Jewish Tours

Buenos Aires, Argentina


ARGENTINA, South American Federal Republic, general population (2004) 39,150,000; Jewish population 190,000.

Immigration and Organization

The official attitude of Argentinean authorities toward Jewish immigration was based solely on the pertinent clauses of the national constitution. Thus, the committee responsible for immigration overruled the immigration officer's opposition to the admission of the Jews who had arrived on the Weser. It was argued even then, however, that immigration restrictions should be imposed to ensure the cultural homogeneity of Argentina, a view that was supported by the director of the Immigration Department. Public opinion and the authorities expected the immigrants to assimilate, and this feeling prompted a federal inquiry in 1908 into the cultural orientation of the schools in the Jewish colonies of the Entre Ríos province. Some Jewish schools in Buenos Aires were closed for a short period in January 1910 because it was believed that they were remiss in encouraging cultural integration and that the children did not attend public schools, and because of the poor condition of the school buildings. Nevertheless, the Jews in Argentina were living in an ethnically and culturally heterogeneous society, as demonstrated by the fact that in 1914 the country contained 2,358,000 immigrants in a total population of 7,885,000. More than one-third of the total population was foreign-born, while in the city of Buenos Aires the percentage was around 50%. The result of the immigration policy was reflected in the census of 1914, which showed that in 20 years the country's population had almost doubled (from approximately 3.9 million to about 7.9 million). As for the Jews, the rate of growth was several times higher, from 6,000 in 1895 to 125,000 in 1919. The agricultural colonies, where Jews formed an almost exclusively Jewish society, were an exception in this heterogeneous society, because of the high percentage of Jewish immigrants who settled there.

Despite the small size of their community, their feeling of transience (expressed by a certain degree of emigration back to Europe), and their poverty, by 1914 Argentinean Jewry had founded many organizations to fulfill religious and material needs and dispel a sense of cultural alienation in a strange land. Ashkenazim and Sephardim acted separately, according to the organizational and ideological experience they had brought with them. The Sephardim established small individual groups, organized on the basis of their geographical origin and designed to fulfill limited religious, welfare, and educational needs. These small institutions were gradually organized within four communal frameworks, each with its own cemetery: the Jews from Morocco founded the Congregación Israelita Latina in 1891; the Jews from Damascus founded their Bene Emet (Hijos de la Verdad) burial society in 1913, and two main synagogues, Agudat Dodim (1919) and Or Tora; the Jews from Aleppo founded their main religious organization, Yesod Hadat, in 1912 and their burial society, Chesed Shel Emet Sefaradit, acquired a cemetery in 1920; the Jews from Turkey, Rhodes, and the Balkan countries founded several small communities that were gradually consolidated around the Asociación Comunidad Israelita Sefaradí (ACIS), which was founded in 1914 by Jews from Smyrna. ACIS became the main communal framework for all the Sephardim of Ladino-speaking origin, when it acquired its cemetery in 1929.

The Ashkenazim, on the other hand, founded a network of religious, social, educational, cultural, and political organizations. The most prominent Ashkenazi religious and assistance organizations were the Burial Society (Chevra Keduscha Aschkenazi) founded in 1894, Bikkur Ḥolim (1896), and Ezrah (1900) – which provided medical aid, orphanages, homes for the aged, etc. The dominant political organizations were the various Zionist groups, founded as early as 1897 in the agricultural colonies and in Buenos Aires, which eventually imparted a strong Zionist orientation to the entire Jewish population of Argentina. Counteracting the Zionist organizations, including the *Po'alei Zion Party formed in 1909, were Bundist, anarchist, and communist groups. The Bund members tried to establish linguistically autonomous (Yiddish) sections within some of the general trade unions. The communists succeeded later in establishing a Jewish section (Yiddish-speaking) in the Communist Party. All organizations had varied cultural programs, which, except among the religious Zionists, emphasized a secular nationalist or cultural orientation toward Judaism. These activities included establishing libraries, schools, encouraging the development of a native literature, and experiments in theatrical production.

The immigrant colonists were accompanied by their shoḥatim and rabbis; the first of them was Rabbi Aaron Goldman of Moisesville. Religious life in the colonies at first followed traditional patterns, as exemplified by the foundation of a short-lived yeshivah in Colonia Belez (1907–08). However, isolation and lack of Jewish education combined with other factors to cause a decline in religious life. In Buenos Aires, where the Congregación Israelita de la República Argentina already existed, additional minyanim were organized: Po'alei Ẓedek, which established the first talmud torah; Maḥazikei Emunah, which brought the first official shoḥet to Buenos Aires in 1892 and built the first mikveh in 1893; and the Congregación Latina of the Jews of Morocco. Until 1897 Jews were buried in the Protestant cemetery; later, tombs had to be leased in a Catholic cemetery. It was only in 1910 that the Jews were able to overcome economic and legal difficulties and acquire their own cemetery. Although the white-slave traders already had a cemetery before 1910, none of the respectable Jews agreed to be buried in it.

The polarization of class and political opinion, the wide social and cultural gap between immigrants from Eastern and Western Europe, and personal ambition prevented the establishment of centralized organizations in Argentina during this period. The first attempt was made in 1909 with the establishment of the Federación Israelita Argentina, but this organization did not last after 1910. In 1915, when news of the fate of the Jews in war-stricken areas of Russia and in Palestine began to arrive, the Central Committee for the Jewish Victims of the War was established as the fundraising organ of the Argentinean Jewish community. In February 1916 the Congress of Argentinean Jewry was convened through the initiative of the Zionists and with the participation of all Jewish organizations, except those of the extreme left wing. The Congress declared the prime postwar demands of the Jewish nation to be equal rights for the Jews of the Diaspora and Jewish independence in Ereẓ Israel, and resolved to ask the Argentinean government to support these demands. When the *Jewish Legion was formed in 1917, several dozen young Jews volunteered and the enterprise was widely publicized by the Zionists.

Antisemitism was rare throughout this period. Nevertheless, when a Jewish anarchist, Simon Radowitzky, assassinated the chief of police, Ramón Falcón (Nov. 14, 1909), there were some repercussions against the Jewish population as such. Murders of Jewish settlers in the agricultural colonies resembled incidents between gauchos and settlers of other origins.


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