Saturday, 2 April 2016

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln revisited


Spring is upon us again. For us, Jews and Am Yisrael, this season connotes a spell of rejuvenation, a season of joy, celebration of freedom and our renewed covenant with G-d and His eternal blessing. Unfortunately, this time of year brings to mind other, not so pleasant undertones, historical and current. It is also the time of year when ancient baseless accusations against our people rear their ugly heads again. Yes, I am talking about the rebirth of the old  Blood Libel. It was only a few days ago that I read, in this paper, a chilling interview with the Egyptian politician, Khaled Zaafrani, on al-Hafez TV, a salafist Egyptian station. The interview took place in 2013. There, Zaafrani said that "it is well known that during Passover they make matzos called the "Blood of Zion." They take a Christian child, slit his throat, and slaughter him....they never forgo this rite." More recently, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an Egyptian journalist, Firnas Hafzi wrote the following in the Egyptian monthly 'Al Kibar,' "The Jews combined the preparations of Mazos and the offering up of sacrifices with their enmity towards non-Jews, especially Christians, and mixed the blood of one of their victims into the matzos dough."

Evidently, "matzah blood libel" is alive and well not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab and muslim world where such narratives find fertile ground. Moreover, such accusations do nothing but serve to further fan the already wild fires of hatred in cultures that are steeped in darkness and obscurantism.

Blood libels are not a modern concept. Jews and Christians were accused of the practice of drinking human blood by pagans who misunderstood the meaning of the doctrine of drinking the blood of Christ and eating the Eucharist. Prior to that, King Antiochus the IV (215-164 BCE), in his anti-Jewish propaganda, claimed that Greek prisoners were held in the Temple in Jerusalem for the purpose of drinking their blood

Scholars believe that modern day blood libel originated in in 1144 in Norwich, England where a twelve-year-old boy, William, disappeared. Jews were accused with kidnapping child and draining his blood. Though it was never proved that the allegations were true, it did not stop the incident from gaining impetus and prevent it from growing.

 According to Rabbi Ken Spiro of Aish Hatorah, “the most famous of all blood libel legends is that of the ritual murder of the child Hugh of Lincoln, England in 1255.” The story was eternalized in a ballad entitled, ”Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln.”
Rabbi Spiro adds that this ballad is “so well-known in England and Scotland that it is number 155 in the standard cannon of English and Scottish ballads compiled by Francis James Child in the 19th century.” 

For an unfounded claim that was revived and repeated during the dismal, bleak period called the dark ages and with the help of the Church trickled into every aspect of the daily lives, one would hope that, by now, the world has learned some lessons from history and do all it can to disassociate itself from it. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be the case.
In 1987, I taught Hebrew to mostly Jewish students in one of the top public schools in Texas. One day one of student shared with me that one of the other teachers had jokingly suggested that his Jewish students were preparing for the Christmas holiday by murdering a Christian child in order to use its blood for their Jewish rituals. My student responded to such a suggestion was: ““Actually, we do it only at Passover and we use the blood to bake the matzah, our traditional unleavened bread.”

Naturally, I did not find that a laughing matter. I doubted many of my students even grasped the severity of the comment. It raised the strong urge in me to educate them about the sick rumor called “blood Libel” which had caused the untimely death of many of our fellow Jews throughout history. I insisted that they all read Malamud’s novel “The Fixer,” a novel based on the Beilis case which took place in Russia in the early twentieth century. Additionally, I approached the teacher, discussed the issue with him and and got him to apologize to my students.
An apology is also the least I would expect from anyone, a person, an institution or a public figure who in our time and age dares to slander us, Am Yisrael and the Jewish people with such unfounded allegations This is what I believe Yisrael should insist upon unless, of course,  an apology is reserved only to us, for our refusal to disappear and for our strong wish to continue to survive and live in a world that cannot see right from wrong.

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