Skip To Content
Fast Forward

Latin American Jews Whose Ancestors Fled Inquisition Will Get First Rabbi

For the first time, “long-lost” Jewish communities in three Central American nations will have their own full-time rabbi.

The Bnei Anousim — whose ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition — will be led in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala by Rabbi Elisha Salas of Shavei Israel, an organization that contacts and educates far-flung communities of Jews and those of Jewish ancestry.

Jews first arrived in El Salvador and surrounding areas to escape the Inquisition, which led to the conversion or expulsion of Spain’s Jews upon penalty of death. Those Jews, Bnei Anousim — sometimes derogatorily as “Marranos” or “pigs” — were forced to practice Judaism in secret, losing knowledge and traditions along the way.

Rabbi Salas, a native of Chile, will be based in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, where there are currently 300 Bnei Anousim, all of whom practice Orthodox Judaism. Shavei Israel will also work with Jews in Guatemala and Honduras.

A more traditional Jewish community has existed in El Salvador since the early 19th century, when Jewish immigrants arrived from from around Latin America, Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia. A small group of Ashkenazi Jews arrived in the middle of the 20th century, fleeing Europe in the early days of the Holocaust.

Alyssa Fisher is a news writer at the Forward. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter at @alyssalfisher

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.