Where South America's Jews Live.


South America Report

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South America's Jews

The Jewish Diaspora Story

South American Jewish Communities

The history of the Jews in Latin America began with conversos who joined the Spanish and Portuguese expeditions to the continents. The Alhambra Decree of 1492 led to the mass conversion of Spain’s Jews to Catholicism and the expulsion of those who refused to do so. However, the vast majority of Conversos never made it to the New World and remained in Spain slowly assimilating to the dominant Catholic culture. This was due to the requirement by Spain’s Blood Statutes to provide written documentation of Old Christian lineage to travel to the New World. However, the first Jews came with the first expedition of Christopher Columbus, including Rodrigo de Triana and Luis De Torres.

However, throughout the 15th and 16th centuries a number of Converso families migrated to the Netherlands, France and eventually Italy, from where they joined other expeditions to the Americas. Others migrated to England or France and accompanied their colonists as traders and merchants. By the late 16th century, fully functioning Jewish communities were founded in the Portuguese colony of Brazil, the Dutch Suriname and Curaçao; Spanish Santo Domingo, and the English colonies of Jamaica and Barbados. In addition, there were unorganized communities of Jews in Spanish and Portuguese territories where the Inquisition was active, including Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Peru. Many in such communities were crypto-Jews, who had generally concealed their identity from the authorities.

By the mid-17th century, the largest Jewish communities in the Western Hemisphere were located in Suriname and Brazil. Several Jewish communities in the Caribbean, Central and South America flourished, particularly in those areas under Dutch and English control, which were more tolerant. More immigrants went to this region as part of the massive emigration of Jews from eastern Europe in the late 19th century. During and after World War II, many Ashkenazi Jews emigrated to South America for refuge. In the 21st century, fewer than 300,000 Jews live in Latin America. They are concentrated in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, with the first considered the center of the Jewish population in Latin America.