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Argentina’s new president embraces Judaism. But will he be ‘Good for the Jews’?

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Argentina’s new president embraces Judaism. But will he be ‘Good for the Jews’?

Published: 28 November 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Far-right libertarian Javier Milei often cites verses from the Torah when discussing economic policy. But the largest Jewish community in Latin America is reserving judgment.

NEW YORK – Responding to the election of a far-right libertarian as their next president, Argentina’s Jewish community leaders say that Javier Milei represents change – and that, at least, is something positive.

They were less inclined to cite his great support for Israel and his warm embrace of Judaism as reasons for optimism – as might be expected – noting instead that those credentials could ultimately hurt them if he takes Argentina’s beleaguered economy down an even deeper hole with his radical agenda.

Raised Catholic, Milei developed a keen interest in Judaism and often studies Jewish texts with his friend Rabbi Shimon Axel Wahnish, the head of a small Argentine-Moroccan Jewish community based in Buenos Aires. In recent interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais,  the flamboyant politician – often compared to Donald Trump and the Marvel comic-book character Wolverine – revealed that he had considered converting to Judaism, but understood that it would not be practical were he to be elected because he would be unable to observe Shabbat.

 Milei is known to have close ties to the local Chabad emissaries and recently visited the gravesite of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in New York. He has said that among the first places he plans to visit after his inauguration is the Rebbe’s grave at Springfield Gardens, Queens, once again, along with Israel.

“There are people in our community who think it’s very good that he was elected because it will strengthen Argentina’s ties with Israel, and he will be much more willing to fight Islamist terrorism,” said Rabbi Marcelo Polakoff, the spiritual leader of the Centro Unión Israelita de Cordoba, a more than century-old congregation with several thousand members. But there are others who think this warm embrace could end up being a dangerous thing for us.”

Argentina’s new president embraces Judaism. But will he be ‘Good for the Jews’? ‘

Photo: Javier Milei holds an Israeli flag during a campaign rally in Buenos Aires in  October (Matas Baglietto via Reuters Connect)

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