Seeking authentic religion, 600+ Colombian evangelist Christians convert to Judaism

Elad Villegas and Shlomo Caro
Source: The California Sunday Magazine
A team of three reporters and photographers document the amazing journey of 600 Colombians who followed their young religious leaders from a congregation of evangelical Christianity into Orthodox Judaism, becoming a congregation of 600 in Medellín, Colombia. Guided at first only by books and the deep feeling of connectedness to God which two of the evangelists had experienced during visits to Israel that were not related to religion, the leaders learned how to practice Judaism, converted their families and community members and instructed them in kosher Jewish observance. René Cano eventually moved his family to Israel in 2015 and has become Shlomo Caro.

Shlomo had given his family a new last name — Caro instead of Cano. Joseph Caro was a 16th-century Jewish sage who wrote the Shulchan Aruch, the most widely consulted Jewish legal code. By changing just one letter, Shlomo was hoping to provide his children with a name that had prestige and tradition.

Juan Carlos spent an intensive study year in Israel to supplement his years of self-study and tutored learning in Colombia with visiting rabbis from other countries and has become Rabbi Elad Villegas. He leads the congregation founded by himself and Shlomo and now inspires Jews and teaches Judaism to emerging and older congregations around the country. The reporters write:

In Medellín, though, Elad has become the public face not only of the conversion movement but of Judaism itself. One morning, we drove to an elite school in El Poblado where he had been invited to speak at an interfaith forum. No one from the older Jewish community had been included. The next day, he delivered a lecture on kashrut at a conference on food security at a private university, also in El Poblado. At both events, he was introduced as “the leader of the Jewish Community of Antioquia.”
Elad told me about his many plans. A design for a mikvah, or ritual bath, to be built on the synagogue’s premises had been sent to Israel for rabbinical approval. He was about to close a deal with a poultry farm in Cali, an hour’s flight away, to open a kosher section. With the support of the Goldsteins, a new yeshiva for converts from Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador was in the works.
I was curious. His path toward Judaism had started in Jerusalem. Wasn’t he tempted to make the final step that so many converts take: aliyah, migration to Israel? He loved Israel, he replied, and the idea of living there was tempting, and he had considered it, but he needed to stay in Bello. People depended on him. Here he was a leader.

11 Replies to “Seeking authentic religion, 600+ Colombian evangelist Christians convert to Judaism”

  1. Jerry Reiner you changed your argument. I do not disagree with the statement that these converts are rejecting Christianity – of course they are. That’s the whole point of the article.

    I didn’t agree with your statement that they are rejecting history. I don’t see it that way. And btw it’s interesting that you and I feel similar frustrations toward one another. I also feel that you apply revisionist history.

  2. And we reject bad ideas all the time. Not every idea is worth accepting. That’s all religion is at the end of the day: a set of ideas. There is nothing wrong with rejecting ideas, nor is there anything wrong with admitting to do so.

  3. Actually, by embracing Judaism, they are rejecting Christianity. There is nothing wrong with saying that. That is literally how conversion works. And for Judaism and Christianity, their differences begin and end with acceptance and or rejection of Christ. To truly embrace Judaism, one must accept that we are still waiting for the Messiah.

  4. Ms Wei, we agree on many things but I find your inability to accept history…..not dogma …..often frustrating.

    There are many scholarly books about the origin of Christianity. Not religious tracts but scholarship. The same is true about Judaism, Islam and the other great faith traditions.

    Of course this group is rejecting almost two millennia of tradition. But they are entitled to their freedom of conscience.

    I’d be curious if their process of conversion will be acceptable to religious officials in Israel. They didn’t give an easy time to Ethiopian Jews who’s traditions actually predated modern Judaism.

    Time will tell.

    God bless.

  5. Actually, they are. Even secular and Jewish historians would largely agree with my post. And so would Orthodox and Reformed Christians. It’s not just a Catholic viewpoint.

    I wasn’t being critical but putting their choice into an historical context.

    Christianity and all religious traditions have roots, continuity and authenticity.

    If it’s a good choice for them, then may they find solace and acceptance in the larger Jewish community.

  6. According to you, who are an extremely committed Catholic, these people are rejecting history. To me, a Jews, they are embracing a religion with traceable roots, continuity and authenticity .. while coincidentally leaving behind a style of religious observance that they found lacking in all of this. YMMV

  7. There’s been a Jews for Jesus movement for decades.

    It’s interesting that Jewishness was an issue with the followers of Jesus from the beginning and is chronicled in the New Testament in the book called Acts of the Apostles and in various Epistles (letters) from St Paul).

    Paul started his life as Saul. He opposed Christianity but on his way to Damascus looking to stop the Christian movement there, he had a vision of the Risen Lord and a complete change of heart.

    He was much better educated than the 12 Apostles and had great success in converting Gentiles. This caused a controversy among other Jewish followers of Jesus (Paul was a practicing Jew).

    Gentiles were deemed to be ritually unclean. And there was a belief that Gentiles needed to convert to Judaism.

    The Christian community in Jerusalem (that was Christian HQ in the first century) held an historic council in which it was decided that conversion to Judaism was not necessary to be Christian. It was not completely settled then but in time as Gentile Christians out numbered Jewish Christians the point became moot.

    Finally in the first century when modern Judaism came into being after the destruction of the Temple, Jewish Christians, who would still worship in synagogues, were asked to make a choice or leave.

    That is a real short version of the divergence of Judaism and Christianity.

    This Evangelical group, who I assume are Scripture based, are rejecting this history.

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