web analytics
April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



American Jewry And The 1840 Damascus Blood Libel


Share Button

Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are from “The Damascus Affair of 1840 and the Jews of America” by Joseph Jacobs, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1902; 10, AJHS Journal, available at www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm.

 

Anyone familiar with Jewish history knows of the blood libels that have been used against Jews for centuries.

The first recorded instance of a blood libel against Jews was in the writings of Apion, who claimed that the Jews sacrificed Greek victims in the Temple of Jerusalem. After this, there are no existent records of the blood libel against the Jews until the 12th century legend surrounding William of Norwich, first recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle. The libel afterward became an increasingly common accusation. In many subsequent cases, anti-Semitic blood libels served as the basis for a blood libel cult, in which the alleged victim of human sacrifice was venerated as a Christian martyr. Many Jews were killed as a result of false blood libels, which continued into the 20th century, with the Beilis Trial in Russia and the Kielce pogrom in post-World War II Poland.[i]

 

In 1840 the Jews of Damascus were accused of ritual murder. Damascus (and all of Syria) was at this time controlled by Mohammed Ali, pasha of Egypt, and the governor of Damascus was Sherif Pasha, an Egyptian Arab.

 

On Feb. 5, 1840, Father Thomas, originally from Sardinia, and the superior of a Franciscan convent at Damascus, disappeared with his servant. This monk, who practised medicine, was very well known in the Jewish and Mohammedan quarters, as well as among the Christians. Some days previous he had had a dispute with a Turkish muleteer, who had heard him blaspheme Mohammed, whereupon the Turk is reported to have said: “That dog of a Christian shall die by my hand.” Upon Thomas’ disappearance the French consul at Damascus, Ratti Menton, who was an enemy to the Jews, following the advice of certain monks, instituted investigations in the Jewish quarter; and the governor, Sherif Pasha, pretending to act merely in accordance with the friendly relations existing between the governments of Louis Philippe and Mohammed Ali, aided the French consul in a culpable way.

A confession was extorted by torture from a Jewish barber named Negrin, and eight of the most notable Jews, among them Joseph Lañado, Moses Abulafia, and Farhi, were imprisoned and tortured. Their teeth and beards were pulled out, they were burned, and finally tempted with gold, to persuade them to confess an imaginary crime. Lañado, a feeble old man, died under this treatment. Moses Abulafia became a Mohammedan in order to escape the torture. In spite of the stoic courage displayed by the sufferers, Sherif Pasha and Ratti Menton agreed on the guilt of the accused in view of the words resembling a confession that had escaped them in their agony. While Ratti Menton published libels against the Jews in French and in Arabic, Sherif Pasha wrote to his master, Mohammed Ali, demanding authorization to execute the murderers of Father Thomas. In the mean time the populace fell upon the synagogue in the suburb of Jobar, pillaged it, and destroyed the scrolls of the Law.[ii]

 

Jewish communities in Europe and America held public meetings protesting this treatment of the Jews of Damascus, and mediators were sent to Egypt to meet with Mohammed Ali. Finally, on August 28, 1840 Ali was convinced of the innocence of the Jewish prisoners. Nine of the original thirteen were released on September 6.  The other four had succumbed to the horrors of imprisonment and torture.

Response of American Jewry The response of U.S. Jews to the accusation of ritual murder in Damascus marked the first time American Jewry publicly became involved in a matter of importance to the honor of world Jewry.

 

Meanwhile news of the dire events at Damascus had reached the shores of America, and the Jews of this country prepared to join in, for the first time in their history, with the exertions of their European brothers, on a matter affecting the honour of all Jewry. It is somewhat difficult to account for the lateness of their action. So far as I can ascertain, it took about 30 days for the European mails to reach America, yet it was not till Aug. 17 that a meeting was held in New York with J. B. Kursheet [Israel Baer Kursheedt[iii]] as Chairman and Theodore J. Seixas as Secretary which, passed resolutions expressing their horror at the treatment of the Damascus Jews and calling upon the President of the United States to intervene on their behalf. Five days later – time went more leisurely in those days – this resolution was sent to Washington, whence almost by return on Aug. 26th. Mr. John Forsyth, the Secretary of State, replied informing the New York Jews that already on the 14th inst. a letter had been sent to Mr. Gliddon, the U. S. consul at Alexandria, ordering him to do all in his power to help redress the wrongs of the Damascus Jews.

On Thursday evening, Aug. 27th, the Jews of Philadelphia held in the vestry of the Mikve Israel Synagogue a memorable meeting at which were present not alone the chief Jews of the city but several representative Christian clergymen, Dr. Ducachet, Rector of St, Stephens, Dr. Ramsay, a Presbyterian minister, and the Rev. Mr. Kennedy, all of whom ultimately spoke. The meeting appears to have been summoned by Hyman Gratz, but the most important figure at it and the orator of the evening was undoubtedly Isaac Leeser[iv], then in the height of his powers. He took the bold course of repudiating the blood-accusation by the simple argument that as both Christianity and Islam were derived from Judaism, if the last advocated ritual murder, the daughter-religions would equally be guilty of the same practice.

 

Given that Mohammed Ali had acknowledged the innocence of the accused Jews on August 28, it is clear that these actions taken by American Jews turned out to be unnecessary.

 

But though the action of the American Jews had no immediate effect, it was not for naught that they had taken a worthy share in the universal protest of Israel against the blood-accusation which affected the honor of all Jews.

When the next occasion arose for united action in the Mortara case, even distant California took part in the universal protest of all Jewry, and in the Russian and Roumanian atrocities of the past 20 years the Jews of America have been expected to take their share in any diplomacy or action that was needed, and have nobly fulfilled that expectation. Their part in the Damascus affair was thus the beginning of the diplomatic or international phase in the history of ‘the American Jews, and in this sense, I venture to think, deserves somewhat fuller attention than has hitherto been given to it.

 


[i]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_libel

 

[ii] Damascus Affair, The Jewish Encyclopedia, Ktav Publishing House, Inc. 1906, page 420. The article is available at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=22&letter=D

 

[iii] For more about I. B. Kursheedt see “America’s First Torah Scholar: Israel Baer Kursheedt,” The Jewish Press, February 7, 2007, page 1 (http://www.jewishpress.com/content.cfm?contentid=20616).

 

[iv] For more about Isaac Leeser see “Isaac Leeser: Architect of Traditional Judaism in America,” The Jewish Press, June 22, 2007, page 1 (http://www.jewishpress.com/content.cfm?contentid=21906).

 

Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu

 

Share Button

About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “American Jewry And The 1840 Damascus Blood Libel”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
FBI Wanted poster for Osama bin Laden
Pakistan Library Renamed to Honor bin Laden
Latest Sections Stories
Schonfeld-logo1

Regardless of age, parents play an important role in their children’s lives.

Marriage-Relationship-logo

We peel away one layer after the next, our eyes tear up and it becomes harder and harder to see as we get closer to our innermost insecurities and fears.

Gorsky-041814-Torah

Some Mountain Jews believe they are descendents of the Ten Lost Tribes and were exiled to Azerbaijan and Dagestan by Sancheriv.

Baim-041814-Piggy

Yom Tov is about spending time with your family. And while for some families the big once-in-a-lifetime experience is great, for others something low key is the way to go.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Dear Dr. Yael:

My heart is breaking; my husband’s friend has gotten divorced. While this type of situation is always sad, here I do believe it could have been avoided.

The plan’s goal is to provide supportive housing to 200 individuals with disabilities by the year 2020.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the U.S. – the estimated Jewish population is 70-80,000 – Las Vegas has long been overlooked by much of the Torah world.

She was followed by the shadows of the Six Million, by the ever so subtle awareness of their vanished presence.

Pesach is so liberating (if you excuse the expression). It’s the only time I can eat anywhere in the house, guilt free! Matzah in bed!

Now all the pain, fear and struggle were over and they were home. Yuli was safe and free, a hero returned to his land and people.

While it would seem from his question that he is being chuzpadik and dismissive, I wonder if its possible, if just maybe, he is a struggling, confused neshama who actually wants to come back to the fold.

I agree with the letter writer that a shadchan should respectfully and graciously accept a negative response to a shidduch offer.

Alternative assessments are an extremely important part of understanding what students know beyond the scope of tests and quizzes.

More Articles from Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Levine-Dr-Yitzchok-NEW

“Attuned to the ideal of establishing a new Zion in free America, they named their new colony Palestine.

Last month’s column outlined some efforts during the first half of the nineteenth century to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in America. In only one case was a colony actually established.

There were very few Jewish farmers in Europe during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Indeed, in many parts of Europe Jews were forbidden to own land. Despite this there were some Jews who always felt they should return to the agrarian way of life their forefathers had pursued in ancient times, and that America was an ideal place to establish Jewish agricultural colonies.

The President having signed the Treaty of the Geneva Conference and the Senate having, on the 16th instant, ratified the President’s actions, the American Association of the Red Cross, organized under provisions of said treaty, purposes to send its agents at once among the sufferers by the recent floods, with a view to the ameliorating of their condition so far as can be done by human aid and the means at hand will permit. Contributions are urgently solicited.

Last month’s column sketched the myriad of social programs in which the Orthodox American communal worker and leader Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) was involved. Adolphus married Rachel Seixas Phillips (1828-1881), a descendant of colonial patriot families and together they had eight daughters and a son.

There are many observant Jews who contributed much to secular and Jewish life in America and yet have, unfortunately, been essentially forgotten. One such man is Adolphus Simson Solomons (1826-1910).

Cholera was officially recognized to be of epidemic proportions in New York City on June 26, 1832. The epidemic was at its peak in July and 3,515 out of a population of about 250,000 died. (The equivalent death toll in today’s city of eight million would exceed 100,000.) Sadly, in 1832 there were no effective treatments available for those who contracted this disease.

As this is our third column on the Reverend Dr. Henry Pereira Mendes, we’ll begin with a summary of his life.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/american-jewry-and-the-1840-damascus-blood-libe/2011/11/02/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: