Many academic writings recount how Jews were expelled from Spain or subjects of conversion to Christianity in the 15th century (Bejarano 2012). Universities teach about the Inquisition in Latin American countries like Colombia and how Jews and their descendants in both the Iberian Peninsula and the Colonies were persecuted over centuries. But the books usually conclude with an almost complete disappearance of Jewish life due to the thorough and cruel persecution .
There are also several books concerning Judaism and Jewish life in Colombia today. But in these, there is no or only little reference to the Bnei Anusim. They deal with the traditional Jewish communities, whose first members arrived in Colombia in the 19th and 20th century from the Middle East and Europe, not from Spain (Elkin 2011). But even if the broader literature on Judaism does not mention communities like the Sephardic Israelite Center of Cartagena, these communities exist. “They” means communities whose roots do not lie in the 19th and 20th immigration from established Jewish communities abroad.
These communities are constituted purely or mostly by converts to Judaism. Another peculiarity is the recentness of the establishment of these communities, which is why many of them refer to themselves as Emerging Jewish Communities or New Communities . The oldest amongst them don’t seem to exist for more than 20 years, many have only appeared in the last couple of years. According to information provided by organizations like Shavei Israel, today there are at least 30 Emerging Jewish Communities all over Colombia.
The literature concerning conversions to Judaism in Colombia is more than scarce. Currently, there is only literature concerning cases of conversion connected to intermarriage, or to Messianic Jewish movements. The former refers to the marriage between a non-Jewish person with a Jewish partner out of one of the traditional Jewish communities in Colombia (Dizgun 2001). The latter refers to the conversion of Catholic or Evangelical Christians to Messianic Judaism . Connected to the case of Messianic Judaism there is the much more prominent appearance and an increasingly growing number of Evangelical communities in Colombia, which just like in the case of the EJC, is a relatively young phenomenon (the evangelical movement arrived in Colombia in the 1960s, while the first EJC was founded in the 2000s).
Unfortunately, the phenomenon of conversion to Judaism itself has not received any attention in the academic field, which is why there are also no publications on the EJC in Colombia. Thus, the purpose of this thesis is to provide a first analysis of the phenomenon of conversion to Judaism and the EJC.
An analysis of the phenomenon of the recent conversion to Judaism has been overdue for some time because of several reasons. First, it contributes to the already existing knowledge and literature on the changing of the meaning and expression of religion in Colombia after centuries of Catholic hegemony. Second, it contributes to the analysis of the role of Judaism in Colombia and Latin America, and the understanding and forms of Jewish communities in general. And last, it contributes to the debates about a possible shift of the perception of Judaism amongst gentiles from a distant and oftentimes negative one to one that is positive and perceived as an attractive alternative to other religions. The crucial question this paper intends to answer is thus, why Christian Colombians are converting to Judaism.
Answering this question is at the center of this paper because it can provide not only information about the mechanisms through which people convert to Judaism but also factors that influence the decision-making and action-taking process. There are two hypotheses that shall guide us through the analysis of this phenomenon. One is grounded in the assumption that there might be a common pattern between other religious conversions and these specific conversions to Judaism. A special focus of this work, which will be explained in a separate chapter, will thus lie on the relation between conversions to Evangelicalism and Judaism.
The second hypothesis consists of an assumed uniqueness of this phenomenon due to the importance of oral ethnic-identity reconstruction of non-Jewish converts. This paper consists of three main bodies. The introduction, explaining the basic concepts of this work and the methodological part of it. The theoretical frame, which is divided into chapter about macro-and micro theories, and a chapter explaining the social and religious development in Colombia. The last part, the analysis, will describe the different factors concerning the motives for conversions to Judaism by the participants.
This work relies on information extracted through the analysis with six Colombian interviewees . Most of them are members and leaders of EJC. One interviewee is a prominent traditional Colombian rabbi. As to the methodology used in this work, I am relying on the extended case method of Burawoy (Burawoy 1998, 2000).