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