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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in the Ottoman Empire 10: Blood libels

Blood libel cases in the Ottoman Empire and the protection of the Jews by the Ottoman governments

from: Ottoman Empire; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 16

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)




[Blood libel cases and protection of the Jews]

Until the *Damascus Affair of 1840 accusations of ritual murder were very rare in the Ottoman Empire. It seems clear that they were caused by the blood libels in Christian countries. Such an accusation first took place in Christian Obuda (Budapest) in the beginning of the 16th century (see R. Meir of Padua, Responsa no. 87; Moses Isserlein, Responsa no. 41). In addition, old Ottoman documents also dealt with such accusations.

A firman was issued in the time of Muhammad II (d. 1489) which mentions an unfounded blood libel. Orders were given that henceforth such cases should only be brought before the imperial diwan in Constantinople. During the reign of Suleiman I such an accusation was again made and the firman to hear such cases in the diwan only was renewed. The order was renewed by Selim II and Murad III. It seems that Suleiman's decree was obtained by the sultan's chief physician, Moses Hamon.

In or about 1592, there was a ritual murder accusation in the province of Bursa. The ill-famed blood libel was uttered against *Damascus Jewry (1840) and a similar charge was made on the island of *Rhodes. In order to protect the Jews from slanderous accusations Moses *Montefiore, A. *Crémieux, and the well-known orientalist S. *Munk traveled to Constantinople, and in October 1840, after an audience with the sultan, obtained a firman which could be regarded as a bill of rights for the Jews. The most positive orders were given for the protection of the Jewish nation living in all parts of the empire.

In 1844 a blood libel occurred in Egypt. The Jews of Cairo were accused of the murder of a Christian. Only the firmness of Muhammad Ali prevented the outbreak of violence. In 1860 a new blood libel occurred in Damascus. The Maronite Christians murdered a number of Druze and claimed that the Jews were responsible for these acts. In 1864 the Jews of Izmir were accused of kidnapping Christian children before Passover. There were similar conspiracies in Constantinople in 1868 and 1870. In 1872 there were libels in Adrianople, Izmir, Marmara, Ioannina, and La Canée claiming that Christian children had disappeared. All these cases required the intervention of the hakham bashis R. Yakkir Gueron and R. Moses ha-Levi, as well as that of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. The Alliance in Constantinople or its headquarters in Paris called upon the Turkish government to investigate this affair and punish the rioters.

Blood libels also occurred in 1880 in Mytilene (near Izmir) and Costanil (near Salonika). In 1884 there was a blood libel in a village located near the Dardanelles, where about 40 Jewish families lived. When a non-Jewish boy servant was sent to fetch something and failed to return, it was rumored that the Jews had murdered him. The Jews were fortunate that the boy reappeared once the riots broke out.

In 1887 the municipality of Salonika accused the Jews of ritual murder. The representative of the government condemned the libel and mentioned the firman of the sultans, according to which the propagators of such rumors would be prosecuted. There (col. 1543)

were further libels in Syria. The sudden death of a Greek child was transformed into a blood libel and the Jews were attacked. In Beirut, Jews were molested by Christian youths but the Turkish authorities punished the assailants.

Other blood libels occurred in Aleppo (1891), Damascus ()1892), Manisa (1893), *Kavalla, and Gallipoli (1894). In 1890 two Greeks visited R. Hayyim Pallagi of Izmir and offered to sell him a Christian child so that its blood could be employed for the forthcoming Passover. There were also blood libels in Jimlitoh near Bursa (1899), in Monastir (1900), and in Izmir (1901). All these blood libels were based on the disappearance of a child who was subsequently found. In general, the Turkish government  officials defended the Jews.

In Egypt.

[The Jews and the Greeks]

In Alexandria an elderly Jew named Sasson was arrested in 1870. He was imprisoned for a month, during which period the press emphasized his Jewish identity in an attempt to have him accused of having sought to kidnap a child to strangle and to utilize his blood for the baking of the Passover mazzot [[unleavened bread]].

The fall of a Christian child (1880) from a balcony into the courtyard of a synagogue in Alexandria served as a pretext for the Greeks to accuse the Jews of ritual murder. The Greeks, with the assistance of the Arabs who had joined them, attacked the Jews in spite of the fact that the doctors who had examined the child testified that he did not bear any wounds.

In 1880 the Jews were accused of having raped a local girl. In 1881, again in Alexandria, it was rumored that they had employed the blood of a ten-year-old Greek child who had disappeared from his home. The Greek mob threatened to attack the Jewish quarter and burn it down. The British consul then called on the governor of Alexandria to intervene on behalf of the Jews. During the same year a nine-year-old child of Cretan origin disappeared there. The corpse of the child was retrieved from the sea and no wounds were found on it. Many Jews, however, were injured as a result of the clashes between Jews and Greeks.

In Port Said a girl disappeared in 1882. She was found dead in the Arab quarter but rumors were immediately circulated that the Jews had assassinated her in order to employ her blood for the preparation of mazzot. The Jews were the victims of many attacks and the French consul was influential in the calming of passions. During the same year the Jews of Cairo were accused of having killed a girl in the city. There were anti-Semitic slurs in the Arabic newspapers, and the newspapers of the Syrian Christians played a prominent role in this campaign of agitation; they claimed that the Jews lent money for interest and were thus usurers. The foreign consuls assisted the Jews by intervening with the Turkish authorities.

The libels in Egypt, and throughout the empire, were largely due to the commercial rivalry which prevailed between the Greeks and the Jews. In every place the Greeks were the foremost agitators. The Jews were also hated by the Christian Syrians, the Christian Arabs, and the Armenians for religious reasons - a religious hatred which was deeply implanted in their hearts - and out of jealousy for the general competition of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire.

In Egypt there were also local circumstances: there was a period of extreme tension as a result of the deposing of the governor of the country, Ismail, by the Turkish sultan (1870) and the accession of his son Taufik to the throne; the inhabitants of Egypt were also embittered against foreigners. Many articles imbued with hatred and defamation of foreigners appeared in the local press; the Jews were thus also accused and they became the scapegoat for the hostility of the masses. With the establishment of British rule in Egypt (July 1882) the Jews there lived in greater security.

[[Supplement: This hatred against foreigners has its clear reasons: The foreigners had built the Suez Canal and by this all intermediary trade collapsed and the whole Middle East impoverished. This hatred was a reaction of helplessness because the Muslim populations were not at all prepared for a change of industrialization, and the Muslim regimes were working with the Europeans because e.g. Egypt or Turkey went bankrupt...]]

In Palestine.

[The affair about a bullet and a camel owner]

During the lifetime of the rishon le-Zion, hakham bashi [[chief rabbi]] Elijah Meir *Panigel, there was a blood libel in Palestine. In 1890 two Jews of Gaza were brought to Jerusalem and accused of ritual murder. These men employed an Arab lad as a servant. The lad went to play with another Arab who owned a camel and as he toyed with a rifle, a bullet was fired from it and the camel owner was killed. The next-of-kin seized the lad and slaughtered him. The Jews then informed the tribunal of the details of the murder but the Muslims accused the Jews of the murder. They were arrested by the police, imprisoned in Jerusalem, and after an interrogation were set free as they were foreign subjects.

[Anti-Jewish book "The Sounding of the Horn" - a converted rabbi confirms the use of Christian blood - measures by the pasha]

In 1892, Palestine was stirred up by the publication of a work entitled "The Sounding of the Horn of Liberty by the Innocent" which was circulated in Egypt in Arabic and French and which propagated anti-Jewish hatred and fanaticism. This book described how a Jewish rabbi was about to slaughter a Christian child to take (col. 1544)

his blood, which was to be employed for the kneading of the Passover mazzot. The pamphlet was also widely circulated in Palestine and came into the hands of many government officers and officials in Jerusalem. The hakham bashi [[chief rabbi]] R. Elijah M. Panigel, accompanied by a delegation, intervened with the pasha; the pasha ordered the immediate destruction of the pamphlet and prohibited the reading of it and the spreading of such rumors, as it was claimed that a child had also disappeared in Jaffa and his blood was to be employed for religious requirements.

A Catholic publicly proclaimed that a famous rabbi who converted had confirmed that Jews indeed employed Christian blood for the Passover ceremonies. The pasha immediately sent out orders to every town that this report was to be suppressed so as to prevent the outbreak of riots and disorders. The Turkish sultan also ordered his minister of education to extirpate this evil, as he was shocked that in his empire, a land of peace and tranquility, there were conspirators who incited the Greek citizens against the Jews who enjoyed his protection and published slanderous pamphlets whose contents were unfounded. All the pamphlets that were subsequently found were burned.> (col. 1545)

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