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Blood Libels

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On March 22nd1144, in Norwich, England, Jews were first accused of killing a Christian child because, it was claimed, they needed its blood for the Four Cups of Wine at the Passover Seder. In Gloucester in 1168, in Bury St Edmonds in 1181, Bristol in 1183 and most notoriously in Lincoln in 1255, Jews died as the result of this insane and illogical charge. 

In 1171 the Jewish community of Blois in France of about 40 people (at a time when the total Jewish population of France was less than a thousand) were burnt to death singing the Aleynu prayer as they perished. The great Rabbeynu Tam instituted a fast day to commemorate the tragedy which for many years was adhered to strictly by the Jews of Ashkenaz. 

A hundred years later, a German monk called Rhindfleisch claimed that Jews stole communion wafers from churches to beat until the blood of Jesus flowed. Hundreds of Jews were killed to avenge this ‘crime.’ All this because of the crazy idea that Jews, forbidden to drink blood, even of kosher animals, could possibly use blood from any source or human flesh in making Matzah.

Rhindfleisch and all the other Blood Libel murderers were simply borrowing Christian imagery. The Christian communion service, the Eucharist, involves the ceremony of eating a wafer to symbolize the body of Jesus and wine to symbolize the blood of Jesus. Until Protestantism which interpreted it metaphorically, all Christians believed a miracle actually took place inside each body when the “host” was consumed. It was (and remains in Catholicism) the doctrine of Transubstantiation. It was a short step to believe that Jews, who rejected Jesus and drank wafers and wine on Passover, were also drinking blood and eating flesh. It just illustrates the utter absurdity of anti-Jewish demonization which has not changed very much since then. It has just taken on different myths and equally illogical lies.

What I find amazing is that despite the kidnapping, rape and murder of our men women and children, nowhere in any major rabbinic authority or source will you find any support for a halachic position that says you do not have to treat non-Jews correctly and morally and according to the law of the land and even, if necessary in contravention of Jewish Law. 

Throughout the periods of bloody chaos under both Christianity and Islam (accepting the differences) whether it was Rabbeynu Tam in the twelfth century, Rav Menahem Meiri in the fourteenth, Rav Lowe of Prague or Rav David Ibn Zimri of Safed in the sixteenth, Rav Yehezkel Landau in the Eighteenth or Rav Yisrael Lipshitz in the nineteenth they all wrote and spoke out against any mistreatment, deception or amorality in dealing with non- Jews. They reiterated our obligations to adhere to ‘The Law of the Land.’

One might think the Blood Libel unexceptional, given that this was an era of burning heretics, drowning witches and torturing people to confess almost anything. But the Blood Libel persisted into the twentieth Century. Kishinev in Bessarabia on 1903, 49 Jews were tortured and killed. Many women were raped to death in a frenzied pogrom ignored by the authorities. It too began with the claim that Jews were preparing for Pesach by killing Christian babies.  

In Kiev in 1913 the unfortunate Menachem Mendel Baylis, an assimilated Jews, was charged with murdering a Christian child for Jewish religious purposes. Although at the trial he was acquitted, the Jewish religion was not! It will come as no surprise that the Blood Libel is making a big comeback in the Muslim world and is repeated and exaggerated on state sponsored television throughout culturally benighted parts of our planet. 

Accusations of Israelis wantonly killing Palestinians, poisoning their wells and murdering their children to use their organs, is just a modern version of the Blood Libel enthusiastically adopted by many University Campuses, the United Nations, the Council of Human Rights and most NGO’s. So is the accusation of being betrayers of nations as well as imperialists, tools of the Marxists as well as the Capitalists.

Sadly, we also have those who betray our own values. I was delighted that the Israeli Supreme Court by a vote of 8 to 1 has just banned the extreme Otzma candidate Michael Ben-Ari from standing in the upcoming elections.  Because he is guilty of inciting hatred with his anti-Arab rhetoric. For all those who hate Jews, there are others who hold senior positions in the Courts, serve in the Army and Security Forces and are positive proud citizens of Israel.  

 I only wish Israel were given more credit for the stand of its Supreme Court. I have searched in vain for one example of any, any person punished or excluded from the political process in any Muslim State for inciting hatred against Jews. And the fact that one cannot point to one, is proof, if any were needed, of the irrational hatred we suffer from.

While we have a right to self-preservation and while charity starts at home, we cannot isolate ourselves and we must meet our obligations to society and humanity in general. And I can say categorically that no truly great rabbi has ever said anything to the contrary. 

As we begin to prepare for Pesach and are in this sad period of mourning for those millions of Jews killed and tortured over the years in the name of other societies, simply because Jews  were prepared to stand up for their identity and values, we really should wonder what disease it is that causes so much of the Western World to return to primitive Jew hatred once again.

4 thoughts on “Blood Libels

  1. Thanks again, Jeremy, for your erudition and I hope you had a joyous Purim. It seems to me that pummelling and killing the Jews always becomes easier when a state is in financial or political difficulties. “Blame the Jews” always goes down well at these times.
    In the UK at this time, we are fortunate to have a Chief Rabbi who is devout, intelligent and a man the people can respond to. I heard him the other day on Radio 4, talking about mourning and shiva in the most moving way and was very proud.
    Then, we have the Jews, who follow the communist ideal and are actually antisemitic and deny that there is any antisemitism in Labour. Many of us, Labour supporters of old, can no longer vote for this party. Sadly, we are such a small minority that Corbyn and his ilk don’t give a damn. Sorry, I’m on the political bandwagon again.
    Shabbat Shalom, Jeremy and please keep on with the great work.

    1. Yes, that’s the irony. We are Marxists and Capitalists, Rich and Poor, Nationalists and Rootless Cosmopolitans, Religious and Secular, Good and Bad. Absolutely everyone can find a good reason to hate us.

  2. In 1982 we had a BA winter camp in a school near Lincoln. One day we went into Lincoln, a walled city, to shop and explore. We also visited the cathedral where the incumbent told us the story of Little St. Hugh – the child who was supposedly killed by the Jews for his flesh and blood, just before Pesach in 1255. He told us that there was a plaque erected, declaring that the incident was a blood libel and the child died under unknown circumstances, not at the hands of the Jews. Unfortunately the plaque cannot be displayed because every time they put it up, it was stolen and they had to have a new one made.

    It was Xmas time and even before we learned about Little St. Hugh, the blood libel and the plaque, I was already feeling uneasy. As we walked into this walled city in 1982, where everywhere was decorated for the upcoming festival, it felt like entering a Victorian Xmas card scene. Or even further back into medieval times. As one of the madrichot, I obviously knew that there had been a blood libel in this place over 600 years ago. However, I wasn’t prepared to feel threatened as I did. It was a weird feeling and one I’ve never felt before nor since – and I grew up in non-Jewish schools, college, visiting famous churches on family holidays, and loving the whole atmosphere of Xmas (especially the carols). I felt like we were the only Jews in a place where we needed to be weary. Nearly 40 years later I still remember the feeling.

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