Debate over who’s a “real Jew” roils Argentine Jewish community

June 13, 2008

AMIA logoThe newly elected president of Argentina’s biggest Jewish community center sparked a firestorm when he was quoted in the press as saying he wanted the group to represent “genuine Jews” who live strictly by the Torah.

Guillermo Borger is the first Orthodox Jew elected to head the AMIA (Argentine Israeli Mutual Association) center in Buenos Aires, which was founded 114 years ago. Argentina’s Jewish community is the largest in Latin America with nearly 200,000 members.

Borger was quoted last weekend by Argentina’s biggest daily newspaper Clarin as saying he planned to “reinforce AMIA’s role in representing genuine Jews.” When asked what made a Jew genuine, he said: “It’s having a life based on all the Torah’s teachings.”

Luis GrynwaldConservative and secular Jews pounced on the statement, slamming Borger’s comments as narrow and discriminatory. The outgoing president of AMIA, Luis Grynwald, said he included himself among the Jews “who are not ‘genuine,’ and don’t have a life based on what the Torah dictates,” according to the Argentina-based Agencia Judía de Noticias (Jewish News Agency).

“Being Jewish is teaching my children and grandchildren the importance of inclusion, belonging, respect and honesty … each person expresses Judaism in his own way, I do so with pride and great honor,” Grynwald said.

Argentine writer Marcos Aguinis called Borger’s remarks “a medieval step backward,” warning that AMIA could lose members if the group’s pluralistic tradition were scrapped.

Borger came out later in the week, saying he had never said anything to distinguish between genuine and “non-genuine” Jews and adding that he aimed to reinforce AMIA’s role as “the representative of all Jews, without any exclusions.”

“We want an AMIA for everyone that is open and pro-dialogue,” he said in a statement.

AMIA bombing on 18 July 1994/Enrique MarcarianNot everyone was put at ease, however, and some AMIA members led a protest against Borger’s comments on Thursday. “Now they say you’re not a Jew unless you’re Orthodox, fundamentalist and religious … that excludes 98.5 percent of the Jewish community,” a middle-aged man told local television.

The AMIA center became international news in 1994, when a bombing there killed 85 people.


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Wow. What a reaction? “Genuine” can only mean what Mr. G. Borger said. Personally, I am saddened by his comments so early in his tenure. Makes you wonder what is to come next?

I am most impressed and honored by how the leading members of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association spoke very openingly about the purpose of inclusion. Why would some one like myself (a non-Jew) care? We’ll when people are left out anywhere, because others define themselves as better, then I care. Comments usually lead to actions. If Mr. G. Borger feels that way within the Jewish community then he must have an even more contemptuous view of us outsiders too. I have friends and family of all races, religions, nationalilities, and ethnic backgrouds. We are inclusively “Genuine”.

I love Argentina. Viva Argentina. So many more great things to come from Argentina. Keep the message of unity.

Rob J>
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Posted by Rob J> | Report as abusive

This is exactly what is wrong with this world today, one groups attempt to exclude another on the basis of allegedly being “better in some way or another,” when God put us all on this planet together. Instead of seeking ways to bring people together and to learn from the historical mistakes of ALL RELIGIONS AND RELIGIOUS PERSECUTIONS, we turn around in 2008 and continue along a path that has only been self destructive, totally divisive, counterproductive, dehumanizing, and destined to destroy so-called civilized society and our environment as we know it today. WHEN WILL YOU LEARN THAT WE MUST COME TOGETHER, HELP EACH OTHER PROSPER AND LIVE OUR VERY BEST LIVES, NO MATTER WHAT SO-CALLED RELIGION YOU WISH TO PRACTICE!!!

Posted by gpope | Report as abusive

What part of “It’s having a life based on all the Torah’s teachings” did they object to?

Was it “Loving your neighbor as yourself?” Or helping the poor and destitute. Or, perhaps it had something to do with belief in G-d?

Maybe it was the Ten Commandments?

Unless I’m missing something in the translation, it appears that Borger’s comment was spot on for a “Jewish” organization. And, the complainers’ arguments have more to do with their own problems than with any non-inclusive attitudes of Mr Borger.

In addition, the article here on Faith World states: “he was quoted in the press as saying he wanted the group to represent “genuine Jews” who live strictly by the Torah.” Nowhere does he *EVER* use a word that represents “strictly.” Inclusion of the word “strictly” is pure editorializing on the part of the writer of this article.

Posted by Izzy | Report as abusive

If one has to pay the price for it, then one is genuine. It’s the Refomim who are the “genuine” Jews.

Posted by messy | Report as abusive