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CECIL ROTH The Feast of Purim and the Origins of the Blood Accusation Most of the scholarship devoted to the blood libel legend consists of surveys of case histories in one or more countries . There has been relatively little speculation about the possible origins of the legend. One of the rare attempts at speculating on the difficult question of origins is that of Cecil Roth, a leading English Jewish scholar of the twentieth century. His suggestion that the blood libel legend may have arisen from the Christian misperception of the Jewish feast of Purim is often cited, butit is by no means clear that many writers on the subject of blood libel agree with his hypothetical origin theory. Cecil Roth made other contributions to the study of blood libel. For example, he critiqued Isabella of Spain (1931), written by William Thomas Walsh with specific reference to ritual murder. Walsh had argued that the historian was not obliged to make "wholesale vindication of all Jews accused of murder" and that "one must admit that acts committed by Jews sometimes furnished the original provocation ." Outraged, Roth exclaimed, "It is the first time probably in living memory that the foul accusation has been made in this country [England}." See "Jews, Conversos , and the Blood-Accusation in Fifteenth-Century Spain," Dublin Review 191 (1932): 219-31. For Walsh's attempt at replying to Roth's charges, see "A Reply to Dr. Cecil Roth," Dublin Review 191 (1932): 232-52. A more important contribution to blood libel scholarship is Cecil Roth, The Ritual Murder Libel and the Jew: The Report by Cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli (Pope Clement XIVl Reprinted from Speculum 8 (1933): 520-26. 261 Cecil Roth (London: Woburn Press, 1934), which not only contains an English translation of the 1759 Ganganelli report but an excellent discussion of blood libel by Dr. Roth. Last year (1932) the Jewish carnival-feast of Purim, commemorating the triumph of Mordecai and Esther in Susa of old, happened to fall on Tuesday, 22 March, with an aftermath on the following day. Good Friday came immediately afterwards. The approximation is unusually close, but is neither unparalleled nor unsurpassed. For example, as recently as 1921, Purim actually fell on Good Friday itself. There is no need here to go into the causes of this calendrical vagary, with its paradoxical consequence of a Christian Easter which can fall a whole month before its Jewish prototype. It is sufficient to point out that (owing to the attempt of the Council of Niceae to prevent the exact coincidence between the two, or at least to secure that the Jewish celebration should fall after the Christian), Easter Sunday may occur as early as 22 March: while, when there is a supplementary month of Adar intercalated in the Jewish calendar (a device resorted to seven times in every nineteen years) Purim may be as late as 27 March. In consequence, it happens with relative frequency that the traditional Jewish carnival season-the sole occasion for a certain degree of licensed libertinism in the Jewish calendar-can coincide approximately with the most solemn period of the Christian year. The motif of the Purim festival is familiar. It is the season of the downfall of Haman and the nullification of his knavish devices: and the enmity felt for that unfortunate worthy was symbolically revived year by year and vigorously expressed . Sir James Frazer has made us familiar with the idea that we have here simply a relic of the universally spread conception of the Scapegoat and its accompanying rites.! It is certainly the fact that the infliction of exemplary punishment on the effigy of their long-dead adversary was an ancient and almost universal Purim custom among the Jews. 262 The Feast of Purim and the Origins of the Blood Accusation The Roman Emperors Honorius and Theodorius forbade them to burn effigies of Haman lion a cross" at one of their festivals, and a formal abjuration of the practice was formerly obligatory on neophytes in the Greek church.2 In Mesopotamia, we are informed, at the period which corresponds with the European Dark Ages, lithe young men make an effigy of Haman four or five days before Purim, and hang it from the roof. On the day itself, they make a bonfire into which they cast the effigy, while they stand around it jesting and singing. At the same time they hold a ring above the fire and pass it from side to side through the flames."3...

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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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