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HD: Blood Libel
Posted: 13 January 2011 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Hot button political issue

Please keep any discussion limited to the discussion of how the term is used and free of politics.

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Posted: 13 January 2011 05:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I can’t recall ever hearing the term “blood libel” before, and I can’t recall ever hearing of the specific medeival accusation that’s behind it, although I am aware of other wild anti-Semitic accusations.

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Posted: 13 January 2011 07:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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"Unfortunately, the OED does not contain any references to the blood libel, and I am unable to accurately date its origin”

This surprises me

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Posted: 13 January 2011 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I ran blood libel and blood accusation (another term) through Google N Gram viewer and got this. Seems like 1900 is a good date for the former, while 1880s for the later. Both associated with pogroms in Eastern Europe.

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Posted: 13 January 2011 09:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The nGram utility doesn’t help in determining the context though, only the frequency of the terms’ appearances in the corpus. Also, Google’s metadata is seriously screwed. You can’t trust the dates.

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Posted: 13 January 2011 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The phrase “blood libel” is a literal translation of the Hebrew phrase ‘alilat dam. I would guess that the Hebrew phrase precedes the English one, probably by several centuries. I think it would be difficult to pinpoint the earliest use of the phrase, either in Hebrew or in English. The accusation is many hundreds of years old, and is still being made: Wikipedia has a knowledgeable article on the subject (s.v. blood libel).

Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” to refer to the accusations of incitement to violence, against her and her sympathizers, is not rationally defensible; though as propaganda, it is a clever choice, equating the accusers, as it does, with the vilest of anti-semitic polemicists.

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Posted: 13 January 2011 01:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” to refer to the accusations of incitement to violence, against her and her sympathizers, is not rationally defensible

I tend to disagree.  One who who has heard the phrase but is ignorant of its actual history (which I suspect Palin is) could easily construe it to mean any false and defamatory statement (libel) which imputes responsibility for another person’s death (their blood on the accused’s hands).  That’s a rational, though uninformed, interpretation of the phrase.

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Posted: 13 January 2011 02:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Is there a difference between “a blood libel” and “the blood libel”? 

My research indicates Ariel Sharon accused Time magazine of “a blood libel” for alleging he was complicit in a massacre.  Also, backers of a Brooklyn rabbi who got in Dutch with city kosher-food authorities accused those authorities of “a blood libel”.  In Sharon’s case there was actual blood, but in the kosher food case the use was figurative as the case involved child-labor law violations.  The people discussing “a blood libel” on-line in the Brooklyn case, absent Sarah Palin, were pretty lively and jovial, cracking jokes about “getting medieval on one’s ass” and quoting Chaucer’s Prioress’ Tale.

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Posted: 13 January 2011 10:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Among Jews, the term “blood libel” is heavily loaded with the “Jews-murder-Christian-children-to-make-matza” sense. When a Jew uses the term in quite a different frame of reference (as in the two cases quoted by jtab), the intention is to discredit the opposition by association, in the way I suggested above (in my country, politicians constantly use negatively loaded words in this way, when referring to their opponents - the uglier the load, the better).  In Palin’s case, I assumed a degree of knowledge and sophistication greater than that assumed by Dr. Techie. You know your country’s politicians better than I do, Doc, and I would hesitate to argue with you (of a sudden, I am reminded of that Governor who is supposed to have said, re the Bible, “If English was good enough for God, it’s good enough for me” ;-)

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Posted: 14 January 2011 04:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I am reminded of that Governor who is supposed to have said, re the Bible, “If English was good enough for God, it’s good enough for me”

The quote is often attributed to Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas, served 1925–27 and 1933–35. The canonical form attributed to her is “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.” The quote has been ascribed to any number of other politicians and preachers.

But Ben Zimmer has found variants of the phrase that date back to 1881. The phrase always appears in contexts where it is used to denigrate Christianity and ascribe backwardness and ignorance to its adherents. It seems unlikely that anyone ever said this in earnest and that the quote was invented as a joke.

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003084.html

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Posted: 14 January 2011 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Americans who have heard the phrase would probably associate it with Ariel Sharon’s lawsuit against Time magazine.  It wasn’t obvious from that incident that the phrase had anything to do with Jews murdering Christian children to make matza. Sharon didn’t explain it that way, nor did American journalists at the time. But this time around, everyone’s an expert on Medieval history. There’s an interesting history of the allegation here: http://www.covenant.idc.ac.il/en/vol1/issue2/introvigne.html The blood libel was not just, or even primarily, Medieval. There was even a case in upstate New York in 1928.

[ Edited: 14 January 2011 11:17 PM by kauffner ]
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Posted: 14 January 2011 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Americans who have heard the phrase would probably associate it with Ariel Sharon’s lawsuit against Time magazine.

Americans who don’t know any Jews, maybe.  I’ve known the phrase and its history at least since high school.  It’s not obscure information.  And you’d be surprised how stubborn “medieval” superstitions/ideas are; there are still plenty of Americans who believe Jews have horns.

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Posted: 14 January 2011 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Americans who have heard the phrase would probably associate it with Ariel Sharon’s lawsuit against Time magazine.

Americans who don’t know any Jews, maybe.  I’ve known the phrase and its history at least since high school.  It’s not obscure information.  And you’d be surprised how stubborn “medieval” superstitions/ideas are; there are still plenty of Americans who believe Jews have horns.

I had maybe heard the phrase before, but somehow it never registered.  Having grown up in the Metro NY area I have plenty of Jewish friends (well, a few close Jewish friends but certainly plenty of classmates, neighbors, etc.) and even a Jewish name for Shul (long story).  I remember the “horns” thing from Little House on the Prairie and from Love and Death, and I distinctly remember a nun in CCD telling us little Catholic kids that “Saul” was an evil name.  I’d like to think I would remember “blood libel”, but it really isn’t the kind of thing to come up in casual conversation ("So, what do you think about the blood libel?")

[ Edited: 14 January 2011 08:53 AM by jtab4994 ]
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Posted: 14 January 2011 04:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Americans who have heard the phrase would probably associate it with Ariel Sharon’s lawsuit against Time magazine.

I would venture to guess that this, despite being more recent, is a more obscure reference than the medieval superstition. I, for one, don’t recall blood libel being associated with the Sharon lawsuit—and I have only vaguest memory of the lawsuit at that. And I’m a guy who was a policy analyst for the Pentagon and lived and breathed international politics. The medieval superstition, on the other hand, is so shocking that once you’ve heard it, you don’t forget it.

there are still plenty of Americans who believe Jews have horns

I’ve heard this claim before, but I don’t believe it, and I’ve never heard anyone give a credible account of actually running into this belief in the wild (lots of second-hand stories that turn out to be third-hand that turn out to be fourth-hand, etc.). Sure there’s a lot of ignorance about Jews and Judaism once you get away from major metropolitan areas, but this goes just a bit too far in piling stupidity on top of ignorance. (Clarification: my skepticism is that people still believe this; there is no doubt that this was once a widespread belief)

[ Edited: 15 January 2011 04:27 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 14 January 2011 05:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Grubby associationism is not new in politics, and I dare say Palin knows exactly what she is doing.

For mine, I’ve only ever heard or read “blood libel” in the sense of the accusation of the use of Christian blood in Jewish rituals.

EDIT: Re horns, does this seem right?
http://www.examiner.com/spiritual-life-in-national/why-do-jews-have-horns
GreyGoose asks: “Why did I learn as a kid that Jews have horns?  And actually, do they, in some cases?”

Well, GreyGoose, Jews don’t have horns.  The misconception comes from Michelangelo’s 16th century classic statue of Moses, which does portray the Lawgiver as having horns.  The reason the sculptor made the honest mistake is because of the Hebrew word that appears in Exodus, the word for “rays.” When Moses came down from Mt. Horeb, after encountering God in the Burning Bush, he was seen by his kin as having rays of light emerging around his head—he had encountered the Almighty.  The Hebrew word for a ray, or “sun on his skin” is qaran.  Unfortunately, this is also a word for “horn.”

In religious iconography, there are standardized symbols to depict holiness in figures, haloes, rays, flames, and, sadly, those little horns on Moses’s head that Michelangelo added for saintly effect.

[ Edited: 14 January 2011 05:22 PM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 15 January 2011 07:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I’ve heard this claim before, but I don’t believe it, and I’ve never heard anyone give a credible account of actually running into this belief in the wild

I can understand not wanting to believe it—I’d prefer not having to believe it myself—but I suggest you read this MetaTalk thread and get back to me.  (It’s long; ctrl-F for “horns.") Some samples:

My wife taught in public high school in Washington, DC. The school was almost entirely African American, with some Latino and some Asian kids. There were no Jews and most of the kids had never met a Jew. But, man, those kids knew that Jews have horns underneath their hair. I heard the same thing from my college roommate, who went to Catholic schools in the New Orleans suburbs—he said all the kids growing up knew about the horns.
posted by Mid at 7:34 PM on December 30, 2009

My friend, whose Jewish, was once traveling in rural Texas with some friends. He met a girl, friend of his friend, who sincerely asked him if she could see his horns.
posted by Kattullus at 8:34 PM on December 30, 2009

The horns thing is truly weird. Katullus, that happened to me a number of times in northern TX and rural PA growing up. I’d be hanging out with other kids and out of the blue, they’d either ask to see them or want to know when I’d had them removed. Two of my roommates at college Freshman year asked if they could see them, and where they were. And as a sign one particular relationship was doomed to fail, a girlfriend’s father in high school (South Korean) told me that I was the first Jew he’d ever met, and he was surprised because I “wasn’t that bad for a Jew” and I hid “my horns very well.” He was all smiles as he said this. He thought he was complimenting me!
I gave up trying to understand people’s irrational hatreds years ago. But the antisemitism in certain cultures completely baffles me.
posted by zarq at 9:44 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite +] [!]

Um, I’ve been asked about my horns too. When I was 16, on an overseas trip with a lot of other high schools students. Then they joked about how they probably didn’t show under my curly hair. No joke.
posted by bearwife at 1:10 PM on December 31, 2009 [+] [!]

There’s more where those came from.  You’re welcome to assume they’re all lying or delusional, but that would be putting on blinders in order to avoid an unpleasant truth.

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