- AMERICA. Although recent research has corrected earlier exaggerated statements regarding the number of persons of Jewish birth or ancestry who accompanied christopher columbus on his first voyage of discovery, it is known that the interpreter, luis de torres , the first European to set foot on American soil, was a former Jew who had been baptized the day before the expedition set sail. The marranos of Spain and Portugal were quick to realize the potentialities of the new land and to transfer themselves there; some are even known to have accompanied Spanish adventurer Fernando Cortes and his conquistadores in the invasion of mexico . -Marranos and the inquisition in the New World Religious intolerance soon manifested itself in the new land. Two Marranos who had served with Cortes were burned as heretics in Mexico as early as 1528. An inquisitional tribunal was set up there in 1571, to be followed before long by others in various provinces of Spanish South America and in the Philippines. In Brazil under Portuguese rule there was no independent tribunal, but the Lisbon Inquisition maintained perpetual vigilance. From the close of the 16th century, Portuguese New Christians of Jewish stock in relatively considerable numbers began to settle throughout Central and South America, attracted not only by the opportunities for economic advancement, but also by the possibility of escape from suspicion in a land where their antecedents were not generally known. Although voluntary emigration from Portugal was often forbidden, deportation to Brazil was one of the penalties imposed by the Portuguese inquisitional tribunals. Before long, the Marranos of the New World were in an affluent position, and it was alleged that they controlled the import and export trade with Europe. They maintained a loose secret religious organization among themselves, and were in touch with their coreligionists, both concealed and openly, in Europe. It is noteworthy that their religious observance seems to have been somewhat closer to the norms of traditional Judaism than was the case among the Marranos of the Iberian Peninsula. From time to time, however, the Inquisition was stirred to violent action against them, and autos-da-fé of an intensity similar to those in Spain and Portugal were carried out. In 1634 there began a series of interconnected inquisitional onslaughts on the Marranos throughout Spanish South America, which continued for some years and from which the crypto-Jewish communities never fully recovered. During the Dutch attempt to conquer brazil from the Portuguese in the 17th century, many local Marranos openly declared themselves Jews and, in addition, a considerable number of Jews emigrated there from Amsterdam. Hence, from 1631 to 1654 there was an open, well-organized Jewish community with its ancillary institutions in the capital of Dutch Brazil, Recife, Pernambuco, as well as in a couple of minor centers elsewhere. With the Portuguese reconquest in 1654 these communities broke up, and the refugees were scattered throughout the New World, forming open communities where it was possible. This was in effect the origin of the Jewish communities in the Caribbean area in suriname and Curaçao under Dutch rule, in barbados , and a little later in jamaica under the English. For the next three centuries this nexus of Sephardi communities, wealthy out of proportion to their numbers, played an important role in the Jewish world. -First Settlements in North America One small band of refugees from Brazil in 1654 sought a home in New Amsterdam (later new york ), then under Dutch rule; after some difficulty, they were allowed to remain. At about the same time, probably, the first Jewish settlers reached newport , Rhode Island, and those years saw also the sporadic appearance of individual Jews in various other places throughout the English settlements in North America. The great majority of the earliest settlers were Sephardim of Marrano stock, but they were before long joined by Ashkenazim, arriving mainly from Amsterdam or London. By the second half of the 18th century there were half a dozen organized Jewish communities following the Sephardi rite in the British possessions on the North American mainland, including one in montreal , Canada. In this new land, where the Old World prejudices had waned, they enjoyed a degree of social freedom and emancipation Jewish population of the Americas, 1900. Black numerals: Jewish population. White numerals: Total population. Jewish population of the Americas, 1900. Black numerals: Jewish population. White numerals: Total population. greater than that in the mother country. America was uniquely tolerant of Jews among western nations in the colonial era and thereafter because the new land needed settlers and, therefore, accepted people of diverse sectarian and regional origins. The need for newcomers created a national impulse toward multiculturalism. Another reason for favorable reception of Jews was that America was settled after the passing of the Middle Ages and at the conclusion of the Wars of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Hence religious and other conditions which fostered victimization of Jews were absent or much weaker in North America. Consequently, at the time of the American War of Independence, the 2,000 Jews then resident in the 13 colonies were permitted to collaborate freely with their neighbors both in the civil and the military sphere in an unprecedented manner. The Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom of 1785 was the earliest law in history to grant full equality to all citizens regardless of religion, the Constitution of the united states , ratified in 1789, stipulated that no religious test should be required as qualification for any federal office, and the first Amendment to the Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791, prohibited a national religious establishment or any other interference with liberty of conscience. Thus, on American soil, except in certain states, which temporarily Population figures for 1914. Black numerals: Jewish population. White numerals: Total population. Population figures for 1914. Black numerals: Jewish population. White numerals: Total population. retained test oaths or funding for Christian denominations, Jewish emancipation was formally established for the first time in history. In the period after the Revolution Jewish immigration continued on a relatively small scale, and a few more communities were established; the first Ashkenazi congregation was founded in Philadelphia in 1795. -Expansion of United States Jewry in the 19th Century In the second quarter of the 19th century German Jews, escaping discrimination at home and attracted by the economic opportunities that beckoned ahead, began to immigrate. Mainly merchants and itinerant traders, they spread quickly from the coast inland, founding new communities and synagogues in every new urban center, and playing an important part in opening up the Middle West. The Gold Rush of 1849 brought them to california and the Pacific. In the new land they felt free from the trammels of tradition, and Reform Judaism became dominant largely through the influence of Isaac mayer wise of Cincinnati, one of the great creative and organizing forces in American Jewish life. In 1843 the Independent Order B'nai B'rith was founded as a fraternal organization and expanded steadily. By the time of the Civil War there were about 150,000 Jews in the United States and many of these fought with their fellow citizens in both the Federal and Confederate forces. The economic expansion in the North during the war, which occurred particularly in those branches of trade and manufacture in which Jews were active, brought them increased prosperity. Since colonial times Jews had achieved acceptance in prestigious social and charitable organizations, were active in important businesses and activities, won renown in the legal and medical professions, and held public office. Nevertheless, especially with the coming of the Civil War Jews were subject to discriminatory behavior and other forms of aversion. For more than a century after the late 1850s they were excluded from neighborhoods, hotels, country and social clubs, and had stringent quotas imposed upon them in schools, business corporations, and the professions. Eastern European Jewish immigrants also became relatively numerous and set up their own religious and social organizations. But the intensification of persecution in Russia in the 1880s, coupled with the economic opportunities in America, resulted in a migration on an enormous scale, which within a few years completely changed the face of Jewish life in the United States. The rapid expansion of the needle industries, with which the Jews had long been associated, especially contributed to the radical changes. Between 1881 and 1929 Population figures for 1937. Black numerals: Jewish population. White numerals: Total population. Population figures for 1937. Black numerals: Jewish population. White numerals: Total population. over 2,300,000 Jews from Eastern Europe landed in American ports. At the same time the Sephardim of the Mediterranean area also founded a number of new Sephardi communities throughout the country. By the middle of the 20th century the Jewish population of the United States alone, excluding other American countries, exceeded 5,000,000. Well before, New York, with more than 2,000,000 Jews, had become by far the greatest urban Jewish center that the world had ever known. (See Map: Jewish Population, America). -North and South American Jewry in the 20th Century This large immigration changed the outlook as well as the composition of the United States Jewry: it stemmed the once triumphant advance of Reform Judaism, strengthened Orthodoxy as well as the new conservative judaism , temporarily expanded Yiddish culture and journalism, and provided mass support for the Zionist movement. Also as a result of this mass immigration, the role of United States Jewry in world Jewish affairs became significant. The full strength of American Jewry was manifested for the first time during World War I, when the american jewish joint distribution committee took the lead in relief work in Eastern Europe, when American support for Zionism contributed toward securing the balfour declaration , and when Population figures for 2003. Black numerals: Jewish population. White numerals: Total population. Population figures for 2003. Black numerals: Jewish population. White numerals: Total population. American Jewish organizations made their voice heard at the Paris Peace Conference. After World War I Jewish immigration to the United States was stemmed by legislation to some extent, but settlement in other parts of the continent continued by persons seeking new homes. Canada, whose community had developed simultaneously with that in the United States, though on a far smaller scale, found its Jewish population considerably strengthened. latin america had previously attracted relatively few settlers, despite the fact that religious exclusiveness had ended with the collapse of Spanish rule, and notwithstanding Baron de hirsch 's munificently endowed attempts to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in argentina . After World War I, however, there was a considerable expansion in that area. The prosperity of its Jewish settlement and the similarity of language proved a powerful attraction, also, to Sephardim from the Mediterranean area who were then being faced with increasing difficulties at home. The Nazi persecution in Germany naturally gave great impetus to immigration to South America, where fewer obstacles were encountered than in almost any other part of the world; this continued during and after the war period. Whereas before 1914 the total number of Jews throughout Latin America did not exceed 50,000, of whom more than one half lived in the Argentine, by 1939 the number exceeded 500,000 and by the second half of the century, 750,000. World War II made a very considerable difference in the position of American Jewry, due more perhaps to the change in the world's circumstances than to developments within Jewry. By then well-established, the 5,000,000 Jews of the United States played their part on the field of battle and elsewhere to a greater extent than ever before in history. In fact, on a per capita basis, until World War II Jews had served in the armed forces in every war in excess of their percentage of the national population and in 1941–45 served in proportion to their share in the population. Being affluent, they alone were able to shoulder the main burden of relief both during the war and in the years of reconstruction, so that the partial rehabilitation of the Jewish communities in many countries of the Old World would have been impossible without them. Being influential, they were largely responsible for swaying public opinion and the United Nations in favor of the establishment of the State of Israel, which they supported decisively, in the critical period and after. But by this point, the relative position of American Jewry in the Jewish world had changed beyond recognition. With the annihilation of most of Central and a great part of Eastern European Jewry and the enforced isolation of the Jews of Russia, the United States Jewish community was left by far the largest Jewish community of the Diaspora. The change of balance was emphasized even further after the war, when restrictions on immigration were to some extent relaxed. The majority of those refugees from the concentration camps and the hopeless conditions in Europe who did not desire to settle in Israel found their new homes beyond the Atlantic, the Canadian Jewish community in particular receiving a powerful impetus. The number of newcomers was further swelled after 1948 by new immigrants from Egypt, Iraq, and other Arab states, who provided a fresh element in the kaleidoscope of American Jewry. On the other hand, the escape of many Nazi leaders and propagandists to South America led to a recrudescence there, particularly in Argentina, of antisemitism , which in turn was partly responsible for a migratory movement toward Israel, though on a far smaller scale. The changed circumstances in cuba in the late 1950s and 1960s similarly led to the partial disintegration of the Jewish community in that country. Before World War II approximately twice as many Jews lived in Europe as in America. After World War II nearly twice as many lived in the United States alone than in all of Europe, ten times more than in any other country of the Diaspora, with the exception only of Russian Jewry. The communities of Canada, Argentina, and to a lesser degree Brazil were among the world's greatest. Antisemitism peaked in the United States from the Great Depression to World War II and then declined to its lowest point, as measured in public opinion polls in 1998. According to an ADL public opinion survey it has increased in this county by about 5 percent, less than it has in Europe and other sectors of the world. Whether that makes the future problematic for Jews here and elsewhere is an open question but has certainly escalated anxiety in the American and other Jewish communities. In the new millennia the increase of antisemitism is Europe and Islamic countries has led to a heated debate among historians and writers, sociologists and Jewish organizational officials regarding the extent and scope of antisemitism in the United States. Furthermore, the dramatic increase of the Jewish population of Israel, which was but 10% of the American Jewish population when it was established in 1948, has now reached parity and should surpass the United States shortly. (Cecil Roth)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.