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Blood Libel

Christian Anti-Semitism

Since the 12th century, the Jewish people have been accused of murdering Christians to use their blood for ritual purposes. This is known as a blood libel. The blood libel is one of the most hideous and persistent examples of anti-Semitism.

The earliest recorded blood libel against the Jews came from St. William of Norwich, who, in 1144 was said to have been murdered by the Jews so that they might use his Christian blood in their Passover service. No evidence was produced to back up these claims, and in fact, it was determined that the child had been the victim of a cataleptic fit and had then been buried alive by his family. Though no Jews stood trial or were punished for the alleged murder, the accusation set the foreground for more such claims: in Gloucester in 1168, at Bury St. Edmunds in 1181, and in Winchester in 1192. These claims did not lead to trial, though in every case, the Christian boys were considered martyrs and the uproar over the event led to a burgeoning of religious feeling and a higher attendance in the churches of these towns.

In 1235, thirty-four Jews were slaughtered by the Crusaders, having been accused of murdering the five children of a miller. The Jews were tortured to elicit false confessions in which they agreed that they had killed the children to use their blood for healing. To his credit, German emperor Frederick II made a thorough investigation of the subject and issued the following judgment, "For these reasons we have decided, with the general consent of the governing princes, to exonerate the Jews of the district from the grave crime with which they have been charged, and to declare the remainder of the Jews in Germany free from all suspicion."

This disclaimer did nothing to erase the anti-Semitic feeling sweeping the world with accusations against the Jews becoming more frequent. In 1247, the Jews of Germany and France complained to Pope Innocent IV about another blood libel in which they had been accused of using a Christian child's heart to celebrate communion during Passover; a charge that has no basis in reality, since Jews do not have any ritual which is comparable to communion.

Blood libels against the Jews continued on as late as into the 19th century. The first literary mention of blood libel, however, occurred in the middle of the thirteenth century when Thomas of Cantimpré wrote, "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."

Hemorrhage Remedy?

Thomas believed that this practice stemmed from the hemorrhages the Jews had suffered since the New Testament time when the Jews had called out to Pilate, "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matt. xxvii. 25).

Thomas explained, "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"].'

 


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