Alfons Aragoneses (Barcelona): Sefarad within Spanish contemporary history. A legal perspective


After the expulsion in 1492 and the Inquisition, there were no Jewish communities in Spain until the end of the 19th Century. First the kings and later the constitutional state built a Spanish identity based on the defense of the Catholic religion “the only one which is true” according to the first Spanish Constitution of 1812.

However, at the end of the 19th Century, Spain was internationalizing its economy and allowed Jewish families to settle in Spain. At the same time, Spain was interested in influencing the Jewish families living in the Spanish protectorate of Morocco.

This is the context of the “Filosefardismo”. A group of intellectuals tried to approach the Jewish world by reconstructing (or inventing) links with the Sephardic Jews. These authors, belonging to the political and intellectual elite, created the image of an idealized Jew based on nationalistic and also anti-Semitic prejudices: the Sephardic Jews were wealthy, cosmopolitan and were nostalgic about Spain.

This “anti-Semitic Filosefardismo” was used opportunistically by the Spanish authorities. They approached the Sephardic Jews but avoided using the words “Jew” or “Jewish” and referred to the Sephardim as “Españoles sin patria”. Filosefardismo idealized the “Convivencia” of the three cultures but was compatible with anti-Semitism since it was based on prejudices about the Jews.

This “Filosefardismo” existed together with the anti-Semitism of the Francoists. Official documents in the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs prove that the Spanish State “de facto” denationalized the Spanish Jews living in Central and Eastern Europe. Only in 1944, when the end of the war was close, Franco maneuvered to get the favor of the USA by helping Jewish Refugees and asking Spanish Diplomats to save Jews. After the end of the war, Franco tried to convince the Western powers by presenting himself and his regime as a savior of Jews: once again the “Filosefardismo” was functional to the Spanish State.

“Filosefardismo” was developed by the elites at the end of 19th Century and at the beginning of the 20th Century. But if we read the preamble of the recent law granting Spanish citizenship to the Sephardic Jews (June 2015), we find that this particular reinvention of “Convivencia” is still present in Spanish culture.

Curriculum vitae

Dr. eur. Alfons Aragoneses (Madrid, 1973) ist Dozent an der Pompeu Fabra Universität in Barcelona. Er wurde 2006 an der Universität von Girona in Rechtswissenschaften promoviert. Von 2000 bis 2003 war er am Max Planck Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte tätig. Fünf Jahre lang koordinierte er eine Datenbank des katalanischen „Memorial Democràtic“ zu spanischen Staatsbürgern, die von den Nazis deportiert wurden. Zu seinen Publikationen im Bereich der Geschichte der Rechtsvergleichung zählt unter anderem „Un jurista del Modernismo. Raymond Saleilles y los orígenes del derecho comparado“ (2009).