History of the Jews in Uruguay

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Uruguayan Jews
Judíos de Uruguay
יהדות אורוגוואי
Total population
12,000 (census)[1]-20,000 (estimate)
Regions with significant populations
Uruguayan Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino

The history of the Jews in Uruguay (Spanish: judeouruguayos) dates back to the colonial empire. Perhaps the most important influx of Jewish population was during the 20th century, due to World War I and World War II. Uruguay's Jewish community is mainly composed of Ashkenazi. Uruguay is home to the fifth largest Jewish community in Latin America after Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile respectively, and the second largest as a proportion of the total population after Argentina.


The arrival of Jews to the Banda Oriental goes back to the 16th century, when conversos began settling there. The Spanish Inquisition was not a significant force in the territory, and the first recorded Jewish settlement there was in the 1770s. When the Inquisition ended in 1813, it paved the way for Jews being more accepted in Uruguay throughout the 19th century.

Significant Jewish immigration began in the late 19th century, when Jews from neighboring Brazil and Argentina emigrated to Uruguay. Most of them were Sephardim, followed by Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, and Italkim. The largest Jewish population was in Montevideo, which had 150 Jews in 1909. The first recorded minyan in Uruguay happened in 1912, and the first synagogue was opened in 1917 by a small Ashkenazi community. Jewish schools were opened in the 1920s, and in 1929, the Ashkenazi community set up an educational network. The Villa Muñoz neighbourhood received a large amount of Jewish immigration that came to Uruguay, which led it to become the Jewish quarter of the capital.[2]

The majority of Jewish immigration to Uruguay took place in the 1920s and 1930s. A large percentage of Jewish immigrants during this period were German Jews and Italian Jews.[3]

In 1940, with the union of the Israelite Community, the Hungarian Israelite Community and the Sephardic Israelite Community and the Nueva Congregación Israelita, the Central Israelite Committee of Uruguay (CCIU) was formed, as a central and representative organization of the entire community.[4]

Uruguayan Jews initially made a living in small retail trade and peddling, with some becoming craftsmen and artisans. In time, they moved up the economic scale, and many became the owners of large stores or medium-sized businesses. Following World War II, Jews increased their representation in the professional world and became primarily middle-class, particularly as many Uruguayan Jews were by then second or third-generation Uruguayans. Their economic advancement was aided by the creation of Jewish loan and assistance funds, which evolved into Jewish banks. From the 1930s to 1950s, there were several failed attempts to establish a Jewish agricultural settlement.

During the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which involved the mass exodus of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, primarily to Israel, more than 18,000 Jews immigrated to Uruguay, primarily from the Arab world. In the 1950s, a number of Russian Jews and Hungarian Jews moved to Uruguay.

Uruguay, which had supported the creation of a Jewish homeland during the 1920 San Remo conference, was one of the first nations to recognize Israel, and the first Latin American country to do so.[5] It was the first Latin American country and fourth country overall in which Israel established a diplomatic mission. It was also one of the few nations to support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and oppose internationalization of the city.[citation needed] Its diplomatic mission in Jerusalem was upgraded to the status of an embassy in 1958, but subsequently moved to Tel Aviv after Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem.[6]

The Jewish community experienced a serious decline in the 1970s as a result of emigration. By the mid-1990s, there were no Jews in the upper echelons or military, and little Jewish representation in the legislature. The Latin American economic crisis of the 1990s and early 2000s affected the 40,000 Jews still in Uruguay.[citation needed] Between 1998 and 2003, many Uruguayan Jews emigrated to Israel.

Currently, 20,000-25,000 Jews live in Uruguay, with 95% residing in Montevideo.[7] There is a small organized community in Paysandú, while other Jews are scattered throughout the country's interior.[citation needed] As of 2003, there were 20 synagogues, but only six of them held weekly Shabbat services, and one functioned every day.[citation needed]

Notable Uruguayan Jews[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Congreso Judío Latinoamericano. "Comunidades judías: Uruguay" (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 3 January 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  2. ^ "La historia del barrio Villa Muñoz, un rincón europeo". El Espectador 810 (in Spanish). Retrieved 27 October 2023.
  3. ^ "Italian Jews in Uruguay" (in Spanish). Brecha. 14 March 2014.
  4. ^ "Información Institucional". CCIU (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 30 March 2023. Retrieved 4 November 2023.
  5. ^ "Actividad por Aniversario de 75 años de relacionamiento entre Uruguay e Israel". Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 4 September 2023. Retrieved 4 September 2023.
  6. ^ Staff, ToI. "Uruguay to open diplomatic office in Jerusalem, foreign minister announces". www.timesofisrael.com. Archived from the original on 4 September 2023. Retrieved 4 September 2023.
  7. ^ "100 años de presencia institucional judía en Uruguay II" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 September 2023. Retrieved 4 September 2023. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Bio of Zoma Baitler Archived 4 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine (in Spanish)

External links[edit]