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Emet m'Tsiyon

Friday, March 17, 2006

Jews in Mid-Century Jerusalem, circa 1850: A British View -- Part Two

James Finn, British consul in Jerusalem [1845-1862], writes of an incident occurring around Easter-time when Jerusalem was thronged by Christian pilgrims. A Greek pilgrim boy threw a stone at a Jewish boy. The Jewish boy threw a stone back and caused some bleeding on the Greek boy's ankle. The Greek clergy built the incident up into an attempted ritual murder to procure the Christian boy's blood for baking in Passover matsot. The local Ottoman officials discharged the case as "too trivial for notice." Nevertheless, the affair continued:
The Convent Clergy, however, three days afterwards, stirred up the matter afresh, exaggerated the state of the wound inflicted, and engaged to prove to the Pasha from their ancient books that Jews are addicted to the above cannibal practice, either for purposes of necromancy or out of hatred of Christians, on which his Excellency unwisely suffered the charge of assault to be diverted into this different channel, which was one that did not concern him; and he commanded the Jews to answer for themselves on the second day afterwards. In the interval, both Greeks and Armenians went about the streets insulting and menacing the Jews, both men and women, sometimes drawing their hands across the throat, sometimes showing the knives which they generally carry about with them, and, among other instances brought to my notice, was that of a party of six catching hold of the son late Chief Rabbi of London (Herschell) and shaking him, elderly man as he was, by the collar, crying out, "Ah! Jew, have you got the knives ready for our blood?"
On the day of the Seraglio-hearing, the scene in the Mejlis [council] was a most painful one. The Greek ecclesiastical party came down in great force, and read out of Church historians and controversial writings of old time the direct and frequent accusations levelled against the Jews for using Christian blood in Passover ceremonies. The Moslem dignitaries, being appealed to, stated that in their sacred books such charges are to be found indirectly mentioned, and therefore the crime may be inferred as true; it was possible to be true. The Rabbis deputed from the Chief Rabbi, pale and trembling, argued from the Old Testament and all their legal authorities, the utter impossibility of the perpetration of such acts by their people, concluding with an appeal to the Sultan's Firman [decree] of 1841, which declares that thorough search having been made into this matter, both as to Jewish doctrine and practice, the people of Israel were entirely innocent of that crime advanced against them.
On this the Pasha required them to produce the Firman on the second day afterwards, the intervening day being Friday, the Moslem Sabbath. I then arranged with the Pasha that I should be present at the meeting, and early on Saturday went down to the Seraglio; but earlier still His Excellency was happy (he said) to acquaint me that the Firman had been produced, and on his asking the accusers and the Effendis in council if they could venture to fly in the face of that document, they had, with all loyalty, pronounced it impossible; he therefore had disposed of the case by awarding a trifling fine for medical treatment of wounded ankle [I:107-110; quoted in Bat Ye'or, The Dhimmi (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1985), pp 229-231].
Here we see the Greek Orthodox venting their anger and hatred at a target immensely hated and despised by them, yet a safe target, the Jews. After all, a similar attitude and similar attacks against Muslims could have been disastrous for them. Also curious is the attitude of Muslim clerics [Effendis] who tried to back up the Greek Orthodox accusations against the Jews. Nevertheless, the Sultan's Firman prevailed. This was apparently the firman that Moses Montefiore had succeeded in getting the Sultan to issue during the Damascus Affair of 1840, when Damascene Jews were accused of ritual murder, similar charges emerging in other parts of the Ottoman Empire with a substantial Christian population, as at Rhodes and elsewhere.
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Coming: Slaves from Darfur [Sudan] in the mid-19th Century, More on Jews in 19th Century Jerusalem, poems of Zion, the BBC and the Holocaust, etc.


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