Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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24 Shevat 5762 - February 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Israeli Rabbis Convert Dozens of "Inca Jews"
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Four Israeli rabbis flew to Peru in mid- November and "converted" about half of 150 Peruvians popularly known as "Inca Jews."

Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, director of Israel's Rabbinical Courts, told The Jerusalem Report that the delegation was sent because there is no rabbinical court--the only institution authorized to perform Orthodox conversions--in Peru.

The four rabbis, two Ashkenazim and two Sephardim, were chosen for their mastery of Spanish, one having served in Peru and another in Chile in the past.

The "Inca Jews," who were drawn to Judaism over the past two decades through reading the Bible and are dispersed among a number of Peruvian communities, hold prayers in makeshift synagogues, observe Shabbos and Jewish holidays, maintain kashrut (most becoming vegetarians because they can't get kosher meat), and have adopted distinctive Jewish dress--the men donning yarmulkes and tzitzis and the women long dresses and hats.

Bryan Schwartz, an attorney from Easton, Pennsylvania, who is writing a book about Jewish communities around the world, spent several weeks visiting among the prospective converts and raised funds to cover the costs of the rabbinical delegation.

He says the Inca Jews live in conditions of dire economic deprivation--both because of the general economic situation in Peru and because they suffer discrimination due to their beliefs.

This is not the first time the Israeli rabbinate has sent rabbis to Latin America to perform conversions. Half a year ago, Ben Dahan reports, a similar operation was carried out in Mexico, and two groups of Peruvians were converted about a decade ago, with many of their members thereafter settling in Israel.

The present mission has been coordinated with Israel's Interior Ministry, though the rabbis are not authorized to issue entry visas on its behalf.

As not all of the applicants were converted during this visit, "each case being judged on its merits," says Rabbi Ben Dahan, it will probably be necessary for the rabbis to return, in a few months' time, to complete the process.

A spokesman for the Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur established by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l, said that the Vaad was approached three years ago to establish a beis din to deal with the group from Peru. After a beis din was chosen with the approval of the gedolei haposkim the Israeli Chief Rabbinate also approved the beis din.

However, after much research and deliberation, the beis din decided that even though the group in Peru was serious, it was not possible to convert them in Peru since some basic requirements to lead a religious life were missing, especially for married families in the winter. The beis din then suggested that a group first come to Israel and then perform the conversions in Israel. Several people did come and the Vaad arranged a proper beis din to deal with their conversions.

The Vaad cannot understand how the Chief Rabbinate sent a group of rabbis to Peru after it was clearly ascertained that proper facilities for leading a full Jewish life there are lacking. It should be noted that the rabbis who went are associated with the Special Conversion Court System of the Chief Rabbinate who are well-known for performing conversions without determining if the candidates will properly observe Torah and mitzvos. The Vaad spokesman suggested that the publicity suggested that the affair had this as its goal.


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