A report on blood libels in Damanhur Egypt

September 15, 1879

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Though Jews were relatively safer in Muslim lands than in Europe, there were numerous instances of Pogroms, forced conversions and other manifestations of violent anti-Semitism and intolerance, as well as a few  blood libels. The blood libel accusation was a late phenomenon due to Christian influence, and in some cases the accusations were encouraged by Western consuls. The other types of persecution were experienced throughout history under Muslim rule. While it may be sterile to argue whether Muslims are inherently anti-Jewish, it is inevitable that any group living as a subject minority and not in control of its own destiny would be exposed to these persecutions. It is therefore foolish to insist that Jewish life under Muslim rule was a perpetual idyll or that return to that state is desirable. The story of  Diaspora life in Muslim lands as in Europe was always the same in the long run, and had to be the same. Jews would move to a place of relative comfort, where they were subject only to sporadic persecutions and perhaps Jewish cultural life would flourish for a time. Eventually however, the Jews were often expelled, converted or killed en masse.

Blood libel is the accusation that Jews capture gentile children and kill them for ritual purposes. This fable originated in pagan Egypt, with the anti-Jewish polemicist Apion, and was eagerly propagated by some of the sainted fathers of the Christian Church. It did not become a feature of Muslim society until the 19th century.  Beginning with the Damascus blood libel of 1840, there was a series of blood libel persecutions in Arab and Muslim lands, some being initiated and carried out by Christians, others involving both Christians and Muslims, and some involving only Muslims.   Massacres of Jews by Muslims 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.

The account below tells of two of the blood libel incidents in Damanhur, Egypt, that ended without violent results. As sometimes happened, the interference of local Jewish notables or others could be successful, especially in Egypt. This letter was sent by Rabbi Moses Salomon and Moussa Serussi to the Alliance Israelite Universelle in Paris, on September 15, 1879, asking for the help of that organization in clearing the Jewish community and Salomon in particular of repeated blood libel charges.  

Ami Isseroff

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A letter concerning the Blood Libels in Damanhur, Egypt (1873-77)

We are assuming the liberty of sending you the present report for the express purpose of informing you of a series of events that took place here, in order that you may see the depth of indignity suffered by your unfortunate brethren in Damanhour (near Alexandria) because of the barbarities that take place even now in Egypt.

On the 17th of Heshvan 5634 (November 7, 1873) a child was found cast out into the street with his sex organ cut off. The authorities, having made the requisite investigation, discovered from his father and mother it a dog had taken off the organ. The child was sent to the local hospital for treatment.

Unfortunately however, a native named Bassiuni Bechara [evidently a Christian according to his name] was present at the inquest. He, in league with the local physician, influenced the boy's father to state that it was Rabbi Moses Salomon, the local ritual slaughterer, who had committed this wicked deed in accordance with the custom of the Jews to commit acts of this kind. The father of the boy  agreed to their advice because he was hopelessly poor and hoped to make a great profit from this.

In consequence, the unfortunate Rabbi Moses was summoned to the local magistrate, who wanted to imprison him before proceeding any further. However, as he was depressed by this terrible incident, he postponed the hearing for three more days, and notified the rabbi that he was to present himself along with the rest of the Jews of Damanhour.

They (the Jews) wrote from Damanhour to Baron Jacque Menache Cattaui of Cairo and to Mr. Ibrahim Peha of Alexandria telling them the facts. These (two) immediately sent messages through the provincial governor to the magistrate so that he would take no action against Rabbi Moses nor threaten him. The magistrate, in accordance with the dispatches, did not prosecute the rabbi, but demanded that he make a deposition in writing that would be verified, and the rabbi complied.

However Bassiouni Bechara, who had exalted himself greatly, still sought to accuse the Jews of some crime, and he indeed succeeded. On the seventh day of Passover 5637 (April 4, 1877) we were accused of having killed a small girl and of having thrown her body in the privy of the school.

Then most of the native Turks (meaning Egyptians evidently) gathered and entered the school, beating the Jews they found there, breaking the ark of the law, and searching everywhere for the girl. The local magistrate was present at this incident, but as he feared an uprising he did not dare to speak out. At three in the afternoon, the girl was found in the fields. Once again letters were sent to Baron Menache and to Mr. Piha, who promised to undertake the defense without delay. However, they did not fulfill their promises, as each works in his own interest rather than for the common interest, especially in hese cases which concern the honor of all Jews.

Consequently, we have resolved to address this letter to you asking your assistance, certain that you would wish to give it to us since local authorities do not cease to summon us periodically for those affairs. We can no longer bear these barbarities in Egypt - which is now - in a manner of speaking - a part of Europe.

Please sirs, help us and cause this folly to cease to exist. God will know how to reward your beneficence.  

The original French text of the above can be found in Jacob M. Landau, Jews in Nineteenth Century Egypt pp 199-200


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