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
"that henceforward the Jews shall not be charged with
murdering Christian children, without evidence, and
through prejudice alone that they allegedly require
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
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.
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
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
[1907-1917: Rightist Duma
struggles with blood libels against left revolutionary
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.
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
-- 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)