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COLIN HOLMES The Ritual Murder Accusation in Britain From the preceding essays and selections, one might well gain the false impression that ritual murder and blood libel were strictly medieval superstition and that they had no place in the modern world. Such unfortunately is not the case. They have had a significant role in the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The following survey by Colin Holmes, Professor of History at the University of Sheffield demonstrates the continuation of the ritual murder and blood libel legends in England. The reader may also wish to consult Holmes's book-length work, Anti-Semitism in British Society, 18761939 (London: Edward Arnold, 1979), for further details concerning twentieth-century British anti-Semitism. Expressions of anti-Semitic hostility possess considerable tenacity. If there are those who doubt this, they have only to consider the history of the ritual murder accusation to be disabused of their opinions. The charge, which flourished in medieval times, was significantly revived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and indeed it still con" tinues to be heard. In the present discussion, in order to provide a detailed account of this particular strand of antiSemitism , attention is focused upon opinion in Britain, with special reference to the years between 1880 and 1939. But before engaging in a historical analysis of this kind, it is necessary to discuss and define the nature of the charge. In effect the accusation covers a number of different claims, which have been grouped together under the term ritual Reprinted from Ethnic and Racial Studies 4 (1981): 265-88. 99 Colin Holmes murder. The origins of the charge would seem to stem from the years of Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of Syria between 175 and 164 B.C., who desecrated the Temple in 170 B.C. Following this his supporters initiated a campaign of vilification against the Jewish community to justify the action, and in his defense Apion later claimed that it was the custom of Jews to kidnap a Greek foreigner, fatten him up for a year, and then convey him to a wood where he was slain. His killers , it was alleged, then proceeded to sacrifice his body in ritual fashion, eat his flesh, and swear an oath of hostility towards the Greeks. In this particular allegation there were three important components: ritual murder involved an expression of hostility towards an enemy people, the specifically ritual element was of secondary importance, and the blood motif, present in later accusations, was absent from the picture.1 Later, in the twelfth century, the charge assumed other characteristics. For instance, it came to be alleged that Jews were required to crucify Christian children, usually during Passion week, to reenact the crucifixion of Jesus and mock the Christian faith. None of this made reference to the extraction of blood. In fact, it was not until the thirteenth century that the emphasis on the ritual use of the victim's blood seeped into the story. It was first mentioned in 1235, when it was suggested that Jews needed Christian blood for a Jewish celebration of Easter. Gradually, however, from the first half of the thirteenth century, although the connection with Easter did not lapse completely, this association was superseded by one which linked ritual murder with the Passover rites. And from the fourteenth century the idea originated that Jews used Christian blood in the preparation of "bread" for Passover and also mixed it with the wine used in the Seder service. However, at all times since the blood aspect was introduced into the myth, references have been made simply to the extraction of blood, without necessarily connecting this with Easter, Passover, or any kind of rituaP In brief, the charge, known generically as the blood libel or the ritual murder accusation, coptains a number of different nuances. 100 The Ritual Murder Accusation in Britain The medieval charges began in England at Norwich in 1144, after which they proceeded to spread over a great deal of Europe. In Norwich on Holy Saturday, 25 March 1144, a boy's corpse showing signs of a violent death was found in Thorpe Wood, and it was from such circumstances that the charge of ritual murder arose. Thomas of Monmouth, the author of a contemporary account, has described how the boy William was in the habit of frequenting the houses of Jews and was forbidden by his friends to have any more contact with them. On Monday of Holy Week...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780299131135
Related ISBN
9780299131142
MARC Record
OCLC
835455593
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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