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Sephardi Jews, also known as Sephardic Jews or simply Sephardim (Hebrew: סְפָרַדִּי, Modern Hebrew: Sfaraddi, Tiberian: Səp̄āraddî, lit. "The Jews of Spain"), are a Jewish ethnic division whose ethnogenesis and emergence as a distinct community of Jews coalesced in the Iberian Peninsula around the start of the 2nd millennium (i.e., about the year 1000). They established communities throughout Spain and Portugal, where they traditionally resided, evolving what would become their distinctive characteristics and diasporic identity. Their millennial residence as an open and organised Jewish community in Iberia was brought to an end starting with the Alhambra Decree by Spain's Catholic Monarchs in the late 15th century, which resulted in a combination of internal and external migrations, mass conversions and executions.
Historically, the vernacular languages of Sephardim and their descendants have been:
- Judaeo-Spanish, sometimes called "Ladino Oriental" (Eastern Ladino), a Romance language derived from Old Spanish, incorporating elements from all the old Romance languages of the Iberian Peninsula, Hebrew and Aramaic. Spoken by Sephardim in the Eastern Mediterranean. Taken with them in the 15th century after the expulsion from Spain in 1492, this dialect was further influenced by Ottoman Turkish, Levantine Arabic, Greek, Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian vocabulary in the differing lands of their exile.
- Haketia, also called "Ladino Occidental" (Western Ladino), a Judaeo-Spanish variety also derived from Old Spanish, plus Hebrew and Aramaic. Spoken by North African Sephardim. Taken with them in the 15th century after the expulsion from Spain in 1492, this dialect was heavily influenced by Maghrebi Arabic.
- Early Modern Spanish and Early Modern Portuguese, including in a mixture of the two. Traditionally spoken or used liturgically by the ex-converso Western Sephardim. Taken with them during their later migration out of Iberia in the 16th to 18th centuries as conversos, after which they reverted to Judaism.
- Modern Spanish and Modern Portuguese varieties, traditionally spoken by the Sephardic Bnei Anusim of Iberia and Ibero-America, including some recent returnees to Judaism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries (Neo-Western Sephardim). In most cases these varieties have incorporated loanwords from the indigenous languages of the Americas introduced following the Spanish conquest.
More broadly, the term Sephardim has today also come to refer to traditionally Eastern Jewish communities of West Asia and beyond who, although not having genealogical roots in the Jewish communities of Iberia, have adopted a Sephardic style of liturgy and Sephardic law and customs imparted to them by the Iberian Jewish exiles over the course of the last few centuries. This article deals with Sephardim within the narrower ethnic definition.
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