Michael Freund
Michael FreundMoskowitz Prize

The Portugese Cabinet on Thursday approved a new law giving dual citizenship to the descendants of the Jews expelled or forcibly converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition, in which thousands of Jews were brutally murdered.

It remains to be seen when the law will come into effect; Spain has a similar law waiting for final approval.

According to Associated Press, descendants who can demonstrate "a traditional connection" through "family names, family language, and direct or collateral ancestry" can request citizenship.

The announcement elicited a concerned response from the Jerusalem-based organization Shavei Israel, which works to bring back into the fold Jewish communities dispersed around the world whose connection to the Jewish people has dissipated over the centuries.

"In the wake of the decision by Portugal, I call on the Israeli government to embark on a new strategic approach and to reach out to the Bnei Anousim, people whose Spanish and Portuguese Jewish ancestors were compelled to convert to Catholicism more than five centuries ago," Shavei Israel founder and Chairman Michael Freund said.

Freund explained "a growing number of Bnei Anousim are looking to strengthen their Jewish identity and reclaim their roots. It is vital that Israel take steps to strengthen their connection with the Jewish state and the Jewish people."

"If the Portuguese and Spanish governments recognize the importance of this community, the Israeli government can and should do the same," he concluded.

Shavei Israel, founded in 2002, has been reaching out to the Bnei Menashe of India, "hidden Jews" of Poland and of Italy, the Bnei Anousim of Portugal, the Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng, and others.

Regarding the offering of citizenship by Portugal and Spain, senior rabbis including Rabbi Shlomo Aviner have forbidden taking Spanish citizenship.

"Spain needs support at the moment - it is in a very difficult financial situation," Rabbi Aviner said last February. "Suddenly they are courting us and giving us citizenship. An Israeli passport is worth more."