Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5762 - April 24, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Blood Libels from the Not-So-Distant Past

by Rafael Berlzon

The term "blood libel" generally conjures up images of bygone days. We imagine the Golem of Prague descending upon the evil priest or the smell of a damp cellar where the body of a young Christian girl or a jar of blood lies hidden. But just nine years ago the age-old blood libel reappeared in Spain, attracting thousands of Christians to participate in a holiday held in honor of the "martyr."

In the former Soviet state of Georgia 38 years ago a blood libel led to the spilling of Jewish blood.

And in Italy a blood libel was resurrected in Tirano and Roustica. When no new blood libels are invented, old ones are revived.

The Domenichino Festival

Six hundred and fifty years ago in Saragusa, Spain, locals claimed a Catholic boy named Domenichino had been murdered while passing by the beis knesses on his way to church. Twenty years ago a booklet describing the blood libel was published and it was still being sold ten years later in Fobruomo, a small town near Carrara, Italy. The tale is supposedly based on unpublished 14th century documents, but when a Christian researcher tried to verify the truth of the story she was denied access to the cathedral library.

For centuries the Catholic Church regularly backed and adopted all such fabrications. The ignorant masses were unlikely to doubt the validity of blood libels. (In 1431 a poor Christian woman approached a Jew from Bernau, Germany, offering to sell her son for six marks to make blood for matzos.)

Thirty-five years ago the Catholic Church began to recant blood libels after an investigative commission was set up. Calls were also made to change popular thinking on the Domenichino story, but this did not prevent masses of Christians from nearby resort towns to continue streaming into Fobruomo to participate in the annual rite based on this blood libel.

The prize Fobruomo's local council presents to the winner of a locally held competition is named after Domenichino. The town's Secretary of Culture took pains to reassure Jewish visitors that the name was taken from the local rite and carries no religious undertones. In preparation for Pesach 5752 (1992) Fobruomo underwent an expansion project designed to make room for all of the celebrants. During the festivities peddlers sold key chains bearing an image of Dominichino.

Clergy heads made a strategic decision to trim back the event. At the entrance to the church the booklet is no longer available. Fobruomo residents objected to efforts to reduce the rite based on economic grounds.

Similar celebrations were held in Roustica, which also refused to cancel them due to "economic reasons."

The Fried-Bread Procession

Thirty years ago a booklet called Tirano--City of Miracles written by two local schoolteachers and, with an introduction penned by the city's archbishop, was published in Italy. The booklet described a "real event" that took place in Tirano four hundred years earlier "when deceitful Jews lived here."

The story is of a Jewish woman who supposedly disguised herself as a Christian and went to participate in a certain "communion" ceremony. During the ceremony the priest handed out pieces of bread and "instead of eating it, [the Jewess] hid the bread in her scarf. [She] returned home . . . took out the bread, placed it in a pan full of oil and placed the pan on the stove top to fry. And just moments later the bread transformed into fresh meat, splashing blood on the walls of the cursed house of the cursed Jews . . . "

This fictitious and banal tale was widespread among the lower classes of Tirano's Christians. At the end of the story the piece of bread is deposited in one of the church's cabinets. The authors of the booklet wrote the story as a historical chronicle of events intended to revive the old custom of holding a procession in the streets of the city with the remains of the fried bread displayed at the head of the procession.

The custom was abolished three hundred years ago by the local archbishop, but in 5731 (1971) with the help of two schoolteachers, another archbishop decided to revive it, including the piece of bread at the head of the procession.

In the spring of 5733 the archbishop succeeded in re- instituting the ceremony and masses of Christians gathered to participate. Italian television broadcast reports of the procession and Italian newspapers began to delve into the issue.

When the wide publicity ignited a debate among Italians the organizers were accused of overt antisemitism. "We are deeply disturbed by the renewal of the fried bread procession, which revives bygone antisemitism and hatred toward Jews," read a letter which the Union of Israelite Communities sent to Vatican authorities. "Appropriate steps will be taken to stop the custom, which harms fundamental principals of truth and justice."

None of these local "revivals" led to violence against Jews for, since World War II, no Jews have lived in these provinces, where now the Jew exists only in the imagination of antisemites. Since then, says Milan's Rav Avraham Chazon, the controversy has dissipated and has faded into the background of Italian discourse.

The Palestinian Blood Libel

The Nazis, may their names be blotted out, also tried to revive blood libels. "Trials" were held in several German cities and Der Sturmer dedicated an entire edition to the topic, including "research" articles submitted by German scientists.

The Arabs also took an interest in the topic. According to a communist newspaper published in Russia, "A Jew who does not drink Muslim blood at least once per year is not considered a true believer in the Jewish faith, and therefore many Jews buy 5-10 grams of blood from the Muslims . . . The blood is mixed in a barrel of water and the water is sold as water containing Muslim blood."

Following modern developments the Arabs have had to revise the libel by exchanging blood for chemicals. "The Jews poison our wells through chemical means."

When the State of Israel was founded, anti-Jewish sentiments among Yemenite Muslims increased. Yahadut Teman notes, "They devised sinister schemes against the Jews and elected to employ the tried and true method of the blood libel. On Shabbos afternoon, 16 Kislev 5709 (December 18, 1949), when the streets of the Jewish neighborhood were empty, they dropped two Muslim babies down an abandoned well located on the edge of the Jewish neighborhood.

"Towards evening they pulled the corpses up from the well, placed them on a bed and paraded them through the streets of the Arab city shouting calls for revenge. On motzei Shabbos the mayor of the city sent soldiers to the Jewish neighborhood to arrest all of the respected members of the community, numbering approximately sixty. They were led through the streets of the city as crowds of Arabs beat them and threw stones and were placed in prison.

"When news reached the Imam who sat in the capital city of Taz, he appointed a panel of four judges to investigate the incident. The Jewish prisoners claimed they had been falsely charged and proved their innocence before the panel; they wired the Imam and sent messengers carrying their petitions and evidence. The Imam and the panel of judges both found the Jews to be innocent, but did not want to acquit them lest the charges be placed on the Muslims. Therefore they imposed a monetary fine of 3,000 rials on the Jewish community and after four months imprisonment they released a portion of the prisoners. The remaining prisoners were released only after an additional four months imprisonment."

Georgian Blood Libels

A modern day blood libel occurred shortly before Pesach of this year in the former Soviet state of Georgia in the town of Zastafuni, where the District Prosecutor and his wife, a physician, notified police that their nine-year-old son "had been kidnapped by Jews." They claimed the Jews had held the boy for several hours during which they allegedly drew blood to be used for matzo baking. In a display of her professional knowledge the doctor added, "It was done using a syringe."

The accusers also provided the names of the alleged perpetrators. The police investigated the charges immediately, but released them soon thereafter when the charges proved to have been false.

Another blood libel in Georgia in the year 5724 (1964) appeared in a book published in Israel by a Georgian immigrant. A forty-year-old man named Jungvalashvili, a known drunk who could normally be found roaming the market of Kolchouz, made one of his regular detours to the Jewish cobbler, Krichly, who secretly sold vodka out of his home. On this occasion he drank a prodigious number of cups but refused to pay his bill. Krichly kicked the drunk and sent him reeling out of his home. Jungvalashvili drifted around the city, fell into a gutter and passed out, scratching his shin as he came down. The inebriated man was found wallowing in the gutter and brought to the hospital.

Instead of sending the wretched man to sober up, the duty physician, a Jew named Yissochor Yaakovishvili, took pity on him and admitted him so he could lie in a hospital bed. When the doctors made their rounds two days later Jungvalashvili suddenly declared that Jews had abducted him and drawn his blood. The head physician, Kapanadza, who turned out to be exceptionally antisemitic, believed the "victim's" version of the story and, with his backing, rumors soon spread throughout the city.

The riled masses began to stream to the hospital to offer their support and bring presents to the patient. Meanwhile Kapanadza used various means to foment their feelings of inferiority, serving as the source of the provocative rumors being disseminated. Yaakovishvili filed a complaint to the party's municipal committee against the overt acts of instigation by Kapanadza, but the committee secretary swept the complaint under the carpet. When Kapanadza heard that the committee had essentially dismissed the complaint, he fired Yaakovishvili from his job, adding fuel to the flames. The courts eventually reinstated Yaakovishvili, but Kapanadza stubbornly refused to comply even after the Supreme Court rejected the head physician's appeal.

The mob began to stir. The first victim was a Jewish driver who suffered severe injuries that led to a serious disability after he was tossed into a ditch by ruffians. Jewish students stopped going to school and all Jews began to stay shut inside their homes. Crowds blocked a Jewish funeral procession and prevented burials in a cemetery located far from the city's Jewish quarter.

A short time later bombs were laid at botei knesses in Kutaisi and Tbilisi, but no one was harmed because the explosions occurred at times when no congregants were present. Explosives were also laid at a Czech beis knesses that was consumed in flames. And in Sukhumi the local rav, Michael Mozgorshvili, who also served as chazan and shochet, was kidnapped in 5727 (1967) and later found buried in the Christian cemetery.

According to newspaper reports, "Following these incidents a delegation of Jews representing the Kutaisi community appeared before government authorities demanding protection or permits to leave Georgia."

Georgian Tales

Georgian folk traditions contain several tales of blood libel. One of the better-known stories is recounted by Chacham Moshe Dzorlashvili, who now lives in Israel. At the age of 93 the rav of a certain town was too tired to stay up till dawn on the night of the Seder, according to the custom.

As he slipped into bed he heard a voice cry out, "Rise up and save Am Yisroel!" He donned his clothes and went outside, where he saw the local Jews walking in the streets singing the Haggadah and praying joyfully. He returned to his bedroom and once again the voice drew him outside. This took place three times, and then the rav decided to go to the beis knesses.

There he found the shamash who showed him that the bottle of wine that had been placed on the right side of the heichal was now on the left side. Upon closer examination they found the bottle was full of blood. They poured out the blood and replaced it with wine once again.

During the next day's prayers an entourage of policemen entered the beis knesses headed by the priest and accompanied by a Jewish informant who pointed toward the bottle. When no blood was found the policemen took the informant to be summarily executed.

Today Georgian Chief Rabbi Ariel Levine says Georgia is not a hotbed for antisemitism. "In fact Jewish life is thriving. There is even a Jewish school in the capital city of Tbilisi with one hundred students."

Although there are no yeshivos "bochurim from Georgia go to Eretz Yisroel to study at Yeshivas Or Somayach or are sent to Moscow to Yeshivas Toras Chaim. Young ladies from the Jewish community go to study at the ulpana in Jerusalem."

A Modern Libel in Saudi Arabia

by Rabbi Avi Shafran (Am Echad Resources)

"The Jews' spilling human blood to prepare pastry for their holidays is a well-established fact.

"During the holiday [of Purim], the Jews wear carnival- style masks and costumes and overindulge in drinking alcohol and licentiousness.

"For this holiday, the victim must be a mature adolescent who is, of course, a non-Jew -- that is, a Christian or a Muslim. His blood is taken and dried into granules. The cleric blends these granules into the pastry dough.

"A needle-studded barrel is used, about the size of a human body. The victim's blood drips from him very slowly. [The victim's] torment affords the Jewish vampires great delight.

"This blood is very carefully collected, as I have already noted, by the `rabbi,' the Jewish cleric, the chef who specializes in preparing these kinds of pastries.

"The human race refuses even to look at the Jewish pastries, let alone prepare them or consume them!"

The above was excerpted from an article entitled "The Jewish Holiday of Purim" and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. The author is a faculty member at King Faisal University in Al-Damman and the piece was published in the Saudi government daily Al- Riyadh on March 10 of this year.

Jewish spokesmen demanded, and got, a full apology, along with a retraction. However the retraction was far less enthusiastice than earlier incidents.


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