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    Blood accusation

    Despite the increase in antisemitism, most Jews will sit down peacefully for Seder. Hardly anyone knows that it was once a scary occasion which evoked accusations that Jews killed a Christian at this time of year and used his blood to make wine and matzah for Pesach.

    The accusation seems to have begun in Norwich in the middle of the 12th century. A 12-year old tanner’s apprentice, William of Norwich, was found dead and a former Jew, Theobald of Cambridge, alleged that the Jews of Europe had drawn lots to decide where to carry out that year’s killing of a Christian, and the lot fell on Norwich.

    After several other so-called ritual murders in England, the accusation spread to the Continent. In 1235 in Fulda the Jews were accused of killing the five sons of a miller and collecting their blood in a bag smeared with wax. An official inquiry exonerated the Jewish community but 34 Jews were slain in alleged retaliation.

    A similar story was told by Chaucer and there arose a widespread cult of legend and antisemitic sensation. Christian priests linked the accusation with the New Testament and Jews were accused of renewing their ancestors’ alleged killing of Jesus. Jews accused of ritual murder occasionally “confessed” their guilt under torture though no-one took them seriously.

    It was not until the 18th century in Poland that Cardinal Ganganelli, later People Clement XIV, thoroughly investigated the problem and decisively repudiated it. Not that it helped. The accusation became widespread in Nazi Germany under the aegis of Julius Streicher. Mussolini intervened at the request of the rabbi of Rome, but the libel did not die out.

    Unfortunately it spread to Russia and Arab countries, despite the efforts of the great historian Cecil Roth who in the 1930s wrote a strong repudiation which was handed to and approved by the Pope.

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