JTS Professor Says Conservative Movement Prospering in South America
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JTS Professor Says Conservative Movement Prospering in South America

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The Conservative Movement is alive and well in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela. This view was presented by Rabbi Seymour Siegel who has just returned from a “pastoral tour” to the Jewish communities of these four South American countries which he conducted last month.

Rabbi Siegel, professor of ethics and rabbinic thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary, represented the JTS and the Rabbinical Assembly at the dedication of the new synagogue of Communidad Bet El in Buenos Aires. While in South America he also visited former students who are now serving as rabbis in the four countries. According to Rabbi Siegel, the Conservative Movement is one of the vital forces for the survival of Judaism in Latin America.

In Buenos Aires, where, despite the restive situation occasioned by the imminent arrival of Juan Peron, the new sanctuary of Communidad Bet El was opened with ceremonies in which ecclesiastical authorities, diplomatic representatives and many leaders of the local Jewish community participated.

The synagogue was dedicated to the late Abraham Joshua Heschel. Taking part in the ceremonies were Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, rabbi of the 600-member congregation and founder of the Seminario Rabbinico Latino Americano, Mrs. Sylvia Heschel, widow of Dr. Heschel, and Rabbi Mordechai Edery, co-rabbi of the synagogue. According to Rabbi Siegel, the growth and prosperity of Communidad Bet El and the Seminario are typical in many ways of the growth of the Conservative Movement in South America.


Rabbi Siegel taught for several semesters at the Seminario, and on his return visited with some of his former students. He spoke of his impressions of the effects of the unsettled political situation in both Argentina and Chile on the Jewish populations there. In Argentina, he said, there are fears that anti-Semitic elements in the Peronist movement may gain control, even though at present there are many Jews in the party, and a Jew holds the position of Minister of Finance in the government.

But, Rabbi Siegel reported, the main concern of Jews in Argentina is really whether Peron can hold the government together. There is fear that if extremist elements, either within his party, or from the right or left wing, gain control in this period of turmoil, Jews, who are mostly in the middle and upper middle classes, will suffer. In the meantime, however, the Conservative Movement has made great strides. The Seminario Rabbinico, established 12 years ago, now offers rabbinic ordination, and in fact several of its graduates are serving large congregations; they are among the first native-born and native-trained rabbis in South America today, Rabbi Siegel said.


“In Chile,” he noted, “you have a different situation altogether.” While it is “a lovely, lovely country, and the people are extremely simpatico,” the political and economic turmoil there has caused some 5000 Jews, including most of the rabbis, to leave, Rabbi Siegel said. There is now one rabbi–Ramon Kreiman, a graduate of the Seminario–who officiates at four synagogues, observing as far as possible the traditions of each.

According to the young Rabbi Kreiman, the Allende government has been very friendly to the Jews. When the regime was stressing consumption of pork because of a cattle shortage, he went to Allende and told him about the requirements of kashrut. Allende “immediately set aside a quota?of animals for kosher consumption which Kreiman said is more than adequate.” As in Argentina, Rabbi Siegel said, “the future of the Jews in that country depends on the future of the country.”

In Brazil, Rabbi Siegel visited Rabbi Shmuel Winter, a 1972 graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary who is the first rabbi ever to serve the 15,000 Jews of the city of Porto Allegre. In Venezuela, another Seminary graduate, Rabbi–Isidoro Aisenberg, works closely with college students and young people as rabbi of B’nai B’rith.

B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Committee, the World Jewish Congress, and the Israelis in Latin America, are, Rabbi Siegel reported, doing fine and important work. The World Council of Synagogues has pioneered in helping the Jewish communities of Latin America, he added.

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