Javier Milei: the Torah, his rabbi and the Forces of Heaven


On the Theological-Political Situation in Argentina

On December 10, Javier Milei, “el loco” [the madman], officially became Argentina’s new president. One of the astounding aspects of the populist tribune’s rise to power is his relationship with Judaism. He made the chief rabbi of the Moroccan-Argentine Jewish community Acilba his “spiritual guide”, and declared that he would devote his life to the Torah once he had accomplished the political mission God had assigned him. Francesco Callegaro looks back at the strange theological-political knot in which Orthodox Judaism and the pinnacle of the Argentine state now find themselves intertwined.


Javier Milei


Javier Milei’s victory in the presidential elections continues to astonish observers in Argentina and abroad. One wonders how this disheveled anarcho-capitalist economist, whose words are as aggressive as the ideas he expresses, was able to win the election by almost 12 points over the candidate of the center-left Peronist coalition, considering that he based his campaign on the lifting of almost all the taboos imposed since the return to democracy in 1983. Milei advanced and asserted himself by daring to say the unspeakable, by profaning the sacred, by splitting what was left of the unity of an already tested nation. Just 10 years ago, no one could have imagined that his ideas would be so widespread in society. 

The catastrophic state of the economy, with 140% inflation and 40% poverty, is certainly enough to explain why the incumbent minister of the Economy, Sergio Massa, was destined to lose, but it is not enough to explain why he was beaten like no Peronist candidate before. In order to begin to sketch out an explanation for the inexplicable, we need to take a few steps back and try to reconstruct an increasingly accelerated process of statehood, which in fact extends over eight years. Such a step back from the giddiness and verbiage of the recently concluded elections is essential if we are to emerge from the astonishment and try to grasp the forces that, accumulating one after the other, have finally made the impossible possible. At a crucial point in this process, we encounter the alliance of neoliberalism, if not with God, at least with rabbis.

The Colorful Rise of an Economics Professor

To understand how this encounter occurred, we need to go back upstream. Before criticizing the “casta”—a term he borrowed from two other parties/movements at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, Podemos in Spain and the 5-Star Movement in Italy—Milei first made a name for himself in the public eye by vehemently attacking the government of Mauricio Macri in 2015-2018 for being too moderate. This tone and these positions allowed him to find his first media resonance. His success was based on the pure neoliberalism of von Mises, Hayek, and the Austrian school of thought, and on his exaggerated defense of the virtues of the market against the evils of the state, accompanied by apologies and insults. On September 15, 2023, in the midst of the presidential campaign, his interview with journalist Tucker Carlson surpassed 420 million views on X (formerly Twitter) in just a few days, becoming the most-viewed interview on the social network and in the history of the Internet. 

The high level of exposure in the media, both traditional and new, certainly played a decisive role in triggering the phenomenon, but Milei would not have been able to reach his ultimate position—at the head of the state he hates—if he had not also been able to expand his network of contacts far beyond academic and journalistic circles. This was the starting point of his true transformation. Milei began his career as a news commentator for America TV, owned by Eduardo Eurnekian, one of Argentina’s richest men. President of Corporación América, a holding company that includes various industries (airports, agribusiness, energy, infrastructure), “el Armenio” had been Milei’s employer since 2008. In addition to entertaining Eurnekian with his irreverent jokes, he was his economic analyst and financial advisor. According to the book “El Loco” by journalist Juan Luis González, it was Eurnekian who decided in 2015 to install Milei on his America TV channel to criticize Macri’s government, with which he was in conflict. 

In addition to a high salary that helped rehabilitate him after a period of emptiness—which he never describes in detail, except for the intimacy with his dog Conan, with whom he has communicated through a medium since his death in 2017, and whom he cloned by naming each of the English mastiffs he bred after a great neoliberal economist (Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Lucas)—working at Corporación América brought Milei into contact not only with the media but also with the world of business and politics. Eurnekian opened doors usually closed to a middle-class son struggling with a former bus driver-turned-entrepreneur father who, he says, never stopped humiliating him. 

But to gain national recognition, especially in Argentina, Milei needed more. His discourse had to go further—mobilize the masses, and open a horizon of hope capable of expressing the repressed desires of a multitude of scattered subjects. In order to make more direct contact with this real society, which was not to be found in the circles of the elite, Milei adopted various strategies, advised by his sister Karina, nicknamed “el Jefe” [the leader, in the masculine form] whom he made responsible for his communication, his image, his agenda, the management of his patrimony and his political articulation in the provinces, and whom he now seemed to see, once the transition to Judaism had been completed, as the Moses whose revelator Aaron himself would be. He was the protagonist of a play, “El consultorio de Milei”, later broadcast on television, in which he answered one of Argentina’s enduring mysteries—if Argentina has the highest number of psychologists per capita in the world, it’s because of the effects of a catastrophic economy on subjectivity. Hence the need for a psychoanalyst, who is actually an economist, to sit in the chair and listen to the recurring complaints and respond to the growing anxieties of ordinary people, tracing the difficulties of the present to the structural problems created 70 years ago by the organization of the economy put in place by Perón.

Rally for Javier Milei (c) Lina Etchesuri
The Pandemic’s Springboard and the Populist Strategy

If laughter could have given Milei a foothold in the minds of the masses, it wasn’t comedy that put him in touch with the overall social movement, but the tragedy of the pandemic. In retrospect, “The One,” as Milei now calls the higher power behind his work, gave him a hell of a helping hand. After all, the rocket of pure neoliberalism had to be launched by a social experiment in the throes of death that made the state’s ability to restrict freedoms tangible. After attacking the center-right for its lack of radicalism, from 2020 on Milei was able to attack the real object of his hatred—socialism, which in Argentina hides behind the multiple masks of Peronism. After the announcement of the extension of the lockdown, Milei spoke in favor of marches against the government of Alberto Fernández, which is actually quite moderate, and called for demonstrations on May 25, 2020, in the name of a certain idea of freedom that is incompatible with social justice. In front of two hundred people gathered outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, he began his true metamorphosis. Charged with collective hatred, he was ready to become the leader of a neoliberal far right whose roots go back to the 1976 dictatorship, but which has never played the game of representative democracy, for lack of a movement, a party and a leader. 

In this context of demonstrations and polemics against state-imposed restrictions, Milei—riding the wave of a concrete experience that gave substance to the abstract idea of individual freedom—intensified his presence on social networks. His goal was to capture the forgotten youth, angry at a government that for months had prevented them from going out and enjoying life. 

Although they didn’t have a name at the time—that would come after their discovery of the Torah—these young people were quick to create, on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, the dissemination mechanisms that would give Milei’s “cultural battle”—to use the 1960s expression he adopted from the Peronist left—the scope and resonance it needed to strike at the heart of the Argentine imagination, to the point of splitting it in two for good. 

And so, on September 26, 2020, during one of his many live broadcasts on Instagram, Milei announced his intention to run for national deputy for the city of Buenos Aires, the springboard for his future presidential bid. Having now set his sights on the “political caste,” he resorted to the tactic of mass mobilization usually denounced by the right as the hallmark of populist leftist governments—immersing himself in the masses during walks, dubbed “Freedom Tours,” around the city of Buenos Aires and among working-class neighborhoods. The first moment in which Milei began to show everyone what he had become came at the end of this first campaign, in November 2021. In Luna Park, in front of almost 5,000 people, he celebrated the 17% of votes he had obtained in the city of Buenos Aires, votes that allowed him to enter the National Congress with Victoria Villarruel. The same Villarruel who will become Vice President and will earn herself a bad reputation for defending military personnel sentenced by the civil justice system for their participation in state terrorism during the last military dictatorship.  

In the Luna Park images available on YouTube, Milei takes the stage to sing, as he did throughout the campaign, “Panic Show,” a rock song conceived by the group La Renga as a political fable. Milei modified the last verse to make it an anthem for the liberal-libertarian movement—”Hello everyone, I’m the lion…I’m the king of a lost world, I’m the king and I’m going to destroy you, to devour the whole caste (and all their accomplices).” Having overheated the crowd, Milei was unable to begin his celebratory speech, overwhelmed by the drums and trumpets of the stadiums, by the chants of his supporters singing “The caste is afraid, the caste is afraid.”

Encountering the Spiritual Guide

One cannot underestimate the impact of the hybridization between the goalkeeper and rock singer he was in his teens (leading the group Everest, which specialized in Rolling Stones songs), and the leader of a political movement he became, especially if one knows the entanglements between the worlds of music, soccer and politics that characterize Argentine social life. But it was elsewhere, with another king, that the lion finally found the resources, both subjective and social, to embark on the uncertain adventure of the presidential elections. This is where a touch of Judaism comes into play. 

In June 2021, a month before he announced the creation of his political platform, the alliance “La Libertad Avanza”—it would be the first libertarian party in history to govern a country—Milei was the target, on social networks, of accusations of Nazism and comparisons with Hitler that deeply wounded him. Doubling down, as he often does, he then called economist Julio Goldstein, a leading figure in the like-minded Jewish community, to work out a strategy. Goldstein suggested introducing him to his friend Shimon Axel Wahnish, chief rabbi of the Moroccan-Argentine Jewish community of Acilba, who belongs to the Modern Orthodox movement. As Goldestein later recounted, their first meeting quickly turned into a “cabalistic meeting” in which Wahnish even came to tell Milei, a year before he announced his candidacy, that he was the leader of a “liberation movement.” The future president came out of the meeting “enthusiastic,” to the point of deciding to devote his entire life to the Torah, after fulfilling the political mission God had given him.

Javier Milei and his “spiritual guide”, Shimon Axel Wahnish, the chief rabbi of the Moroccan-Argentine Jewish community

With Rabbi Wahnish, whom he now considers his “spiritual guide,” Milei began a serious initiation into Judaism, to the point of considering conversion, although he is basically Catholic. In the company of the master, through long one-on-one conversations or WhatsApp messages, he immersed himself in the Torah, with a goal that was both spiritual and political,i.e.,deciphering the mysteries of the present with the help of explosive biblical metaphors, so as to be able to subjectively face the constant challenges of an open crisis. “He is a person I like very much,” says Milei, “and whom I consult regularly, sometimes for two or three hours—he urges me to read the Torah from an economic point of view.” This increasingly intimate relationship is responsible for the messianic fervor that has since gripped “el Loco,” the madman, as Milei has been called since his youth because of his extravagance. The immanence of the current economic crisis is thus doubled by the transcendence of a political solution with theological overtones, as evidenced by the increasingly frequent references, since 2021, to not necessarily well-known passages from the Old Testament. 

Identification with the Jews and the instrumentalisation of Judaism

Two years later, we find all these references condensed in the opening of the terrifying final act of the presidential campaign, held on October 18, 2023, in the Movistar Arena, a stadium that usually hosts major concerts, built on the grounds of a Jewish club, “Atlanta,” in one of the neighborhoods where the community is most present, Villa Crespo. In darkness barely broken by the lights of the cell phones of some 13,000 people, the image of a man with a horn-shaped instrument suddenly appears on the screen mounted at center stage—the vibration stands out against the background of a dazzled and silent hall, waiting for the meaning of the call to be revealed. While Rosh Hashanah is a time for blowing the shofar to greet the Jewish New Year, in Milei’s show it’s the signal for the coming destruction, announced by a stream of images of collapsing buildings, explosions in the ocean, fires and waves, before the slogan “Milei, the only solution” appears.

In the crowd, which he passed through like a rock star, smothered everywhere by embracing arms, the young people in full exaltation wear a cap with the inscription “The Forces of Heaven.” As one of them told the Clarin newspaper, “[i]t’s become an identity, we’re The Forces of Heaven. It’s like La Cámpora for Kirchnerism.” It’s a phrase Milei took from chapter 3 of the Book of Maccabees, which refers to the uprising of a Jewish liberation movement against the army of Greek invaders in 166 B.C. “In a battle, victory does not depend on the number of soldiers, but on the forces of heaven. The soldiers in question are mostly between 16 and 30 years old, most of them men. They feel excluded from the progressive politics of the last few years, driven by the feminist movement and sexual minorities, whom they attack on the networks, slandering the social scientists who have written about them. Above all, they are fed up with politicians who have failed to find a way out of the prolonged economic crisis and to outline a clear future based on the certainties they need.

The Forces of Heaven digital campaign was a decisive factor in Milei’s triumph, as Iñaki Gutiérrez, a 22-year-old influencer who became his campaign’s “community manager,” admitted afterward. He had recommended the use of TikTok instead of Facebook (used by Trump) and Instagram (used by Bolsonaro). This approach allowed for the creation of community spaces on the networks; it also allowed for less costly access to the interior of the country, thus expanding the movement nationwide, while at the same time setting in motion the beginnings of an organization, at least in ideological terms. With great pedagogical effectiveness, Milei was able to put his ideas about freedom into TikTok videos, sending his sensational messages to millions of people beyond the young people who initially supported him. Not all of them were suddenly converted to neoliberal messianism, but one only has to scan the comments circulating on social networks to measure the impact on the working classes of invoking the King of Kings to install the Lion as the leader capable of rescuing the nation from its doomed fate, foreshadowed by the inflation figures.

It’s not surprising, then, that Milei’s first act after her victory was to visit David Hanania Pinto, a rabbi who has devoted his life to advising various presidents as well as the King of Morocco, in this Once neighborhood of Buenos Aires, home to a large community of Orthodox Jews as well as working-class laborers. At the Havdalah ceremony, Milei received a special blessing from the rabbi—“I ask God to protect the Argentine nation and to bring Argentina back to what it was before. And I’m sure that with God’s help they[The Forces of Heaven] will help the nation.” At the end of the ceremony, Milei went downstairs with him to the Torah area. The rabbi offered a special prayer in Hebrew for the success of the president’s mission. 

“May He who gives salvation to kings and rules over princes, whose reign is an honor for all eternity, deliver His servant David from the deadly sword that has cut a path through the sea and turbulent waters. May He bless and heal, protect and help, exalt, magnify and elevate Javier Milei, the most excellent President of the Argentine Republic. May the King of Kings, by His mercy, protect him, give him life and keep him free from all folly and evil; may the King of Kings, by His mercy, ensure that his destiny is exalted and that the days of his government are prolonged. May the King of Kings, by his mercy, fill his heart and the hearts of his counselors and ministers with mercy, so that he may be kind to us and to all the people of Israel.”

Selfie with Javier Milei, Twitter.
The Contradictions of Today’s World

Milei took the opportunity to reiterate his unconditional support for Israel in exercising its right to self-defense and his rejection of Hamas terrorism. He also announced that he would immediately travel to New York to visit the grave of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which opposes “communism” with a libertarian slant. That same Sunday, Milei flew to New York to visit the Ohel, the holy place where the remains of the former Orthodox religious leader lie—he had already been there in secret to ask for his blessing in preparation for the election. The visit to the grave was to have a purely “spiritual” connotation—“I’m going to stop by and thank Hashem [God] for the place He’s given me.” The “blessing came true,” Milei told the Israeli newspaper Kfar Chabad. But this first trip abroad did indeed mix spiritual and political issues. Milei also went to Washington to explain to representatives of the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank the economic plan he intends to implement as soon as he takes office on December 10, without waiting for parliament to reconvene in March.

This is the series of “shock” reforms that he announced on the day of his assumption of power, i.e., December 10, in front of the crowd gathered in front of Congress. After reviewing the drastic measures taken to reduce the budget deficit (ban on the issue of currency, reduction in the number of ministries, privatization of public companies and works, etc.) and considering their disastrous short-term effects on employment, wages and the number of poor and destitute, Milei ended his speech by recalling the foundations of the “new social contract”—”It is no coincidence that this presidential inauguration takes place during the festival of Hanukkah, the festival of light because it celebrates the true essence of freedom. The war of the Maccabees is the symbol of the triumph of the weak over the powerful, of the few over the many, of light over darkness and, above all, of truth over lies, because you know that I’d rather tell you an uncomfortable truth than a comfortable lie… May God bless the people of Argentina and may the forces of heaven help us in this challenge.”

This strange theological-political knot, in which Orthodox Judaism and the pinnacle of the Argentine state are intertwined, has so far not provoked any anti-Semitic frenzy, although disturbing messages are already circulating in the conspiratorial networks of the post-colonial left. Argentina is the country with the largest number of Jews in Latin America, the fifth largest outside of Israel, with about 250,000. As Alejandro Dujovne, a social scientist at CONICET, director of the Masters in Sociology and Cultural Analysis at IDAES-UNSAM, and a specialist in the sociology of modern Jewish history and literature in Europe and Argentina, recently explained, Milei has a bookish relationship with Judaism, based exclusively on the Torah. As a result, he ignores its “social dimension,” the “centrality of community life,” the “breadth” and “vitality” of the “institutional network of schools, sports clubs and synagogues,” as well as the “diversity of religious, cultural and political viewpoints that shape Argentine Jewish life.” Despite its intimacy with the Torah, Milei has not been able to establish links with the main institutions of the community, such as the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA) and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA). This year, the National Congress approved a law declaring July 18 as a national day of mourning for the victims of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA headquarters, in which 85 people were killed. Milei originally voted against the bill, but changed his mind.

“Capitalism or barbarism”, graffiti in the streets of Buenos Aires (c) Juan Valeiro

On September 21, a month before the first round of voting, some 4,000 Jewish artists and intellectuals launched a public petition expressing their “concern” at Milei’s “political use of Judaism” to propagate “hate speech.” The petition reads—”The Jewish ethic we have learned and aspire to practice in our lives is closely linked to the notion of equality and social justice, the same notion that Milei considers aberrant. Consequently, our Judaism is the antithesis of Javier Milei and his political project.” In Argentina, social justice is synonymous with Peronism. Consistently, then, these same Jewish artists and intellectuals came to the defense of Pope Francis, whom Milei viciously attacked as “the representative of evil on earth” because of his dangerous proximity to Peronism. After the latest salvo of insults during the interview with Carlson, in which Milei once again attacked Pope Francis for his defense of social justice, the latter finally responded, without naming the man, in an interview with Argentina’s official press agency—“The Messiah is only one, the one who saved us all. The others are all messianic clowns”.

Even if his government lasts only a few months, Milei’s ascent to the pinnacle of power in Argentina completes the ripping away of the veil of our progressive illusions and takes us back, as it did Italy a century ago, to the true meaning of the situation in which we find ourselves. We are passing through what Alvaro Garcia Linera has called a liminal time, a suspension between past and future, comparable to the crisis of liberalism in the 1920s. The difference is that fascism in the making represents a libertarian paradox—its aim is not to destroy the rule of law in order to create a total state in the qualitative sense of the term, but to dismantle what remains of the social state in order to counter the movements that are pushing for its radical reinvention. Far from responding to the socialism already partially achieved on the basis of a state with expanded functions, it intends to dismantle this reflexive apparatus of society by force—including the force of Heaven—and thus reduce it to the bare essentials, namely a command center. And all this with the declared aim of slowing down the rise of the socialism of the 21st century, the horizon of hope opened up by the struggles of the new social movements, which is rethinking itself at its very source in the peripheries of Europe. It is indeed in these territories that socialism is demonstrating its ability to integrate what it has always overlooked—the sacred roots of social justice, which means desecrating the sanctuaries of property when it makes living together so impossible that it ends up producing monsters.

Francesco Callegaro

Francesco Callegaro is professor of philosophy and sociology at Eidaes (Universidad nacional de San Martín, Buenos Aires).

Contact the author

    Support us!

    You can help us

    With the support of:

    Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.