Western Sephardim (also known more ambiguously as Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Spanish Jews, Portuguese Jews and Jews of the Portuguese Nation) acronymed S&P are a distinctive sub-group of Iberian Jews, who are descended from Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries, until their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497. These event were linked to the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, respectively.
The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on 31 March 1492, by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of practicing Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and its territories and possessions by 31 July, of that year. The primary purpose was to eliminate their influence on Spain's large converso population and ensure they did not revert to Judaism. Over half of Spain's Jews had converted as a result of the religious persecution and pogroms which occurred in 1391, and as such were not subject to the Decree or to expulsion. A further number of those remaining chose to avoid expulsion as a result of the edict. As a result of the Alhambra decree and persecution in prior years, over 200,000 Jews converted to Catholicism and between 40,000 and 80,000 were expelled, an indeterminate number returning to Spain in the years following the expulsion. Most of the Spanish Jews who left Spain accepted the hospitality of Sultan Bayezid II and, starting with the Alhambra Decree, 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). During the following centuries after the Spanish and Portuguese decrees, some of these conversos started emigrating and settling throughout areas of Western Europe and Latin America up until the 1700s, forming small communities and formally reverting to Judaism.
As a result of the unceasing trials and persecutions of crypto-Judaism 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