Some conversos arrived at the time of the Spanish Conquest in Peru. Only Christians were allowed to take part in expeditions to the New World. At first, they had lived without restrictions because the Inquisition was not active in Peru at the beginning of the Viceroyalty. Then, with the advent of the Inquisition, New Christians began to be persecuted, and, in some cases, executed. In this period, these people were sometimes called "marranos", converts ("conversos"), and "cristianos nuevos" (New Christians) even if they had been reared as Catholics from birth.
To escape persecution, these male colonial Sephardic Jewish conversos settled mainly in the northern highlands and northern high jungle. They intermarried with natives, in some areas assimilating to the local people: in Cajamarca, the northern highlands of Piura, they intermarried with Ayabaca and Huancabamba, among others, due to cultural and ethnic contact with people of the southern highlands of Ecuador. Their mixed-race descendants were reared with syncretic Catholic, Jewish and Amazonian rituals and beliefs.
In the first decades of the 19th century, numerous Sephardic Jews from Morocco emigrated to Peru as traders and trappers, working with the natives of the interior. By the end of the century, the rubber boom in the Amazon Basin attracted much greater numbers of Sephardic Jews from North Africa, as well as Europeans. Many settled in Iquitos, which was the Peruvian center for the export of rubber along the Amazon River. They created the second organized Jewish community in Peru after Lima, founding a Jewish cemetery and synagogue. After the boom fizzled due to competition from Southeast Asia, many Europeans and North Africans left Iquitos. Those who remained over generations had married native women; their mixed-race or mestizo descendants grew up in the local culture, a mixture of Jewish, Christian, European and Amazonian influences and faiths.
In modern times, before and after the Second World War, some Ashkenazic Jews, chiefly from Western and Eastern Slavic areas and from Hungary, migrated to Peru, chiefly to the capital Lima. The Ashkenazis ignored the Peruvian Jews of the Amazon, excluding them from consideration as fellow Jews under Orthodox law because their maternal lines were not Jewish.
In the late 20th century, some descendants in Iquitos began to study Judaism, eventually making formal conversions in 2002 and 2004 with the aid of a sympathetic American rabbi from Brooklyn, New York. A few hundred were given permission to make aliyah to Israel. In 2014, nearly 150 more emigrated to Israel.
PERUVIAN INDIGENOUS JEWS Jewish Virtual Library
The unique asset of Peru's Jewish community is the number of indigenous Peruvians who have recently started practicing Judaism. These Jews are descendants of people who were converted to Catholicism when the Spanish took over Peru. Many of them believe that in order to observe the laws of the Bible you must practice Judaism. The community started out as five hundred people in three small towns in Peru. The Peruvians practiced Judaism, but the Jewish community in Lima would not convert them or accept them. In 1988 Rabbi Mendel Zuber came to Peru and studied with about three hundred people and got a Bet Din from Israel to do conversions. In 1991 the Bet Din converted some of them and helped them make aliyah to Israel. The Bet Din was supposed to come back few months later, but they changed their mind because some of the indigenous Peruvians decided to adopt a more secular life style. However they did not give up. Their efforts combined with some other leaders of the Jewish community got the Bet Din to come to Peru again to convert more people and help them move to Israel. In November 2001, 83 more people were converted and taken to Israel. The Bet Din says they will come back and convert more people once these immigrants have been absorbed.
General Population: 23,944,000 Jewish Population: 3,000
Almost the entire Jewish population, the vast majority of whom are Ashkenazim, is located in the capital city of Lima. The population has been shrinking since the 1940s.
COMMUNAL AND RELIGIOUS LIFE
The central communal body is the Asociacion Judia del Peru, which both represents the Jewish community to the public and coordinates the activities of the community's three synagogues. The community also maintains a B'nai B'rith lodge, a Hebraica Club, Zionist youth movements and many social assistance institutions. A majority of the school-age children attends the Colegio Leon Pinelo. The community publishes two Jewish newspapers.