Email Email   


Republic on the west coast of South America. In 1998, the total population was 16 million; the Jewish population was 21,000. Like other Spanish colonies in South America, Chile had a flourishing Marrano community in the 16th and 17th centuries. But while the Inquisition succeeded in suppressing such communities elsewhere, Chile is still home to a group of colonial Jews. The Sabatarios, descendants of Marranos who fled to the interior to escape the Inquisition, survive in the mountain province of Cautin. Nothing was known of them until 1919, when a letter requesting admission to the South American Zionist Organization revealed their presence in the country. An investigation disclosed that, despite intermarriage with Spaniards and Indians and a total lack of contact with other Jewish communities, they had preserved a number of Jewish customs and beliefs.

Aside from the Sabatarios, however, the entire colonial community was lost. Jewish life in Chile was renewed only after 1810 when the country gained independence and offered guarantees of religious freedom. The first communities were small. At the time of World War I, there were about 3,000 Jews in Chile, mostly Sephardic Jews from Macedonia and the Balkans. The waves of immigration from Eastern and Central Europe in the following decades, increased the number of Jews to 30,000, and made Chile’s Jewish community the fourth largest in Latin America. It is also most highly organized. The Central Committee of the Jewish Community of Chile coordinates the activities of all local organizations, represents Chile’s Jews in the World Jewish Congress, and is recognized by the government as the spokesman for the community.

Jews in Chile are mainly engaged in trade, crafts, and small industry. They are more active in national politics than Jews in other South American republics. The degree of their cultural integration is shown by the fact that Nosotros, the leading Jewish periodical of the country, is published in Spanish, rather than Yiddish or Hebrew. Yet the Chilean Jews have shown concern for Israel, and the Zionist Federation, a central organization of all Zionist parties, is active in the Central Committee of the community.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email