SEPHARDIM (called also Spagnioli, Spaniols, or, more rarely, Franconians):
Descendants of the Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal and who settled in southern France, Italy, North Africa, Turkey, Asia Minor, Holland, England, North and South America, Germany, Denmark, Austria, and Hungary. Among these settlers were many who were the descendants, or heads, of wealthy families and who, as Maranos, had occupied prominent positions in the countries they had left. Some had been state officials, others had held positions of dignity within the Church; many had been the heads of large banking-houses and mercantile establishments, and some were physicians or scholars who had officiated as teachers in high schools. The many sufferings which they had endured for the sake of their faith had made them more than usually self-conscious; they considered themselves a superior class, the nobility of Jewry, and for a long time their coreligionists, on whom they looked down, regarded them as such.
This sense of dignity which the Sephardim possessed manifested itself in their general deportment and in their scrupulous attention to dress. Even those among them whose station in life was low, as, for example, the carriers in Salonica, or the sellers of "pan de España" in the streets of Smyrna, maintained the old Spanish "grandezza" in spite of their poverty.
The Sephardim never engaged in chaffering occupations nor in usury, and they did not mingle with the lower classes. With their social equals they associated freely, without regard to creed, and in the presence of their superiors they displayed neither shyness nor servility. They were received at the courts of sultans, kings, and princes, and often were employed as ambassadors, envoys, or agents. The number of Sephardim who have rendered important services to different countries is considerable, from Samuel Abravanel (financial councilor to the viceroy of Naples) to Benjamin Disraeli. Among other names mentioned are those of Belmonte, Nasi, Pacheco, Palache, Azevedo, Sasportas, Costa, Curiel, Cansino, Schonenberg, Toledo, Toledano, and Teixeira.
The Sephardim occupy the foremost place in the roll of Jewish physicians; great as is the number of those who have distinguished themselves as statesmen, it is not nearly as great as the number of those who have become celebrated as physicians and have won the favor of rulers and princes, in both the Christian and the Mohammedan world. That the Sephardim were selected for prominent positions in every country in which they settled was due to the fact that Spanish had become a world-language through the expansion of Spain. From Tangier to Salonica, from Smyrna to Belgrade, and from Vienna to Amsterdam and Hamburg, they preserved not only the Spanish dignity, but the Spanish idiom also; and they preserved the latter with so much love and with so much tenacity that it has remained surprisingly pure up to the present day. It must be remembered that Judæo-Spanish, or Ladino, is in no wise as corrupt a language as is the Judæo-German.
For a long time the Sephardim took active part in Spanish literature; they wrote in prose and in rime, and were the authors of theological, philosophical, belletristic, pedagogic, and mathematical works. The rabbis, who, in common with all the Sephardim, laid great stress on a pure and euphonious pronunciation of Hebrew, delivered their sermons in Spanish or in Portuguese: several of these sermons appeared in print. Their thirst for knowledge, together with the fact that they associated freely with the outer world, led the Sephardim to establish new educational systems wherever theysettled; they founded schools in which the Spanish language was the medium of instruction.
In Amsterdam, where they were especially prominent in the seventeenth century on account of their number, wealth, education, and influence, they established poetical academies after Spanish models; two of these were the Academia de los Sitibundos and the Academia de los Floridos. In the same city also they organized the first Jewish educational institution, with graduated classes in which, in addition to Talmudic studies, instruction was given in the Hebrew language. The Sephardim have preserved the romances and the ancient melodies and songs of Spain, as well as a large number of old Spanish proverbs. A number of children's plays, as, for example, "El Castillo," are still popular among them, and they still manifest a fondness for the dishes peculiar to Spain, such as the "pastel," or "pastelico," a sort of meat-pie, and the "pan de España," or "pan de Leon." At their festivals they follow the Spanish custom of distributing "dulces," or "dolces," a confection wrapped in paper bearing a picture of the "magen Dawid."
Although the Sephardim live as loyal citizens in the various countries of their adoption, among themselves they still mainly employ the Spanish language, and in their correspondence they use the Spanish cursive script. They bear exclusively Spanish given names, as Aleqria, Angel, Angela, Amado, Amada, Bienvenida, Blanco, Cara, Cimfa, Comprado, Consuela, Dolza, Esperanza, Estimada, Estrella, Fermosa, Gracia, Luna, Niña, Palomba, Preciosa, Sol, Ventura, and Zafiro; and such Spanish surnames as Belmonte, Benveniste, Bueno, Calderon, Campos, Cardoso, Castro, Curiel, Delgado, Fonseca, Cordova, Leon, Lima, Mercado, Monzon, Rocamora, Pacheco, Pardo, Pereira, Pinto, Prado, Sousa, Suasso, Toledano, Tarragona, Valencia, and Zaporta.
Although the Sephardim lived on peaceful terms with other Jews, they rarely intermarried with them; neither did they unite with them in forming congregations, but adhered to their own ritual, which differed widely from the Ashkenazic. Wherever the Sephardic Jews settled they grouped themselves according to the country or district from which they had come, and organized separate communities with legally enacted statutes. In Constantinople and Salonica, for example, there were not only Castilian, Aragonian, Catalonian, and Portuguese congregations, but also Toledo, Cordova, Evora, and Lisbon congregations.
Great authority was given to the president of each congregation. He and the rabbinate of his congregation formed the "ma'amad," without whose approbation (often worded in Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian) no book of religious content might be published. The president not only had the power to make authoritative resolutions with regard to congregational affairs and to decide communal questions, but he had also the right to observe the religious conduct of the individual and to punish any one suspected of heresy or of trespassing against the laws. He often proceeded with great zeal and with inquisitorial severity, as in the cases of Uriel Acosta and Spinoza at Amsterdam.
The Sephardim, who speak a purer Hebrew than do the Ashkenazim, do not attribute great value to the "ḥazzanut," and their form of cantillation is simpler than that of other Jews. The main point in which they differ from the Ashkenazim is, however, their liturgy. The Sephardic liturgy originated in part with the Geonim; it is more natural and elevating than the Ashkenazic, and also less burdened with "piyyuṭim." The Sephardim admit into their liturgy only the piyyuṭim of Spanish poets, which are characterized by Rapoport as "mediators between the soul and its Creator," while the Ashkenazic piyyuṭim are "mediators between the nation and its God."
The Sephardic ritual with its many variations, as instanced in the Castilian, Aragonian, Catalonian, and Provençal rituals, has been very widely adopted. The number of Sephardic rabbis is great, and many of them enjoyed reputations as authorities. There are several among them who have published valuable works, as well as collections of legal opinions and decisions which are highly esteemed by all Jews. The Cabala found many supporters, including several rabbis, among the Sephardim, who as a rule are imaginative and superstitious. Shabbethai Ẓebi likewise found among them his most faithful adherents. In modern times the Sephardim have lost more or less of the authority which for several centuries they exercised over other Jews. As to number, they are still important in Constantinople, Salonica, Adrianople, Smyrna, Damascus, Nicopolis, and Cairo; also in Amsterdam, and in different communities in Servia and Bulgaria. The total number of Spanish-speaking Sephardim is about half a million. See Liturgy; Marano; Spain.
- Angel Pulido, Los Israelitas Españoles y el Idioma Castellano, Madrid, 1904;
- Isidoro de Hoyos y de la Torre, Los Judios Españoles, in Boletin de la Real Academia de la Historia, xlv. 205 et seq.;
- Kayserling, Bibl. Esp.-Port.-Jud. pp. 10 et seq.;
- idem, Spanien und die Juden, in Allg. Zeit. des Jud. lxviii. 615 et seq., lxix. 79 et seq.;
- Zunz, Ritus, pp. 38 et seq.;
- Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, iii. 195 et seq., 207, 236;
- Grätz, Gesch. ix. 11 et seq.;
- M. Gaster, Leaves from the History of the Sefardim in England, in Jew. Chron. May 31 and June 21, 1901.