Sephardic Culture

A Glossary of Sephardic Music and Culture

  • 2000px-Expulsion_judios-en.svgSefarad:
    the Hebrew term for the Iberian Peninsula, Spain.
  • Sephardim (Sephardic Jews):
    Those Jews whose roots can be traced to the Iberian Peninsula where Jews first appeared in the early years following the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and exit from the Holy Land.There are references to a Jewish presence in Iberia from the time of Solomon, when Jewish adventurers sailed the Mediterranean Sea. The first notated date is 79 AD. Jews in Iberia lived in relatively good times under Moslem and during the 10th and 11th centuries when Islamic power was at its zenith, Spanish Jews flourished. Jewish physicians, advisors, diplomats and financiers were important participants in the Islamic Courts in Spain. They were classed as politically neutral and used as arbitrators in all disputes between Muslims and Christians.The end of open and free expression of Sephardic Judaism on the Iberian Peninsula began with the demise of Moorish Power. In 1391 anti-Jewish riots are recorded in Castille and the first forced conversions occurred. The institution of the Inquisition commenced in Spain (1478). Andalusia expelled its Jews in 1483. The total defeat of the Muslims at Granada in 1491 opened the gates to Catholic supremacy, which culminated with the Edict of Expulsion of 1492. This was followed by the forced conversion of Jews in Portugal in 1497. 15 Centuries of Jewish Culture in this area came to an abrupt and tragic end as 209,000 Jews became conversos, while 100,000 fled.
  • 1492Edict of Expulsion:
    The decree issued on March 31 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (instigated by the high priest, Torquemada) ordered all “Jews and Jewesses out of our kingdoms, and that they never return nor come back to any of them.” Jews were given four months (until the 9th of Av in the Jewish calendar, the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples) “… that they leave the said kingdoms and seignories .. and that they not return unto them, nor be in them … in any manner whatsoever, upon punishment of death and confiscation of all their belongings for our treasury … without trial, sentence or declaration.” Wifh this edict, those who were allowed to flee took only their culture, language and nostalgia for a beloved motherland.
  • Ladino (Spaniol, Judezmo, Judea-Espanol):
    The language spoken by the Sephardim and taken into exile. Its foundation is a combination of 15th century’Spanish and Hebrew written in Hebrew cartography.
  • 1391 Explusion Begins in SevilleConversos:
    Converted Ones. Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism prior to or at the time of the Expulsion, before that, it referred to those who converted to Islam.
  • Marranos:
    Translated from Spanish, it means “swine”. This term was used by both unconverted Jews and devoted Catholics alike. Used by Jews, it showed contempt towards those who converted, used by Catholics, it showed contempt for those newly converted Jews who were know to be, or suspected to be secretly practicing Judaism.
  • Crypto-Jews:
    Jews who outwardly professed another religious affiliation while secretly continuing to practice Judaism in hopes that conditions would revert.
  • spain1997-CaceresSephardicJews-mediumAnusim:
    Translated from Hebrew, it means “forced ones”. Most often used to refer to those who were forced to convert. The term reminds Jews that Rabbinic Law recognizes the rightful place of Anusim within Judaism because no conversion to a different faith that does not come from the heart and voluntarily can be accepted as a true conversion.


  • Chamsa (Hamsa):
    A hand-shaped Moorish talisman, common in Sephardic homes and jewelry, representing the hand of God. The hand is usually stylized in observance of the prohibition against depiction of the deity.
  • Sephardic Music:
    Traditional songs encompass ballads, romances and wedding songs that were passed on orally and sung originally in various Iberian languages (Castilian, Catalan, Galician, etc.), as well as Hebrew. The Sephardim settled primarily in Morocco, Greece, and Turkey, but also relocated to other parts of the Balkans and the Levant (Egypt, Syria and Lebanon), adopting the melodies, rhythms, and languages found in their new countries. In the last several centuries, popular Ladino poetry and songs have been preserved mainly by Jewish women.
    Information courtesy of The Richmond Folk Music Society.

For more information on The Sephardic Tradition visit Trio Sefardi’s resources pages.