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Open Access Articles- Top Results for History of the Jews in Brazil

History of the Jews in Brazil

Brazilian Jews
Judeus Brasileiros  · יְהוּדִי ברזילאי
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Total population
107,329[1] - 120,000[2] Jewish Brazilians
Regions with significant populations

Brazil:

Mainly in the cities of São Paulo and Rio
Languages
Brazilian Portuguese
Religion
Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Brazilian people, Jews

The history of the Jews in Brazil is a rather long and complex one, as it stretches from the very beginning of the European settlement in the new continent. Jews started settling in Brazil ever since the Inquisition reached Portugal in the 16th century. They arrived in Brazil during the period of Dutch rule, setting up in Recife the first synagogue in the Americas as early as 1636. Most of those Jews were Sephardic Jews who had fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal to the religious freedom of the Netherlands. Adam Smith attributed much of the development of Brazil's sugar industry and cultivation to the arrival of Portuguese Jews who were forced out of Portugal during the inquisition.[3] (See History of Pernambuco#Jews in Pernambuco).

After the first Brazilian constitution in 1824 that granted freedom of religion, Jews began to arrive gradually in Brazil. Many Moroccan Jews arrived in the 19th century, principally because of the rubber boom. Waves of Jewish immigration occurred first by Russian and Polish Jews escaping pogroms and the Russian Revolution, and then during the 1930s during the rise of Nazis in Europe. In the late 1950s, another wave of immigration brought thousands of North African Jews. Nowadays, the Jewish communities thrive in Brazil and there are several Jewish and Zionist groups, clubs, schools, etc. Some minor antisemitic events and acts occurred mainly during the 2006 Lebanon War such as vandalism of Jewish cemeteries.

Brazil has the 9th largest Jewish community in the world, about 107,329 by 2010, according to the IBGE Census.[4] The Jewish Confederation of Brazil (CONIB) estimates that there are more than 120,000 Jews in Brazil,[2] with the lower figure representing active practitioners.

First Jewish arrivals

File:Sinagoga-kahal-zur-israel-recife.jpg
The oldest synagogue in the Americas, Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, located in Recife.

The Portuguese Jews, persecuted by the inquisition, stript of their fortunes, and banished to Brazil, introduced, by their example, some sort of order and industry among the transported felons and strumpets by whom that colony was originally peopled, and taught them the culture of the sugar-cane. Upon all these different occasions, it was not the wisdom and policy, but the disorder and injustice of the European governments, which peopled and cultivated America.

- Adam Smith (1776), Wealth of Nations[3]

There have been Jews in what is now Brazil since the first Portuguese arrived in the country in 1500, notably Mestre João and Gaspar da Gama who arrived in the first ships. A number of Sephardic Jews immigrated to Brazil during its early settlements. They were known as "New Christians" (Conversos or Maranos, Jews obliged to convert to Roman Catholicism by the Portuguese crown). They were eventually absorbed in the Catholic population, though some traditions in Brazil, especially in the north-eastern region of the country, seem to be of Jewish customs "twisted" into superstition.

It is estimated that at least 17 million Brazilians have Sephardic Jewish ancestry, most of whom are to be found to the northeast of the country. DNA testing has revealed that some Portuguese males have Sephardic ancestry; thus many Brazilians, most of whom have a degree of Portuguese ancestry, are also of Jewish ancestry, although most would not say so.

Most sources state that the first synagogue of Belém, Sha'ar haShamaim ("Gate of Heaven"), was founded in 1824. There are, however, controversies; Samuel Benchimol, author of Eretz Amazônia: Os Judeus na Amazônia, affirms that the first synagogue in Belém was Eshel Avraham ("Abraham's Tamarisk") and that it was established in 1823 or 1824, while Sha'ar haShamaim was founded in 1826 or 1828.

The Jewish population in the capital of Grão-Pará had by 1842 an established necropolis.[5]

Agricultural settlements

Because of unfavorable conditions in Europe, European Jews began debating in the 1890s about establishing agricultural settlements in Brazil. At first, the plan did not work because of Brazilian political quarrels.[6]

In 1904, the Jewish agricultural colonization, supported by the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) began in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in Brazil. The main intention of the JCA in creating those colonies was to resettle Russian Jews during the mass immigration from the hostile Russian empire. The first colonies were Philippson (1904) and Quatro Irmãos (1912).[7] All these colonization attempts, however, failed because of, "Inexperience, insufficient funds and poor planning" and also because of, "Administrative problems, lack of agricultural facilities and the lure of city jobs."

In 1920, the JCA began selling some of the land to non-Jewish settlers.[6] Despite the failure, "The colonies aided Brazil and helped change the stereotypical image of the non-productive Jew, capable of working only in commerce and finance. The main benefit from these agricultural experiments was the removal of restrictions in Brazil on Jewish immigration from Europe during the 20th century."[7]

Other 20th century developments

By the First World War, about 7,000 Jews were inhabiting Brazil. In 1910 in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul, a Jewish school was opened and a Yiddish newspaper, Di Menshhayt ("Humanity") was established in 1915. One year later, the Jewish community of Rio de Janeiro formed an aid committee for World War I victims.[6]

Congregação Israelita Paulista, the largest synagogue in Brazil, was founded in by Dr Fritz Pinkus, who was born in Egeln, Germany.[8]

Associação Religiosa Israelita, now a member of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, was founded by Dr Heinrich Lemle, who emigrated from Frankfurt to Rio de Janeiro in 1941.[8]

Attitude toward antisemitism

Brazil strictly condemns antisemitism, and such act is an explicit violation of the law. According to Brazilian penal code it is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell literature that promotes antisemitism or racism.[9] The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of racism or religious intolerance and enables courts to fine or imprison for two to five years anyone who displays, distributes, or broadcasts Antisemitic or racist material.[10]

Also in 1989, the Brazilian Senate passed a law prohibiting the manufacture, trade and distribution of swastikas for the purpose of disseminating Nazism. Anyone who breaks that law is liable to serve a prison term from between two and five years.[11] (Law no. 7716 of 5 January 1989)

According to a U.S. Department of State report, Antisemitism in Brazil remains rare.[10]

The results of a global survey on anti-Semitic sentiments, released by the Anti-Defamation League, ranks Brazil among the least anti-Semitic countries in world. According to this global survey conducted between July 2013 and February 2014, Brazil has the lowest “Anti-Semitic Index” (16%) in Latin America and the third lowest in all Americas, only behind Canada (14%) and the United States (9%).[12] [13]

Present-day Jewish community

Brazil has the 9th largest Jewish community in the world, about 107,329 according to the IBGE 2010 Census.[4] The Jewish Confederation of Brazil (CONIB) estimates that there are more than 120,000 Jews in Brazil,[2] with the lower figure representing active practitioners. The current Jewish community is mostly composed of Ashkenazi Jews of Polish and German descent and also Sephardic Jews of Spanish, Portuguese, and North African descent; among the North African Jews, a significant number are of Egyptian descent.

Brazilian Jews play an active role in politics, sports, academia, trade and industry, and are overall well integrated in all spheres of Brazilian life. The majority of Brazilian Jews live in the State of São Paulo but there are also sizeable communities in the States of Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, and Paraná.

Jews lead an open religious life in Brazil and there are rarely any reported cases of anti-semitism in the country. In the main urban centers there are schools, associations and synagogues where Brazilian Jews can practice and pass on Jewish culture and traditions. Some Jewish scholars say that the only threat facing Judaism in Brazil is the relatively high frequency of intermarriage, which in 2002 was estimated at 60%. Intermarriage is especially high among the country's Jews and Arabs.[14][15]

There has been a steady stream of aliyah since the foundation of Israel in 1948. Between 1948 and 2010, 11,586 Brazilian Jews emigrated to Israel.

Size of Jewish communities in Brazil