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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Pale of Settlement 3b:

Blood libels against Jews in Russia in Modern Times 1799 to after 1948

Blood libel allegations of "Christians" against Jews in czarist Russia - and after 1948

from: Blood Libel; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 4

presented by Michael Palomino

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[1799: Blood libel allegation at Senno - a poet gives bad opinion to the czar - split upper class in Russia]

<IN RUSSIA. 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 (col. 1128)

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 Shulhan 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 and "highbrow" 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; the emperors and popes of the Middle Ages (see above) can be pointed to as models of enlightenment in comparison with the rulers of czarist Russia.

[Russia: When a body is found without murderer, the Jews are blamed with a blood libel - and anti-Semitic czars]

Between 1805 and 1816 various cases of blood libel occurred in places within the *Pale of Settlement, and the investigations always ended by exposing the lie on which they were based. In an attempt to stop their dissemination the minister of ecclesiastic affairs, A. Golitsyn, sent a circular to the heads of the governments U(provinces) throughout Russia on March 6, 1817, to this effect. Basing his instruction on the fact that both the Polish monarchs and the popes have invariably invalidated the libels, and that they had been frequently refuted by judicial inquiries, he stated in his circular that the czar directed

"that henceforward the Jews shall not be charged with murdering Christian children, without evidence, and through prejudice alone that they allegedly require Christian blood."

Nevertheless Alexander I (1801-25) gave instructions to revive the inquiry in the case of the murder of a Christian child in *Velizh (near Vitebsk) where the assassins had not been found and local Jewish notables had been blamed for the crime. The trial lasted for about ten years. Although the Jews were finally exonerated, Nicholas I later refused to endorse the 1817 circular, giving as a reason that he considered that

"there are among the Jews savage fanatics or sects requiring Christian blood for their ritual, and especially since to our sorrow such fearful and astonishing groups also exist among us Christians."

[Blood libels in Telsiai, Zaslav - folklorist V. Dahl - blood libel at Saratov 1853-1860 - kidnapping allegations]

Other blood libels occurred in Telsiai (Telz) in the government (province) of Kovno, in 1827, and Zaslav (*Izyaslav), in the government of Volhynia, in 1830. The Hebrew writer and scholar I. B. *Levinsohn was stirred by this case to write his book Efes Damim (Vilna, 1837), in which he exposed the senselessness of the accusations.

A special secret commission was convened by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify the problem concerning "use by Jews of the blood of Christian children", in which the Russian lexicographer and folklorist V. Dahl took part. The result of the inquiry, which reviewed numerous cases of blood libel in the Middle Ages and modern period, were published in 1844 in a limited edition and presented by Skripitsin, the director of the Department for Alien Religions, to the heads of state.

In 1853, a blood libel occurred in *Saratov, when two Jews and an apostate were found guilty of the murder of two Christian children - the only instance in Russia of its kind. (col. 1129)

The council of state which dealt with the case in its final stages announced that it had confined itself to the purely legal aspect of the case and refrained from "anything bearing on the secret precepts or sects existing within Judaism and their influence on the crime." It thereby prima facie deprived the case of its test character as a blood libel.

While the case was being considered, between 1853 and 1860, various Jews were accused of "kidnapping" on a number of occasions. The special committee appointed in 1855 had included a number of theologians and orientalists, among them two converts from Judaism, V. Levisohn and D. *Chwolson. The committee reviewed numerous Hebrew publications and manuscripts, and came to the conclusion that there was no hint or evidence to indicate that the Jews made use of Christian blood.

[since 1870s: Anti-Semitic movements in Russia and more blood libels]

With the growth of an anti-Semitic 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.

[Russian works against the stupid blood libels - and new blood libel cases since 1900]

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 was translated into Russian (1883). Some of the calumniators were also prosecuted (see *Zederbaum v. Lutostansky, 1880).

Despite the growing anti-Semitism and its 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 in attempt in *Dubossary, in the government of Kherson, where a Russian criminal tried to pin the murder of a child on the Jews.

[1907-1917: Rightist Duma struggles with blood libels against left revolutionary Jewish wing]

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 anti-Semitic press, in the streets, at 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 (col. 1130)

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.

[1948-1970: More attempts of blood libel allegations against Jews - international public opinion stops them]

In later years the specter of the blood libel has been raised in the Soviet press in remote regions of the U.S.S.R., such as Georgia, Dagestan, and Uzbekistan, in the context of the violent propaganda campaign conducted by the Soviet government against Judaism and the State of Israel. After these attempts had aroused world public opinion, they were dropped.

[Y.S.]> (col. 1131)

<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).> (col. 1124)

<[H.H.B.-S.]> (col. 1128)

<Bibliography [...] IN RUSSIA:

-- Dubnow, Hist, s.v.: Ritual Murder Libel
-- A. D. Margolin: Jews of Eastern Europe (1926), 155-247
-- A. M. Tager: Decay of Czarism. The Beiliss Trial (1935)> (col. 1131)

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Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol.
                          4, col. 1127-1128
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4, col. 1127-1128
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel,
                            vol. 4, col. 1129-1130
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4, col. 1129-1130
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol.
                          4, col. 1131
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4, col. 1131

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