BLOOD LIBEL, the allegation that Jews murder non-Jews, especially Christian children, in order to obtain blood for the Passover or other rituals: most blood libels occurred close to Passover, being basically a another form of the belief that Jews had been and still were responsible for the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the divine child; a complex of deliberate lies, trumped-up accusations, and popular beliefs about the murder-lust of the Jews and their bloodthirstiness, based on the conception that Jews hate Christianity and mankind in general. It is combined with the delusion that Jews are in some way not human and must have recourse to special remedies and subterfuges to appear, at least outwardly, like other men. The blood libel led to trials and massacres of Jews in the Middle Ages and early modern times; it was revived by the Nazis. Its origin is rooted in ancient, almost primordial, concepts concerning the potency and energies of *blood. In the early 2000s a controversy among scholars surrounded the argument that the blood libel began in the Middle Ages in the wake of the sacrifice of Jewish children by their parents during Crusaders raids on Jewish communities on their way to the Holy Land.
Blood sacrifices, practiced by many pagan religions, are expressly forbidden by the Torah. The law of meat-salting (meliḤah) is designed to prevent the least drop of avoidable blood remaining in food. Yet pagan incomprehension of the Jewish monotheist cult, lacking the customary images and
To be victims of this accusation was also the fate of othermisunderstood religious minorities. In the second century C.E. the *Church Father Tertullian complained: "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." He complains that judicial torture was applied to the early Christians because of this accusation, for "it ought … to be wrung out of us [whenever that false charge is made] how many murdered babies each of us has tasted.… Oh! the glory of that magistrate who had brought to light some Christian who had eaten up to date a hundred babies!" (Apologeticus 7:1 and 1:12, Loeb edition (1931), 10, 36).
During the Middle Ages some heretical Christian sects were also afflicted by similar accusations. The general attitude of Christians toward the holy bread of the Communion created an emotional atmosphere in which it was felt that the divine child was mysteriously hidden in the partaken bread. The popular preacher Friar Berthold of Regensburg (13th century) felt obliged to explain why communicants do not actually see the holy child by asking the rhetorical question, "Who would like to bite off a baby's head or hand or foot?" Popular beliefs and imaginings of the time, either of classical origin or rooted in Germanic superstitions, held that blood, even the blood of executed malefactors or from corpses, possesses the powers of healing or causing injury. Thus, combined with the general hatred of Jews then prevailing, a charge of clandestine cruel practices and blood-hunting, which had evolved among the pagans and was used against the early Christians, was deflected by Christian society to the most visible and persistent minority in opposition to its tenets.
As Christianity spread in Western Europe and penetrated the popular consciousness, using the emotions and imagination even more than thought and dogma in order to gain influence, various story elements began to evolve around the alleged inhumanity and sadism of the Jews. (See Map: Blood Libels.) In the first distinct case of blood libel against Jews in the Middle Ages, that of *Norwich in 1144, it was alleged that the Jews had "bought a Christian child [the 'boy-martyr' William] before Easter and tortured him with all the tortures wherewith our Lord was tortured, and on Long Friday hanged him on a rood in hatred of our Lord." The motif of torture and murder of Christian children in imitation of Jesus' Passion persisted with slight variations throughout the 12th century (Gloucester, England, 1168; Blois, France, 1171; Saragossa, Spain, 1182), and was repeated in many libels of the 13th century. In the case of Little Saint Hugh of *Lincoln, 1255, it would seem that an element taken directly from Apion's libel (see above) was interwoven into the Passion motif, for the chronicler Matthew Paris relates, "that the Child was first fattened for ten days with white bread and milk and then … almost all the Jews of England were invited to the crucifixion." The crucifixion motif was generalized in the Siete Partidas law code of Spain, 1263: "We have heard it said that in certain places on Good Friday the Jews do steal children and set them on the cross in a mocking manner." Even when other motifs eventually predominated in the libel, the crucifixion motif did not disappear altogether. On the eve of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, there occurred the blood-libel case of "the Holy Child of *La Guardia" (1490–91). There, *Conversos were made to confess under torture that with the knowledge of the chief rabbi of the Jews they had assembled at the time of Passover in a cave, crucified the child, and abused him and cursed him to his face, as was done to Jesus in ancient times. The crucifixion motif explains why the blood libels occurred at the time of Passover.
The Jews were well aware of the implications of sheer sadism involved in the libel. In a dirge lamenting the Jews massacred at Munich because of a blood libel in 1286, the anonymous poet supposedly quotes the words of the Christian killers: "These unhappy Jews are sinning, they kill Christian children, they torture them in all their limbs, they take the blood cruelly to drink" (A.M. Habermann (ed.), Sefer Gezerot Ashkenaz ve-Ẓarefat (1946), 199). These words, written in irony, reflect another motif in the libels, the thirst of the Jew for blood, out of his hatred for the good and true. This is combined in 13th-century Germany with the conception that the Jew cannot endure purity: he hates the innocence of the Christian child, its joyous song and appearance. The motif, found in the legendary tales of the monk Caesarius of Heisterbach in Germany, underwent various transmutations. In the source from which Caesarius took his story the child killed by the Jews sings erubescat judaeus ("let the Jew be shamed"). In Caesarius' version, the child sings the Salve Regina. The Jews cannot endure this pure laudatory song and try to frighten him and stop him from singing it. When he refuses, they cut off his tongue and hack him to pieces. About a century after the expulsion of the Jews from England this motif only became the basis of Geoffrey *Chaucer's "Prioress' Tale." Here the widow's little child sings the Alma Redemptoris Mater while "the serpent Sathanas" awakens indignation in the cruel Jewish heart. The Jews obey the promptings of their Satanic master and kill the child; a miracle brings about their deserved punishment. Though the scene of this tale is laid in Asia, at the end of the
In the blood libel of *Fulda (1235) another motif comes to the fore: the Jews taking blood for medicinal remedies (here of five young Christian boys). The strange medley of ideas about the use of blood by the Jews is summed up by the end of the Middle Ages, in 1494, by the citizens of Tyrnau (*Trnava). The Jews need blood because "firstly, they were convinced by the judgment of their ancestors, that the blood of a Christian was a good remedy for the alleviation of the wound of circumcision. Secondly, they were of opinion that this blood, put into food, is very efficacious for the awakening of mutual love. Thirdly, they had discovered, as men and women among them suffered equally from menstruation, that the blood of a Christian is a specific medicine for it, when drunk. Fourthly, they had an ancient but secret ordinance by which they are under obligation to shed Christian blood in honor of God, in daily sacrifices, in some spot or other … the lot for the present year had fallen on the Tyrnau Jews." To the motifs of crucifixion, sadism, hatred of the innocent and of Christianity, and the unnaturalness of the Jews and its cure by the use of good Christian blood, there were added, from time to time, the ingredients of sorcery, perversity, and a kind of "blind obedience to a cruel tradition."
Generation after generation of Jews in Europe was tortured, and Jewish communities were massacred or dispersed and broken up because of this libel. It was spread by various agents. Popular preachers ingrained it in the minds of the common people. It became embedded, through miracle tales, in their imagination and beliefs. This caused in Moravia, for instance, in about 1343, "a woman of ill fame to come with the help of another woman and propose to an old Jew of Brno, named Osel, her child for sale for six marks, because the child was red in hair and in face." Yet the Jew invited Christian officials, who imprisoned the women and punished them horribly (B. Bretholz, Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in Maehren (1935), 27–28). The majority of the heads of state and the church opposed the circulation of the libel. Emperor *Frederick II of Hohenstaufen decided, after the Fulda libel, to clear up the matter definitively, and have all the Jews in the empire killed if the accusation proved to be true, or exonerate them publicly if false, using this as an occasion to arbitrate in a matter affecting the whole of Christendom. The enquiry into the blood libel was thus turned into an all-Christian problem. The emperor, who first consulted the recognized church authorities, later had to turn to a device of his own. In the words of his summing-up of the enquiry (see ZGJD, 1 (1887), 142–4), the usual church authorities "expressed various opinions about the case, and as they have been proved incapable of coming to a conclusive decision … we found it necessary … to turn to such people that were once Jews and have converted to the worship of the Christian faith; for they, as opponents, will not be silent about anything that they may know in this matter against the Jews." The emperor adds that he himself was already convinced, through his knowledge and wisdom, that the Jews were innocent. He sent to the kings of the West, asking them to send him decent and learned converts to Christianity to consult in the matter. The synod of converts took place (in about 1243) and came to the conclusion, which the emperor published: "There is not to be found, either in the Old or the New Testament, that the Jews are desirous of human blood. On the contrary, they avoid contamination with any kind of blood." The document quotes from various Jewish texts in support, adding, "There is also a strong likelihood that those to whom even the blood of permitted animals is forbidden, cannot have a hankering after human blood. Against this accusation stand its cruelty, its unnaturalness, and the sound human emotions which the Jews have also in relation to the Christians. It is also unlikely that they would risk [through such a dangerous action] their life and property." A few years later, in 1247, Pope Innocent IV wrote that "Christians charge falsely … that [the Jews] hold a communion rite … with the heart of a murdered child; and should the cadaver of a dead man happen to be found anywhere they maliciously lay it to their charge." Neither emperor nor pope were heeded.
Jewish scholars in the Middle Ages bitterly rejected this inhuman accusation. They quoted the Law and instanced the Jewish way of life in order to refute it. The general opinion of the Jews is summed up thus: "You are libeling us for you want to find a reason to permit the shedding of our blood" (the 12th–13th centuries Sefer Niẓẓahon Yashan – Liber Nizzachon Vetus, p. 159 in Tela Ignaea Satanae, ed. J.Ch. Wagenseil, 1681). However, the Jewish denials, like the opinion of enlightened Christian leaders, did not succeed in preventing the blood libels from shaping to a large extent the image of the Jew transmitted from the Middle Ages to modern times. (It was only in 1965 that the church officially repudiated the blood libel of *Trent by canceling the beatification of Simon and the celebrations in his honor.)
From the 17th century, blood-libel cases increasingly spread to Eastern Europe, most notably to Poland and Lithuania). The atmosphere at such trials is conveyed by the protocols of the investigation of two Jews and a Jewess who were put to torture in a blood-libel case at *Lublin in 1636: "Judge: 'For what purpose do Jews need Christian blood?' Fegele: 'Jews use no Christian blood.' Judge: 'And are you a sorceress?' Fegele: 'No. I have nothing to do with this.'" She remained unbroken under torture, even the threat of torture with a red-hot iron, and bravely denied all allegations of sorcery and ritual use of blood, and so did the other accused Jews, who insisted that all Jews are innocent. Hugo *Grotius, the Protestant legal philosopher, when told about the case expressed the opinion that the blood accusation was simply a libel generated by hatred of the Jews and recalled that the early Christians and later Christian sectarians were accused in a similar way (Balaban, in Festschrift S. Dubnow (1930), 87–112).
In Eastern Europe, as late as the 17th century, the blood libel is identified with Jewish sorcery in the minds of the accusers, while the motif of the use of Christian blood for Passover maẓẓot increasingly comes to the fore. As conditions in Poland deteriorated, blood-libel cases multiplied. Through the *Councils of the Lands the Jews sent an emissary to the Holy See who succeeded in having an investigation ordered and carried out by Cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli, later Pope *Clement XIV. In a detailed report submitted in 1759 Ganganelli examined the veracity of the blood libel in general and of the recent cases in Poland-Lithuania in particular, quoting in extenso from former church authorities against the libel. His main conclusion was: "I […] hope that the Holy See will take some measure to protect the Jews of Poland as Saint Bernard, Gregory IX, and Innocent IV did for the Jews of Germany and France (see bibl., Roth, p. 94).
In the 19th century the ringleaders of Jew-hatred in its modern form of antisemitism made conspicuous use of the blood libel for incitement against Jews in various countries. It was also used as a weapon to arouse the uneducated masses for specific political reasons, as occurred, for instance, in the *Damascus Affair (1840) in the struggle among the western powers for influence in the Near East. Antisemitic self-pro-claimed experts wrote treatises which set out to prove the truth of the libel from the records of past accusations and Jewish sources. Two such were Konstantin Cholewa de Pawlikowski (Talmud in der Theorie und Praxis, Regensburg, 1866) and H. Desportes (Le mystère du sang chez les Juifs de tous les temps, Paris, 1859, with a preface by the French antisemite Edouard-Adolphe *Drumont). In the blood-libel trials held in the second half of the 19th and early 20th century, such as the *Tisza-Eszlar and *Beilis cases, August *Rohling and other known antisemites appeared to testify in court; all were irrefutably answered by Jewish and pro-Jewish scholars (J.S. *Bloch, H.L. *Strack, J. *Mazeh). Another way of implying the truth of theblood-libel charge was to state it as a fact without denying it. For example, in the article Blut (in Handwoerterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens, 1 (1927), cols. 1434–42) it is remarked (col. 1436): "Moses in vain prohibited the drinking of blood," and "Trials in modern times show the problem of ritual murder has still not disappeared"; col. 1439).
The Nazis used the blood libel in full force for anti-Jewish propaganda. They revived old allegations and instituted reinvestigations and trials in territories under their rule or influence: at Memel in 1936; at Bamberg in 1937 (a revival); and at Velhartice, Bohemia, in 1940. On May 1, 1934, the Nazi daily, Der Stuermer, devoted a special illustrated number to the blood libel, in which German scientists openly served the Nazi aims. The above-mentioned Handwoerterbuch (vol. 7 (1935–36), cols. 727–39) printed an article entitled Ritualmord written by Peuckert, a man who remained active and respected in German science, which is throughout simply an affirmation and propagation of the blood libel, although using some cautious phrasing. The epitome appears in the remarkable enquiry: "In conclusion to this shocking list, there remains only one question: for what purpose did the Jews use the blood?" (col. 734).
The blood libel, in the various forms it assumed and the tales with which it was associated, is one of the most terrible expressions of the combination of human cruelty and credulity. No psychological or sociological research can convey the depths to which the numerous intentional instigators of such libels, and the more numerous propagators of this phantasmagoria, sank. It resulted in the torture, murder, and expulsion, of countless Jews, and the misery of insults. However, the dark specters it raised were even more harmful in their effectson the minds of Christians. In modern times *Aḥad Ha-Am found "some consolation" in the existence of the blood libel, for it could serve as a spiritual defense against the influence on Jewish self-evaluation of the consensus of hostile opinion. "This accusation is the solitary case in which the general acceptance of an idea about ourselves does not make us doubt whether all the world can be wrong, and we right, because it is based on an absolute lie, and is not even supported by any false inference from particular to universal. Every Jew who has been brought up among Jews knows as an indisputable fact that throughout the length and breadth of Jewry there is not a single individual who drinks human blood for religious purposes…. 'But' – you ask – 'is it possible that everybody can be wrong, and the Jews right?' Yes, it is possible: the blood accusation proves it possible. Here, you see, the Jews are right and perfectly innocent" (Selected Essays (1962), 203–4).
[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson /
Dina Porat (2nd ed.)]
In modern times Russia has been the principal perpetuator of the blood libel, both medieval and modern factors (see above) combining to enable its deliberate dissemination among the ignorant masses. The first blood-libel case in Russia occurred in the vicinity of Senno, south of Vitebsk, on the eve of Passover 1799, when the body of a woman was found near a Jewish tavern: four Jews were arrested on the ground of the "popular belief that the Jews require Christian blood." *Apostates supplied the court with extracts from a distorted translation of the Shulḥan Arukh and Shevet Yehudah. The accused were released through lack of evidence. Nevertheless the poet and administrator G.R. *Derzhavin, in his "Opinion submitted to the czar on the organization of the status of the Jews in Russia," could state that "in these communities persons are to be found who perpetrate the crime, or at least afford protection to those committing the crime, of shedding Christian blood, of which Jews have been suspected at various times and in different countries. If I for my part consider that such crimes, even if sometimes committed in antiquity, were carried out by ignorant fanatics, I thought it right not to overlook them." Thus a semiofficial seal was given to the libel in Russia at the opening of the 19th century. Official Russian circles were divided in their views on the libel. A number of inquiries into the charges were instituted, while the views of the czars themselves fluctuated.
Between 1805 and 1816 various cases of blood libel occurred
With the growth of an antisemitic movement in Russia in the 1870s, the blood libel became a regular motif in the anti-Jewish propaganda campaign conducted in the press and literature. Leading writers in this sphere were H. *Lutostansky, who wrote a pamphlet "concerning the use of Christian blood by Jewish sects for religious purposes" (1876), which ran into many editions, and J. Pranaitis. Numerous further allegations were made, including a case in Kutais (Georgia) in 1879, in which Jewish villagers were accused of murdering a little Christian girl. The case was tried in the district court and gave the advocates for the defense an opportunity of ventilating the social implications of the affair and the malicious intentions of its instigators. The chief agitators of the blood libels were monks. At the monastery of Suprasl crowds assembled to gaze on the bones of the "child martyr Gabriello," who had been allegedly murdered by Jews in 1690. The wave of blood libels which occurred at the end of the 19th century in central Europe, including the cases in Tiszaeszlar in 1881, *Xanten in 1891, Polna in 1899, etc., also heaped fuel on the flames of the agitation in Russia.
A number of works were published by Jewish writers in Russia to contradict the allegations, such as D. Chwolson's "Concerning Medieval Libels against Jews" (1861); I.B. Levinsohn's Efes Damim of 1837 was translated into Russian (1883). Some of the calumniators were also prosecuted (see *Zederbaum v. Lutostansky, 1880). Despite the growing antisemitism and their officially supported anti-Jewish policy, the czarist authorities during the reign of Alexander III (1881–94) did not lend credence to the blood libels. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that further attempts were renewed. These included the *Blondes Case in Vilna, in 1900, and an attempt in *Dubossary, in the guberniya of Kherson, where a Russian criminal tried to pin the murder of a child on the Jews. However, with the victory of the reactionaries in Russia after the dissolution of the Second *Duma in 1907, and the strengthening of the extreme right wing (*Union of Russian People) in the Third Duma, another attempt at official level was made by the regime to use the blood libel as a weapon in its struggle against the revolutionary movement and to justify its policy toward the Jews. An opportunity for doing so occurred in the *Beilis Case engineered by the minister of justice Shcheglovitov. The trial, which continued from spring 1911 to fall 1913, became a major political issue and the focal point for anti-Jewish agitation in the antisemitic press, in the streets, at public meetings, and in the Duma. The whole of liberal and socialist opinion was ranged behind Beilis' defense, and even a section of the conservative camp. Leading Russian lawyers conducted the defense, and in Russia and throughout Europe hundreds of intellectuals and scholars, headed by V. Korolenko and M. *Gorki, joined in protest against the trial. The exoneration of Beilis was a political defeat for the regime. Despite this, the government continued to assent to the instigation of blood libels and support their dissemination among the masses until the 1917 Revolution. The Soviet government's attitude toward the blood libel was that it had been a weapon of the reaction and a tactic to exploit popular superstition by the czarist regime. The instigators of the Beilis trial were interrogated and tried at an early stage after the revolution. In later years the
IN ARAB COUNTRIES
The blood libel was repeated in the Arab countries in modern times in a number of ways in various books, as in Egypt in the 1960s, the titles referring to "talmudic human sacrifices" or "the secrets of Zionism." Mustafa Tlass, a key political figure in Syria for decades, first published his book on the 1860 Damascus blood libel in 1983. The book, called "Matzah of Zion" and reprinted in a number of editions and translated into many languages, became an influential and frequently quoted authority on how Jews and Zionists constantly perpetrate cruel ritual murders. Newspapers as well joined in, with the Egyptian government-sponsored Al-Ahram publishing in October 2000 a full-page article called "Jewish Matzah Made from Arab Blood." TV series and discussions also evoke the blood libel, as on the al-Jazeera station and in the Al-Manar (Hizbullah television network) series The Exile in 2003. The image of the Zionist in these visual depictions, watched by millions all over the world, is that of the Der Sturmer Jew, bloodthirsty and frighteningly ferocious.
[Dina Porat (2nd ed.)]
M. Samuel, Blood Accusation (1966); M. Hacohen (ed.) Mishpatim ve-Alilot Dam (1967); H.L. Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice (1909); C. Roth, Ritual Murder Libel and the Jew (1935); K. Hruby, in: W.P. Eckert and E.L. Ehrlich (eds.), Judenhass-Schuld der Christen? (1964), 281–358; idem, in: Der Juden-christ (1960/62); J. Trachtenberg, Devil and the Jews (1943), 124–55; Baer, Spain, 2 (1966), 398–423; Il Piccolo martire S. Domenichino de Val, Patrono di Chierichetti (1960); M.I. Seiden, Paradox of Hate (1967). IN RUSSIA: Dubnow, Hist, S.V., Ritual Murder Libel; C.E. Margolin, Jews of Eastern Europe (1926), 155–247; A.M. Tager, Decay of Czarism, The Beiliss Trial (1935). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Israeli, Poison, Modern Manifestations of a Blood Libel (2002); R. Erb (ed.), Die Legende vom Ritualmord: Zur Geschichte der Blutbeschuldigung gegen Juden (1993); J. Frankel, The Damascus Affair: "Ritual Murder," Politics and the Jews in 1840 (1997); H.J. Kieval, "Representation and Knowledge in Medieval and Modern Accounts of Jewish Ritual Murder," in: Jewish Social Studies (1994–95); I.J. Yuval, "Two Nations in Your Womb," Perceptions of Jews and Christians (in Heb.) (2000); A. Dundes (ed.), The Blood Libel Legend: A Case-Book in Anti-Semitic Folklore (1991); Po-Chia R. Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder (1989).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.