History of the Jews in Brazil

Brazilian Jews
Judeus brasileiros
יְהוּדִי ברזילאי
Total population
107,329[1]–120,000[2] Jewish Brazilians
Regions with significant populations


Mainly in the cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre.
Brazilian Portuguese  · Hebrew. Other languages are also spoken such as Yiddish · Polish · Ladino, etc.
Related ethnic groups
Brazilian people, Sephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews and Ashkenazi 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. Although only baptized Christians were subject to the Inquisition, Jews started settling in Brazil when 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, the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, 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. In his The Wealth of Nations, 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.[3] (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, settling on the Amazon, where their mixed-race descendants continue to live. Waves of Jewish immigration occurred first by Russian and Polish Jews escaping pogroms and the Russian Revolution, and then during the 1930s during the rise of Nazis in Europe. In the late 1950s, another wave of immigration brought thousands of North African Jews. Nowadays,[when?] the Jewish communities thrive in Brazil.[citation needed] Some anti-Semitic events and acts have occurred, mainly during the 2006 Lebanon War such as vandalism of Jewish cemeteries.

Brazil has the ninth largest Jewish community in the world, about 107,329 by 2010, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) Census.[1] The Jewish Confederation of Brazil (CONIB) estimates that there are more than 120,000 Jews in Brazil.[2]

First Jewish arrivals

The oldest synagogue in the Americas, Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, located in Recife
The Portuguese Jews, persecuted by the inquisition, stript of their fortunes, and banished to Brazil, introduced, by their example, some sort of order and industry among the transported felons and strumpets by whom that colony was originally peopled, and taught them the culture of the sugar-cane. Upon all these different occasions, it was not the wisdom and policy, but the disorder and injustice of the European governments, which peopled and cultivated America.[3] —Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)

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 Marranos — Jews obliged to convert to Roman Catholicism by the Portuguese crown).

The Jews from Portugal avoided immigrating to Brazil, because they would also be persecuted by the Inquisition. Most of the Portuguese Marranos took refuge in Mediterranean countries such as in North Africa, Italy, Greece and the Middle East), and others emigrated to countries that tolerated Judaism, such as the Netherlands, England and Germany. Many Sephardic Jews from Holland and England worked with the maritime trade of the Dutch West India Company, especially with the sugar production in the northeast of Brazil.[4] The first Jews who arrived in North America were Sephardic Jews who after being expelled from Brazil by the Portuguese, settled in the American northeast.

In the final decades of the 18th century, some Marranos came to southeastern Brazil to work in the gold mines. Many were arrested, accused of Judaism. Brazilian families that descend from the Marranos are mainly concentrated in the states of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Pará and Bahia.[citation needed]

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.

The Jewish population in the capital of Grão-Pará had by 1842 an established necropolis.[5]