History of the Jews in Mexico

History of the Jews in Mexico
Jewish Mexican
Mexicano de origen Judio
Ilan Stavans · Arturo Ripstein
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Baja California, Jalisco, Sinaloa, Mexico City, Chihuahua

Mexican Spanish, Hebrew



Related ethnic groups

Spanish Mexicans

Jews have lived in Mexico since the Spanish conquest. Today the community numbers around 68,000, concentrated primarily in Mexico City. Other communities are found in the state of Jalisco, mainly in Guadalajara and surrounding cities, and in Monterrey, Veracruz, Culiacán, and Tijuana.



There have been Jews in Mexico since Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztecs, accompanied by several Conversos. Later, Jews arrived there to escape the Inquisition.[1] Some of these Spanish Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism (Converso Jews), but many maintained their Jewish religious practices in secret (for which many were killed in what is known as the Mexican Inquisition). This is often referred to as Anusim. However some Conversos and their progeny maintained the conversions to Christianity, and to continue to classify them as Jews one has to accept the racial definition of Jewishness.[2]

Due to the power of the Catholic Church in Mexico, few Jews migrated there during the Spanish Colonial Period. In the 1860s, a large number of German Jews settled in Mexico as a result of invitations from Maximilian I of Mexico. Beginning in the 1880s many Ashkenazic Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Romania came to Mexico. Another large wave of immigration occurred as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, leading many Sephardic Jews from Turkey, Morocco, and parts of France to flee. Finally, a wave of immigrants fled the increasing Nazi persecutions in Europe during World War II.

Today, there are around 40,000 Jews in Mexico; it is one of just a handful of countries whose Jewish population is projected to grow in the future.[3] There are several sectors in the Jewish community in Mexico, the biggest of which are the Ashkenazi community. The Mizrahi community is mainly Syrian immigrants who attend the Maguén David and Monte Sinai congregations. Mexican Jews refer to the Mizrahim as "judíos árabes" or "Arab Jews". The Sephardic community is primarily made up of descendents of Turkish immigrants, and also very old generations that descend from Spain.

While most Jews in Mexico are concentrated in Mexico City, there are substantial Jewish communities in Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Tijuana. Recently, a small group of Mexican Jewish families has immigrated to Cancún. There is a small group of implanted American Jews who have relocated to the retirement lake towns of Chapala and Ajijic in the state of Jalisco; they meet once a month for religious services and occasionally interact with their Mexican Jewish counterparts in close by Guadalajara.

In 1938 The Central Committee for the Jewish Community of Mexico ('Comité central de la comunidad judía de México') emerged as the umbrella organization for the varying ethnic and religious Jewish communities in Mexico; its analysis and opinion agency is called the Tribuna Israelita.


According to INEGI, data from the year 2000, there were 45,620 Jews in Mexico. More than 40% reside within the Federal District and 31% in Mexico State; in central states a little more than 10%. One-tenth of the Jewish population lives in the State of Veracruz or in the south-east, and the rest live in the northern states, with 8% living there.

Distribution of the Jewish population by federal entity, according to the INEGI 23rd general census (2000).INEGI Religious Diversity in Mexico Report

Federal Entity Jewish Population (2000) Jewish Population (2010)
Mexico 45,260 67,476
Aguascalientes 58 113
Baja California 389 1,044
Baja California Sur 51 159
Campeche 47 155
Coahuila 153 306
Colima 19 103
Chiapas 178 513
Chihuahua 133 251
Federal District 18,380 20,357
Durango 17 80
Guanajuato 317 574
Guerrero 875 1,645
Hidalgo 391 631
Jalisco 983 1,721
Mexico State 14,084 21,545
Michoacán 226 567
Morelos 1,788 3,013
Nayarit 72 216
Nuevo León 665 977
Oaxaca 1,199 2,458
Puebla 2,251 4,993
Querétaro 96 286
Quintana Roo 587 1,016
San Luis Potosí 57 176
Sinaloa 75 146
Sonora 56 183
Tabasco 114 135
Tamaulipas 152 362
Tlaxcala 99 411
Veracruz 1,334 2,595
Yucatán 377 651
Zacatecas 37 94

Mexico City

Synagogue in Mexico City

The vast majority of Mexican Jews reside in the capital, Mexico City. They have a vast network of synagogues, schools and other communal institutions. There are over 30 synagogues, most of them Orthodox. The majority of Mexico City's Jews send their children to Jewish schools which include secular as well as Haredi dayschools and Yeshivot. Several of the schools are named for school networks which existed in pre-war Europe, including the Zionist "Tarbut", the modern Orthodox "Yavne" and the secular Folkish "Yiddische Schule" where Yiddish is still taught. The Jewish Community Center known as the "Centro Deportivo Israelita" is the largest of its kind in the Jewish diaspora and includes both sports and social activities. Many Zionist youth organizations have branches in Mexico City, including Hanoar Hatzioni, Bnei Akiva, Habonim Dror and Hashomer Hatzair.


The Jewish community in Guadalajara is continually shrinking and has approximately 250 families.[4] The community is made up of almost an equal number of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. Originally the two groups had separate synagogues and did not intermarry; eventually the two groups united and almost all of today's younger families are made up of mixed Sephardic-Ashkenazi marriages. There is a community center — similar to that of a Jewish Community Center in the United States — which is the center of Jewish life in the city. The center has a sports facility, a Jewish day school, and also houses the synagogue. Because the Jews of Guadalajara rarely marry outside the Jewish community, most young adults who are interested in getting married are inclined to move to Mexico City, which has a larger Jewish population. This is the main cause of the diminishing population of the community.

In recent years the community became Modern Orthodox, which caused a sizable part of the community to break off and form a new Conservative temple and community center. This move to Modern Orthodox caused deep divisions within the community, splitting families between the two temples – intermarriage and conversions are the main issues causing the divide.[citation needed]

Among well known Jews from Guadalajara is actor, model, and singer Erick Elías who has enjoyed rising fame in the Spanish-speaking world.


Monterrey's founders were crypto-Jewish conversos who represented the first European settlers in the vast, hostile, Amerindian territories, initially called Nuevo León by the new settlers. The most famous of these crypto-Jews who inhabited Monterrey is Luis de Carabajal y Cueva; who along with his family was burned at the stake for practicing Judaism. He was the nephew of the Spanish founder of Monterrey. His memoirs suggest that, at the time, the majority of Spanish settlers in Monterrey were of Jewish descent.

The early twentieth century saw the arrival of Ashkenazi Jews from Europe. There is a small organized Jewish community numbering less than a thousand with a community center that is the center of Jewish life which houses the only synagogue, day school, and sports facilities. Although the synagogue is Modern Orthodox, most of the families adhere to a lifestyle most similar to that of the Conservative movement. The community has remained relatively stable in its numbers with a low degree of assimilation.


There are also some Mexicans who consider themselves descendants of Conversos, Jews who converted to Catholicism to escape the Inquisition, but retained some Jewish heritage. A few examples include the generational making of Pan de Semita,[5] the lighting of candles on Friday nights,[6][7] and the use of a Jewish form of Spanish called Ladino spoken among close friends or family.[8]

The famous painter and Converso descendant Diego Rivera wrote in 1935, "Jewishness is the dominant element in my life. From this has come my sympathy with the downtrodden masses which motivates all my work." [1]

See also


  1. ^ a b Wolf, Isaac. Mexico at The Jewish Virtual Library - Retrieved January 8, 2007.
  2. ^ see Netanyahu. The Origins of the Spanish Inquisition.
  3. ^ Selected Indicators of World Jewry from the 2006 Annual Assessment by Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. Retrieved January 8, 2007. Page 13.
  4. ^ Burke, Samuel. "Judaism with Spanish flavor." Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. Retrieved January 8, 2007.
  5. ^ Pan de Semita history
  6. ^ candles tradition
  7. ^ Jewish traditions
  8. ^ Ladino traditions

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