by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The term "blood libel"—which Sarah Palin invoked this week to describe the suggestions by journalists and politicians that conservative figures like herself are responsible for last weekend's shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz.—is fraught with perilous meaning in Jewish history.
The term connotes the earliest accusations that Jews killed Jesus and enthusiastically embraced responsibility for his murder, telling Pontius Pilate, "His blood be upon us and our children" (Matthew 27:25). Thus was born the legend of Jewish bloodlust and of Hebrew ritual use of Christian blood for sacramental purposes. The term was later used more specifically to describe accusations against Jews—primarily in Europe—of sacrificing kidnapped Christian children to use their blood in the baking of Passover matzos.
The Benedictine monk Thomas of Monmouth is generally credited with having popularized the blood libel in his "Life of the Martyr William from Norwich," written in 1173 about a young boy who was found stabbed to death. Thomas quoted a servant woman who said she witnessed Jews lacerating the boy's head with thorns, crucifying him, and piercing his side. While William was canonized, the Jews of Norwich fared less well. On Feb. 6, 1190, they were all found slaughtered in their homes, save those who escaped to the local tower and committed mass suicide.
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.