When the Kosher Hedgehog heard that Jewish organizations were protesting the use by Sarah Palin of the term "blood libel," his first reaction was to ask, "Which Jewish organizations?" That was because certain Jewish organizations, such as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (whose Associate Director Mark Pelavin made one of the first public criticisms of Governor Palin), predictably would have publicly criticized almost any defense that Governor Palin might have made to accusations that her website may have provoked the Tucson shooting. Indeed, Reform Judaism has been aptly described as "the Democratic Party at prayer."
Yet even Mr. Pelavin, although he criticized the use by Governor Palin of the term "blood libel," conceded that she had a valid point. His statment notes:
Of course Sarah Palin is correct that neither she nor any other individual is culpable for the actions of Jared Lee Loughner, the disturbed man who killed 6 and wounded many others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson this weekend. Unless evidence emerges to the contrary, we urge those who attempt to make a direct causal connection between the excesses of political rhetoric and this tragic shooting to desist.
So Governor Palin's "offense" is reduced to her choice of terms--Mr. Pelavin believes for Governor Palin to use the term "blood libel" in the manner she did is "to water down the meaning of this phrase in this manner that diminishes the distinctive nature of the historic anti-Semitism associated with the use of the blood libel."
So too Rabbi Marvin Hier, the director of a Jewish organization that is not normally so associated with liberal political sentiments, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, described Governor Palin's choice of terms as "over the top." Both criticisms are similar to criticism often leveled by Jewish organizations at the overly liberal use of the term "holocaust."
Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, however, in today's Wall Street Journal, defends Governor Palin's selection of "blood libel" to describe the accusations made against her. Writing with his usual scholarship and clarity, he argues:
Despite the strong association of the term with collective Jewish guilt and concomitant slaughter, Sarah Palin has every right to use it. The expression may be used whenever an amorphous mass is collectively accused of being murderers or accessories to murder.As both the supporters and critics of Governor Palin have pointed out, the primary meaning of the term "blood libel" is the accusation that Jews murder non-Jews to make Passover matzoh. This malevolent fiction itself is probably rooted in the accusation in the Gospel of Matthew that that Jews killed Jesus and enthusiastically embraced responsibility for his murder, telling Roman governor Pontius Pilate, "His blood be upon us and our children" (Matthew 27:25).
Although a complete fabrication, the blood libel against the Jewish people has shown a remarkable resilience, flourishing in the Middle Ages, and surfacing again in Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany. The illustration below comes from a German newspaper in the Nazi era.
Today, the blood libel is a favorite theme in Arab anti-Israel propaganda and has been the subject of popular books and even a television series in Egpyt and Syria.
I recall reading one Rabbi's positive lesson that Torah-observant Jews may draw from the blood libel. Non-Jews attack our stubborn adherence to the Torah, saying, "Look around you--there are billions of Christians and Moslems, hundreds of millions of Buddhists and Hindus, and yet only perhaps 14 million Jews, of whom likely less than three million are Torah-observant in the traditional sense. Why won't you admit the validity of popular opinion?" To which the Jew may reply, "Popular opinion in the past, and even today in the Arab world, contends that Jews consume the blood of non-Jews for their matzoh, which we know is a complete falsehood without any basis in reality whatsover. So too, we know that popular religious opinion may have no basis in reality whatsover, and rely instead on the testimony of our ancestors that Moses our Teacher is truth and his Torah is truth."