Portuguese Tourism Minister Adolfo Mesquita Nunes, who visited Israel last week, said the final wording of a law granting automatic Portuguese nationality to the descendants of Portugal's Jews will soon be completed.
The 400,000 members of the Portuguese Jewish community were expelled, killed or forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition in the 16th century.
The bill was initiated by Parliament Member José Ribeiro e Castro, who sees it as righting a historic wrong and as doing justice. His proposal was adopted unanimously by the parliament in April and finally approved in the summer.
The Portuguese Inquisition, established in 1536, tortured tens of thousands of Jews, executed them and expelled Jewish children to Portugal's colonies. The Jews who remained in the country were forced to convert to Christianity, and most continued to maintain a secret Jewish lifestyle.
Many of the Jews fled to countries like Morocco, Turkey, Holland and Italy, and some of them were among the first Europeans to immigrate to New York.
15 generations laterThe Portuguese government has been working for several months now on procedures for implementing the law and setting criteria for approving applications.
Portuguese Ambassador to Israel Miguel de Almeida e Sousa, who is himself a Jew, told Yedioth Ahronoth on Saturday evening that "the law must now be translated into clear procedures, in order to allow people to submit applications which will each be examined properly. We are talking about some 15 generations back."
The Portuguese authorities have records left from the Inquisition with the names of the Jewish families which escaped or were expelled. Like in neighboring Spain, the Portuguese law will not oblige a person seeking a Portuguese nationality to reside in the country. The applicant will simply have to show a connection to Portugal and prove that he or she has no criminal record.
Lisbon's Jewish community also keeps records from those dark days. "Our rabbis knew best who was Jewish, although the problem is to determine if the families are originally from Spain or Portugal," said Jose Oulman Carp, the community's president.
Portugal's Chief Rabbi Eliezer Shai Di Martino welcomed the initiative and expressed his hope that the move would increase the small Jewish community, which currently includes only 1,000 people.