Archive/File: people/n/nicholls.william/blood-libel Last-Modified: 1997/06/07 "The blood libel, as Jews call it, first made its appearance in the middle of the twelfth century. This is the accusation that Jews ritually murder a Christian child at the season of Passover and mingle the child's blood with the unleavened bread they eat at that time. "The first recorded case of the accusation occurred in the year 1144 at Norwich in eastern England. The body of a twlve- year-old child called William was found, and the Jews were accused of murdering him. He had engaged in business dealings with the Jews as a skinner and was well known to them. No doubt suspicion arose for the simple reason that they treated him in a friendly manner, and it was assumed that this must have some hidden purpose. "The Jews were believed by many of the locals to have kidnapped him and kept him for a few days until the actual day of Passover. On that day, according to the accusation, under the supervision of the head of the synagogue, they bound and gagged the child, tortured him, stabbed his head with numerous thorns, fastened him to a cross (without using nails since this would have led to the discovery of the perpetrators of the outrage), and finally killed him with a stab in the side. All this was supposed to be a horrible mimicry of the events of Christ's passion. "The information confirming these fantasies in the mind of the local Christians came from a Jewish convert to Christianity, now a monk, Theobald by name. He told a bizarre story of how the Jews of Europe, being obliged by their law to do so, and with the aim of avenging themselves on Christ, on whose account their exile had arisen, selected a community each year to perform the sacrifice of a Christian child at Passover. The choice of city was supposed to be made at a grand gathering of Jewish leaders at Narbonne in southern France, where there was indeed a flourishing Jewish community. "Theobald claimed to have been present at Cambridge when, the lot having fallen on Norwich, all the synagogues of England by letter or personal representative gave their consent to the deed. He claimed to have been fully aware of what was done. Later, however, he heard of the miracles that had come about through the intercession of the martyred child, became afraid, and forsook Judaism for Christianity.
"Not for the last time, a Jewish convert to Christianity was willing to malign and traduce his former coreligionists in order to gain credit with his new associates. The Christian population knew virtually nothing about Jews by this time, and their fantasies were based on Christian models. They were only too ready to believe a lying convert who told them what they wanted and expected to hear. "A popular cult of the child martyr, soon to be known as St. William of Norwich, speedily grew up and miracles began to occur through his intercession as the medieval account mentioned. Pilgrimages to his tomb were frequent and doubtless profitable for the citizens of Norwish. "Another such case was that of Hugh of Lincoln, who was found dead in 1255. The Jews of the city were accused of crucifying him, and after taking him down from the cross, removing his intestines, no doubt for magical purposes. The story turns up in Chaucer's `Canterbury Tales,' completed in 1387, when there had been no Jews in England for almost a century. He gives the story to the Prioress, who is not represented as an attractive character; no doubt, her morbid dwelling on the horror story is not meant to be to her credit. Nevertheless, there is no reason to suppose that Chaucer himself disbelieved it. "Marcus also reproduces a contemporary account, in this case Jewish, of an incident at Blois, in France, in 1171, in which similar accusations were made against the local Jews after a boy's body was found in the river. A Jew selected as the principal accused failed an ordeal by water. A number of the Jews were imprisoned. They attempted to ransome themselves with money and the cancellation of debts owed to them, but in vain. Thirty-one of them were put to death, some by the sword, some by burning. Those who were burned died bravely as martyrs. "Not everyone took much notice of the accusation against the Jews of Norwich, but once the libel had been started it seemed to acquire a life of its own. Toward the end of the century it reappeared in various English cities, though the Jews were not in all cases punished. There are 150 recorded cases of the charge of ritual murder, and many led to massacres of the Jews of the place. "In Germany, the problem created by the persecution of the Jews on this ground became so serious, since so many Jews had lost their lives, that the Emperor Frederick II decided to conduct an inquiry into the truth of the charges. He first asked a number of leading churchmen whether they were well-founded, but he received inconclusive answers. He then convened a conference of converts from Judaism, who showed conclusively that Jews do not harm children and have no use for Christian blood. In any event, Jewish teaching, as they informed him, inculcates abhorrence of the ingestion of blood. The emperor issued a Golden Bull, forbidding the accusation. "Pope Innocent IV also issued several bulls to the same effect. One issued in 1247 stated: "They [the Jews] are falsely accused that in the same solemnity [Passover] they receive communion with the heart of a murdered child. This, it is believed, is required by their Law, although it is clearly contrary to it. No matter where a dead body is discovered, their persecutors wickedly cast it against them." "Other popes, including Gregory X, Martin V, Paul III, and Nicholas V, also vindicated the Jews from the charge of ritual murder, but this did not stop it from being widely believed. The accusation continued to be made into the twentieth century, and it is even showing signs of revival today. "One of the last reported cases occurred in Czarist Russia in the first decade of the present century, when a Jew called Mendel Beilis was accused of the ritual murder of a Christian boy. He would doubless have been convicted and executed but for an international outcry. [...] "The same libel is being revived in our own day by the enemies of Israel. "So many Jews were being accused of ritual murder in eighteenth-century Poland that Cardinal Ganganelli (afterward to be Pope Clement XIV) made a careful investigation of the whole matter. He concluded that with two exceptions, the incidents at Rinn and Trent, the stories were without foundation. More modern and critical scholars have concluded that his cautious approval of even these two cases was largely motivated by the Church's sanction of the cultus of the children in question as martyrs. In the judgment of more recent scholars, there is not a single case of ritual murder that stands up to critical investigation. "The accusations could never have been made by anyone who knew anything actual Jews [sic] or about Judaism. As even the more honest medieval authorities were ready to admit, Jews are forbidden by the Torah to consume blood in any form. The laws of ritual slaughtering require that all the blood be drained out of the animal, and that it then be salted and washed to absorb whatever remains. Even the tiny speck of blood in a fertilized egg renders that egg forbidden to the observant Jew. In the Middle Ages, almost all Jews were observant. "Apart from the Torah itself, Jews would have been restrained from harming children by their traditional love of them. Children represent life, the highest value in Judaism. The Jew who might have been guilty of these charges was not the real Jew but a fantasy in the sick imagination of the medieval Christian. [...] "Flannery's comment is apt. `The ritual murder calumny stands in the judgment of history as the most monstrous instrument of anti-Jewish persecution in the Middle Ages.' " (Nicholls, 237-239) (See Dr. Nicholl's comments with respect to church repudiation of the blood libel, found on page 365.) Work Cited Nicholls, William. Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate. Northvale, New Jersey & London: Jason Aronson Inc. 1993.
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