Why are There No Conversions to Judaism in Latin America? A Mystery Explained.

If you live in Latin America and have started to look into converting into Judaism, you may have discovered that there is no Beth Din (Rabbinical Court) in the entire Latin America which performs conversions to Judaism.

The truth is, that I was also surprised (actually shocked) when I learned about this. An entire continent with hundreds of thousands of Jews, and not one Beth Din which will accept conversions to Judaism! I could not understand what was going on?

Intermarriage in Judaism

The answer to this is very surprising:

According to halacha (Judaic Law), it is forbidden for a Jew or Jewess to marry a non-Jew. Jews may only marry Jews. Judaism considers intermarriage a grave sin. Not only that, but if a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman, the children of this union are not Jewish. (If a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man, despite this being a sin, the children are still Jewish.)

There have been sad and unfortunate periods in Jewish history where Jews have come to disregard this awful sin and intermarry with non-Jews. One famous example is described in the book of Ezra. A less known episode was in the early 20th century in Argentina. In 1912, the venerated Syrian Rabbi Shaul David Sitteon-Dabbah arrived in the city of Beunos Aires to visit his sons who were living in the city. The 61 year old rabbi who was an eminent scholar was immediately invited to become the Rabbi of the city. He accepted this offer and remained in this post for the next 18 years until his passing in 1930.

As rabbi of the city, he soon became aware that many Jewish men were sinfully marrying non-Jewish women. At first, he tried to solve this issue by attempting to convert the non-Jewish wives and children of these men. This would allow the couples to continue with their marriage and also avoid the grave sin of intermarriage.

In 1915, Rabbi Sitteon-Dabbah asked Rabbi Aaron Goldman, who was then the rabbi of the Jewish Moisés Ville colony, to convert a 27 year old Muslim man to Judaism. Rabbi Goldman flatly refused. In a short letter to Rabbi Sittehon Dabbah, he explained that with the religious climate in Argentina in the state it was, there was no chance whatsoever that the convert would meticulously keep the laws of the Torah. The conversion would therefore be a hollow ceremony without any serious content.

In addition, Rabbi Goldman was especially against converting non-Jewish wives of Jewish men. He reasoned that by converting the non-Jewish wives, the original sin of intermarriage woule be facilitated. Jewish men would marry non-Jewish women and then convert them after marriage.

Additionally, many of the women were not seriously committed to Judaism. They were going through the motions of conversion just to calm their husbands’ conscience. They had no (or little) intention of practicing Judaism after their conversion.

The Ban

The dispute between Rabbis Goldman and Sitteon-Dabbah lasted for 12 years until the year 1927. In that year, Rabbi Sitteon-Dabbah finally agreed to Rabbi Goldman’s position and together they both enacted a ban on all conversions in Argentina.

Rabbi Sitteon-Dabbah described the circumstances surrounding the ban in an emotional letter in Dibber Shaul, his book of responsa which he published soon after the ban was enacted:

“This city is extremely lax in its religious observance – every man does as he likes. They is no rabbi whom they respect or fear whether this rabbi was appointed by the government or the Jewish community.

“Any man who desires a non-Jewish woman brings her to his house without first converting her or after performing a conversion ceremony before three people taken off the street. The children born to them through such unions are not Jewish. They brazenly claim to have converted them to Judaism but will never offer any details as to the court that performed the conversion.

“Being that this is so, I published notices declaring that no conversions may be performed in Argentina for all eternity.

“If there is anyone who sincerely wishes to convert, he should travel to [the Rabbinical Court in] Jerusalem for conversion.”

Free Translation

Rabbi Sitteon-Dabbah passed away a few years later in 1930. His family today are prominent members of the Argentianian Jewish community.

Rabbi Sitteon-Dabbah’s unique and unprecedented ban received the approbations of the Rabbinical authorities in Jerusalem: Rabbi Yaakov Meir and Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook. The ban was reaffirmed multiple times throughout the century since its original publication (in 1938, 1957, 1975, 1978 and 1998).

The original ban was only on conversions in Argentina, but eventually it seems to have spread throughout all of Latin America.

The ban on conversions to Judaism in Brazil signed by the local Rabbis as well as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Chief Rabbi of Israel.

An interesting and unknown detail about the ban, is that although the rabbinate in Latin America will not perform conversions, they will teach the conversion candidate what he or she needs to know for conversion to Judaism. Once the candidate is ready for conversion, the local Beth Din (rabbinical court) will give a recommendation to the Beth Din in Jerusalem to perform the conversion. The candidate can then travel to Jerusalem and perform the conversion there. If the candidate cannot afford to travel to Jerusalem, the local community will cover his or her travel expenses.

Beth Dins in Latin America

As explained above, although the Rabbinate in Latin America does not performs conversions. They will help a conversion candidate prepare for conversion and then recommend the candidate to the Israeli Rabbinate for conversion. The following is a list of Rabbinical Courts in Latin America who are recognised by the Israeli Rabbinate. These courts are accredited by the Israeli Rabbinate for purposes other than conversions.

Argentina – Buenos Aires. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Feiglstock’s Beth Din. Rabbis Yosef Yitzchok Feiglstock Yitzchok Perman and Naftali Bornstein. 2 Piso. Cap Aguero 1164 Buenos Aires. Phone: 00-541149619613 Email: yoseff@yoseff.com. Website: yoseff.com

Argentina – Buenos Aires. Chief Rabbinate of Argentina – Beth Din Tzedek of Beunos Aires and Province. Rabbi Gavriel Davidovitz. Pasteur 6338 Piso COD. POS. 1056 C.A.B.A Buenos Aires.

Brazil – Rio De Janeiro. Rabbi Eliezer Stauber. Rua Capelao Alvares Da Silva 15 CAP 22041 090 Rio De Janeiro. Land: 00-552122356247 Cell: 00-55219996 Fax: 00-552122363922 Email: eliezerstauber@yahoo.com.br.

Brazil – Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo Beth Din. Rabbi Baruch Eliyahu Valt. Rua Oscar Freire 57 4 Ander CEP 01426 – 001 Sao Paulo. Land: 00-551133315642 Cell: 00-551199744318 Fax: 00-55113335642 Email: ravvalt@hotmail.com

Brazil – Sao Paulo. Anash Rabbinical Committee. Rabbis Shmuel Hevlin, Shamai Ende and Doniel Ashkenazi. Rua Melo Alves 580 Sao Paulo. Land: 00-551130813081 Cell: 00-551181815780 Fax: 00-551130609778 Email: mguertzenstein@gmail.com

Chile – Santiago. Chafetz Chaim Jewish Community. Rabbi Yitzchak Shaked. Avenida Quinchamali 14.159 Las Condes, Santiago, Chili. Email: jajezjaim@manquehue.net

Mexico City – Mexico. Mount Sinai Community. Rabbis Avrohom Tobal, Daniel Malach and Dovid Shvat. Fuente De Le Huerta 22 Lomas De Tecamachalco Huixquilucan, Estado De Mexico 52780. Phone: 00-525555967521 Fax: 00-5255551967551 Email: atobal@prodigy.net.mx Website: https://msinai.mx/

Mexico City – Mexico. Maguen David Community. Rabbis Salomon Tawil, Daniel Malach Avraham Palti and Dovid Shvat. Maguen David A.C. Carlos Elhanove 224 Col. Visita Mermosa C.P. 05460. Land: 00525552804727 00-52555287456. Cell: 00-525551092349. Fax: 00-5255551967551 Email: salomontawil@prodigy.net.mx Website: www.maguendavid.com.

Panama – Panama City. Beth Din of Panama. Rabbis David Peretz and David Mashen. 44 Bella Vista Street Panama City. Telephone: 00-5622171402 Fax: 00-5622171402 Email: kbendayan@shevetahim.com Website: https://shevetahim.com/

Venezuela – Caracas. The Sephardic Rabbinate of Venezuela. Rabbis Yitzchak Cohen and Avi Amsalem. Avenida Principla De Mariperez Al Parque P.O.B. 3861 Caracas 1010. Land: 00-582125777141 Cell: 00584126266212 Fax: 00-582125747979 Email: secrabinico@aiv.org.ve Webiste: aiv.org.ve

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