Western Sephardim (or more ambiguously known as Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Spanish Jews, Portuguese Jews and Jews of the Portuguese Nation) acronymed S&P are a distinctive sub-group of Sephardic Jews, who are descended from Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal for centuries, until their expulsion stipulated in the Spanish Alhambra Decree (1492), whereby the Jews were required to leave, convert, or face execution. Half of the Spanish Jews did not, or could not, leave Spain prior to the expiration of the deadlines stipulated by the Alhambra Degree and thus became New Christian conversos. Most of the Spanish Jews who left Spain accepted the hospitality of Sultan Bayezid II and, starting with the Alhambra Decree in 1492, moved to the Ottoman Empire, where they founded proud communities openly practicing their religion.
Many of the Spanish Jews who left Spain moved also to Portugal, where they were subsequently forcibly converted to the Catholic Church (1497). A century after the Spanish and Portuguese decrees, many among the conversos started emigrating and settling throughout areas of Western Europe and Latin America 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 community, 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, and influenced by the Judaism as practiced by the communities (including Sephardic Jews of the Ottoman Empire and Ashkenazi Jews) which assisted them in their readoption of normative Judaism; as well as by the Spanish-Moroccan and the Italian Jewish rites practiced by 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 as forced to "redefine 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