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Argentine Jewry Shrinking Rapidly

July 3, 1985
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The Jewish population of Argentina may decline by as much as 48 percent, to 137,000, by the year 2000 if infertility, assimilation and emigration continue at their present high rates, according to the 1985 American Jewish Year Book published by the American Jewish Committee.

The Jewish community in the rest of Latin America may shrink at a rate of 25 percent by the next century, according to U.O. Schmelz and Sergio DellaPergola, authors of “The Demography of Latin American Jewry, ” published in the Year Book. The present Jewish population of Latin America is 464,700. Half live in Argentina, one fifth in Brazil.

Schmelz and DellaPergola suggested that the population of Latin American Jewry has been sloping downward for some time. “Between 1910 and 1945, the birth rate fell by 50 percent,” they wrote, adding that today the community is failing to reproduce itself, below zero population growth. In 1960 the fertility rate was 2.2 but was dropping faster than that of Jews in the U.S., according to the authors.


Intermarriage, the authors emphasize, has taken the biggest toll on the size of the Latin American Jewish community. Schmelz and DellaPergola conservatively estimate the intermarriage rate at 40 percent, submitting that the figure is “probably higher,” perhaps the highest of any Jewish community in the world. They stress that when Latin American Jews marry out of their faith, they almost always sever ties with the organized Jewish community.

Emigration has long been a factor in the region’s Jewish population drop, the authors explained. When the State of Israel was created, more Jews began leaving Argentina than entered. The net emigration loss then, in the early 50s, was one percent. By the early 70s, the net emigration loss was 12 percent annually, with the bulk of emigrants resettling in Israel, the remainder in the United States.

During periods of civil strife, so common to the region, the emigration of Jews rises. Jews who had business ties with Anastasio Somoza left Nicaragua when the dictator fell from power in 1979. Jews fled El Salvador for the U.S. when violence flared there. An estimated 1,500 to 5,000 Jews expatriated from Mexico when President Jose Lope Portilloy Pancheo nationalized that nation’s banks.

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