In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sephardic Diaspora

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Online Resources
  • The Expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal
  • Crypto Judaism and Marrano Religiosity in the Diaspora
  • The Sephardic Diaspora and Global Networks
  • The Diaspora in Asia and Africa
  • The Diaspora in Holland
  • The Sephardic Diaspora in Germany and England
  • The Sephardic Diaspora in Brazil
  • The Diaspora in Hispanic America
  • The Sephardic Diaspora in Italy
  • The Sephardic Diaspora in France
  • The Sephardic Diaspora in the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans, and the Adriatic

Renaissance and Reformation Sephardic Diaspora
James William Nelson Novoa
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0509


In its widest sense, the Sephardic diaspora refers to the dispersal of Jews and their descendants from the Iberian Peninsula after the expulsions from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1496) over the course of several centuries. The term Sepharad, taken to mean the Iberian Peninsula as a focal point of the Jewish diaspora, is derived from a Hebrew word that appears only once in the shortest book of the Hebrew Bible of the prophet Obadiah and refers to the presence of Jews in exile in an unidentified place called Sepharad possibly after the Babylonian conquest of Judah (597 BCE). Its use by them to refer to themselves as, in some way, connected to these initial exiles and up to what point Jews in Iberia prior to the expulsion saw themselves as denizens of a mental and geographical space called Sepharad is still a much-debated point. It certainly became more widely used afterward and is, currently, the term most used to refer to people who recognize themselves as descendants of Jews from Spain and Portugal and maintain some kind of rapport with an Iberian heritage in lore, language, and liturgical and religious practices. The expulsions from Spain and Portugal were in fact some of the last from Europe in the late Middle Ages, as from the eleventh century onward Jews were progressively expelled from most European kingdoms and territories. The measure known as the Alhambra Decree, dated 31 March 1492 by King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, was followed by their expulsion from Portugal in 1497. After a series of persecutions of Jewish communities in several towns in Spain at the end of the fourteenth, mass conversions to Christianity ensued. A new distinction arose between Old Christians (Spaniards who allegedly had no Jewish ancestors) and New Christians, Jews who embraced Christianity and their descendants. The distinction quickly took on a racial connotation and the idea arose of pure and impure blood, which were the basis of exclusionary measures that first took root in the middle of the fifteenth century in Spain. Something similar took place in Portugal after the general conversion of 1497. The suspicion that New Christians or conversos as they were called, were often still adhering to some form of Jewish belief or practice even after conversion often followed them and many were accused of being marranos, crypto Jews who maintained a Christian façade while secretly judaizing or adhering to Judaism. This was largely the justification for the arrival of a tribunals of the Inquisition in Spain (1478) and Portugal (1536). As a result of the menace of Inquisitorial persecution and exclusionary measures, many took flight over the centuries from Spain and Portugal to almost all corners of the world, some of which were dominated by Spain and Portugal in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Over time, Iberian Jewish communities arose, some of which were by definition secret as Judaism could not be overtly practiced such as in Spanish and Portuguese overseas territories. In other cases, new communities of Iberian Jews who had previously lived as Christians sprang up. The Old and New Christian distinction was only abolished in Portugal in 1773 and in Spain it remained until at least 1865. The Portuguese Inquisition was abolished in 1821 and the Spanish tribunal was finally eliminated in 1834. As such, it could be said that the Iberian diaspora of Jewish origin as such existed into the nineteenth century, at least in Spain. Here we have endeavored to provide some of the salient titles in a vast bibliography that spans the religious, cultural, intellectual, and social life of the descendants of Iberian Jewry who were coerced to leave their homeland, either as Jews after the expulsions of 1492 and 1496 or as converts to Christianity over the span of several centuries, taking into account how problematic the designations of Sepharad and Sephardic are.


A series of journals exist that are either directly related to the Sephardic diaspora or that, over the years, have served as an important venue for the publication of studies regarding it.

  • AJS Perspectives. 1999–.

    The magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies, which publishes articles on all periods and disciplinary approaches, often features scholarship relevant to the study of the Sephardic diaspora.

  • Cadernos de Estudos Sefarditas. 2001–.

    A peer-reviewed journal published by the Cátedra Alberto Benveniste of Sephardic Studies of the University of Lisbon.

  • Hamsa: Journal of Judaic and Islamic Studies. 2014–.

    A peer-reviewed and multidisciplinary journal that studies Judaism and Islam in the Iberian Peninsula and the diaspora.

  • The Jewish Quarterly Review. 1889–.

    A peer-reviewed journal of Jewish studies often of interest for the study of the Sephardic diaspora.

  • Pe’anim: Studies in Oriental Jewry.

    An academic journal published by the Ben Zvi Institute that provides information on the history, culture, and folklore of the Jewish communities of North Africa and the Middle East.

  • Revue des Études Juives. 1880–.

    A peer-reviewed journal of Jewish studies frequently of interest for the study of the Sephardic diaspora.

  • Sefarad. 1941–.

    A peer-reviewed journal of the Spanish National Research Council that publishes articles on Jewish studies, many of them dealing with the Sephardic heritage.

  • Sephardic Horizons. 2010–.

    A peer-reviewed journal regarding Sephardic history and lore with articles in English and Ladino.

  • Studia Rosenthaliana. 1967–.

    A peer-reviewed journal that deals with the heritage of the Jews in the Netherlands, often of interest for the study of the Sephardic diaspora.

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