What’s really behind the Takana against accepting new converts in Latin America? The answer will shock you.
Two days ago, I had a phone call from one of my contacts in Latin America, who tipped me off that I should look a little more closely into the reasons why the Jewish communities of Latin America instituted a total ban on ‘outsiders’ being accepted, married and buried in their midst.
My source told me that it was because in the 1920s, when the takana was first instituted, there was an enormous problem with non-Jewish p*ostitutes being brought into these communities by a large underworld organization of Jewish p*mps. (Words are starred to avoid my site being banned by filters and to try to maintain our sensitivity.)
These ladies then wanted to convert to join the Jewish community, and the Jewish community was up in arms about this, and so they instituted a very severe ban on any conversions being performed, or any converts being allowed to join the community. I was given the name of a book to try to track down with more details, called Diber Shaul, and that was that.
The next day, I turned on the pc to start looking for that book, and immediately came across THIS article, which was written the same day I’d been speaking to my contact. There are no coincidences. God clearly wants this information to get out there, and it’s clearly still very relevant to things that are happening today.
Very quickly, I started to learn some amazing things about the genesis of the Jewish communities in South America at the turn of the 20th century, which have had an enormous impact on understanding why this takana came about in the first place.
Before we continue, let’s just remind ourselves about what this takana actually is, and the problems it’s causing many thousands of Bnei Anousim, and also other people of Jewish descent, known as the Bnei Conversos, who are being prevented from having their Jewish roots, or orthodox Jewish conversions recognized by the communities they live in.
Here’s the starting point:
Latin American countries have had a takana, or agreement in place since the 1920s which was first introduced by the expat Syrian community in Argentina, that they won’t accept any new converts until ‘the End of Days’, whatever that is supposed to mean. This is making it very hard for potential converts to meet the requirement set out by the Israeli Rabbinate, that they have to have spent at least 9 months living in an active, orthodox Jewish. Their local communities are totally shunning them, so even though their conversion may be halachically valid, they can’t meet the requirements to have their conversion recognized by State of Israel.
The current position with the State of Israel’s Rabbinate is that they will not accept any orthodox conversion done in Latin America. The convert will either have to move for a year to the US and convert there, or try to move to Israel for a year and convert here. If you don’t have money and connections, clearly neither of these routes are really so viable.
Practically speaking, the poor Bnei Anousim and Bnei Conversos are being banned from entering communal institutions like synagogues, mikvas and schools, and are being refused burial in Jewish cemeteries, even if they’ve had an impeccable orthodox conversion and are observing mitzvoth 100%.
Dear reader, we’re about to hop down a massive bunny hole here, so prepare yourselves mentally.
Here’s a precis of the shocking things I’ve discovered about why this takana really came about in South America.
At the turn of the 20th century, Argentina was actually the 10th richest economy in the world. Its economy was booming, its ports were bustling, and many immigrants from Europe – mostly men – were arriving on its shores every day, to try to seek their fortune in the ‘New World’.
Of course, there were also many Jewish immigrants amongst them, and this is where the tale quickly becomes sordid.
At this point in time, historians estimated that there was as many as 10 men for every woman in South America’s big cities, so trafficking young girls and women from the Old Country to come and work in b*othels in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro became a very lucrative business. Jewish mobsters from Eastern Europe quickly spotted an opportunity to make some massive money – and so, the slave trade in young JEWISH women from impoverished shtetls in Poland began.
The first ship bearing these ‘Polacas’, as they came to be known, (which is Portuguese for ‘Polish Women’) landed in Brazil in 1867, and very quickly, the Jewish mobsters behind the trafficking of young Jewish p*rostitutes to the New World built up an international business worth some $50 million a year, in the 1890s.
By 1913, this human trafficking network was running 431 b*othels in Rio de Janeiro alone, with other operations in the Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo, Salvador, Santos and Recife, plus a further 2,000 brothels in Argentina.
The Jewish mobsters had also expanded their operations to big cities in the US, including New York, and other countries including South Africa, China and India.
Not all of the girls they trafficked were Jewish, but at the height of their operations, they had between 15,000 and 30,000 Jewish women ‘working’ for them in their establishments, mostly from poor Polish shtetls.
So now, we get to the next part of the story: How did these gangsters, or ruffianos, to give them their Spanish names (and avoid filter problems….) manage to get these young women from observant Jewish homes into this most sordid of professions, in a distant land?
The most ‘successful’ and pernicious forms of evil always operates as much under the radar as possible, and likes to dress itself up in the cloak of ‘goodness’.
These Yiddish-speaking Jewish mobsters knew how desperately poor so many of the Jews in the Pale of Settlement were in Russia and Poland. Also, these communities had been under attack without via violent pogroms, and under attack within via the maskilim, or atheist-minded reforming Jews, for many decades.
At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, so many Jews were trying to flee to the New World in order to escape the violence, poverty and misery of the old. So, these mobsters set up a front called the “Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society”, and used this ‘charitable foundation’ as a respectable front for their illegal human trafficking activities.
Plus ca change.
Not only that, they sent their expensively-dressed ruffianos to case the shtetls and recruit unsuspecting girls as ‘servants’ or in many instances, as wives. These girls were young, typically aged between 13-16, and they and their families were totally blown away by the opulent, sophisticated young men appearing in their midst who promised the young women a sparkling future in the New World.
The ruffianos also took out matrimonial ads in the Jewish papers, as part of their twisted recruitment strategies, and they also worked with unscrupulous matchmakers who were keen to get their cut of what was becoming a very lucrative market.
In one story I read, a Yiddish-speaking ruffiano ‘married’ as many as 30 girls on one recruitment trip, and the ‘wives’ only found out about it once they were onboard the ship taking them to their new lives – but by that point, it was too late. Their ‘husbands’ would inform the girls that they were destined to work in b*othels, and the ones who refused were treated brutally, assaulted, starved and locked-up in cages until they changed their minds.
Once they were in their ‘New World’, these young girls were totally shunned by the rest of the Jewish community, who were either part of the problem, or scandalized by what was going on and trying to shut the operation down, or (probably the majority) just trying to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t happening, as the ruffianos had a lot of money… and gave lavish donations to Jewish institutions… and supported Jewish theatrical productions and other communal events.
In other words, the new life these young women discovered was totally and utterly hellish. I read one account of one very young Jewish woman being forced to service well over 200 men, in her first two weeks in NYC … Once again, it was JEWISH gangsters who created this situation.
Plus ca change.
Here and there, some people did try to stand up to these Eastern European Jewish mobsters and ruffianos.
There were calls for the Jewish community to stop leasing them premises, and to stop calling them up for aliyot in shul (!), and efforts were made to bar them from attending the Jewish theatres in Buenos Aires, where they would often show up with a different young girl on their arm each night, to ‘showcase’ their products.
And finally, the ruffianos and the women who worked for them were barred from being buried in Jewish cemeteries.
All these actions against the ruffianos and their slave-‘workers’ form the basis of the takana that was instituted in Latin America, which today is still being applied to Bnei Anousim, Bnei Conversos, and other sincere people who want to convert to Judaism.
In the meantime, the takana barely made a dent in the mobsters’ operations, beyond forcing them to change the name of their organisation, and to buy up land to build their own synagogues and cemeteries. In 1906, the Polish ambassador to Argentina made a formal complaint requesting that the “Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society”, be forced to drop the ‘Warsaw’, as Poland wanted to be totally disassociated from its activities.
So, on May 7, 1906, the mobsters formally renamed their organization the ‘Zwi Migdal Association’, after one of its leaders, Luis Zvi Migdal. A little later on, Zwi Migdal split, and another of the leading mobsters named Simon Rubinstein renamed his part of the organization ‘Ashkenazum’. Once they received formal recognition as Jewish ‘charitable’ organisations, they both built Jewish cemeteries on the outskirts of Argentina, which by that point contained a Jewish community of around half a million souls.
Zwi Migdal’s human trafficking operation continued to grow and grow, reaching its peak in the 1920s.
It was untouchable, because so many of their customers were notable policemen, judges, politicians and businessmen, and almost everyone else was easily bought off with large bribes.
Plus ca change.
The woman who brought Zwi Migdal down was named Rachel Liberman, from Lodz, in Poland. She arrived in Buenos Aires at the age of 22, with her two small sons, planning to reunite with her husband who had moved there earlier. Rachel’s husband died within two months of her arriving in Argentina, leaving the young widow penniless, and without family in a foreign country.
There are conflicting accounts of what happened next. Some suggest she answered a fake ‘matrimonial ad’, others that she thought she was taking a job as a seamstress, others that she was tricked into p*ostitution by someone she believed she married as her second husband, but either way, Rachel ended up in the clutches of the Zwi Migdal mobsters.
She worked for them for 4 years, and managed to save enough money to set herself up in the furniture business and leave. But the Zwi Migdal gangsters didn’t want her setting an example for the rest of the Polacas, so they threatened and intimidated her until she returned.
So Rachel searched for a different route to freedom, and eventually, she ended up in the office of one of Buenos Aires’ few honest policemen, a man named Superintendent Julio Elsogray. Her testimony led to the arrest of over 350 ruffianos and mobsters, and then a trial which was presided over by one of Buenos Aires’ few remaining honest judges, named Dr. Rodriguez Ocampo.
When she was asked if she was willing to stand by her testimony, in the face of death threats from the mobsters, Rachel replied: “I can only die once. I’m standing by my testimony.” Clearly, a very brave woman.
The trial ended in September 1930, with 108 men sentenced to prison.
Barely a year later, the Zwi Migdal gangsters had called in enough favors from the corrupt politicians and judiciary to see all but 3 of the sentences quashed, and the p*mps freed to set up a new life, and go back to their old, disgusting ways, in Brazil, Uruguay and other locations.
The outbreak of the war in 1939 effectively put an end to the Zwi Midgal organization as we know it….
…. But I can’t help but wonder what really became of all those gangsters, and who took over from Luis Migdal, Simon Rubinstein, and all the others.
But let’s get back to what all this means for the Bnei Anousim, and the takana in Latin America, which was basically instituted as a protest against the tens of thousands of Jewish women who had been brought to Argentina, Brazil, and other places to be forced to work in the oldest profession in the world.
The takana was first introduced by the Syrian Sephardi Jewish community in Argentina, as a way of keeping their Jewish community ‘pure’ against this influx of the worse immorality from the secular Ashkenazi world.
The trouble is, the origins of the takana have been forgotten because over the last few decades, the Jewish communities in both Argentina and Brazil have been doing an excellent job of whitewashing the human trafficking activities of the Zwi Migdal organization.
Many of the graves containing the Polaca women have had the names scrubbed off, at the behest of the Jewish community itself. You can kind of understand that – who wants to admit that their grandmother or great-grandmother worked in a b*othel? No-one.
But what disturbs me far, far more is that the evil, immoral criminals who profited from the human trafficking via their roles as ruffianos, madams and the gangster bosses also seem to have been totally whitewashed out of the history books.
Those people didn’t drop dead (sadly, at least not immediately…) They took their money, and they set up shop in other countries, and other Jewish communities all over the world. People like that don’t just retire, they keep engaging in human suffering and immorality until the very bitter end.
And if we knew more of their names, we could trace them, and their activities, and their descendants, and probably discover a lot of very interesting things about exactly why so many parts of the Jewish world looks as yucky as it does, today.
To sum up: the whole subject of the takana needs airing out and properly discussing, despite the ongoing sensitivities in the Latin American Jewish communities.
Hopefully, if more people start to understand the historical circumstances that brought it into being back in the 1920s, this conversation can start to move forward, and a way can be found to dismantle it, and enable more of the Jews in Latin America to be accepted by the official Jewish community.
And I hope that shocking as this story is, telling it over will play some small part in getting the whole subject of the takana in Latin America to be revisited, and reconsidered.
After doing some more research, and in response to a comment, I found this. The plot thickens:
|In reply to yaak.Thanks Yaak. |
According to this PhD thesis by Victor Mirelman (link below), the Takana was first in Buenos Aires in 1927, instituted by the Chakham David Dabbah Shaul Setton, the rabbi of the Syrian community in Buenos Aires – and pretty much the only orthodox rabbi in Latin America at that time, who had a congregation still pious enough to listen to him. This Takana was then adopted throughout Latin America, as the state of the Jewish world was in complete disarray, with the Ashkenazi community’s main ‘rabbi’ in Buenos Aires being one Henry Joseph, who himself had married out and only did a ‘quickie’ conversion of his wife when he started acting as the defacto rabbi of the community. His own children married goyim in a church ceremony.
This meticulously sourced document brings a lot of eye-witness accounts of what was going on in Buenos Aires at the time, including Jews taking two of their friends as ‘witnesses’ to ‘convert’ non-Jewish women, then marry them – in a total mockery of the conversion process. This is also why Rav Kook in Israel, and other rabbis, supported this first Takana in Latin America, and why it spread to other communities there, beyond the Syrian community.
Then seperately in 1935. Rabbi Kassin instituted a similar Takana for the Syrian community in Brooklyn, which didn’t spread, wasn’t approved of other rabbis outside the community, and remains very controversial even today.
Here’s the link, check it out for yourself: https://digital.library.wayne.edu/item/wayne:WayneStateUniversityPress4448
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