19. Recovering Jewish Identity in Contemporary Portugal

Paulo Mendes Pinto

Portugal’s relation to its Jewish heritage is complex and marked by fears and distrust due to centuries of inquisition and another half century of national Catholic dictatorship during the twentieth century. It was not before the end of the twentieth century that Jewish Studies gained relevance, contributing to the discovery of the Jewish past both of the individuals interested in their Jewish ancestors and of the national collective identity. The generation of scientific knowledge and a widespread appreciation of the Jewish heritage by state institutions and official discourses have resulted in an implosion of congresses, courses, exhibitions and publications on the Portuguese Jewish past in the second decade of the new millennium. The recent Nationality Law, which grants nationality to the descendants of Portuguese-born Jews is an important milestone of this process. The article explores the process of recovering the Sephardic past as a lieu de mémoire of Portuguese cultural identity, zooming into the initiatives, institutions, contents and reasons that motivate such rediscovery. It discusses the singularity of this memory boom in a country with a small Jewish population and examines how state institutions interact with the Jewish communities in Portugal which are composed, to a large extent, of Ashkenazi Jews.