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Blood Libel

Blood Libel - The blood libel is a false accusation that Jews sacrifice Christian children either to use the blood for various "medicinal" purposes or to prepare Passover Matzoth (unleavened bread) or for vengeance and mock crucifixions. It is one of the central fables of Anti-Semitism of the older (middle ages) type. The blood libel is a phenomenon of medieval and modern Christian anti-Semitism, but spread to the Middle East as early as 1775, when there was a blood libel in Hebron. A second blood libel occurred in Damascus in 1840 and one occurred in Cyprus in the same year. As the blood libel was the subject of folk ballads and literature, it was not simply a religious superstition in Europe, but a staple of popular culture, like most anti-Semitic prejudices.

Blood Libel, Nazi Germany

Blood Libel illustration in the Nazi Newspaper Westdeutchen Beobachter of Cologne, published by Robert Ley - the most popular newspaper in Western Germany in the early years of Nazism.

Blood libels in the both the West and the East were generally occasions for large-scale persecution and judicial murders of Jews, as well as the basis for expulsions and pogroms. There have been about 150 cases of blood libel that were actually tried by Catholic authorities, and many other rumored cases that never came to trial.

The enduring nature of the blood libel is one of its most remarkable features. It was an invention of the pagans. It was revived and exploited in medieval Christian superstition, later promoted deliberately by the counter-reformation and the Inquisition, By the 19th century, much of the "old" anti-Semitism of the medieval period had passed from the world, but the libel persisted. It has been transplanted to the United States and the belief flourishes in Muslim countries as well. Investigations, instigations and enforcement had been transferred in part from the Roman Catholic Church to lay authorities: Tsarist police, Polish police and even New York State Troopers.

Various immediate political or other motivations are often attached to the accusations, such as desire to obtain Jewish property, but the libel could not succeed if large numbers of people did not believe it, and they do. The blood libel is not a thing of the past. The idea that ritual sacrifice is practiced by Jews is held by supposedly learned professors, one of whom asked complains that:

We are simply supposed to dismiss as anti-Semitic ranting any argumentation... which would uphold that the Catholics could have been justified in their claims that Jews in the Middle Ages practiced blood libel, Kabbalitic black magic, and child crucifixions. (see traditioninaction.org/History/A_010_BloodyPassovers.htm)

Of course, it is impossible to disprove such claims, and of course some Jews practiced or believed in "Kabbalitic magic" which is harmless mystical superstition, and is here turned into something sinister.

The blood libel has insinuated itself into political discourse. In 2003, The Independent published a cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating babies,  which was awarded a prize. In 2009, Pat Oliphant published a cartoon of a Jewish start dripping blood.

Falsity of the Blood Libel

It should not be necessary to point out that consumption of blood is forbidden to Jews (Leviticus 3:17 Leviticus 7:26 Leviticus 17:10-14 Deuteronomy 12:15-16, 20-24), and that the accusations are fantastic and without foundation. The Emperor Frederick II of Hoehenstauffen and Pope Innocent IV both refuted the blood libel myth and Pope Gregory X issued a letter condemning it. Until the most recent times, the blood libel was condemned as false by Muslims. The Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent as well as the 19th century reformist Sultan Mahmoud II denounced the blood libel as a Christian fable.

Blood Libel in Modern Times

The blood libel accusation is still alive in modern times.  A book by Mustapha Tlass, former Syrian defense minister, recent newspaper articles in Egyptian and Saudi newspapers and a recent Egyptian movie all describe the blood libel as true. The book by Tlass, The Matzah of Zion, is still enjoying heavy sales and is reprinted regularly in the Arab world. There have been at least 8 reprintings, and the book has been translated into English, French and Italian. The book also alleges the truth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In Russia, the blood libel still enjoys public support and was championed in 2002 by twenty Dumas members ref , and repeated in 2007 ref. Likewise in Iran it is treated as a fact. ref  Osama Al Baz, adviser to Egypt's President Mubarak, published a refutation of the Blood Libel and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion myths in Al-Ahram. Al Baz's article however, has illustrations comparing the behavior of Israeli soldiers to Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, and the article may have been in part an attempt to embarrass the government of rival Syria.  

The blood libel is still believed by certain Roman Catholics who celebrate, for example, the feast of the "martyr" St Simon of Trent on March 24, though Simon's canonization, if he was indeed canonized, had been revoked in 1965. As of this writing, there are numerous Catholic Web pages and Web sites that describe the blood libel as true, including the following examples:

hiddenireland.wordpress.com/2008/06/09/st-simon-of-trent-pray-for-us-the-child-neither-heard-nor-seen-by-vatican-ii/  

stsimonoftrent.com/

oce.catholic.com/index.php?title=Hugh%2C_Saint - which equivocates, "Whether there was any basis of truth in the accusation against the Jews there is now no means of ascertaining."

 

The eradication of this vile superstition has been further complicated by the work of an Israeli Jew, Ariel Toaff, who wrote a book called "Blood Passover" (or Bloody Passovers) The book, which he was pressured into suppressing, is circulating in various mutilated forms on the Web, altered by comments of anonymous anti-Semitic editors. Toaff claimed he wanted to avoid writing a "one sided history." Evidently, he has a grudge against Ashkenazic Jews, whom he consistently paints in an unfavorable light. He quoted as fact indiscriminately, the accounts and tales of various chronicles, and the records of "confessions" extracted by torturers to substantiate various claims regarding the Jews, though not the blood libel itself. He claims for example, that German Jews used blood (not necessarily human) in medicines. He also relates the interesting information that Jews were accused of roasting the  Passover lamb in a vertical position in order to mock the crucifixion of Jesus. It may be true that there was a custom of roasting lambs vertically to better drain the blood according to Jewish law.

Toaff's book and its suppression invoked an ugly and absurd and obviously anti-Semitic campaign. The blood libel accusation was the result of both superstition and policy that resulted in systematic persecution and murder of hundreds of people, even in some cases where authorities plainly knew the accusation was false. Now it is alleged that there is some "justification" for these murders, raising the possibility that somewhere, at one time, one or more Jews might have engaged in similar practices, or in practices mistaken for the ritual sacrifice, and relying on confessions elicited under torture.  There is of course, no way to prove that in 2,000 years there was never a case, for example, of a single demented Jew who killed a Christian child for whatever bizarre reason. This possibility is offered as "justification" for a continuous and malicious history of persecution and libel, often carried out with obvious motives of monetary gain, either to murder Jewish creditors or to profit from a shrine to a nonexistent martyr.

History of the Blood Libel  

Before the advent of Christianity, Apion accused Jews of sacrificing pagan children, providing "evidence" of a child who had escaped after being fattened for slaughter. St Julian hints at accusations of flesh eating against Christians. The ancient Christian Father of the Church Tertullian complained that the blood libel accusation was made against Christians, perhaps in connection with the eating of the host. He wrote:

"We are said to be the most criminal of men, on the score of our sacramental baby-killing and the baby-eating that goes with it and the incest that follows the banquet..." (Apology 7.1) 

The earliest tale of Jews crucifying a Christian is that of the Fifth century Church historian Socrates it seems. In dealing (vii.16) with events about the year 415, he wrote:

"Now a little after this the Jews paid the penalty for further lawless acts against the Christians. At Inmestar, a place so-called, which lies between Chalcis and Antioch in Syria, the Jews were in the habit of celebrating certain sports among themselves: and, whereas they habitually did many foolish actions in the course of their sports, they were put beyond themselves (on this occasion) by drunkenness, and began deriding Christians and even Christ himself in their games. They derided the Cross and those who hoped in the Crucified, and they hit upon this plan. They took a Christian child and bound him to a cross and hung him up; and to begin with they mocked and derided him for some time; but after a short space they lost control of themselves, and so ill-treated the child that they killed him. Hereupon ensued a bitter conflict between them and the Christians: this became known to the authorities: orders were sent to the provincial magistrates to seek out the guilty persons and punish them: and so the Jews of that place paid the penalty for the crime they had committed in sport." ref

There is no way of ascertaining what part of the above story is true, though in any case it was not a ritual murder.  

Summary of Christian Blood Libel Cases

Pope Benedict XIV summarized the history of the child martyr ritual murder cases known to the Roman Catholic Church by 1755 in his Bull, Beatus Andeas. The Bull thoroughly endorsed the notion that the Jews murdered Christian children for malice or religious purposes. This was in the year 1755, not the middle ages. The Bull Beatus Andreas lists these case of children allegedly murdered by Jews, and some previous child maryrdom cases where the identify of the murderers is not made clear:

From the Bollandists for the date 24 March, we are told -- aside from what has been mentioned concerning the blessed boy Simon of Trent -- that in the Diocese of Cologne, a boy Johannchen [i.e., little Johnny] is venerated, who was killed by the Hebrews out of hatred against the (Christian) faith.

Baillet reports for the same 24th of March, that in Paris a certain boy Richard (Riccardus) is venerated as a martyr.

And likewise, in England another boy with the name William (Villelmus) is honored. This boy was murdered by the Jews out of hatred against the (Christian) faith.

In the 18th volume of the work of Father Theophil Raynoud, and in particular in the work that is entitled De Martyrio per pestem [Concerning Martyrdom by means of destruction], in Part 2, Chapter 2, Nr. 7, one reads that in the time of King Ferdinand in Spain a three-year-old boy was killed by Jews out of hatred against Christ in the district of Guardia near Toledo [see below] that veneration is shown him and that he is called the innocent child of Guardia for obvious reasons.

And the same is attested of two other two-year-old twin boys in Sardinia, who bore the names Cessilius and Camerinus.

And further, in the aforementioned apologetic [this derivative of the word "apology" is used in the alternate meaning of that word as "an exposition in support or defense of."] treatise concerning the martyrdom of the Blessed Simon of Trent, there is mentioned on page 242, a little three-year-old girl by the name of Ursula who was murdered in the cruellest manner by Jews out of hatred of Christ, approximately in the year 1442 in Lienz, a small but old town in the County of Tyrol, located in the Pustertal [Puster Valley] toward Kärnten,. In the year 1609 an older monument at the church of this place was replaced by a new one. This (newer one) was chiselled after [the likeness of] the older one and one can read, incribed on the same, the story of that horrible atrocity.

And on page 264, etc., is mentioned a boy Laurentius, whom the Jews killed in 1485 when he was 5 years of age, out of hatred toward the faith, and this boy has been regarded and venerated as a martyr since his martyrdom and up to the present day in Marostica in the region of Vicenza and in areas not far from there.

Of the cases mentioned by the Pope, all of which the church endorsed, many, but not all, are discussed below, as well as numerous other instances. However, there are without a doubt a far larger number that were not recorded, or for which records were lost. No blood libels, for example, are reported for the 14th century, which was an era of upheavals caused by the black death, which brought its own quotas of pogroms. It is not improbable that records were lost.

Blood Libel of St William of Norwich

The earliest recorded accusation of Jews killing Christian children in ritual murder, though not for blood, is possibly the case of William of Norwich in 1144. An English mob accused Jews of murdering the boy during Easter. This story was related in The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich, by Thomas of Monmouth, a monk, who composed "The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich." He may have invented the story himself, or based it on an accusation he had heard, for he was not an eye witness. He had arrived in Norwich several years after the event. This story did not claim that the Jews used the blood to bake unleavened bread, but rather claimed the boy had been crucified.  Nonetheless, it is sometimes thought to be the first "blood libel." The "theory" offered to explain these murders is that "the Jews" required a yearly sacrifice of a Christian in order to regain their homeland and that in this case, "the Jews" had met at Narbonne and drawn lots, the lot falling to Norwich as the site of the murder.

The story took root. The cult of William of Norwich became a source of wealth for the local church and the town. Nearly all the Jews of Norwich were found murdered in their homes in 1190. A mob attacked Jews who had come to the coronation of King Richard the Lionhearted in 1189.

Several other cases are related at about the same time as that of St William of Norwich. They may or may not have been inspired by Monmouth's fabrication.  The first is earlier than the publication of Thomas of Monmouth's book, but the tale was probably already extant. Some of these are discussed below.

The Blood Libel of Harold

On March 18th, 1168, the body of a boy named Harold was found in the Severn at Gloucester, much mutilated, with traces of burning on the flesh and the garments, thorns in the head and armpits, marks of melted wax in the eyes and ears, and some of the teeth knocked out. The murder was supposed to have taken place on Friday, March 17th. The convent went out in procession to receive the body, and it was inspected and washed by the monks, and buried before the altar of SS. Edmund and Edward, on the northern side. The boy was reported to have been stolen by the Jews about February 21 and hidden until the day of the murder; and Jews from all parts of England were summoned on pretext that a boy was to be circumcised and a great feast held "according to the Law" (ex lege). No Christian was present, and no Jew confessed to the deed, which was matter of conjecture. The source of this extremely shaky story is the Historia Monasterii S. Petri Gloucestriae p.21 (Rolls Series). It is to be observed that nothing is said concerning the customary or ritual nature of such murders, but the season is near the Passover. Other chroniclers who speak of the boy Harold are Chron Petroburgense under 1161, Brompton under 1160, and Knighton. ref

Blood Libel of St Richard of Pontoise

In 1171 there was an accusation of child-murder against the Jews of Orleans, and another against those of Blois, this last in the Pascal season, as reported by Robert of Torigny. In Blois, about 30-40 Jews were burned alive. In 1179 we have the martyrdom of St Richard of Pontoise by the Jews of Paris or of Pontoise, whose passion, by Robert Gaguin (1498), is printed in the Acta Sanctorum for March 25. It speaks of the slaying of a Christian as a yearly custom, and makes Richard - of whose identity and parentage nothing is said - to be examined in a cave by a priest of the Jews and asked to deny his faith. He is crucified and quotes Scripture when on the cross. The result of the martyrdom is a grand persecution by Philip Augustus. ref

Blood Libel of Robert of Bury St. Edmunds

Two years afterwards, in 1181, the boy Robert was found killed at Bury St Edmunds. John de Taxster in his chronicle says the boy Robert was martyred at St Edmund's by the Jews on Wednesday the 10th of June. William of Worcester says that his feast was celebrated in May, and that the boy was crucified. The Chronicle of Melrose also mentions the case of Robert, and goes on to mention the death of a boy Herbert at Huntingdon. 

In 1192 there was a supposed martyrdom at Winchester, reported by Richard of Devizes. The victim was a French boy brought up by a Jew to the trade of a cobbler in France, and sent with a commendatory letter, written in Hebrew, to the Jews at Winchester. He disappeared after some months, and the charge of crucifixion, brought by a boy-friend of his, and confirmed by a Christian woman who served the Jews, was dismissed. The body was never produced. ref

Blood Libel in Thomas of Cantimpre

The first literary reference to the blood libel proper was made in the 13th century in "Bonum Universale de Apibus," ii. 29, # 23, by Thomas of Cantimpré:

"It is quite certain that the Jews of every province annually decide by lot which congregation or city is to send Christian blood to the other congregations." ;

Thomas also believed that since the time when the Jews called out to Pilate, "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matt. xxvii. 25), they have been afflicted with hemorrhages:

"A very learned Jew, who in our day has been converted to the [Christian] faith, informs us that one enjoying the reputation of a prophet among them, toward the close of his life, made the following prediction: 'Be assured that relief from this secret ailment, to which you are exposed, can only be obtained through Christian blood ["solo sanguine Christiano"].' This suggestion was followed by the ever-blind and impious Jews, who instituted the custom of annually shedding Christian blood in every province, in order that they might recover from their malady."

Thomas does not mention the name of the "very learned" apostate Jew. The Jewish encyclopedia claims it  have been Nicholas Donin of La Rochelle, who had a disputation on the Talmud in 1240 with Yehiel of Paris. In 1242 he caused the burning of numerous Talmudic manuscripts in Paris. Thomas was personally acquainted with Nicholas.

Blood Libel of Fulda

In Fulda, Germany, on Christmas 1235, while a miller and his wife were at mass, their five sons died in a fire at home. The Jews of Fulda were accused of murdering the sons and siphoning off their blood into waxed bags for religious, medicinal, magical purposes. An enraged mob murdered thirty-four Jews of the town. It was on this occasion that the Emperor Frederick II undertook to investigate the question. Having questioned several apostate Jews, he concluded that there was no truth in the blood libel, and tried unsuccessfully to debunk the myth.  (Jewish-Christian Encounters over the Centuries: Symbiosis, Prejudice, Holocaust, Dialogue. Contributors: Marvin Perry - editor, Frederick M. Schweitzer - editor., Peter Lang, New York, 1994 p, 147, )

Blood Libel of Valreas

In 1247 at Valréas, in France, just across the border from Fulda, Jews were tortured into confessing that a missing child had been crucified ( Norwich style) to acquire its blood for ritual cannibalism   (ibid p 148) .

Blood Libel of St Hugh of Lincoln

The case of Little St. Hugh of Lincoln (evidently called "little" to distinguish him from another St Hugh of Lincoln) is mentioned by Chaucer. It is also immortalized in an English ballad.  In the Prioress' tale, Caucer tells of

O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln,

slayn also With cursed Jewes,

as it is notable,

For it nis but a litel while ago,

The ballad, "Sir Hugh, or the Jews Daughter" is number 155 in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, by Francis James Child, reissued by Cooper Square publishers in 1962. This collection was published throughout the end of the 19th century. (Jacobs, Joseph, cited in Dundes, Alan, The Blood Libel Legend, pp 41 ff). However, Chaucer sets his tale supposedly in Asia. 

Hugh, son of Beatrice, age 8,  disappeared at Lincoln on the 31st of July, 1255. His body was discovered on the 29th of August, covered with filth, in a pit or well belonging to a Jew named Jopin.

John of Lexington, a judge, promised that Jopin's life would be spared, whereupon he supposedly confessed that the boy had been crucified by the Jews, who had assembled at Lincoln to do the deed. King Henry III, who reached Lincoln some five weeks afterward, at the beginning of October, reneged on the promise of John of Lexington, and had Jopin executed and ninety-one of the Jews of Lincoln seized and sent up to London, where eighteen of them were executed. The rest were jailed and eventually ransomed. (Jacobs, "Jewish Ideals," pp. 192-224).

In 1955, Anglican authorities dismantled the shrine and denounced the cult of "Saint" Hugh.

Pforzheim Blood Libel

In 1267, at Pforzheim, Baden, the corpse of a seven-year-old girl was found in the river by fishermen. The blood of this child was supposedly collected on linen. The Jews were suspected, and when they were led to the corpse, blood began to flow from the wounds; led to it a second time, the face of the child became flushed, and both arms were raised. In addition to these prodigies, a daughter of a "wicked woman" testified that her mother had sold the child to the Jews. Very likely the old woman or the daughter had murdered the child. There seems to have been a murder of Jews in connection with this fabrication. The child was immortalized in the town cathedral.   (Salfeld, "Martyrologium," pp. 15, 128-130).

Weissenburg Blood Libel

At Weissenburg, Alsace, in 1270, according to the accusation, the Jews suspended a child (whose body was found in the Lauter river) by the feet, and had opened every artery in its body in order to obtain all the blood. Its wounds were said to have bled for five days afterward.

Blood Libel of Werner at Oberwesel

In 1286, at Oberwesel, Jews were accused of murdering the eleven-year-old  child "the good Werner" after torturing him for three days.  The corpse was claimed to have floated upstream on the Rhine to Bacharach. It supposedly emitted a radiance and had  healing powers. The corpse was kept as a cult object. The Jews of Oberwesel and many other adjacent localities were severely persecuted from 1286-89, when the Emperor Rudolph I came to their rescue and had the corpse of the child burnt and the ashes scattered.

Additionally, The Chronicle of Conrad Justinger recorded that at Bern in 1294 the Jews had shockingly tortured and murdered the boy Rudolph.

The Blood Libel of Andreas of Rinn

Church "decoration"
removed recently,
showing Jews murdering
Anderl of Rinn. The caption
 reads "They cut the martyr's
throat and take all his blood."

In 1462, at Rinn, near Innsbruck in Austria, a boy named Andreas Oxner (or Anderl or Andrew) was reportedly bought by Jewish merchants and cruelly murdered by them in a forest near the city, his blood being carefully collected in vessels. The story was only popularized in the 17th century. In 1619 a Dr. Hippolyt Guarinoni (1571-1654) heard a story about little boy who was buried in Rinn and had been murdered by Jews. Guarinoni claimed that he dreamed that the year of death of this boy was 1462. The modern celebration of the the cult of Anderl began in 1621 and by the late 17th century the cult of Anderl was established throughout the Tyrol, together with other boys who had supposedly been killed by Jews. In 1642 Guarinoni himself wrote a book Triumph Cron Marter Vnd Grabschrift des Heilig Unschuldigen Kindts [Triumph, Crown, Martyrdom and Epitaph of the Holy Innocent Child].ref

The story was related in the 19th century by the German folklorist Jacob Grimm. The cult has continued until modern times. The stone on which the boy was supposedly sacrificed, called the Judenstein, became a shrine with a church.

In the 1950s, souvenir postcards portraying the murder were still being sold and the then Bishop of Innsbruck stated his belief in the myth. Belated attempts of a later  Bishop of Innsbruck  to end the cult had not been entirely successful as late as 1985. Further details of the story are given here: Blood Libel of Andreas of Rinn

The Blood Libel of St Simon of Trent

The case of Simon of Trent or Simonino of Trent took place in 1475. The Lent sermons of St. Bernardino da Feltre insisted that the Jews would massacre a Christian child at Passover. On March 23, the day after Passover, a Friday, the child Simon, aged 28 months disappeared, and was found dead on March 26 by Jews. According to one account, he was found by three Jews named Tobias, Samuel and Angelus. The whole community was arrested, tortured, seventeen confessed, executions followed until halted by papal intervention. Sixtus IV's legate, however, withdrew, intimidated by the wily prince-bishop of Trent Johannes Hinderbach, and the "trial" and executions resumed. Wire-pulled by Hinderbach, a papal commission approved the trial, and in 1478 Pope Sixtus V formally endorsed the proceedings (attesting that the Jews martyred Simon "in hatred of the faith of Christ,") Sixtus also canonized Simon.  By mid-1476, little Simon had no less than 129 miracles attributed to him. "Blessed Simon of Trent" became the object of a cult of veneration and pilgrimage, along with others like William of Norwich, Hugh of Lincoln and Andreas of Rinn. Further details of the case are given here:  Simon of Trent

Blood Libel of Christopher of La Guardia

At La Guardia, near Toledo, Spain, the blood libel accusation recurred in 1490. The case may have been concocted by the Spanish Inquisition. No inquiry was made as to the remains, the clothes of the child, the instruments of the murder, or the time and place of its commission. No child was reported missing. Nonetheless, a number of Jews were hanged or burned to death, and the case was used as an excuse to carry out the expulsion of the Jews of Spain. 

Blood Libel of Tyrnau

In a case at Tyrnau, Hungary, in 1494, absurd and impossible statements were forced by torture from women and children in a blood libel case. Evidently, the accused preferred death as way to escape torture, and admitted everything that was asked of them. They "confessed," for example, that Jewish men menstruated, and that they practiced the drinking of Christian blood as a remedy. This was a common Christian superstition.

Blood Libel of Bosing

At Bazin (Bösing today Pezinok, Slovakia), Hungary, in 1529, Jews were accused of bleeding a nine-year-old boy to death. Thirty Jews c"onfessed" to the crime and were publicly burned. In fact however, no child at all was killed. He was found alive in Vienna. He had been stolen by the accuser, Count Wolf of Bazin, who found an easy and credible means of eliminating his inconvenient Jewish creditors at Bazin.

Blood Libel of St Gavriil Belostoksky

Gavril Belostoksky is the only child-saint in the Russian Orthodox Church, six years old  from the village of Zverki in Belarus, who allegedly died in 1690. According to a myth t was supported by the church, the boy was kidnapped from his home during the holiday of Passover while his parents were away. Shutko, a Jew of Białystok, was accused of kidnapping the boy, bringing him to Białystok, poking him with sharp objects and draining his blood for nine days, then bringing the body back to Zverki and dumping at a local field. A cult developed, and the boy was canonized in 1820. 

Blood Libel of Damascus

In February 1840, at Damascus, Syria, Father Thomas, a Capuchin, and his servant were murdered. In this instance, also, confessions were obtained only after the infliction of barbarous tortures. Several of the victims died, and others were forced to convert to Islam. An account is given in a contemporary letter concerning the Damascus blood libel. which was a plea for help by the heads of the Damascus Jewish community.

A trustworthy witness of the proceedings was the converted Jew G. W. Pieritz, who said  that he was no friend or defendant of "rabbinism." The proceedings were stopped by the intervention of the Sultan Mahmoud II, at the request of foreign governments. This blood libel was the first of several initiated by Christians in the Middle East. Massacres of Jews by Christians or Muslims and Christians were recorded in Aleppo (1850, 1875), Damascus (1840, 1848, 1890), Beirut (1862, 1874), Dayr al-Qamar (1847), Jerusalem (1847)Cairo (1844, 1890, 1901-02), Mansura (1877), Alexandria (1870, 1882, 1901-07), Port Said (1903, 1908), Damanhur (1871, 1873, 1877, 1891), Istanbul (1870, 1874), Buyukdere (1864), Kuzguncuk (1866), Eyub (1868), Edirne (1872), Izmir (1872, 1874) among others. The Shiraz Pogrom and Blood Libel was of especial interest because it did not involve any Christian influence apparently. A letter of 1879 records the relatively benign cases of blood libel in Damanhur, Egypt.

Blood Libel of Rhodes

In 1840. The Jews of Rhodes, then in the Ottoman Empire, were accused of murdering a Greek Christian boy. The local authorities were encouraged by the intervention of European anti-Semitic consuls, especially the British consul at Rhodes.  Several Jews were arrested and tortured, and the entire Jewish quarter was blockaded for twelve days. Sultan Mahmud II intervened. An investigation carried out by the central Ottoman government found the Jews to be innocent.

Tiszaeszlár (Tisza-Eslar): The Blood Libel of Esther

The Tiszaeszlár ( or Tisza-Eslar) blood libel is often thought to be responsible for Hungarian anti-Semitism, though it is more probable that it was a manifestation of anti-Semitism than a cause.  Eszter Solymosi was a 14-year-old Christian peasant girl who was a servant in the home of András Huri in Tiszaeszlár, a Hungarian village situated on the Tisza river. On April 1, 1882 she was sent on an errand, and never returned. Though she was the wrong sex and too old for the classic blood libel, it was rumored that Eszter had been murdered by Jewish religious fanatics.

Hungarian anti-Semites Géza Ónody, representative of Tiszaeszlár in the Hungarian Parliament, and Győző Istóczy, MP, who later founded the Anti-semitic Party, had proposed the expulsion of the Jews in the House of Deputies. Now they incited the public against the local Jews, resulting in a number of violent acts and pogroms. They spread the charge that the Jews had killed the girl in order to use her blood at the approaching Passover.

On May 4 her mother accused the Jews before the local judge of having murdered her daughter.

The county court of Nyíregyháza sent József Bary to act as examining judge at Tiszaeszlár. Some women and girls testified that Scharf called Eszter into his house, and the slaughterer ("shohet") cut off her head. Bary placed the suspected Jews under police surveillance, and then interrogated five-year-old son of the synagogue sexton József Scharf, The entire family was then arrested, and all denied any knowledge of the events.

Móric, the 14 year old son, was given to Recsky, the commissar of safety, who took him to his country house in Tiszanagyfalu. There he was evidently intimidated by the court clerk, Péczely. Péczely as a large man who had served twelve years in jail for murder,

 Intimidated, the boy confessed that after the Sabbath morning service his father called Eszter to his house under the pretext of requiring her to remove some candlesticks (forbidden to Jews on Saturdays). Moric further supposedly confessed that a Jewish beggar, Hermann Wollner, who lodged with them, led the girl to the vestibule of the synagogue and attacked her. Having undressed her, two ritual slaughterers (shochatim), Ábrahám Buxbaum and Leopold Braun, had held her while another slaughterer, Salamon Schwarz, incised her neck with a large knife and emptied the blood into a pot. These three men, had come to Tiszaeszlár to officiate on that particular Sabbath, and had, as the boy said, remained in the synagogue after morning service.

Bary continued his investigations in the synagogue and houses and among the graves; but nowhere could any traces of the living or dead girl be discovered. Twelve Jews were arrested on suspicion, and Móric Scharf, the 14 year old brother, who also testified, was given in charge of the jailer.

On June 18 a body that the district physician declared to be of a 14-year-old girl was found in the Tisza river near the village of Dada. Many recognized it as Eszter Solymosi. Her mother, however, emphatically denied it was Eszter's corpse, although she afterward identified the clothes in which the body was found as those of her daughter. A committee of experts, two physicians and one surgeon, declared the corpse was of a girl 18 to 20 years of age who had met with her death eight or ten days before. It was then buried in the Catholic cemetery of Tiszaeszlár.

Anti-Semitic agitators, among whom was the Catholic priest of the town, insinuated the body was smuggled in by the Jews and clothed in the garments of Eszter Solymosi in order to conceal the crime of ritual murder. Several of the craftsmen who found the body were induced by promises, threats, and cruel treatment to revoke their former testimony and to declare they brought the body to the river and an unknown Jewess had furnished them with the clothes in which they dressed it. The investigation set off a wave of anti-Semitism in Hungary that may have not entirely abated, despite the destruction of Hungarian Jewry.

On July 29 formal accusations were made against fifteen persons: Salamon Schwarz, Ábrahám Buxbaum, Leopold Braun, and Hermann Wollner, of murder; József Scharf, Adolf Jünger, Ábrahám Braun, Sámuel Lustig, Lázár Weisstein, and Emánuel Taub, of voluntary assistance in the crime; Anselm Vogel, Jankel Smilovics, David Hersko, Martin Gross, and Ignác Klein. They were accused of abetting the crime and smuggling the body. The delay in indictments was caused in part by claims that Bary had acted illegally. He conducted his examinations without the aid of the state attorney, wrote  the minutes of the proceedings without witnesses, and tortured the accused and suspects.

Móric Scharf was under the control of the district bailiff, who placed him in the custody of the warden Henter.  He was entirely under the influence of their adversaries and received instructions as to the testimony to be given by him at the trial.

The accused were defended by Károly Eötvös, journalist and member of the House of Deputies, and by advocates B. Friedmann, Sándor Funták, Max Székely of Budapest, and Ignác Heumann of Nyíregyháza, the seat of the county court before which the case was tried. In a petition to Minister of Justice Pauler, Eötvös protested in vain against the torture tactics of Bary. The Hungarian patriot Lajos Kossuth, in exile in Turin, raised his voice against the blood libel accusation, unworthy of a modern culture, but his voice was drowned out by those of reactionary politicians. 

At length, the corpse that had been found in the river was exhumed at the request of the defense, and examined by experts from Budapest. The body was too far decayed to permit identification, but there were no signs of any throat incision. The girl could not have been a victim of ritual slaughter. Further examination showed numerous contradictions in the testimony of the boy Moric Scharf, and the defendants were acquitted.

The case polarized the liberal intelligentsia against the reactionaries, as did the Dreyfus affair in France, but the results were not necessarily a victory for liberalism. The verdict set off a wave of anti-Semitic agitation, including uprisings throughout Hungary, especially in Pozsony and Budapest. Karoly, the lawyer who successfully defended the case, wrote a book about it , A nagy per, published in 1904.

Corfu Blood Libel

At Corfu an eight-year-old girl was murdered on April 12, 1891. Rumor spread that the child was Maria Desylla, a Christian,  and that Jews had murdered her and then taken her blood. Her teacher, however, testified, in a document attested by the French consul at Corfu, that the child's name was Rubina Sarda, and that she was Jewish.

Xanten Blood Libel

In 1891, at Xanten in Prussia, a butcher named Adolph Buschhoff, was accused of murdering 5 year old Johann Hegmann, and of drawing his blood and concealing it. However, the two public prosecutors found that the accused could not have committed the deed, and that there was no evidence showing that blood had been concealed.

Hilsner Blood Libel

On April 1, 1899, the body of Agnes Hruza (or Anezka Hruzova), a 19 year old  seamstress, nineteen years old, was found in the forest near the town of Polna, Bohemia,  with a gash in her throat. Several vagrants were accused of the murder including the 23 year old Leopold Hilsner, a man of limited intelligence and also, apparently, limited physical ability. Though it was shown that he was too weak to have committed the murders alone,  he was sentenced to death by the court at Kuttenberg for conspiring in the murder, in an atmosphere of intimidation. No codefendants were named. The public prosecutor, Schneider-Swoboda, and the advocate, Dr. Baxa, believed that a ritual murder was involved, though Agnes, like Eszter was too old and of the wrong sex. But the medical faculty of the Czech University of Prague showed that no blood was missing.

The Czech patriot Tomas Masaryk took up the case and succeeded in getting a new trial. Meanwhile Hilsner was frightened into implicating two other vagrants, Joshua Erbmann and Solomon, Wassermann as those who had assisted him. The were absolved, as one had been in jail and the other could prove that he was visiting poor houses. Meanwhile Hilsner was accused of killing a second girl, Marie Klimova, who had disappeared July 17, 1898. A body was found October 27 in the same forest. In October 1900, Hilsner  was condemned a second time by the court at Pisek, this time for both murders. This decision was again appealed, but it was upheld on May, 1901, by the Court of Appeals at Vienna. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the emperor, and on March 24, 1918, he was pardoned by Karl I of Austria. Hilsner died in 1928. The actual murderers were never found.   

Kishinev Blood Libel and Pogrom

On February of 1903, near Kishinev, Bessarabia (now Chisinau, Moldava), in the town of Dubossary, in what was then the southwestern part of the Russian empire, a peasant found  the corpse of 14-year old Mikhail Rybachenko, bruised and covered with stab wounds, in a garden. The murder  fuelled wild rumors that he had been killed by local Jews in need of his Christian blood to prepare their matzot. 

Agents of the Ministry of the Interior and high Russian officials of the Bessarabian administration helped to spread the rumors, evidently with approval or under the direction of  the minister of the interior, V. Plehve, though this has been denied. They had been active in anti-Jewish agitation before.  A poisonous anti-Jewish campaign was led by Pavel. Krushevan, publisher of the Bessarabian newspaper Bessarabets, who incited the population through a constant stream of journalistic invective. Some of the most virulent articles were penned by local police chief, Levendall. The newspaper Ceem (World) likewise printed allegations about the blood libel. It was later proved that the child was murdered by his relatives. An additional suicide by a Christian girl in a Jewish mental institution helped to fuel the furor.

A pogrom began on April 6, 1903. During three days of rioting, according to official statistics, 49 Jews were murdered and more than 500 were injured, some of them seriously. 700 houses were looted and destroyed and 600 businesses and shops were looted. The total property loss was estimated at  2,500,000 gold rubles, and about 2,000 families were left homeless. Both Russians and Romanians joined in the riots. Russians were sent in from other towns and the students of the theological seminaries and the secondary schools and colleges played a leading role. Police and soldiers did nothing.  The Hebrew poet  Chaim Nachman Bialik commemorated the riots in his poem, "Be-Ir ha-Haregah" ("In the City of Death"). The poem became a staple of Zionist culture, literature and ideology, and the poem became a way to symbolize and focus on the issue of Jewish helplessness in the Diaspora. A second pogrom took place in Kishinev in 1905. Self defense efforts were only slightly more successful in saving lives.

Shiraz Blood Libel and Pogrom

The blood libel and pogrom  that took place in  Shiraz, Iran, in Ocotber,1910, is one of the few recorded Muslim-instigated blood libels, though it is probably not the only instance. The blood libel was only a pretext, since no child had died at all. About 30 Jews were murdered and all 260 houses of the Jewish quarter were completely looted and destroyed.

For details, see Shiraz Pogrom and Blood Libel

Beilis Blood Libel

On March 12, 1911, in Kiev, Ukraine, 13-year-old Andrei Yushchinsky disappeared on his way to school. Eight days later his mutilated body was discovered in a cave near a local brick factory. A lamplighter testified that the boy had been kidnapped by a Jew.  A non-observant Jew, Menachem Mendel Beilis, who was a foreman at the brick factory, was arrested July 21. Beilis was imprisoned for 2 years while the Russian press published torrents of anti-Semitic accusations against the Jews community in general. An honest police officer, Nikolay Krasovsky, was fired for persisting in his efforts to determine the truth. Leading Russian figures including Maxim Gorky and Lev Tolstoy spoke out for Beilis.

The trial took place September 25 through October 28, 1913. The jury included no educated people, and seven of its twelve members were members of the "Black Hundreds" anti-semitic organization (Union of the Russian People). Professor Sikorski of Kiev State University, father of Igor Sikorsky, inventor of the helicopter, a medical psychologist, testified as an expert witness that this was a case of ritual murder. An additional expert that the government called was father Justinas Pranaitis, a priest who had done a "scientific" study of ritual murder, which the largely ignorant jury was inclined to believe. Nonetheless, Beilis was well defended. His lawyers succeeded in showing that Pranaitis was a charlatan who did not have the intimate knowledge of the Talmud that he claimed. Alexander Glagolev, a Russian Orthodox philosopher and professor at the Kiev Theological Seminary testified that eating of blood was forbidden in Jewish law. The lamplighter admitted that he had been "confused" (primed) by the police, and Beilis was acquitted.  

The police officer Krasovsky continued his investigation on his own initiative. He was assisted by colleagues from the Kiev Police Department. They found the actual killers of Yushchinsky, professional criminals, one of whose sons had been a friend of Yuschinsky's.

Beilis emigrated with his family to Palestine, but after World War I, in 1920, he emigrated to the United States. He died in 1934.

Blood Libel in the USA

There have been several cases of false murder or violence accusations against Jews in the United States, including the Phagan case in Atlanta Georgia in 1912 and the recent case of Tawana Brawley, but there was probably only one real ritual murder accusation. It took place in Massena N.Y. in 1928. Massena is a town on the Canadian border. It had a population of 8,000 with 19 Jewish families.

On September 22, 1928, two days before Yom Kippur, four-year-old Barbara Griffiths went for a walk and got lost. After searchers did not find her, a Greek immigrant apparently initiated the that the girl had been kidnapped and killed by the town's Jews for a religious ritual associated with Yom Kippur. The following day, the state police questioned Morris Goldberg, a Jew raised in a non-Jewish orphanage, with little knowledge of Jewish tradition. They they questioned Rabbi Berel Brennglass of the town's Adath Israel synagogue. The State Police Officer asked, “Can you give any information whether your people in the Old Country offer human sacrifices?” and “Was there ever a time when the Jewish people used human blood?”

Brennglass became angry. Meanwhile, the girl turned up safe and sound. The mayor of Massena apologized, but anti-Semitic townspeople persisted in believing that the girl had been kidnapped for ritual murder and that only the fact that she was found in time foiled the evil Jewish plot. ref

Blood Libel and Pogrom in Kielce, Poland

The Kielce pogrom against Polish Jewish Holocaust  survivors was sparked by a  blood libel, and was actively assisted by local authorities. About 200 Jews, the remnants of Kielce's Jewish population, had returned to the town. A father and his son falsely reported that the boy had been kidnapped by the Jews, and that the Jews had kidnapped and killed a number of children. Though no children were missing, the Poles stormed a Zionist building where the bodies of these children were supposedly kept in the cellar. The building had no cellar. The police and army spread rumors of the blood libel. About 40 Jews were killed. The pogrom helped to hasten the departure of Polish Jews for Palestine. Polish authorities are generally reluctant to discuss this pogrom, and anti-Zionists insist that the only reason Polish Jews left Poland is because of an anti-Semitism scare supposedly created by Zionists.

See main article: Kielce pogrom and blood libel

Blood Libel in Russia, 2005

In 2005, about 20 members of the Russian Duma alleged in an anti-Semitic letter that Jews had committed ritual murders in the past, and urged action against the Jews. However, the letter provoked a vigorous protest and was withdrawn. No specific contemporary case was involved, but the incident illustrated the persistence of this vile superstition.

Ami Isseroff

Additional Notes:

1. From The Life and Miracles of, St William of Norwich, by Thomas of Monmouth, with an introduction, translation and notes by Augustus Jessopp and Montague Rhodes James (Cambridge University Press, 1896) "Chapter VI: The Legend" (pp. lxii-lxxix), by M.R. James. Currently on the Web here: users.globalnet.co.uk/~pardos/ArchiveWilliam.html

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: pogrom Inquisition anti-Semitism Time-Line: Anti-Semitism


Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.


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