Buenos Aires, Argentina
ARGENTINA, South American Federal Republic, general population (2004) 39,150,000; Jewish population 190,000.
The Jewish community of Argentina is still overwhelmingly secular. For many, synagogue attendance on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays was not a religious act but instead a mode of social and national identification with the Jewish people and its culture. Yet even while the large majority of Jews and their leaders lived secular lives, the central institutions of AMIA Ashkenazi community remained officially Orthodox.
One controversial religious issue with potentially profound implications for Argentine Jewry as a whole was conversion. With the high rate of intermarriage, some non-Jewish spouses were willing to convert to Judaism, be formally incorporated into the community, and raise their children as Jews. From 1928 conversions in the country were prohibited by an Orthodox edict, but not every rabbinical authority abided by the ban. Today there are still many Jews in Argentina, including people who are not themselves religiously observant, who maintain that non-Jews converted by local rabbis are not yet Jews and will be recognized as Jews only after conversion by rabbinic courts in Israel, the U.S., or Europe.
The Masorti movement, which identifies with Conservative Judaism and has at present more than 20 affiliated congregations in Argentina, performs its own conversions. The Reform movement, which also performs conversions, has a very limited presence in Argentina and very few followers. Most Jews of Argentina, whose Judaism was a matter of social and ethnic identity and who emphasized active participation in Jewish life and the upbringing of children as members of the Jewish people rather than halakhah, were satisfied with Conservative and Reform conversions.
According to some estimates, about half of all the Jews in Argentina who maintained relatively continuous contact with a synagogue identified with the Masorti movement. In 2004, Masorti rabbis graduating from the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires served in Argentina and other communities in Latin America (more than 40), in the U.S. (more than 15), and in Israel (10).
In recent decades, certain groups of young people from various sectors of the Jewish population, in particular those who belong to the community of Aleppan origin and to some extent those of Damascene origin, as well as small groups of Ashkenazim, had "returned" to religious Orthodox observance. They observed Jewish law strictly and studied rabbinical literature in religious academies (yeshivot and kolelim). But this trend has very little impact on the broader community and is limited to a minority.
More significant was the growth of the Chabad-Lubavitch ḥasidic group. Chabad's entry into the Argentine Jewish community began in the late 1960s, and in 2005 the movement had approximately 20 centers in the country, two-thirds of them in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. As a part of its worldwide strategy, also in Argentina Chabad established a public presence by celebrating holidays like Hanukkah, Sukkot, and Lag ba-Omer in public, non-Jewish spaces, and many Jews responded positively to such a demonstration of Jewish pride. Chabad's original appeal in Argentina was to the poorer Jews, a steadily growing group under the economic conditions of 2001–2, who appreciated the economic help this Orthodox movement furnished them. It also attracted a number of wealthy people to help support its activities. It was unclear, however, how many of those who identified with Chabad or received financial aid from it adopted the fully observant Chabad lifestyle, since the movement did not insist on strict conformity to halakhah on the part of those who found their way to them.
The Sephardi sector is characterized by the opposite trends of secularization and growing Orthodoxy. Secularization is more evident among the communities of Moroccans and Ladino speakers, whose ethnic identity has less of an appeal to the younger generation, which feels more at home among the Conservatives and joins the congregations of the Masorti. The two communities of Syrian origin – from Aleppo and Damascus – remain the stronghold of Orthodoxy among the Sephardim. During the last decades they strengthened their educational network, stressing the role of women in transmitting the Jewish tradition in the family. Many of their rabbis were born in Argentina and received their rabbinical education in yeshivot in Israel; they are influenced by the religious leadership of Rabbi Ovadiah *Yosef .
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