Sephardim (səfär´dəm), one of the two major geographic divisions of the Jewish people, consisting of those Jews whose forebears in the Middle Ages resided in the Iberian Peninsula, as distinguished from those who lived in Germanic lands, who came to be known as the Ashkenazim (see Ashkenaz). The name comes from the placename Sepharad (Obad. 20), which early biblical commentators identified with Iberia. With the migration of the Iberian Jews, particularly following their formal expulsion from Spain in 1492, Sephardic communities were established throughout Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, in some cases absorbing smaller local Jewish populations. Smaller groups of Sephardim also settled in Holland and elsewhere in Western Europe. In many areas, Sephardic Jews retained many aspects of Judeo-Spanish culture, including a language called Judezmo (or Ladino, Judeo-Spanish, or Spanioli), which retained many characteristics of medieval Castilian combined with Hebrew, Turkish, Arabic, and other elements. Literature in the language includes religious works (e.g., the Bible translations of the 14th and 15th cent.), as well as folktales, songs (romanceros), essays, and journalism.

Those Sephardim who were forced to convert to Christianity during the period lasting from the 1391 massacres in Spain to the 1497 forced baptisms in Portugal, and who secretly maintained a Jewish life, were given the pejorative title of Marrano [pig] by the Christian populace. As time passed, many made their way to more tolerant lands, where they openly returned to Judaism, ending their double lives. They or their descendants founded the Jewish communities of Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and New Amsterdam (New York City), among others. Many Sephardic communities were decimated in the Holocaust, and others were depleted by emigration to Israel and elsewhere.

See C. Roth, A History of the Marranos (1932, repr. 1966) and The Spanish Inquisition (1937, repr. 1964); D. De Sola Pool, An Old Faith in the New World (1955); I. J. Baer, The Jews in Christian Spain (2 vol., 1961); M. Lazar, ed., The Sephardic Tradition (1972); J. Prinz, The Secret Jews (1973); D. J. Elazar, The Other Jews: The Sephardim Today (1988); Y. Yovel, The Other Within: The Marranos: Split Identity and Emerging Modernity (2009).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire
Avigdor Levy.
Darwin Press, 1992
Sephardim in the Americas: Studies in Culture and History
Martin A. Cohen; Abraham J. Peck.
University of Alabama, 1993
La America: The Sephardic Experience in the United States
Marc D. Angel.
Jewish Publication Society, 1982
The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community
Marc D. Angel; Solomon Gaon.
Sepher-Hermon Press, 1980
The Sephardic Jews of Bordeaux: Assimilation and Emancipation in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France
Frances Malino.
University of Alabama Press, 1978
The Other Jews: The Sephardim Today
Daniel J. Elazar.
Basic Books, 1989
Sephardic Scansion and Phonological Theory
Hoberman, Robert D.; Ramer, Alexis Manaster.
The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 119, No. 2, April 1999
Still Life: Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and West African Art and Form in Suriname's Jewish Cemeteries
Ben-Ur, Aviva.
American Jewish History, Vol. 92, No. 1, March 2004
Passport to Jewish Music: Its History, Traditions, and Culture
Irene Heskes.
Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Three Important Collections of Sephardic Music"
Hidden Heritage: The Legacy of the Crypto-Jews
Janet Liebman Jacobs.
University of California Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Women and the Persistence of Culture: Ritual, Custom, and the Recovery of Sephardic Ancestry"
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