Spain's cabinet on Friday approved a bill allowing descendants of Jews forced into exile centuries ago the right to dual citizenship, but said applicants will have to take a Spanish culture test in addition to having their ancient ties to the nation vetted by experts.
Sephardic Jews who want to apply must have their heritage checked by the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities or by rabbis where they live, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said. She did not provide details about the culture test but said it will be developed by the Cervantes Institute, which promotes Spanish language and culture abroad.
The plan aims to fix what the government calls the "historic mistake" of sending Jews into exile starting in 1492, forcing them to convert to Catholicism or burning them at the stake during the Inquisition.
It is expected to pass easily in Parliament because the ruling Popular Party has an absolute majority.
The reform will allow dual nationality, enabling the newly minted Spaniards to retain their previous citizenship. Spain currently grants that privilege only to Latin Americans.
"With this gesture Spain is doing justice and fixing the mistake that led to the expulsion of the Jews," the federation said in a statement.
The term "Sephardic" means "Spanish" in Hebrew, but the label has come also to apply to one of the two main variants of Jewish religious practice. The other — and globally dominant one — is "Ashkenazic," which applies to Jews whose lineage, in recent times, is traced to northern and eastern Europe.
Because of mixing between the groups and other factors, there is no accepted figure for the global Sephardic population. Reasonable estimates would range between a fifth and a third of the world's roughly 13 million Jews.
Hundreds of thousands live in France and already have EU passports. But the largest community is in Israel, where almost half of the 6 million Jews are considered Sephardic.