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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Jewish Studies Sephardic Jews
Dina Danon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0066


While now typically used in common parlance to refer to most Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin, “Sephardi Jewry” denotes those Jews whose ancestry emanates from the Iberian Peninsula, or Sepharad. Anti-Jewish sentiment, beginning with massive rioting in 1391 in Seville, led to a wave of conversions to Christianity over generations, giving rise to a group known as conversos, or “New Christians.” The ultimatum Spanish Jewry faced in 1492, conversion or expulsion, was in part designed to sever the bonds between Jews and Spain’s conversos. Those who chose exile dispersed both across the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds, forming two distinct diasporas. The larger diaspora consisted of Iberian refugees who fled to the East, where they became dhimmis, or “protected subjects,” of the sultan in the Ottoman Empire. A smaller group remained in Christian lands, resettling largely in certain port cities of western Europe and the New World. This article seeks to point the reader to key sources in the history of Sephardi Jewry, from its earliest period on the Iberian Peninsula, to the multifaceted impacts of the Expulsion, to its multiple migrations both to the East and West.

General Overviews

The following works are broad surveys or collections of essays, many of them suitable for use in an undergraduate classroom. Lewis 1984 surveys the position of Jews within Islam and is therefore of particular relevance to the Sephardi experience. Gerber 1992 provides a basic overview of Sephardi Jewry from its beginnings in Spain, tracing both the eastern and western Diasporas, while Shaw 1991 and Levy 1992 focus exclusively on the Ottoman Empire. Benbassa and Rodrigue 2000 offers the most recent and comprehensive treatment of the eastern Sephardi Diaspora as a cohesive cultural unit from the Expulsion through the modern period. Levy 1994 is a compendium of essays by scholars both of Ottoman and Jewish studies on the field, while the introductory essays in Simon, et al. 2003 survey the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa both thematically and on a country-by-country basis. Gerber 1995 provides an overview of Sephardic studies as an academic field and contains sample syllabi in English, French, and Hebrew.

  • Benbassa, Esther, and Aron Rodrigue. Sephardi Jewry: A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 14th–20th Centuries. Jewish Communities in the Modern World 2. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

    Updated version of the authors’ 1993 Juifs des Balkans: Espaces judéo-ibériques, XIVe–XXe siècles (Paris: La Découverte). Essential survey that treats the eastern Sephardi Diaspora as a cohesive unit. Includes topics such as communal, social, economic, and cultural life; the impact of Westernization and new political ideologies; and the Holocaust.

  • Gerber, Jane S. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. New York: Free Press, 1992.

    Survey of the history of the Sephardi Jews from their medieval Iberian roots through the 20th century. Main topics covered are Jewish life in Muslim Spain, the Reconquista, the Expulsion, the emergence of Sephardi Diasporas, encounter with modernity in the lands of Islam, the Holocaust, and new centers of Sephardi life in the postwar era.

  • Gerber, Jane S., ed. Sephardic Studies in the University. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995.

    Volume published with the purpose of furthering and enriching the study of Sephardi Jewry in the American university. Comprises an extensive bibliography and companion essay as well as sample syllabi.

  • Levy, Avigdor. The Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire. Princeton, NJ: Darwin, 1992.

    Expanded version of introductory essay to Levy’s edited volume on the Jews of the Ottoman Empire, published in 1994. The focus is the Ottoman Sephardi community up until the dissolution of the empire, and its elaboration of communal institutions, relations with the state as well with other non-Muslim communities, and transformation during the 19th-century Ottoman reform era.

  • Levy, Avigdor, ed. The Jews of the Ottoman Empire. Princeton, NJ: Darwin, 1994.

    Volume resulting from a conference held in 1987 on the state of research on Ottoman Jewry. Essays span a full range of topics, among them the function of Jewish communal institutions, relationships with other Ottoman minorities, and the many ways in which Ottoman Jewish communities weathered the transformations of the modern period.

  • Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

    Survey describing how Jews fared living under Islam from its inception through the 20th century. Focus is on Islamic perspectives on the position of the Jew in society. Relevant for the Sephardi experience both on the medieval Iberian Peninsula and centuries later, during the Ottoman Empire.

  • Shaw, Stanford J. The Jews of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic. New York: New York University Press, 1991.

    A historical overview of Jews in the Ottoman Empire, proceeding through the dissolution of the empire and emergence of modern Turkey in 1923.

  • Simon, Reeva Spector, Michael Menachem Laskier, and Sara Reguer, eds. The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times. Papers presented at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held in Washington, DC, in December 1992. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

    Introductory volume on Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewries, organized in two parts: one thematically and the other geographically. Themes covered are economic, religious, social, and intellectual life. Geographically based chapters on Ottoman Turkey and the Ottoman Balkans are most relevant to Sephardi Jewry. Contains companion audio disc with musical selections.

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