(photo credit: erik lesser / AP)
The term “blood libel” is fraught with perilous meaning in Jewish history. It connotes the earliest accusations against Jews, that they killed Jesus and embraced responsibility for his murder, telling Pontius Pilate: “His blood be upon us and our children.” (Matthew 27:25). Thus was born the legend of Jewish blood lust, and of ritual requirements of Christian blood for Jewish sacramental purposes. The term was later used more specifically to describe accusations against Jews – primarily in Europe – said to sacrifice kidnapped Christian children and use their blood in Passover matzot.
Benedictine monk Thomas of Monmouth is generally credited with popularizing the blood libel in his Life of the Martyr William from Norwich, written in 1173, about a young boy who was found stabbed to death. Thomas quoted a servant woman, who said she witnessed the Jews lacerating the boy’s head with thorns, crucifying him and piercing his side. While William was canonized and miracles were attributed to him, the Jews of Norwich fared less well. On February 6, 1190 they were all found slaughtered in their homes, save those who escaped to the local tower, where they committed mass suicide.
Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, a child of eight who disappeared in July 1255, is mentioned by Chaucer. A Jew named Copin owned a pit where the boy’s brutalized body was found, and is said to have confessed that the boy had been crucified by the Jews, leading King Henry III to execute 19 Jews of Lincoln.
SO CONSIDERING the strong association of the term with charges of collective Jewish guilt and concomitant slaughter, Sarah Palin has every right to use it. Indeed, the expression may be used for any amorphous, faceless population collectively accused of being accessories to murder.
It is important to note that the abominable nature of the blood libel is not the fact that it was used in accusing Jews, but that it was used in accusing innocent
Jews. Had the Jews been guilty of any of these heinous acts, the charge would not have been a libel.
Jews did not kill Jesus. He was murdered by Roman troops under Pontius Pilate, whose reign of terror in ancient Judea was so excessive even by ruthless Roman standards that Josephus, writing in Antiquities
, relates that he was recalled by Rome in the year 36 because of his sadism.
King Herod Agrippa I, writing to the Emperor Caligula, noted Pilate’s “acts of violence, plunderings... and continual murder of persons untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending, endless and unbelievable cruelties, gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity.”
Likewise, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus writes: “Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pernicious superstition [Christianity] was checked for the moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, home of the disease, but in the capital itself.”
As for the ritual slaughter of Christian children and the use of their blood in matzot, the Hebrew Bible repeatedly labels human sacrifice something that God categorically “hates,” and it absolutely forbids the consumption of blood.
Murder is humanity’s most severe sin, and it must not be trivialized by being attributed to any innocent party, especially when the accusation is against a collective too numerous to be defended individually. If the Jews have learned anything in their long and tragic history, it is that a false indictment of murder against any group ultimately threatens every group. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail
, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Indeed, a belief that the term “blood libel” pertains only to Jews is itself a form of reverse discrimination.
Judaism utterly rejects the idea of collective responsibility for murder – the charge that was used to foment anti-Semitism throughout the ages by blaming all Jewish generations for the murder of Jesus – and the Hebrew Bible condemns accusations of collective guilt against Jew and non-Jew alike.
“The soul who sins is the one who will die... The righteousness of the
righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked
will be charged against him.” (Ezekiel 18:20)
How sad that some have chosen to compound a national tragedy by
politicizing the murder of six innocents and the attempted assassination
of a Jewish congresswoman, using the event to divide rather than unite.
To be sure, America should embrace civil political discourse for its own
sake, and no political faction should engage in demonizing rhetoric.
But claiming to promote this high principle while simultaneously
violating it and engaging in a blood libel against innocent parties is
both irresponsible and immoral.
The writer will shortly publish a book on the Jewishness of Jesus, and his murder at Roman hands. www.shmuley.com