January 14, 2011

Blood Libel USA

We have by now, all heard of the maniacal misfit in Tucson, Arizona. One would have thought that any discussion about what might have averted the tragedy would focus on guns and the all too easy way crazy or just evil people can get hold of them in the USA.

The figures speak for themselves. Each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate there are more than 50,000 deliberate and 24,000 accidental nonfatal gunshot injuries, and over 16,000 suicides by firearms in the United States--twice as many as any other country.

Apologists argue that people kill, not guns, and you might as well ban cars because people driving cars cause far more deaths than gun-toting killers. But the fact is that access to guns is far too easy in too many states, and restrictions tend to be removed by Justices who interpret the American constitution as if they were Davy Crocketts. Washington is so terrified of the National Rifle Association, the biggest and richest lobby in town, that it dares not act. Even Democrats, who usually favor strict controls, lose their voices when they get to Washington.

There is some particular lunacy in the USA that thinks a law hundreds of years ago allowing citizens to carry weapons to defend themselves against Indians and the British army is in any way relevant today. I have even heard it argued that America can only be free thanks to guns. As strange and as manifestly risible an argument as I have ever come across.

But the issue everyone is debating is whether violent political rhetoric is responsible for the assassinations. Never mind that the killer never watched television or read the newspapers and hated most of the world and all parties, and has for ages, long before Sarah Palin appeared on the political scene. Democrats and liberals are all using this as an excuse to go for Sarah Palin and her Tea Party groupies and accuse them of encouraging assassination because of the virulence of their opposition to what they see as Democratic excess.

They have conveniently forgotten that during the Bush years, the rhetoric of his opponents was far, far more abusive and vicious. As always in politics, truth is irrelevant. They are all pupils of Goebbels. Tell a lie often and loudly enough and most people will believe it. And if you doubt that this is now the norm in the Western World, just try listening to any public debate on Israel (if you can find one that the opponents of Israel have not eviscerated with threats and violence).

I am no Palin fan, but she responded to the charges. She called them a "blood libel". The apostles of freedom on the Left immediately jerked to affront and, hoping to hide behind an outward appearance of being sensitive to anti-Semitism, screamed that she had no right to use "blood libel", a term too specific in history to be applied here. Well blow me down, if this isn't exactly what most of them do to Israel nowadays. (Again, I have to reiterate, in no way do I oppose criticizing, complaining, or demonstrating against specific actions that Israelis perpetrate. They must be addressed. It is the excessive focusing on Israel, the refusal to see the dangers of her enemies, the lack of fairness and impartiality, as well as the lies that I object to.)

The blood libel actually originated in England (oh, I am so proud). It is based on the ridiculous notion that Jews, forbidden by the Bible and everything they hold holy to drink blood, actually need Christian blood for the four cups of wine at the Passover seder (meal). For it, they need to kill Christian children.

It's a strange world. The idea of drinking blood is actually Christian. The wine the faithful drink at Communion turns into the blood of Christ and the wafer turns into his body. Nowadays most Christians take this symbolically, but in days gone by everyone believed it literally. Another example of how religions can get perfectly normal people to believe the most unbelievable of things.

The first blood libel was in Norwich in 1144, when a young lad named William was found dead and the whole Jewish community was imprisoned, some tortured to death. William was made a saint, as was Saint Hugh of Lincoln in 1255, in similar circumstances. Declarations of neither pope nor king could stop the spread of the libel (any more than the fact that "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is still regarded not as a crude forgery but true, by the anti-Semitic world).

The last blood libel trial was in Kiev in Russia in 1913, where a young Jewish factory worker called Bayliss was charged and eventually was acquitted by only one vote. But still, whether it is the King of Saudi Arabia, the Russian Duma, the People from Krasnoyarsk, or Hezbollah, it is still being spread today. Over the years countless thousands of Jews in Sephardi and Ashkenazi lands have been killed because of the blood libel. How dare Sarah Palin, her opponents scream, use such imagery?

Alan Dershowitz jumped to her defense and issued a statement declaring that, although it is true the term was originally used against Jews specifically for supposedly drinking Christian (and Muslim) blood, it had now entered the general language as a term applicable to any patently dishonest and dangerous claim. Just as we use the word "ghetto" with no association to its Jewish history.

The enemies of Jews and Israel have never shrunk from purloining terms specific to one situation, like the Holocaust or Apartheid, and joyfully applying it to Israel. But of course when it comes to polemic, accuracy is irrelevant.

The real issue here is not the violence in political discourse. It is the refusal of self-declared rational thinking people to be honest, fair, and objective. Instead everyone seems to resort to the worst kind of propaganda. Truth is irrelevant so long one persuades others to think the way one wants them to. I have no truck with any politician, regardless of party, nationality, or religion. When truth goes out of the window, no area of human interaction is safe.

23 Comments:

At 3:13 AM , Anonymous Leila said...

I agree with everything you say about the blood libel, except that, as far as I know, it was around probably even before the advent of Christianity. Apion, born about 30BC, was a notorious anti-Semite who accused the Jews of fattening up people prior to ritual murder and using their entrails either for eating or other nefarious schemes. Josephus, as I hope I rightly recall, told of how Apion had a disease (something very itchy), and allowed himself to be circumcised because he thought it would relieve his agony. That must have gone against the grain as he had spent his life railing against Jews and their practices.

 
At 9:36 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Leila:
Both Manetho and Apion are indeed examples of pre-Christian Greek anti-Semites who caricatured Judaism and accused Jews of all sorts of things, including cannibalism; but I can find in neither a reference to Jews being commanded to drink human blood as part of a religious ritual.
Jeremy

 
At 7:30 AM , Anonymous Leila said...

I thought the blood libel was for ritual murder in order to use the blood to make matzoh - didn't realize we were supposed to have drunk it too. I well remember my Buba telling me how the Russian Orthodox priests would work up their congregants during Easter and that was why there were so many pogroms at that time of year. Her descriptions of how the Jews barricaded themselves in to ward off the barbarity of the (usually) drunken peasants was graphic indeed. So much for "love thy neighbour"!

 
At 9:27 AM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Leila:

Indeed there were plenty of other refinements to Medieval Christian anti-Judaism. Count Emicho accused the Jews of indeed mixing blood with the mataza, and Rhindfleisch crusade claimed that Jews were stealing the wafer (Host) from Churches and beating 'the body of Christ' until the blood flowed. Books and books have been written on it all. Robert Chazan's In the Year 1096 is a good place to start.

Two years ago a Bar Ilan academic the son of a former Chief rabbi of Italy, Toaff, caused a stir when he suggested that use of phials of blood was common by Jews for medicinal purposes, even drinking it, and maybe thats why they were accused of stealing Christian blood. Either way as you say any excuse for attacking the Jews.

J

 
At 9:34 AM , Blogger ss said...

WOW - It appears that he also originally said that perhaps Jews actually did kill at least one Christian child to use its blood in a Passover ritual!

"Toaff caused controversy when he wrote in his 2007 book that he did not rule out the possibility that the murder was carried out by Jews who intended to use the youth's blood in a Passover ritual."

http://www.haaretz.com/news/historian-recants-theory-that-jews-killed-christian-child-in-ritual-murder-1.239991

 
At 12:53 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

ss:
OK pass the cup please!!!!
J

 
At 7:37 AM , Blogger Paul's pen said...

> Apologists argue that people kill, not guns, and you might as well ban cars because people driving cars cause far more deaths than gun-toting killers.

I'm always flabbergasted by folks who say this. It ignores the fact that the primary purpose of a gun is to kill. Unlike cars.


By the way, isn't that business about bringing a saner, less hysterical tone to political discussion exactly what Obama wanted to usher in? I remember reading about it in The Audacity of Hope. How's he doing with that?

 
At 8:27 AM , Blogger ss said...

Paul:

Yes, it is because guns are tools whose purpose is to damage people that upsets some people so much and causes them to view their very existence as more dangerous than other possessions.

But just as a match can light a Shabbos candle and a knife can cut challah, a gun can be used for a mitzvah. We are commanded to protect ourselves and others from those who would seek to harm or kill. In order to do that we need appropriate tools. If G-d forbid we find ourselves in a situation where it is necessary to defend our families, we will want to have the best means to do so. And in cases where physical strength is unbalanced, a gun can give the weaker person a means to defend and protect in cases where it would otherwise have been impossible.

And I disagree with Rabbi Rosen's implication that there are no longer murderous individuals or oppressive governments in the 21st century.

 
At 9:49 AM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

ss:
"And I disagree with Rabbi Rosen's implication that there are no longer murderous individuals or oppressive governments in the 21st century. "
Indeed I disagree with that too. Where did you get the idea that I implied it?
Jeremy

 
At 9:50 AM , Blogger ss said...

Jeremy:

Your comment that:

"There is some particular lunacy in the USA that thinks a law hundreds of years ago allowing citizens to carry weapons to defend themselves against Indians and the British army is in any way relevant today."

Could be taken to mean that there are no longer threats from individuals or government agencies that would require self-protection.

 
At 11:26 AM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

ss:
I dont think so. Possessing guns has not caused the overthrow of the USSR or even Tunisia, but mainly peaceful people protest. No mass movement of protest in the USA has used guns as a means of political protest except a few nutcases in Montana or Branch Davidians who no one takes seriously. We live in a Democracy. Things have changed.

 
At 2:45 PM , Anonymous dk said...

@ss,

Before I begin, I do actually agree with your views, sometimes, having a gun is necessary. But I find your argument in support of guns, disingenuous.

Fire or a knife have recognisable multiple uses but a gun has only one use, while it remains a gun, and not, for example, a ploughshare. Why is it a mitzvah if I use a gun to defend myself at someone else's expense? I am not at all against self-defence, I just can't justify it as anything more than a wish to survive.

 
At 2:53 PM , Blogger ss said...

dk:

The analogy I was using was like this. Fire can be used to burn down a home a family sleeping people in it. A knife can be used to murder a family. So can a gun.

But just as all three can be used as murder weapons, all three can be used as instruments of a mitzvah. The mitzvah is to kill a rodeif, the person who is trying to kill you (or another innocent).

I do not understand what you mean by using a gun to defend oneself at someone else's expense. Obviously when you defend yourself it is at someone else's expense, no matter what the means. Why is a gun different?

Also, please don't call me an @ss! :-P

 
At 3:26 PM , Anonymous dk said...

ss,

I think I have understood your meaning. You liken fire and knives to guns because the former two are as equally capable of causing harm as a gun while they are also capable of being used to perform perfectly harmless tasks.

My point is that a gun is not capable of being used for anything other than one purpose, to cause harm. There is nothing ambiguous about a gun -- it cannot simultaneously be used to light shabbos candles and set off a forest fire.

If you are saying that according to halacha, it is a mitzvah to catch and kill a thief (or a potential murderer?), I am not arguing as I expect you are right. But we will have to agree to differ on the application of this ethic. I do not think that using a gun in self-defence is a mitzvah. I think it a normal, human response but without virtue.

P.S. I have resisted the urge to write "gub", after Woody Allen.

 
At 4:47 PM , Blogger ss said...

dk:

>I think I have understood your meaning. You liken fire and knives to guns because the former two are as equally capable of causing harm as a gun while they are also capable of being used to perform perfectly harmless tasks.

Nope, this is where the misunderstanding is. I am not saying that they can be used for harmless tasks. I am saying they can be used for either mitzvahs or aveiras. They are tools whose moral justification lies in how they are used.

>If you are saying that according to halacha, it is a mitzvah to catch and kill a thief (or a potential murderer?), I am not arguing as I expect you are right.

No, not to catch and kill a thief (and American law doesn't support catching and killing thieves, either, whether with guns or other weapons). But, yes, it is a mitzvah to kill a person who is about to murder someone.

(Love your "gub" reference. Would have made a good word verification.)

 
At 6:36 PM , Anonymous dk said...

ss,

I have just made some toast which required me to use two of the tools under discussion, a bread-knife and fire in the form of the grill. Until your post, it would simply never have occurred to me to regard the use of these as having any moral dimension.

Are you saying that:

I should have (previously considered the moral dimension of making toast)?

That there is a moral dimension (to making toast)?

That whenever you make toast, you think about all this, (or just get on and make it while thinking up the next installment for JR's blog)?

And, more importantly, that making toast, has anything at all to do with using guns (or gubs)? In other words, do you really see a moral equivalence?

I am asking because I think we could not think more differently, so however it is you do think, I am interested to hear.

 
At 6:48 PM , Blogger ss said...

dk:

As far as I am aware, making toast is not a mitzvah, but just your special category of "harmless task"; so, no, I do not think about a possible "moral dimension" when doing so. :-)

But, anyway, in my neck of the woods we simply shoot the bread to pieces and then keep shooting until it warms up enough to melt butter.

 
At 6:56 PM , Anonymous dk said...

ss,

I'll go get my gub!

 
At 7:44 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

It is misleading to say it is a Mitzvah to kill someone ven in self defence. It is a mitzvah to defend oneself. It is not a mitzvah to kill even if self defense because one has to do ones best to stop the assailant short of killing him or her if possible.
J

 
At 7:48 PM , Blogger ss said...

Jeremy:

Obviously, as with any mitzvah, there are nuances of how to apply the halacha, and the particulars have been argued in the literature. However, G-d forbid, if a bad guy were to break into my house and go after my kid, I don't think I'd be expected to try to trip him or put his eye out if more effective means of stopping him are available.

 
At 7:55 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

ss:
That would be your moral decision.
J

 
At 7:56 PM , Blogger ss said...

Jeremy:
But it would necessarily have a halachic implication, to determine whether it was murder or self-defense.

 
At 9:04 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

ss:
Yes indeed there are always halachic implications. But this is not the same as saying 'Its a Mitzvah.'

A Mitzvah is an obligation. There is an obligation to defend but not necessarily to kill. This is the implcation of the phrase "if it is as clear to you as the sun" based on the Torah wording 'If the sun has risen' in the context of self defence, the Rodef.

 

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