Spanish and Portuguese Jews (also known as Western Sephardim, or more ambiguously as Spanish Jews, Portuguese Jews and Jews of the Portuguese Nation) are a distinctive sub-group of Sephardic Jews, descended mostly from Jews who were forcibly or coercedly converted to Catholicism in Spain and Portugal up until the expiration of the few-months deadlines stipulated in the Spanish Alhambra Decree (1492) and its Portuguese counterpart (1497) for the Jews to leave, convert, or face execution. Consequently, those Jews who did not, or could not, leave Spain and Portugal prior to the expiration of the deadlines became New Christian conversos. A century after the Spanish and Portuguese decrees, many among the conversos started emigrating and settling throughout areas of Western Europe up until the 1700s, forming communities and formally reverting to Judaism.
As a result of the unceasing trials and persecutions of both insincere and sincere Jewish-origin New Christians by the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions, the early members of this distinctive community of Sephardic Jews consisted of persons who themselves, or whose immediate forebears, personally experienced an interim period as New Christians. The early community continued to be augmented by further New Christian emigration out of the Iberian Peninsula occurring in a continuous flow between the 1600s to 1700s. Jewish-origin New Christians, as de jure Christians, fell under the jurisdictional powers of the Inquisition, but once they were in their new tolerant environments of refuge, out of both the Iberian cultural sphere and jurisdiction of the Inquisition, they were able to officially return to Judaism, the Jewish people, and open Jewish practice.
As former conversos or the descendants of former conversos, Spanish and Portuguese Jews developed a distinctive ritual based on a melding of the remnants of the Judaism of pre-expulsion Spain which they had practiced in secrecy during their time as New Christians, influenced by the Judaism as practiced by the communities (including Ashkenazi Jews) which assisted them in their re-adoption of normative Judaism, as well as by the Spanish-Moroccan and the Italian Jewish rites due to rabbis and hazzanim recruited from those communities to instruct them in ritual practice. A part of their distinctiveness as a Jewish group, furthermore, stems from the fact that they saw themselves forced to "redefined their Jewish identity and mark its boundaries [...] with the intellectual tools they had acquired in their Christian socialization" during their time as New Christian conversos....LESS