Origins of a Sinister Calumny Against the Jews

Analyzed by Massimo Introvigne

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TURIN, Italy, MARCH 10, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A leading sociologist of religion, in his latest book, reveals the origin of one of the most insidious calumnies against the Jews.



The calumny attributes to the Jews the killing of Christians to use their blood for ritual purposes.

Massimo Introvigne, founder and director of the Center of Studies on New Religions, addresses the issue in "Cattolici, Antisemitismo e Sangue. Il Mito dell'Omicidio Rituale" (Catholics, Anti-Semitism and Blood: The Myth of Ritual Homicide), published in Italy by Sugarco.

The appendix carries a document written in 1759 by Cardinal Lorenzo Manganelli, the future Pope Clement XIV, on these accusations, which linger to this day. Here, Introvigne shared his insights.

Q: What is the ritual homicide of Christian children all about?

Introvigne: It is, of course, a false accusation against the Jews, who are accused of using the blood of non-Jewish children -- although to tell the truth, not just of Christian and Muslim children -- for ritual or magical ends.

The most common version, but less ancient, is that Jews mixed the blood of non-Jewish children in the Passover's unleavened bread. But there are others.

In medieval and Eastern European sources, the myths affirmed that the wound of the circumcision would not heal unless washed with Christian blood. Or, in a curious version of the legend of the wandering Jew, that, after the killing of Jesus Christ, Jews were condemned to suffer perpetually from hemorrhoids, which could only be cured with potions based on the blood of Christians.

A variation of the same legend states that, after Jesus' death, Jews, men as well as women, menstruate until they drink the blood of a Christian victim. And, according to another invention, Christian blood might free Jews of the special odor that, even if camouflaged, allow non-Jews to identify them.

These accusations are, of course, false for two reasons. The first refers to blood in general, and the second to Christian blood. The taboo against the consumption of the blood is one of the strongest and most typical of the Jewish religion, both in the Torah as well as the Talmud.

The second reason why the accusation of blood is implausible is that it presupposes that Jews believe in the capacity of redemption of Jesus Christ's blood. Essentially, all the authors who uphold the accusation of blood say that Jews used the blood of innocent Christian victims -- often but not exclusively children -- because of the bond this blood acquires through baptism with Christ's blood.

Through the sacrilegious use that Jews make of Christian blood, this literature argues, they think or imagine that they participate magically in the benefits of redemption that would be denied them, instead, by the obstinacy of not converting to Christianity.

If this were true, to carry out these practices Jews would have to believe in the efficacy of Christ's blood and Christian baptism and, at the same time, not believe in it because not only do they not convert, but they kill Christians "in odium fidei," out of hatred for the faith. The contradiction is obvious.

We are before a myth included in the folklore, duly catalogued as such in the list used by folklorists worldwide, compiled originally by Stith Thompson [1885-1976], with the number V361: "Christian child killed to furnish blood in a Jewish rite."

Q: Where did the accusation of blood originate, according to which Jews needed Christian blood for their rituals?

Introvigne: Curiously, it is possible that it stems from accusations invented by pagan propaganda against the first Christians, distorting the meaning of "eat the flesh" and "drink the blood" [of Jesus Christ] in the Eucharist, and suspecting Christians of sacrificing children to drink their blood.

And so the accusation passes to the Jews, and we find it widespread in the Middle Ages, first in England, later in the German geographic area, and, finally, beginning in the 18th century, above all in Central and Eastern Europe.

In the 20th century, after some last cases in Russia, and even among emigrants from Eastern Europe to the United States, it survives only in the Muslim world, where the propaganda argument of Muslim fundamentalism is still used today against the Jews and Israel.

Q: What does the 1759 document of the Holy Office represent in this respect?

Introvigne: As opposed to what is believed, the Catholic Church not only is not at the origin of the "accusation of blood," but, on the contrary, the papal magisterium intervened in time to invite the Christian people and civil authorities not to believe these legends.

Less than 20 years after the first serious accusation of the use of blood, in England in 1247, Pope Innocent IV intervened, with a first bull of condemnation, followed by others, prohibiting that Jews be accused "of using human blood in their rites."

A consistent and constant magisterium continues with Gregory X, Martin V, Nicholas V and Paul III, from the 13th to the 16th centuries. If there are no 16th-century pronouncements of the papal magisterium, it is because there were no cases of accusation of blood in Western Europe.

The epidemic resumed in Poland, and the Church reacted by requesting Franciscan Bishop Lorenzo Ganganelli, who would later be cardinal and Pope Clement XIV, to prepare a documented opinion, approved by the Holy Office on the eve of Christmas of 1759 -- one month more or less after Ganganelli received the cardinal's hat.

It is the most detailed study that has been published up to now on the question in Germany, France and England, but never in Italy.

What emerges is one of the most articulated denunciations against the myth of the ritual homicide in the history of the Catholic magisterium, and not only in the latter.

It is true that, with the granting of a Mass and its own Office, the Church authorized the devotion of children, alleged martyrs of Jewish ritual homicides, such as Simon and Simonino of Trento.

However, as specified in a lucid decree of May 4, 1965, of the Congregation of Rites, which vetoes all acts of devotion to this "Blessed Simon" of Trento, such recognition of devotion is not in opposition with the constant line of the magisterium, which denies the reality of ritual homicide.

Insofar as the granting of the Mass and Office are concerned, the congregation commented that, before, "the institution of the beatification did not exist. Only canonization existed and, in some cases, while awaiting the same, without prejudging it, it was usual to grant the Mass or the Office to a church or a restricted territory. If there had been an intention to proceed later to canonization, a thorough examination of the life and virtues, or of the martyrdom, was always necessary. Little Simon was granted only the Mass and Office: the Sacred Congregation of Rites never pronounced itself on his alleged martyrdom."

This decree will serve as basis and model for the gradual suppression of all devotions to alleged victims of ritual homicide for which Masses and Offices were granted, in a period that ranges from the 16th to the 19th centuries.