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Latin American Jewries Face Grave Problems, Rabbis Report

A Philadelphia Reform rabbi declared here last night that “to require all Jews to conform to a strict and unbending interpretation of Halacha would threaten the unity of our people.” Rabbi David H. Wice. acting president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, issued the warning at the opening session here of the 18th international conference of the World Union. Contending that the unity of the Jewish people was threatened by disagreements and factions, he said he was concerned “that we survive as one inclusive people and one inclusive faith.”

The delegates heard a general survey of the problems of progressive Judaism in Latin America by Rabbi Roberto D. Graetz of Buenos Airse. He said the Latin American countries were either stable but under an oppressive dictatorship, or fluid in an ever-changing political scene, and that local Jewish communities reflected that situation.

He said Chile, for example, had suffered loses of its spiritual and communal Jewish leadership during the regime of President Allende because many influential Jews and all but one of its rabbis, a progressive rabbi who tried to provide some kind of leadership, had left Chile. He said the rabbis had subsequently returned and were now supporting the new regime.

Rabbi Graetz stressed that the situation in Argentina was the least clear after the death of President Peron and because of the lack of a religious tradition in Argentina. He said there were more than 400.000 Jews in Buenos Aires but that fewer than 20 percent belonged to any kind of Jewish institution. He said “We must show the younger generation that our wealth of tradition has answers to offer.”

Rabbi Henry Sobel of Sao Paulo said Brazil’s Jewish community was among the most educated and wealthy and yet the Jewish position was far from secure. While there was no anti-Semitism he said, the future of Jewish life in Brazil was unclear and unsure. He said he felt that the Jewish communities in Latin America, and especially in Brazil, were in more danger than Jews in any other part of the world, because Latin American Jews were “afraid to make up their minds as to their place and role in their societies.” He said Jewish tradition is progressive but in Brazil, Jews were “non-committal,” and they will not be “supported by the totality of the community,” if and when the government changes.”

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