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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Brazil 03: Politics and Jewish immigration 1800-1970

Tolerance since 1822 - republic constitution since 1891 - assimilation and new immigration since 1824 - numbers

from: Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Brazil, vol. 4

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



<Modern Period.

[Religious tolerance in Brazil since 1822 - republic constitution since 1891]

Two years after Brazil declared its independence from Portugal in 1822 it adopted its first constitution. Roman Catholicism remained the state religion, but the constitution proclaimed tolerance of other religions, provided their adherents respected the state religion and public morals and conducted their religious life in private. Non-Catholic religious services were restricted to private dwellings or to buildings whose outward appearance would not disclose their purpose.

The new constitution adopted by Brazil in 1891, after the country became a republic, abolished all vestiges of religious discrimination, ensured the civil rights of all citizens, and provided for the introduction of civil marriage and the establishment of nonsectarian municipal cemeteries. The principles of freedom of conscience and religion and of equality before the law have been retained in all the constitutions subsequently adopted by Brazil - in 1934, 1937, 1946, and 1967.

[Assimilation since 1824 - Sephardi Jewish immigrants founding synagogues and communities - Jewish immigrants from eastern and western Europe]

By the time Brazil gained its independence, Brazilian Marranos, i.e., Jews who had originally come to the colony from Portugal, had been absorbed by the general population and were no longer identifiable. There were a handful of Jews of non-Portuguese origin distributed in various parts of the country, but they had little contact with one another, and consequently there was no organized Jewish life in the country.

The earliest manifestations of renewed Jewish life in Brazil are to be found in the northern states. The first synagogue, Porta do Céu ("Gate of Heaven"), was established in Belém, the capital of Pará, in 1824 by Sephardi Jews who had immigrated from Morocco at the beginning of the 19th century. Immigrants from Morocco formed small communities in other places in northern Brazil and in 1889 founded a second synagogue in Belém.

By World War I, Belém's Sephardi community of about 800 people had its own charitable organizations and social club. There were also small Sephardi communities in Amazonas, another northern state, founded by immigrants who had come toward the end of the 19th century.

In the southern part of the country, there were a few Jewish immigrants who had arrived from eastern Europe in the second half of the 19th century.

In Rio de Janeiro a group of Jews from western Europe founded their own cemetery in 1873. This first step, however, did not lead to the development of organized Jewish life in the city at this stage, when the Jewish population was rather small (in 1890 Rio de Janeiro had about 200 Jews) and indifferent toward communal life. In São Paulo, the first community, also rather restricted in size, was organized in 1897.

[Jewish communities and Jewish immigration 1900-1930 - immigration restrictions since 1930 - new immigration solutions for some 17,500 Jewish immigrants 1933-1939]

The modern Jewish community of Brazil, consisting primarily of East European Jews, had its formal beginnings in 1903, when the first attempts were made to organize agricultural settlement of Jews in the southern part of the country (see above Agricultural Settlements). By World War I, Brazil had a Jewish population of 5,000-7,000. After the war there was a marked increase in Jewish immigration, and in the decade from 1920 to 1930, 28,820 Jews entered the country, mostly from eastern Europe (according to figures provided by Jewish immigrant aid societies at the time).

The year 1930 was a turning point in Brazil's immigration policy, which became increasingly restrictive and had a n adverse effect upon the immigration of Jews. In 1937 the tendency to select immigrants on the basis of their ethnic origin was carried to the extreme when a secret order was circulated to Brazilian consulates abroad to reject all visa applications submitted by Jews. Both the 1934 and 1937 constitutions and a decree issued in 1938 provided for a quota system of immigration that was not to exceed 2% (annually) of the total number of immigrants from any particular country in the period 1884-1934 and was to (col. 1328)

consist of up to 80% agricultural labourers. It was impossible for Jews to exploit even these restricted quotas, in view of the official discrimination practiced against them.

Nevertheless, Jewish immigration, mainly from Nazi-dominated Europe, continued by a variety of means. From time to time special provisions were made for the immigration of people skilled in certain fields or relatives of Brazilian citizens. The law also made it possible for the authorities to accord to tourists the status of permanent residents. In this manner, some 17,500 Jews entered Brazil between 1933 and 1939.

In 1940 the Brazilian government, at the request of the Vatican, permitted the entry of 3,000 German refugees who had converted to Catholicism.

[[The years 1940-1956 are missing in the article]].

[1956: immigration from African countries]

In the period 1956-57, 2,500 Jews from Egypt, and about 1,000 from North Africa (mainly from Morocco) were admitted, and from time to time smaller groups were able to enter the country.


According to the official census, the Jewish population of Brazil in 1940 was 55,668, and in 1950, 69,957; the actual figure was much higher. In 1969, the size of the Jewish population was estimated at 130,000 to 140,000 spread over the large cities: Rio de Janeiro (50,000), São Paulo (50-55,000), Pôrto Alegre (12,000), Belo Horizonte (3,000), Recife (1,600), Curitiba (1,300), Belém (1,200) and Bahia (800). There were 80 families in the new capital Brasilia, and Jews were living in smaller numbers in various other towns. (col. 1329)


Jewish Participation in Brazilian National Life.

[Jewish profession development: crafts and Jewish "industrial pioneers" in Brazil - Jews in Brazil politics]

Considering its small percentage in the total population the Jewish community plays a relatively important role in the life of the country, especially in the economic sphere. Most of the early Jews became itinerant peddlers, except for a small group of immigrants who worked at their trades as artisans. In the course of time, however, this situation underwent a change. The Jewish tradesmen who settled in the country after World War I soon became manufacturers and industrial pioneers in their fields - especially textile, ready-made clothes, furniture, and, at a later period, construction.

An outstanding example of industrial pioneers is the *Klabin family, which leads in paper manufacture and associated industries. The peddlers eventually became wholesalers and retailers, and some also entered industry. No precise data are available on the occupational composition of Brazil Jewry; the majority are engaged in commerce and the rest in industry and services.

Some Brazilian Jews hold administrative posts and others take part in the political life of the country. In the 1966 parliamentary elections, six Jews, representing various parties, were elected to the federal legislature. There are also Jewish members of the state legislatures and the municipal councils. Horacio *Lafer was a leading Jewish (col. 1331)

political figure and served as finance minister and foreign minister of Brazil. A former federal deputy, Aarão *Steinbruch, was elected senator, the first Jew to be elected to that prestigious post. Jews hold positions in the armed forces and in the judiciary and are active in the arts and sciences.

[EL.LI.]> (col. 1332)


Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Brazil,
                          vol. 4, col. 1327-1328
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Brazil, vol. 4, col. 1327-1328
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Brazil,
                          vol. 4, col. 1329-1330
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Brazil, vol. 4, col. 1329-1330
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Brazil,
                          vol. 4, col. 1331-1332
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Brazil, vol. 4, col. 1331-1332

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