Judaism in Colombia

Since this week has had a religious theme, and yesterday marked the beginning of Passover, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the history of Jews in Colombia.

The first Jews arrived in Colombia around the 1500's. Most were considered Marranos, a derogatory word used by the Spanish in reference to Jews that had "converted" to Catholicism. Despite their Christian baptism, the suspicion was that they were secretly still practicing Judaism. In 1636, during the Inquisition of Cartagena, don Blas de Paz Pinto, the leader of a small group of marranos was tortured and killed and soon thereafter, the small Jewish community disappeared completely.

The next wave of Jews came in the 1800's from Jamaica and Curacao. They practiced Judaism even though it was not legal to do so at the time.

In 1853, the Colombian Legislature passed laws that made it possible to practice religions other than Catholicism. In 1886, new Constitutional reforms brought some limitations on the Catholic Church’s power over the country. However, it wasn’t until the New Constitution of 1991, that the Catholic Church was fully separated from the government, and Colombia no longer had an official religion. This allowed other religious groups to apply for full legal recognition by the Government.

The following information is from an article by Sarah Szymkowicz at the Jewish Virtual Library:

Most Jews in Colombia are not observant and generally not active in religious Jewish life. Emphasis is on social gatherings and only a handful of Jews keep kosher.

Despite the low-level of ritual observance, however, many Colombians send their children to day school and the intermarriage rate is only around 10 percent.

The Jews in Colombia are concentrated in a few professions. Most Jewish immigrants started out and are still involved in commerce and business. Jews have played a large role in developing new industries in Colombia since World War II. Some Jews tried farming when they first came to Latin America, but failed in their efforts.

Most of the Jews in Colombia are concentrated in Bogota. There are small communities in Cali, Barranquilla and Medellin. The size of the Ashkenazi and Sephardi population is about the same. There are nine synagogues throughout the country. In Bogota the Ashkenazi, Sephardi and German Jews each run their own religious and cultural institutions. One organization, Confederacion de Asociaciones located in Bogota is the central organization that unites all Jews and Jewish institutions in Colombia.

Due to the unstable economy and violence against Jews, many Jews have left Colombia. In the mid-1990s the population was 5,650 and, in the early twenty-first century, the Jewish population has decreased to 4,200. Most of the Jews that have left have gone to settle in Miami and other parts of the United States.


Anonymous said…
I thank you so much for your blog- I am an adoptee form Colombia- my name is Marcos Bernal- I have heard that the name Bernal is a disiguished one- and looking into it - have found out that the name Bernal is of Sephardic origins... I have always had a LOVE for my Hebrew roots of my faith- I grew up Catholic- but always wanted to celebrate the Passover and the festivals that Jesus Himself participated in- I would love to go back to Colombia and begin a Messianic Jewish Outreach and rebirth of the Hebrew Culture there....I also commented on an adopted orphan i thignk you posted on- theres facebook groups which im a part of that have adoptee communities on as well....hope you have a great holiday season...

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