History of the Jews in Brazil
|107 329 Jewish Brazilians|
|Regions with significant populations|
|São Paulo and Rio|
|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. (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 during the rise of Nazis in Europe. In 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. The number of Jews in Brazil, according to the 2010 Brazilian census, was of 107 329.
First Jewish arrivals
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.
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.
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). 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. 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."
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.
In 1936, Dr Fritz Pinkus, born in Egeln, arrived in São Paulo and established, under his direction as rabbi, the Congregação Israelita Paulista, which now serves 2000 families and is the largest synagogue in Brazil.
In 1941, Dr Heinrich Lemle from Frankfurt came to Rio de Janeiro to found a synagogue for the German refugees. He established the Associação Religiosa Israelita, which now serves 1000 families and is a member of the World Union of Progressive Synagogues.
Present-day Jewish community
There are about 107 329 Jews in Brazil today. 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. Felipe Kitadai was a bronze medalist for Brazil at the 2012 Olympics in judo.
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.
Size of Jewish communities in Brazil
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- São Paulo, São Paulo: 51,050
- Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro: 25,000-30,000
- Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul: 15,000
- Curitiba, Paraná: 1,774
- Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais: 1,714
- Recife, Pernambuco: 1,173
- Belém, Pará: 900
- Piracicaba, São Paulo: 700
- Salvador, Bahia: 697
- Manaus, Amazonas: 627
- Brasília, Distrito Federal: 624
- Niterói, Rio de Janeiro: 600
- Florianópolis, Santa Catarina: 420
- Santos, São Paulo: 413
- Campinas, São Paulo: 364
- Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul: 330
- Santo André, São Paulo: 311
- Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro: 295
- Osasco, São Paulo: 261
- São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo: 251
- Barueri, São Paulo: 245
- Erechim, Rio Grande do Sul: 240
- Vitória, Espírito Santo: 202
- Goiânia, Goiás: 198
- Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro: 180
- Gurupi, Tocantins: 173
- Santana de Parnaíba, São Paulo: 168
- Cotia, São Paulo: 167
- São Carlos, São Paulo: 150
- Uberaba, Minas Gerais: 143
- Jaboatão dos Guararapes, Pernambuco: 137
- Nilópolis, Rio de Janeiro: 133
- Nova Iguaçu, Rio de Janeiro: 124
- Fortaleza, Ceará: 100-120
- Teresópolis, Rio de Janeiro: 119
- São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro: 116
- Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul: 113
- Jandira, São Paulo: 113
- Taboão da Serra, São Paulo: 100
- Rolândia, Paraná: 99
- Aracaju, Sergipe: 96
- Embu-Guaçu, São Paulo: 96
- Natal, Rio Grande do Norte: 91
- Jacareí, São Paulo: 90
- Vitória da Conquista, Bahia: 88
- São Caetano do Sul, São Paulo: 80
- Atibaia, São Paulo: 78
- Franca, São Paulo: 77
- Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro: 75
- Nossa Senhora do Socorro, Sergipe: 75
- Guarulhos, São Paulo: 74
- Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo: ~70
- Ilhéus, Bahia: 69
- Joinville, Santa Catarina: 68
- Magé, Rio de Janeiro: 67
- Americana, São Paulo: 63
- Blumenau, Santa Catarina: 63
- Londrina, Paraná: 64
- Mairiporã, São Paulo: 64
- Itapira, São Paulo: 63
- Limeira, São Paulo: 63
- Guarujá, São Paulo: 62
- São Sebastião, São Paulo: 60
- Rio das Ostras, Rio de Janeiro: 59
- Volta Redonda, Rio de Janeiro: 59
- Francisco Morato, São Paulo: 58
- São Vicente, São Paulo: 58
- São José dos Campos, São Paulo: 56
- Ourinhos, São Paulo: 55
- Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul: 55
- Campina Grande, Paraíba: 54
- Resende, Rio de Janeiro: 54
- Rio Grande, Rio Grande do Sul: 54
- Xaxim, Santa Catarina: 54
- Redenção do Gurguéia, Piauí: 49
- Itajubá, Minas Gerais: 48
- Barra do Bugres, Mato Grosso: 47
- São Joaquim da Barra, São Paulo: 47
- Silvânia, Goiás: 46
- Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná: 45
- Macapá, Amapá: 45
- Araçatuba, São Paulo: 44
- Gravataí, Rio Grande do Sul: 44
- Maracaí, São Paulo: 43
- Passo Fundo, Rio Grande do Sul: 43
- Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul: 42
- Eldorado do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul: 41
- Luziânia, Goiás: 41
- Rolim de Moura, Rondônia: 41
- Iporã, Paraná: 40
- Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais: 40
- São Luís, Maranhão: 40
- Paulista, Pernambuco: ~35
Other smaller Jewish communities include:
In the state of Pernambuco: Arcoverde, Camaragibe and Olinda. In the state of Rio de Janeiro: Barra do Piraí, Campos de Goytacazes, Macaé and São João de Meriti. In the state of São Paulo: Araçoiaba da Serra, Araraquara, Boituva, Guaratinguetá, Itu, Mauá, Praia Grande, São José do Rio Preto, Taubaté, Ubatuba, Valinhos and Vinhedo.
- Dutch Empire
- Dutch Brazil
- List of Brazilian Jews
- List of Latin American Jews
- History of the Jews in Latin America
- Brazil–Israel relations
- History of Pernambuco#Jews in Pernambuco
- Smith, Adam (1776), Wealth of Naitons, Penn State Electronic Classics edition, republished 2005, p.476
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