heirs of the "Andalusi" Jewish tradition.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Jewish communities have been re-established in Spain and Portugal, largely with the help of foreign Spanish and Portuguese communities such as London. The most recent example, however, the Belmonte Jews, have chosen to model themselves on the London Masorti (Conservative) community, using the Ashkenazi rite, rather than on the older Lisbon community which is closer to the Spanish and Portuguese family. It is unknown to what extent crypto-Judaism still exists in Spain and Portugal.

In Italy

As there were already Sephardic Jewish communities in central and northern Italy, following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and from the Kingdom of Naples in 1533, this was an obvious destination for conversos wishing to leave Spain and Portugal; the similarity of the Italian language to Spanish was another attraction. Given their Christian cultural background and high level of European-style education they were less likely to follow the 1492 expellees to settle in the Ottoman Empire, where a complete culture change would be required. [See also History of the Jews of Thessaloniki#Economic decline.] On the other hand, in Italy they ran the risk of prosecution for Judaizing, given that in law they were baptized Christians; for this reason they generally avoided the Papal States. The Popes did allow some Spanish-Jewish settlement at Ancona, as this was the main port for the Turkey trade, in which their links with the Ottoman Sephardim were useful. Other states found it advantageous to allow the conversos to settle and mix with the existing Jewish communities, and to turn a blind eye to their religious status; while in the next generation, the children of conversos could be brought up as fully Jewish with no legal problem, as they had never been baptized.

The main places of settlement were as follows.
# Venice. The Venetian Republic often had strained relations with the Papacy; on the other hand they were alive to the commercial advantages offered by the presence of educated Spanish-speaking Jews, especially for the Turkey trade. Previously the Jews of Venice were tolerated under charters for a fixed term of years, periodically renewed. In the early 1500s these arrangements were made permanent, and a separate charter was granted to the "Ponentine" (western) community. The flip side was the confinement of the Jews to the newly-established Venetian Ghetto. Nevertheless for a long time the Venetian Republic was regarded as the "goldene medinah" for Jews, equivalent to the Netherlands in the seventeenth century or the United States in the 1900s.
# Sephardic immigration was also encouraged by the Este princes, in their possessions of Reggio, Modena and Ferrara. In 1598 Ferrara was repossessed by the Papal States, leading to some Jewish emigration from there.
# In 1593, Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, granted Portuguese Jews charters to live and trade in Pisa and Livorno.

On the whole the Spanish and Portuguese Jews remained separate from the native Italian rite Jews, though there was considerable mutual religious and intellectual influence between the groups. In a given city there was often an "Italian synagogue" and a "Spanish synagogue", and occasionally a "German synagogue" as well. Many of these synagogues have since merged, but this diversity of rites remains in modern Italy.

The "Scola Spagnola" of Venice was originally regarded as the "mother synagogue" for the Spanish and Portuguese community world wide, as it was among the earliest to be established, and the first prayer book was published there: later communities, such as Amsterdam, followed its lead on ritual questions. With the decline in the importance of Venice in the eighteenth century, the leading role passed to Livorno (for Italy and the Mediterranean) and Amsterdam (for western countries). The Livorno synagogue was destroyed in the Second World War: a modern building was erected in 1958-62.

Many merchants maintained a presence in both Italy and countries in the Ottoman Empire, and even those who settled permanently in the Ottoman Empire retained their Tuscan or other Italian nationality, so as to have the benefit of the Ottoman Capitulations. Thus in Tunisia there was a community of "Juifs Portugais", or "L'Grana" (Livornese), separate from, and regarding itself as superior to, the native Tunisian Jews ("Tuansa"). Smaller communities of the same kind existed in other countries, such as Syria, where they were known as "Señores Francos", though they generally were not numerous enough to establish their own synagogues, instead meeting for prayer in each other's houses.

In the Netherlands

During the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands converso merchants had a strong trading presence there. On the independence of the United Provinces in 1581, the Dutch retained trading links with Portugal (rather than Spain, which was regarded as a hostile power). As there were penal laws against Catholics, and Catholicism was regarded with greater hostility than Judaism, conversos were encouraged to "come out" as Jews, and given the multiplicity of Protestant sects the Netherlands was the first country in the Western world to establish a policy of religious tolerance. This made Amsterdam a magnet for conversos leaving Portugal.

There were originally three Sephardi communities: the first, Beth Jacob, already existed in 1610, and perhaps as early as 1602; Neve Shalom was founded between 1608 and 1612 by Jews of Spanish origin. The third community, Beth Israel, was established in 1618. These three communities began co-operating more closely in 1622. Eventually, in 1639, they merged to form Talmud Torah, the Portuguese Jewish Community of Amsterdam which still exists today. The current synagogue, sometimes known as the Amsterdam Esnoga, was inaugurated in 1675.

At first the Dutch conversos had little knowledge of Judaism and had to recruit rabbis and hazzanim from Italy, and occasionally Morocco and Salonica, to teach them. Later on Amsterdam became a centre of religious learning: a religious college "Ets Haim" was established, with a copious Jewish and general library (which still exists), and its transactions were published in a periodical, "Peri Ets Haim". There were formerly several synagogues in other cities such as The Hague. Since the Second World War the Amsterdam synagogue is the only one that remains, and serves a membership of about 600.

The position in the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium) was rather different. Considerable numbers of conversos lived there, in particular in Antwerp, and the Inquisition was not allowed to operate. Nevertheless their practice of Judaism remained under cover and unofficial, as acts of Judaizing in Belgium could expose one to proceedings elsewhere in the Spanish possessions, and sporadic persecutions alternated with periods of unofficial toleration. The position improved somewhat in 1713, with the cession of the southern Netherlands to Austria, but no community was officially formed till the nineteenth century. There is still a Portuguese synagogue in Antwerp, but its members, like the Sephardim of Brussels, are now predominantly of North African origin and few if any pre-War families or traditions remain.

In France

In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries conversos were also seeking refuge beyond the Pyrenees, settling at Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Tarbes, Bayonne, Bordeaux, Marseille, and Montpellier. They lived apparently as Christians; were married by Catholic priests; had their children baptized, and publicly pretended to be Catholics. In secret, however, they circumcised their children, kept the Sabbath and feast-days as far as they could, and prayed together. King Henry III of France confirmed the privileges granted them by Henry II of France, and protected them against such slanders and accusations as those which a certain Ponteil brought against them. Under Louis XIII of France the conversos of Bayonne were assigned to the suburb of St. Esprit. At St. Esprit, as well as at Peyrehorade, Bidache, Orthez, Biarritz, and St. Jean de Luz, they gradually avowed Judaism openly. In 1640 several hundred conversos, considered to be Jews, were living at St. Jean de Luz; and at St. Esprit there was a synagogue as early as 1660.

In pre-Revolutionary France the Portuguese Jews were one of three tolerated Jewish communities, the other two being the Ashkenazim of Alsace-Lorraine and the Jews of the former Papal enclave of Comtat Venaissin (who originally had their own Provençal rite, but have since adopted the Spanish and Portuguese rite). All were emancipated at the Revolution. Today there are still a few Spanish and Portuguese communities in Bordeaux and Bayonne, and one in Paris, but they are greatly outnumbered by Sephardim of North African origin.

In Britain

There were certainly Spanish and Portuguese merchants, many of them conversos, in England at the time of Queen Elizabeth I; another notable marrano was the physician Rodrigo Lopez. In the time of Oliver Cromwell, Menasseh ben Israel led a delegation seeking permission for Dutch Sephardim to settle in England: Cromwell was known to look favourably on the request, but no official act of permission has been found. In the time of Charles II and James II we find a congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews worshipping at synagogue in Creechurch Lane, and both these kings showed their assent to this situation by quashing indictments against the Jews for unlawful assembly. [Henriques, "The Jews and the English Law".] For this reason Spanish and Portuguese Jews often cite 1656 as the year of re-admission, but look to Charles II as the real founder of the community.

Bevis Marks Synagogue was opened in 1701. In the 1830s and 40s there was agitation for the formation of a branch synagogue in the West End, nearer where most congregants lived, but this was refused on the basis of "Ascama 1", forbidding the establishment of other synagogues within six miles of Bevis Marks. This led to the formation of the West London Synagogue in Burton Street. An official branch synagogue in Wigmore Street was opened in 1853. This moved to Bryanston Street in the 1860s, and to Lauderdale Road in Maida Vale in 1896. (A private synagogue existed in Highbury from 1883 to 1936.) A third synagogue has been formed in Wembley. Over the centuries the community has absorbed many Sephardi immigrants from Italy and North Africa, including many of its rabbis and "hazzanim". The current membership includes many Iraqi Jews and some Ashkenazim in addition to the original families: the Wembley community is predominantly Egyptian.

These three synagogues are all owned by the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community "Sahar Asamaim" (Sha'ar ha-Shamayim), and have no separate organisational identity. The community is served by a team rabbinate: the post of "Haham", or chief rabbi, is currently vacant (and has frequently been so in the community's history). The day-to-day running of the community is the responsibility of a "Mahamad", elected periodically and consisting of four "parnasim" (wardens) and one "gabbai" (treasurer). Former members of the "mahamad" are known as "velhos" (elders), while individual community members are known as "yehidim".

In addition to the three main synagogues there is a chapel at Ramsgate associated with the burial place of Sir Moses Montefiore. There also exists a synagogue in Holland Park, described as "Spanish and Portuguese" but mainly for Greek and Turkish Jews and with a mixed ritual: this is connected to the main community by a Deed of Association. The two Manchester Sephardic synagogues are under the superintendence of the London community and use a predominantly Spanish and Portuguese ritual, but are largely Syrian in population, with some Turkish, Iraqi and North African Jews. The London community formerly had oversight over some Baghdadi synagogues in the Far East, such as the Ohel Leah Synagogue in Hong Kong and "Ohel Rachel" in Shanghai. Newer Sephardic synagogues in London, mostly for Baghdadi and Persian Jews, preserve their own ritual and do not come under the Spanish and Portuguese umbrella.

Like the Amsterdam community, the London Spanish and Portuguese community early set up a "Medrash do Heshaim" (=Ets Haim). This however is not so much a functioning religious college as a committee of dignitaries responsible for community publications such as prayer books. In 1862 there was founded the "Judith Lady Montefiore College" in Ramsgate, for the training of rabbis. This moved to London in the 1960s: students at the College simultaneously followed courses at Jews' College. It closed in the 1980s, but has since been revived as a part-time training programme run from Lauderdale Road.

In the Americas

From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century a majority of conversos leaving Portugal went to Brazil. However, this figure includes people who migrated for purely economic reasons and had no interest in reverting to Judaism; and the Inquisition was active in Brazil as well as in Portugal.

Dutch Sephardim were interested in colonisation, and formed communities in both Curaçao and Paramaribo, Suriname, which still exist. Between 1630 and 1654 a Dutch colony also existed in the north-east of Brazil, including Recife. This attracted both conversos from Portuguese Brazil and Jewish emigrants from Holland, who formed a community in Recife called Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue. On the reconquest of the Recife area by Portugal, these Jews left Brazil, some for new or existing communities in the Caribbean such as Curaçao and others to form a new community in New Amsterdam (New York): see Congregation Shearith Israel. Synagogues have since been formed at Newport, Rhode Island and Philadelphia as well as in the southern states.

Despite their ultimate Dutch origin, in the nineteenth century the communities in the United States were very much part of the London family. The nineteenth and early twentieth century editions of the prayer book published in London and Philadelphia contained the same basic text, and were designed for use equally on both sides of the Atlantic: for example they all contained a prayer for the Royal family, followed by an alternative for use in republican states. The New York community continued to use these editions until the De Sola Pool version was published. On the other hand, in the first half of the twentieth century the New York community employed a series of hazzanim from Holland, so that musically speaking their tradition remains close to that of Amsterdam.

The Spanish and Portuguese synagogues of the United States conserve varying degrees of Sephardic tradition, but the majority of their membership is now ethnically Ashkenazi. Unlike in England, newer Sephardic communities, such as the Syrian Jews of Brooklyn and the Greek and Turkish Jews of Seattle, do not come under the Spanish and Portuguese umbrella, though the latter group did use the de Sola Pool prayer books until the publication of "Siddur Zehut Yosef" in 2002.

Two recent communities, at Houston, Texas and Miami, Florida, have been formed for Latinos who believe they are of Jewish descent and have decided to revert to Judaism in recent times.


Most Spanish and Portuguese synagogues are, like those of the Italian Jews and the Romaniotes, characterised by a bipolar layout, with the "tebáh" ("bimah") near the opposite wall to the "Hechál" (Ark). The Hekhál has its "parochet" (curtain) inside its doors, rather than outside. The sefarim (Torah scrolls) are usually wrapped in a very wide mantle, quite different from the cylindrical mantles used by most Ashkenazi Jews. "Tikim" — wooden or metal cylinders around the sefarim — are usually not used, though it is reported that these were in use in the Portuguese Jewish community in Hamburg.

The most important synagogues, or esnogas, as they are usually called amongst Spanish and Portuguese Jews, are the Amsterdam Esnoga and those in London and New York. Amsterdam is still the historical centre of the Amsterdam minhag, as used in the Netherlands and former Dutch possessions such as Surinam. Also important is the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, the historical centre of the London minhag. The "Snoa" (1732) of the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel congregation in Curaçao is considered one of the most important synagogues in the Jewish history of the Americas.


Characteristic language traits of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews are the use of both Spanish and Portuguese languages — and often a mixture of the two — in parts of the synagogue service. Otherwise, the use of Spanish and Portuguese quickly diminished amongst the Spanish and Portuguese Jews after the 1600s, and from the mid 1800s on, Spanish and Portuguese were in practice replaced with local languages in everyday use. Local languages used by Spanish and Portuguese Jews include Dutch (in the Netherlands and Belgium); Low German in the Hamburg/Altona area; and English in Great Britain, Ireland, USA and Jamaica.

= Portuguese =

Because of the relative high proportion of immigrants through Portugal, the majority of Spanish and Portuguese Jews of the 16th and 17th centuries spoke Portuguese as their first language. Portuguese was primarily used for everyday communication in the first few generations, and was the usual language for official documents such as synagogue by-laws; for this reason, synagogue officers still often have Portuguese titles such as "Parnas dos Cautivos" and "Thesoureiro do Heshaim". As a basic academic language, Portuguese was used for such works as the halakhic manual "Thesouro dos Dinim" by Menasseh Ben Israel, and controversial works by Uriel da Costa. Portuguese is also used — some times purely, other times in a mixture with Spanish and Hebrew — in connection with announcements of mitsvót in the esnoga, in connection with the Mi shebberakh prayer, etc. The Judeo-Portuguese dialect was preserved in some documents, but it is not used in everyday speech. It has had some influence on the Judeo-Italian dialect of Livorno, known as "Bagitto".

Portuguese ceased to be a spoken language in Holland after the Napoleonic period, when Jewish schools were only allowed to teach in Dutch and Hebrew.

= Castilian (Spanish) =

Castilian (Spanish) was used as the everyday language by those who came directly from Spain in the first few generations. Those who came from Portugal regarded it as their literary language, as did the Portuguese themselves at that time. Relatively soon, the Castilian "Ladino" took on a semi-sacred status, and works of theology as well as "reza books" (siddurim) were often written in Castilian rather than in Portuguese. ("Ladino", in this context, simply means literal translation from Hebrew: it should not be confused with the Judaeo-Spanish vernacular of Balkan, Greek and Turkish Sephardim.) Members of the Amsterdam community continued to use Spanish as a literary language, and established clubs and libraries for the study of modern Spanish literature, such as the "Academia de los Sitibundos" (founded 1676) and the "Academia de los Floridos" (1685).

In England the use of Spanish and Portuguese continued until the mid-eighteenth century: it is notable that the 1740 translation of the prayers was in Spanish, while the 1771 translation by A. Alexander was in (not very good) English. Today there is no tradition of using Spanish, except for the hymn "Bendigamos", the translation of the Biblical passages in the prayer-book for Tishngáh be-Ab and in certain traditional greetings.


The Hebrew of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews as we know it from the 1800s and 1900s is characterised primarily by the pronunciation of hebrew|בֿ (Beth Rafé) as a hard "b" ("e.g.", "Abrahám, Tebáh, Habdaláh") and the pronunciation of hebrew|ע (‘Ayin) as a voiced velar nasal ("Shemang, Ngalénu"). The hard pronunciation of Beth Rafé differs from the "v" pronunciation of Moroccan Jews and the Judaeo-Spanish Jews of the Balkans, but is shared by Algerian Jews and Syrian Jews. The nasal pronunciation of ‘Ayin is shared with traditional Italian pronunciation, but not with any other Sephardi groups. Both these features are declining, under the influence of hazzanim from other communities and of Israeli Hebrew.

The sibilants hebrew|ס, hebrew|שׂ, hebrew|שׁ and hebrew|צ are all transcribed as "s" in earlier sources. This, along with the traditional spellings "Sabá" (Shabbat), "Menasseh" (Menashe), "Ros(as)anáh" (Rosh Hashana), "Sedacáh" (tzedaka), "massoth" (matzot), is evidence of a traditional pronunciation which did not distinguish between the various sibilants — a trait which is shared with some coastal dialects of Moroccan Hebrew. Since the 1800s, the pronunciations IPA| [ʃ] (for hebrew|שׁ and [ts] for hebrew|צ have become common — probably by influence from Oriental Sephardic immigrants, from Ashkenazi Hebrew and, in our times, Israeli Hebrew.

The hebrew|תֿ (Tav rafé) is pronounced like "t" in all traditions of Spanish and Portuguese Jews today, although the consistent transliteration as "th" in 17th century sources may suggest an earlier differentiation of hebrew|תֿ and hebrew|תּ. (Final hebrew|תֿ is occasionally heard as "d".)

In Dutch-speaking areas, but not elsewhere, hebrew|ג ("gimel") is often pronounced [IPA|χ] like Dutch "g". More careful speakers use this sound for "gimel rafé" (gimel without dagesh), while pronouncing "gimel" with dagesh as [IPA|g] . [The pronunciation of "g" as [IPA|χ] in Dutch was originally a peculiarity of Amsterdam: the historic pronunciation was [IPA|ɣ] . The use of [IPA|ɣ] for "gimel rafé" is found in other communities, e.g. among Syrian and Yemenite Jews. Coincidentally, "g" following a vowel is pronounced as the approximant [IPA|ɣ˕] in modern Spanish (but not in Portuguese).]

Dutch Sephardim take care to pronounce he with mappiq as a full "h", usually repeating the vowel: "vi-yamlich malchutéhe".

The accentuation of Hebrew adheres strictly to the rules of Biblical Hebrew, including the secondary stress on syllables with a long vowel before a Shevá. Also, the shevá na‘ in the beginning of a word is normally pronounced as a short "eh" ("Shemang, berít, berakháh"). Shevá na‘ is also normally pronounced after a long vowel with secondary stress ("ngomedím, barekhú"). However it is not pronounced after a prefixed "u-" (and) or "ha-" (the), unless the intervening consonant is doubled or the prefix has "meteg" [There is some doubt whether "meteg" should have the effect of making following "shevá" vocal if this would have the effect of putting the vowel with "meteg" more than two syllables away from the stress: e.g. "ha-meborakh" or "hamborakh".] : "ubne", not "u-bene"; "lamnatseahh", not "la-menatseahh".

Vocal shevá, segol (short e) and tsere (long e) are all pronounced like the 'e' in "bed": there is no distinction except in length. [In the Tiberian vocalization "segol" is open [IPA|ɛ] and "tsere" is closed [IPA|e] , like French "é"; while in Ashkenazi Hebrew "tsere" is often [IPA|ej] as in "they". In both Ashkenazi and modern Hebrew, vocal "shevá" is the indistinct vowel in French "le" and English "the" and sometimes disappears altogether.] In some communities, e.g. Amsterdam, vocal "shevá" is pronounced [IPA|a] when marked with "ga'ya" (a straight line next to the vowel symbol, equivalent to "meteg"), and as [IPA|i] when followed by the letter yod: thus "va-nashubah" and "bi-yom" (but "be-Yisrael"). [This rule forms part of the Tiberian vocalization reflected in works from the Masoretic period, and is laid down in grammatical works as late as Solomon Almoli's "Halichot Sheva" (Constantinople 1519), though he records that it is dying out and that "in most places" vocal "sheva" is pronounced like "segol".]

The differentiation between kamatz gadol and kamatz katan is made according to purely phonetic rules without regard to etymology, which occasionally leads to spelling pronunciations at variance with the rules laid down in the grammar books. For example, כָל (all), when unhyphenated, is pronounced "kal" rather than "kol" (in "kal ngatsmotai" and "Kal Nidre"), and צָהֳרַיִם (noon) is pronounced "tsahorayim" rather than "tsohorayim". This feature is shared by other Sephardic groups, but is not found in Israeli Hebrew. It is also found in the transliteration of proper names in the Authorised Version, such as "Naomi", "Aholah" and "Aholibah".


Although all Sephardic liturgies are similar, each group has its own distinct liturgy. Many of these differences are a product of the syncretization of the Spanish liturgy and the liturgies of the local communities where Spanish exiles settled. Other differences are the result of earlier regional variations in liturgy from pre-expulsion Spain. Moses Gaster (died 1939, Hakham of the S&P Jews of Great Britain) has shown that the order of prayers used by Spanish and Portuguese Jews has its origin in the Castilian liturgy of Pre-Expulsion Spain.

As compared with other Sephardic groups, the minhag of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews is characterised by a relatively low number of cabbalistic additions. The Friday night service thus traditionally starts with Psalm 29, “Mizmor leDavid: Habu LaA.”. In the printed siddurim of the mid-17th century, “Lekhah Dodi” and the Mishnaic passage "Bammeh madlikin" are also not yet included, but these are included in all newer siddurim of the tradition except for the early West London and Mickve Israel (Savannah) Reform prayerbooks, both of which have Spanish and Portuguese roots.

Of other, less conspicuous, elements, a number of archaic forms can be mentioned — including some similarities with the Italian and Western Ashkenazi traditions. Such elements include the shorter form of the Birkat hammazon which can be found in the older Amsterdam and Hamburg/Scandinavian traditions. The Livorno (Leghorn) tradition, however, includes many of the cabbalistic additions found in most other Sephardi traditions. The current London minhag is generally close to the Amsterdam minhag, but follows the Livorno tradition in some details — most notably in the Birkat hammazon.

Emanuel Aguilar.]



The ritual music of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews differs from other Sephardi music in that it is influenced by Western European Baroque and Classical music to a relatively high degree. Not only in Spanish and Portuguese communities, but in many others in southern France [For example the Provençal community of Comtat-Venaissin: see Louis Saladin, "Canticum Hebraicum".] and northern Italy, [See for example Adler Israel, "Hosha’ana Rabbah in Casale Monferrato 1732: Dove in the Clefts of the Rock", Jewish Music Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Jerusalem 1990 (Yuval Music series Volume: 2)] it was common to commission elaborate choral compositions, often including instrumental music, for the dedication of a synagogue, for family events such as weddings and circumcisions and for festivals such as Hosha'na Rabbah on which the halachic restriction on instrumental music did not apply.

Already in 1603, the sources tell us that harpsichords were used in the Spanish and Portuguese synagogues in Hamburg. Particularly in the Amsterdam community, but to some degree also in Hamburg and elsewhere, there was a flourishing of classical music in the synagogues in the 1700s. An important Jewish composer was Abraham de Casseres; music was also commissioned from non-Jewish composers such as Christian Joseph Lidarti. There was formerly a custom in Amsterdam, inspired by a hint in the Zohar, of holding an instrumental concert on Friday afternoon prior to the coming in of the Sabbath, as a means of getting the congregants in the right mood for the Friday night service.

The same process took place in Italy, where the Venetian community commissioned music from non-Jewish composers such as Carlo Grossi and Benedetto Marcello.

Another important centre for Spanish and Portuguese Jewish music was Livorno, where a rich cantorial tradition developed, incorporating both traditional Sephardic music from around the Mediterranean and composed art music: this was in turn disseminated to other centres.


Already in the 17th century, choirs were used in the service on holidays in the Amsterdam community. This custom was introduced in London in the early 1800s. In most cases, the choirs have consisted only of men and boys, but in Curaçao, the policy was changed to allow women in the choir (in a separate section) in 1863.

Instrumental music

There are early precedents for the use of instrumental music in the synagogue originating in 17th century Italy as well as the Spanish and Portuguese communities of Hamburg and Amsterdam and in the Ashkenazic community of Prague. As in most other communities (until the rise of the Reform movement in the 19th century) the use of instrumental music was not permitted on Shabbat or festivals.

As a general rule, Spanish and Portuguese communities do not use pipe organs or other musical instruments during services. In some Spanish and Portuguese communities, notably in France (Bordeaux, Bayonne), USA (Savannah, Charleston, Richmond) and the Caribbean (Curaçao), pipe organs came into use during the course of the 19th century, in parallel with developments in Reform Judaism. In Curaçao, where the traditional congregation had an organ set up in the late 1800s, the use of the organ on Shabbat was eventually also accepted, as long as the organ player was not Jewish. In the more traditional congregations, such as London and New York, a free-standing organ or electric piano is used at weddings or benot mitzvah (although never on Shabbat or Yom Tob), in the same way as in some English Ashkenazi synagogues.

Current practice

The cantorial style of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews adheres to the general Sephardi principle that every word is sung out loud and that most of the ritual is performed communally rather than solistically. The ḥazzán’s rôle is typically one of guiding the congregation rather than being a soloist. Thus, there is traditionally a much stronger emphasis on correct diction and knowledge of the musical minhág than on the solistic voice quality. [Traditionally, an auditioning cantor in an Ashkenazi synagogue is asked to sing Kol Nidre, a solo piece demanding great vocal dexterity, range and emotional expression, while in a Sephardi synagogue he is asked to sing "Bammeh madlikin", a plainsong recitative which demands accuracy more than anything else.] In the parts of the service where the ḥazzán would traditionally have a more solistic rôle, the basic melodies are embellished according to the general principles of Baroque performance practice: for example, after a prayer or hymn sung by the congregation, the ḥazzán often repeats the last line in a highly elaborated form. Two- and three-part harmony is relatively common, and Edwin Seroussi has shown that the harmonies are a reflection of more complex, four-part harmonies in written sources from the 18th century.

The recitative style of the central parts of the service, such as the Amidah, the Psalms and the cantillation of the Torah is loosely related to that of other Sephardi and Mizraḥi communities, though there is no formal maqam system as found in other traditions. The closest resemblance is to the rituals of Gibraltar and Northern Morocco, as Spanish and Portuguese communities traditionally recruited their ḥazzanim from these countries. There is a remoter affinity with the Babylonian and North African traditions: these are more conservative than the Syrian and Judaeo-Spanish traditions, which have been more heavily influenced by popular Mediterranean and Arabic music.

In other parts of the service, and in particular on special occasions such as the festivals, Shabbat Bereshit and the anniversary of the founding of the synagogue, the traditional tunes are often replaced by metrical and harmonized compositions in the Western European style. This is not the case on Rosh Hashanah and Kippúr (Yom Kippur), when the whole service has a far more archaic character.

A characteristic feature of Oriental Sephardic music is the transposition of popular hymn tunes (themselves sometimes derived from secular songs) to important prayers such as "Nishmat" and "Kaddish". This occurs only to a limited extent in the Spanish and Portuguese ritual, and can be traced to the book of hymns "Imre no'am" (1628), published in Amsterdam by Joseph Gallego, a hazzan originating in Salonica. [ [ Link to .pdf file] ; [ another link] . The book does not of course set out the tunes, but it names the songs that they were borrowed from.] Certain well-known tunes, such as "El nora aliláh" and "Ahhot ketannáh", are shared with Sephardi communities world-wide with small variations.


Spanish and Portuguese traditional cantillation has several unique elements. "Torah" cantillation is divided into two musical styles. The first is the standard used for all regular readings. A separate manner of cantillation is used on special occasions. This is normally referred to as "High Tangamim" or "High Na'um". It is used for special portions of the Torah reading. These are: Chapter 1 of Bereshit (on Simchat Torah); the "Shirat ha-Yam"; the Ten Commandments; the Song of Moses; the concluding sentences of each of the five books; and several other smaller portions. [ Many other Sephardic traditions use special melodies for these portions as well. However, the S&P melody is different from most others. Anecdotally, the Spanish and Portuguese "High Tangamim" are similar to the melody of Kurdish Jews.] The term "High Tangamim" refers to the elaborate musical rendition of the cantillation notes - yet it is borrowed from the use of a second Masoretic notation for the Ten Commandments common among most Jewish rituals.

The rendition of the Haftarah (prophetic portion) also has two (or three) styles. The standard, used for most "haftarot", is nearly identical with that of the Spanish-Moroccan "nusach". A distinctly more somber melody is used for the three "haftarot" preceding the ninth of Ab (the "three weeks".) On the morning of the Ninth of Ab a third melody is used for the Haftarah - although this melody is borrowed from the melody for the Book of Ruth.

There is a special melody used for the Book of Esther which is chant-like and which is not reliant on the Masoretic notes. The melody for the "Shir haShirim" (Song of Songs) is similar but not identical to the Moroccan tradition. The books of Ruth and Lamentations have unique melodies as well. Finally, on the Ninth of Ab, the prose parts of the book of Job are read to the melody for "Shir haShirim".

Unlike in Oriental Sephardic traditions, there is no cantillation mode for the books of Psalms, Proverbs and the poetic parts of Job. The chant for the Psalms in the Friday night service has some resemblance to the cantillation mode of the Oriental traditions, but is not dependent on the cantillation marks.

Communities, past and present





Prominent rabbis

*Menasseh ben Israel
*Jacob ben Aaron Sasportas
*Saul Levi Morteira
*Isaac Aboab da Fonseca
*Jacob Abendana
*David Nieto
*Raphael Meldola
*D. A. de Sola
*Isaac Leeser
*Abraham de Sola
*Sabato Morais
*Moses Gaster
*David de Sola Pool
*Shem Tob Gaguine
*Solomon Gaon
*Marc D. Angel
*Yaaqob haLevi de Oliveira
*Mordekhai Levi Lopes
*Eliezer Tabor
*Hayyim Angel

Other prominent personalities

* first-generation Sephardic exiles: Don Isaac Abarbanel, Solomon ibn Verga, Abraham Zacuto, Elijah Capsali, Abraham ben Salomon de Torrutiel Ardutiel, Yosef ben Tzadiq of Arévalo
* Doña Gracia Nasi
* Joseph Nasi
* Abraham Cohen Herrera
* Balthazar (Isaac) Orobio de Castro
* Uriel da Costa
* Baruch Spinoza
* Isaac Pinto
* Gershom Mendes Seixas
* Moses Montefiore
* Grace Aguilar
* Isaac D'Israeli
* Judah P. Benjamin - politician and lawyer
* Emma Lazarus - poet
* Moses Angel
* Philip Guedalla
* U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo
* Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz

See also

* Sephardim
* History of the Jews in Spain
** Spanish Inquisition
** Alhambra Decree
* History of the Jews in Portugal
** Portuguese Inquisition
* Sephardic Jews in the Netherlands
* History of the Marranos in England
* Sephardic Judaism (for liturgy etc.)
* Anusim
* Marrano




* Angel, Marc D.: "Remnant Of Israel: A Portrait Of America's First Jewish Congregation": ISBN 1-878351-62-1
* Barnett, R. D., and Schwab, W.,. "The Western Sephardim" (The Sephardi Heritage Volume 2): Gibraltar Books, Northants., 1989
* Birmingham, S., "The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite": Syracuse 1971 repr. 1997 ISBN 0-8156-0459-9
* de Sola Pool, David and Tamar, "An Old Faith in the New World": New York, Columbia University Press, 1955. ISBN 0-231-02007-4
* Dobrinsky, Herbert C.: "A treasury of Sephardic laws and customs: the ritual practices of Syrian, Moroccan, Judeo-Spanish and Spanish and Portuguese Jews of North America." Revised ed. Hoboken, N.J.: KTAV; New York, N.Y. : Yeshiva Univ. Press, 1988. ISBN 0-88125-031-7
* Gubbay, Lucien and Levy, Abraham, "The Sephardim: Their Glorious Tradition from the Babylonian Exile to the Present Day": paperback ISBN 1-85779-036-7; hardback ISBN 0-8276-0433-5 (a more general work but with notable information on the present day London S&P community)
* Hyamson, M., "The Sephardim of England: A History of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Community 1492-1951": London 1951
* Katz and Serels (ed.), "Studies on the History of Portuguese Jews": New York 2004 ISBN 0-87203-157-8
* Laski, Neville, "The Laws and Charities of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation of London"
* Meijer, Jaap (ed.), "Encyclopaedia Sefardica Neerlandica: Uitgave van de Portugees-Israëlietische Gemeente": Amsterdam, 1949-1950 (2 vol., in Dutch)
* Samuel, Edgar, "At the End of the Earth: Essays on the history of the Jews in England and Portugal": London 2004 ISBN 0-902528-37-8
* Studemund-Halévy, Michael & Koj, P. (publ.), "Sefarden in Hamburg: zur Geschichte einer Minderheit": Hamburg 1993–1997 (2 vol.)

Caribbean Jews

* Ezratty, Harry A."500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean: The Spanish & Portuguese Jews in the West Indies", Omni Arts Publishers (November 2002); hardback ISBN 0-942929-18-7, paperback ISBN 0-942929-07-1
* "Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the Caribbean and the Guianas: A Bibliography (Hardcover)" John Carter Brown Library (June 1999) ISBN 0-916617-52-1
* Arbell, Mordechai. "The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean: The Spanish-Portuguese Jewish Settlements in the Caribbean and the Guianas" ISBN 965-229-279-6
* Arbell, Mordechai. "The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica" ISBN 976-8125-69-1

Synagogue Architecture

* Kadish, Sharman; Bowman, Barbara; and Kendall, Derek, "Bevis Marks Synagogue 1701-2001: A Short History of the Building and an Appreciation of Its Architecture (Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage in the United Kingdom & Ireland)": ISBN 1-873592-65-5
* "Treasures of a London temple: A descriptive catalogue of the ritual plate, mantles and furniture of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Synagogue in Bevis Marks": London 1951 ASIN B0000CI83D


* Brandon, I. Oëb, (tr. Elisheva van der Voort), "Complete manual for the reader of the Portuguese Israelitic Congregation in Amsterdam": Curaçao 1989.
* Gaguine, Shem Tob, "Keter Shem Tob", 7 vols (in Hebrew)
* Salomon, H. P., "Het Portugees in de Esnoga van Amsterdam. (A Língua Portuguesa na Esnoga de Amesterdão)": Amsterdam 2002 (in Dutch). Portuguese phrases used in the synagogue service, with a CD showing correct pronunciation.
* Whitehill, G. H., "The Mitsvot of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, London (Sha'ar Hashamayim): A guide for Parnasim": London 1969

Reza books (siddurim)


* Venice edition, 1524: reproduced in photostat in Remer, "Siddur and Sefer Tefillat ִHayim", Jerusalem 2003
* "Libro de Oraciones", Ferrara 1552 (Spanish only)
* Fiorentino, Salomone, "Orazioni Quotidiane per uso degli Ebrei Spagnoli e Portoghesi", Vienna 1802


* Menasseh ben Israel, "Orden de Ros Asanah y Kipúr": Amsterdam 1630 (Spanish only)
*"Seder ha-tefillot ke-minhag K"K Sefardim", with Dutch translation (S. Mulder): Amsterdam 1837
*"Seder ha-mo'adim ke-minhag K"K Sefardim" (festivals), with Dutch translation (S. Mulder): Amsterdam 1843
*"Seder le-Rosh ha-Shanah ke-minhag K"K Sefardim" (Rosh Hashanah), with Dutch translation (S. Mulder): Amsterdam 1849
*"Seder le-Yom Kippur ke-minhag K"K Sefardim" (Yom Kippur), with Dutch translation (S. Mulder): Amsterdam 1850
*"Tefillat Kol Peh", ed. and tr. Ricardo: Amsterdam 1928, repr. 1950

English-speaking countries

* David Nieto, "Orden de las Oraciones de Ros-Ashanah y Kipur", London 1740
* "The Order of Forms of Prayer" (6 vols.), David Levi: London 1789-96, repr. 1810
* "Forms of Prayer According to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews", D. A. de Sola, London 1836
* "Siddur Sifte Tsaddikim, the Forms of Prayer According to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews", Isaac Leeser, Philadelphia (6 vols.) 1837-8
* "Forms of Prayer According to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews", Abraham de Sola, Philadelphia 1878
* "Book of Prayer of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, London" (5 vols.), Moses Gaster, 1901
*"Book of Prayer of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, London" (5 vols.): Oxford (Oxford Univ. Press, Vivian Ridler), 5725 - 1965 (since reprinted)
* "Book of Prayer: According to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews", David de Sola Pool, New York: Union of Sephardic Congregations, 1954 (later edition 1979)
* Gaon, Solomon, "Minhath Shelomo: a commentary on the Book of prayer of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews": New York 1990 (based on de Sola Pool edition)

Musical traditions

* Adler, Israel: "Musical life and traditions of the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam in the XVIIIth century." (Yuval Monograph Series; v. 1.) Jerusalem : Magnes, 1974.
* Aguilar, Emanuel & De Sola, David A.: טללי זמרה. "Sephardi melodies, being the traditional liturgical chants of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ Congregation London." Publ. by the Society of Heshaim with the sanction of the Board of Elders of the Congregation. Oxford Univ. Press, 5691 - 1931.
* Kanter, Maxine Ribstein: “High Holy Day hymn melodies in the Spanish and Portuguese synagogues of London,” in "Journal of Synagogue Music" X (1980), No. 2, pp. 12–44
* Kramer, Leon & Guttmann, Oskar: "Kol Shearit Yisrael: Synagogue Melodies" Transcontinental Music Corporation, New York, 1942.
* Lopes Cardozo, Abraham: "Sephardic songs of praise according to the Spanish-Portuguese tradition as sung in the synagogue and home." New York, 1987.
* Rodrigues Pereira, Martin: חָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה "(‘Hochmat Shelomoh) Wisdom of Solomon: Torah cantillations according to the Spanish and Portuguese custom" Tara Publications, 1994
* Seroussi, Edwin: "Spanish-Portuguese synagogue music in nineteenth-century Reform sources from Hamburg : ancient tradition in the dawn of modernity." (Yuval Monograph Series; XI) Jerusalem : Magnes, 1996. ISSN 0334-3758
* Seroussi, Edwin: " [ Livorno: A Crossroads in the History of Sephardic Religious Music] ", from Horowitz and Orfali (ed.), "The Mediterranean and the Jews: Society, Culture and Economy in Early Modern Times"
* Swerling, Norman P.: "Romemu-Exalt : the music of the Sephardic Jews of Curaçao." Tara Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-933676-79-4


* "Musiques de la Synagogue de Bordeaux": Patrimoines Musicaux Des Juifs de France, (Buda Musique 822742), 2003.
* "Talile Zimra - Singing Dew": "The Florence-Leghorn Jewish Musical Tradition", Beth Hatefutsot, 2002.
* "Choral Music of Congregation Shearith Israel", Congregation Shearith Israel, 2003.
* "Jewish Voices in the New World: Chants and Prayers from the American Colonial Era": Miliken Archive (Naxos) 2003
* "Sephardic Songs of Praise": Abraham L. Cardozo (Tara Publications)
* " A Sephardi Celebration" The Choir of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews' Congregation, London, Maurice Martin, Adam Musikant (The Classical Recording Company)
* "Kamti Lehallel - I Rise in Praise" Daniel Halfon, (Beth Hatefutsot) 2007
* " The Western Sefardi Liturgical Tradition": Abraham Lopes Cardozo (The Jewish Music Research Center- Hebrew University) 2004
* "Traditional Music of Congregation Shearith Israel" (Shearith Israel League) 3 CD's.

External links

Educational Institutions

* [ The Judith Lady Montefiore College] (rabbinic training programme in London)
* [ Naima Jewish Preparatory School (London)]
* [ Ets Haim Library (Amsterdam)]

Musical links

* [ Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Liturgical Music]
* [ Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Choir, London]
* [ Daniel Halfon, Hazan of Spanish and Portuguese Liturgical Music]
* [ Amsterdam Portuguese Chazzanut: Spanish and Portuguese Chazzanut & Minhagim (Customs) in the Esnoga]
* [ Spanish and Portuguese Torah and Haftarah melodies, London style]
* [ Hakham Oliveira] - Another cantillation resource


* [ Sephardic Jews in Jamaica]
* [ Site of Hakham Yaaqob haLevi de Oliveira s"t, Israel]

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