Ladino and Spanish Jews in Latin America

Nestor Gorojovsky nestorgoro at
Thu Nov 20 16:39:52 MST 2003

Jeff Rubbard ventures:

"> Date: Wed, 19 Nov 2003 23:34:43 -0800
> From: Chris Brady <cdbrady at>
> Subject: Re.: Forwarded from Nestor (Ladino) 
> Ladino is also the term used for those of mixed blood (Spanish and
> Indian) in Guatemala.  I wonder if there is a Ladino who speaks 

It wouldn't surprise me, there were European Sephardim in Spain 
(quite a lot of them).  On the other hand, I am almost sure Borges 
was Askenazim. "

Sorry to tell you, Jeff, that both blind guesses are wrong.

a) Sepharadi, to begin with, means "Spanish", to the letter. It comes 
from "Sepharad", which is the name in Hebrew for Spain, meaning "the 
land of the rabbits" (rabbit, in Hebrew, is "saphan"). It is obvious 
that _every_ Spanish Jew was a Sepharadi, by definition. There were 
no "Ashkenazim" in Spain, because "Ashkenazi" means "German Jew", and 
that is why the Ashkenazi family of rabbis to which Isaac Deutscher 
belonged changed their name to "Deutscher", which obviously means 
"German". That there were "European Sephardim in Spain (quite a lot 
of them)" is thus a truism. They were ALL Sepharadim because they 
were Spanish. 

b) Sepharadi Jews were strictly forbidden from America. The few who 
came either were converts or got assimilated after some time of 
clandestine Jewish practice (these were called "judaizantes", that is 
"those who follow Jewish practices") by the Inquisition. For example, 
Bishop Francisco de Vitoria, a very important figure of early 
colonial Argentinean history, was a convert. He was the Bishop of the 
first Spanish settlement in what was to become Argentina, the town of 
Santiago del Estero ("mother of cities" is its motto, since most 
towns in Nortwestern Argentina were either founded from or supported 
by Santiagueños). James the Apostle (San Jacobo became Santo Yago, 
later San-t-iago, and all these are all forms of the name of the 
Apostle, which can also be translated as Jacob: Jacob, James and 
Santiago are one and the same name) was the main Saint in Christian 
Spain, and the church of Saint James at Compostela in Galicia (the 
place is known as Santiago de Compostela, for this Cathedral) was one 
of the most important places of worship and trade in Medieval Spain, 
the terminus of the "road to Santiago" which linked the rest of 
Europe to the Christian kingdoms of Northern Spain, from the Pyrenaic 
mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

Thus, the town was named after the "national" saint of Spain, much in 
the way Santiago de Chile, Santiago de Cuba, Santiago de los 
Caballeros and other "Santiago" placenames in Latin (Hispanic) 
America. Such a place would never have taken a "judaizante" for 

Moreover, Bishop Vitória was the first industrial exporter in the 
area, when he sent the first pack of manufactures to Brazil (but by 
those times Brazil and "Spanish" America were all under the same 
crown, because the Portuguese and Spanish crowns were unified on a 
single head).

Thus, there could be no (and there were no) thriving and long-lived 
Jewish communities in Colonial Hispanic America. A few came from the 
Portuguese colonies, but also these were assimilated. And they were 
assimilated too.

c) the Borges family came from North Eastern Brazil to the River 
Plate during the 16th. Century. They might have been Sepharadi Jews, 
just as the Alzugaray family which sprang to fame after 1955 with the 
arch-antinational Álvaro Alsogaray and came to the fore still further 
with his daughter, María Julia Alsogaray, who was the person in 
charge of the dirtiest tasks during the Menem era.

But both families had long become Christian. And, most important, 
none of them mixed with the natives. So that there is little chance, 
if any, that any mixed blood group were Sepharadim.

d) There is a very good book on these issues, "Los Judíos bajo la 
inquisición en Hispanoamérica", by Boleslao Lewin, that whoever wants 
to learn about these issues should read with profit.

e) The current Jewish communities in Latin American have nothing to 
do with the old, eventual, and highly improbable, Jewish communities 
in the early days of Spanish rule. We came down from either Central 
or Eastern Europe, and the Sepharadim came here from the Ottoman 
Empire. There is no link at all between Jews in Latin America today 
and Spain.

f) There is something where somehow Jeff, unknowingly, hits the nail. 
Borges and his prose are perfectly "non-Argentinean", and in this 
sense they may be taken as the artwork of a non-assimilated Jew. 
However, this is not the reason behind this feature of Borges. The 
fact is, he gave artistic expression to the oligarchic structures of 
feeling in Argentina, and this is precisely why they look like an 
alien product of the land. That is what they are, as a class as well 
as considered in their artistic qualities.

For example, this mania of Borges to shoot at anything that smacks of 
true emotion in his writings is the most anti-Argentinean trait in a 
literature which was brought up and nurtured by our often bloody 
political life.

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
nestorgoro at

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 
"Sí, una sola debe ser la patria de los sudamericanos".
Simón Bolívar al gobierno secesionista y disgregador de 
Buenos Aires, 1822
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