The Full Wiki

Rhodes blood libel: Map

Advertisements
  
  

Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:



The Rhodes blood libel was an instance of blood libel against Jews in which the Jews on the Ottoman Empire island of Rhodesmarker were accused of the ritual murder of a Christian boy in February 1840.

The libel originated in the Greek Orthodox community and garnered active support from the consuls of several European countries, including the United Kingdommarker, Francemarker, the Austrian Empiremarker, Swedenmarker, and Greecemarker. The Ottoman governor of Rhodes broke with the long tradition of the Ottoman governments (which had previously denied the factuality of the blood libel accusations) and supported the ritual murder charge. Several Jewish subjects were arrested, some of whom were tortured and made false confessions, and the entire Jewish quarter was blockaded for twelve days.

The Jewish community of Rhodes appealed for help from the Jewish community in Constantinoplemarker, who forwarded the appeal to European governments. In the United Kingdom and Austria, Jewish communities were able to win support from their governments, and dispatches sent to the ambassadors in Constantinople unequivocally condemned the blood libel; thus, a consensus developed that stated such a charge was false. In addition, the governor of Rhodes proved unable to control the local fanatical Christians and sent the case to the central government, which initiated a formal inquiry into the affair. In July 1840, that investigation established the innocence of the Jewish community. Finally, in November of the same year, the Ottoman sultan issued a decree (firman) denouncing the blood libel as false.

Background

Jewish community

The existence of a Jewish community in Rhodes is first documented towards the end of the Hellenistic period. In a Roman decree dated to 142 BC, Rhodes is listed among the areas notified of the renewal of the pact of friendship between the Roman senate and the Jewish nation. The Jews of Rhodes are mentioned in documents at the time of the Arab conquest of the island in the 7th century. In the 12th century, Benjamin of Tudela found some 400 Jews in the city of Rhodes. In 1481 and 1482, earthquakes destroyed the Jewish quarter, so that only 22 families remained in the city. After an epidemic of plague in 1498–1500, the Knights Hospitaller, who ruled the island at that time, expelled those of the remaining Jews who would not be baptized. In the next two decades, the Hospitallers brought to the island between 2,000 and 3,000 captured Jews who were kept as slaves to work on fortifications.

In 1522, these Jewish captives helped the Ottomans seize Rhodes. Under the Ottoman rule, Rhodes became an important Sephardi center, home to many famous rabbis. In the 19th century, the wealthier Jews were merchants in cloth, silk, sulfur, and resins, and the rest were small shopkeepers and artisans, ambulant vendors, and fishermen. The community was governed by a council of seven officials. Sources give the number of Jews during the 19th century between 2,000 and 4,000.

Blood libel against the Jews in the Ottoman Empire

blood libel against Jews originated in Englandmarker in 1144 with the case of William of Norwich. The accusation that Jews use blood of Christian children to prepare matzos for the Passover became a staple of the Christian antisemitism of the Middle Ages with the total number of recorded ritual murder accusations reaching 150. The number of cases began to decline with the strengthening of standards of evidence, and few blood libel cases reached European courts after 1772. Nevertheless, some instances of ritual murder accusation arose as late as the 19th century.

In the Middle East, the blood libel was deeply ingrained in the consciousness of local Christian communities. Blood libel was commonplace in the Byzantine Empire, and after the Ottomans conquered the Byzantine lands, the ritual murder charge originated almost always from within the Greek communities. The first appearance of the blood libel under Ottoman rule took place in the reign of Mehmet II. Subsequently, accusations of ritual murder were only sporadic and were usually condemned by the Ottoman authorities. In the 16th century Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent issued a firman, formally denouncing blood libel against the Jews.

The situation changed with the increase of Christian influence in the Ottoman Empire and the concomitant decline in the standing of the Jews. The sultan's Hatt-i Sharif of Gulhane, proclaimed in 1839, ushered in an era of liberal reforms known as Tanzimat. It, however, also further enhanced the status of the Christians and eroded the power of the authorities to protect the Jews. Before 1840, cases of blood libel occurred in Aleppomarker in 1810 and in Antiochmarker in 1826.

In 1840, contemporaneous with the affair in Rhodes, another much more famous case of blood libel, which became known as the Damascus affair, was developing in Damascusmarker, while the city was under the short-lived control of Muhammad Ali of Egypt. On February 5, Capuchin friar Thomas and his servant Ibrahim Amara went missing, and the Jews of Damascus were accused of murdering them to collect their blood for Passover matzos. The local Christian community, the governor, and the French consul, who received full support from Paris, actively pursued the ritual murder charge. The accused Jews were tortured, and some of them confessed to having killed Father Thomas and his servant. Their testimonies were used by the accusers as the irrefutable proof of guilt. The case drew international attention, arousing active protests from the European Jewish diaspora.

Accusation

Disappearance

On February 17, 1840, a boy from a Greek Orthodox family went for a walk and did not come back home. The next day his mother reported the disappearance to the Ottoman authorities. The island's governor, Yusuf Pasha, ordered a search, but several days' efforts proved fruitless. The European consuls then pressed the governor to solve the case: after all, the boy's family was Christian, though without foreign protection. The Christian population of Rhodes, meanwhile, had no doubts that the boy had been murdered by the Jews for ritual purposes. An eyewitness reported: "It was firmly believed that the child in question was doomed to be sacrificed by the Jews. The whole island was agitated from one end to the other." The assurance of the local Christians having been impressed upon the Ottoman authorities, they began searching the Jewish quarter, again in vain.

Arrests, interrogations, and torture

Several days later, two Greek women reported that they had seen the boy walking towards the city of Rhodes accompanied by four Jews. The women claimed that one of the Jews was Eliakim Stamboli, who was then arrested, questioned, and subjected to five hundred blows of the bastinado. On February 23, he was interrogated again and tortured in the presence of many dignitaries, including the governor, the qadi (Muslim judge), the Greek archbishop, and the European consuls. The report from the Jews of Rhodes said that Stamboli was "loaded with chains, many stripes were inflicted upon him and red-hot wires were run through his nose, burning bones were applied to his head and a very heavy stone was laid upon his breast, insomuch as he was reduced to the point of death." Under torture, Stamboli confessed to the ritual murder charge and incriminated other Jews, opening the door to further arrests. Some half dozen Jews were accused of the crime and tortured, and the chief rabbi was intensely questioned as to whether Jews practice ritual murder.

Blockade

The governor, Yusuf Pasha, at the instigation of the Greek clergy and the European consuls, blockaded the Jewish quarter on the eve of Purim and arrested Jacob Israel the chief rabbi. The blockade was so effective that its inhabitants could not so much as obtain food or fresh water. An attempt to smuggle a dead body into the Jewish quarter was thwarted by the Jews. The Muslim authorities, on the whole, were not keen to pursue the ritual murder accusation against the Jews. The Muslim official in charge of the blockade was found smuggling bread to the imprisoned residents; at the insistence of the British consul, he was bastinadoed and dismissed from service. The qadi openly sympathized with the Jews, and at the end of February he initiated further hearings on the case after which evidence was declared insufficient to convict the prisoners. The governor, on the other hand, refused to lift the blockade of the Jewish quarter, though he seemed to waver somewhat, and in early March he sent to Constantinoplemarker asking for instructions. Only after the blockade had lasted for twelve days was the governor forced to lift it by a high treasury official who visited the island on a tour of inspection. At that point, the Jews thought that the affair was over and "returned thanks to the Almighty for their deliverance".

Influence of the Damascus affair

The relief, however, was dashed in early March by news of the Damascus affair. Reports that the Jews of Damascus had confessed to having murdered Father Thomas reinforced the belief of the Christian community in the veracity of the ritual murder charge. The British consul reported that "the Greeks cried loud that justice had not been rendered to them and that the rabbi and chiefs ought to have been imprisoned… In order to keep the populace quiet… it was decided that these should be arrested." Eight Jews were arrested, including the chief rabbi and David Mizrahi, who were tortured by being suspended swinging from hooks in the ceiling in the presence of the European consuls. Mizrahi lost consciousness after six hours, while the rabbi was kept there for two days until he suffered a hemorrhage. Nevertheless, neither confessed and they were released after a few days. The other six Jews remained in prison in early April.

Consular involvement

The European vice-consuls in Rhodes were united in believing the ritual murder charge. They played the key role in the interrogation, with J. G. Wilkinson, the British consul, and E. Masse from Sweden being centrally involved. During the interrogation of the chief rabbi, Wilkinson asked, referring to the qadi's decision to dismiss the case: "What signifies the Mollah's judgment to us after what happened in Damascus and it is proved that, according to the Talmud, Christian blood must be used in making your Passover bread?" The consuls were also present during much of the torture. When the chief rabbi, an Austrian subject, was tortured, he appealed to Austrian vice-consul Anton Giuliani, who replied: "What rabbi? What do you complain about? So you are not dead yet."

Some Jewish inhabitants of Rhodes accused the consuls of a conspiracy aimed at exploiting the case in order to eliminate Elias Kalimati, a local Jew, who represented the business interests of Joel Davis, a Jewish businessman from Londonmarker. Davis was rapidly increasing his share in the profitable sponge exports from the island, and he was a major business rival of the European consuls. Elias Kalimati, however, was not among the persons held in the affair, calling that allegation into question. Other Jewish sources claimed that "[t]he consuls stated openly… their purpose of exterminating the Jews of Rhodes or to compel them to change their religion."

European diplomatic involvement



In the first days of the blockade, someone managed to smuggle a letter out of the Jewish quarter to the Jewish leadership in Constantinople. However, it was only on March 27 that the leaders of the Jewish community in the Ottoman capital forwarded it, together with a similar call for help from the Jews of Damascus, to the Rothschild family. To these documents, the Jewish leaders attached their own statement in which they cast doubt on their ability to influence the sultan.



The intervention of the Rothschilds bore the quickest fruit in Austria. The head of the Rothschild family bank in Viennamarker, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild, played the key role in raising financing for the Austrian Empire, and he had a very close relationship with the Austrian chancellor von Metternich. On April 10, Metternich dispatched instruction regarding both the Damascus and Rhodes affairs to Bartolomäus von Stürmer, ambassador in Constantinople, and Anton von Laurin, consul in Alexandriamarker. In his dispatch, Metternich wrote: "The accusation that Christians are deliberately murdered for some blood-thirsty Passover festival is by its nature absurd…" Regarding the Rhodes case, the chancellor instructed von Stürmer "to tip the wink to the Turkish regime, so that they instruct pasha of Rhodes accordingly and that you let [our] vice-consul in Rhodes know that in such cases he should work in the spirit of sensible mediation." Von Stürmer, however, replied to Metternich that "there have been no persecutions against the Jewish population, at least not by the authorities."

In the UK, it took the Jewish community longer to react to the calls for help from Rhodes and Damascus. The Board of Deputies of the British Jews convened to discuss the blood libels only on April 21. It was resolved to request the British, Austrian, and French governments to intercede with the Ottoman government and stop the persecutions. The resolution condemning the ritual murder charges was published as a paid advertisement in 35 British journals; in the most important newspapers it appeared twice. On April 30, a delegation elected by the Board met with the foreign secretary Lord Palmerston, who called the blood libel a "calumny" and promised that "the influence of the British government should be exerted to put a stop to [the] atrocities." In his dispatch of May 5, the foreign secretary told Lord Ponsonby, the British ambassador in Constantinople, to communicate the material on the Rhodes affair to the Ottoman government "officially and in writing" and to "request… an immediate and strict inquiry to be made… especially into the allegation that these atrocities were committed at the instigation of the Christians and the European consuls."

Thus, a consensus formed within the European diplomatic community in Constantinople that the persecution of the accused Jews had to be stopped. This opinion was held not only by Lord Ponsonby, but also by von Stürmer, whose correspondence revealed that he was not at all convinced of the innocence of the Jews; by the French ambassador Edouard Pontois, whose government stood by the French consuls who supported blood libels in Rhodes and Damascus; and by the Prussian ambassador Hans von Königsmark. Consequently, the way was open for Lord Ponsonby, by far the most powerful diplomat in Constantinople, to intervene unopposed on behalf the Jews of Rhodes.

Investigation and trial

Intervention of the Ottoman government

In response to Yusuf Pasha's request, the Ottoman government sent its instructions to Rhodes, where they arrived at the end of April. The government would set up an official investigatory commission before which representatives of the Jewish and Greek communities were ordered to present their evidence. In mid-May, the government sent orders to release the six remaining Jewish prisoners. On May 21, they were ceremoniously called before the court (shura) and freed under the guarantees of the elders of the Jewish community.

The Christians responded to these actions of the central government with a fresh wave of fury against the Jews so that in late May violence was in the air. The Jews described many cases in which they were assaulted or beaten by the Greeks, and the sons of the British and the Greek consuls were among those who beat up a number of Jews. When the Jews complained to the governor, he ordered the complainants subjected to four to five hundred blows of the bastinado. The qadi disassociated himself from the actions of the governor, who declared that he had acted upon the demands of the consuls. On top of that, the governor ordered five other Jews arrested.

Acquittal

The Greek and Jewish delegations from Rhodes, each numbering five, arrived at Constantinople on May 10. In the capital they were joined by the qadi, the French consul, and the Austrian vice-consul. On May 26, the investigatory tribunal held its first open session chaired by Rifaat Bey. The qadi argued that "the entire affair is the product of hatred; [and] was instigated by the English and Austrian consuls alone." The consuls insisted on the guilt of the Jews, and they presented a concurring written testimony from their colleagues who stayed on Rhodes.

The case dragged on for two more months, as the British ambassador insisted on bringing to light the facts implicating the Rhodes governor of torture. Finally, on July 21 the verdict was announced. In its first part, the case between "the Greek population of Rhodes, the plaintiff, and the Jewish population, defendant", the result was acquittal. In its second part, Yusuf Pasha was dismissed from his post as governor of Rhodes because "he had permitted procedures to be employed against the Jews which are not authorized in any way by the law and which are expressly forbidden by the Hatt-i Sharif of 3 November". The British ambassador praised the investigation as one during which "[t]he affair of Rhodes was examined with fairness" and called the verdict "a signal proof of the justice and humanity with which the Sublime Porte acts."

Sultan's firman

In July 1840, a delegation headed by Adolphe Crémieux and Sir Moses Montefiore left for Egypt to save the Jews of Damascus. Crémieux and Montefiore requested Muhammad Ali to transfer the investigation to Alexandriamarker or have the case considered by European judges. However, their request was denied. The delegation, concerned primarily with the release of the imprisoned Jews of Damascus, decided to accept their liberation without any judicial declaration of their innocence or formal denunciation of the blood libel. The liberation order was issued on August 28, 1840, and, as a compromise, it stated explicitly that it was an act of justice rather than a pardon granted by the ruler.

After completing his mission to Muhammad Ali, Montefiore was returning to Europe by way of Constantinople. On October 15, 1840, in the Ottoman capital he had a meeting with Lord Ponsonby, to whom Montefiore suggested that following the precedent set by Suleiman the Magnificent, the sultan should issue a decree (firman) formally denouncing the blood libel and effectively sealing the cases both in Rhodes and in Damascus. The British ambassador was enthusiastic about the idea, and within one week he arranged for Montefiore a meeting with Reshid Pasha. Montefiore prepared a draft text of the firman and had its French translation read to Reshid Pasha, who responded encouragingly.

Montefiore's audience with the sultan took place at the palace late in the evening on October 28. Montefiore described in his diary that as he and his party were driving to the palace, "[t]he streets were crowded; many of the Jews had illuminated their houses." During the audience, Montefiore read aloud a formal address in which he thanked the sultan for his stand in the Rhodes case. In turn, the sultan assured his guests that their request would be granted. The firman was delivered to Montefiore on November 7, and a copy was subsequently provided to the Hakham Bashi. Citing the judgment in the Rhodes case, the decree stated that a careful examination of Jewish beliefs and "religious books" had demonstrated that "the charges brought against them… are pure calumny. The Jewish nation shall possess the same privileges as are granted to the numerous other nations who submit to our authority. The Jewish nation shall be protected and defended."

Notes

  1. " Rhodes", Jewish Encyclopedia, retrieved 07 May 2007.
  2. Poliakov 57–58
  3. " Blood Accusation", Jewish Encyclopedia, retrieved 07 May 2007.
  4. Poliakov 60–63
  5. Frankel 29
  6. Poliakov 63–64
  7. Frankel 65
  8. Lewis, 158
  9. Frankel 376
  10. " Damascus Affair", Jewish Encyclopedia, retrieved 07 May 2007.
  11. Abraham J. Brawer. "Damascus Affair." Encyclopedia Judaics
  12. Frankel 69
  13. Frankel 69–70
  14. Frankel 70
  15. Angel 38
  16. Frankel 70–71
  17. Frankel 71–72
  18. Frankel 71.
  19. Frankel 71–72
  20. Frankel 80
  21. Frankel 119–122
  22. Frankel 159
  23. Frankel 123–127
  24. Frankel 160–161
  25. Frankel 156–157
  26. Frankel 157–158
  27. Frankel 157
  28. Frankel 161–162
  29. Frankel 162–163
  30. Frankel 377


References

  • Angel, Marc D. The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community. New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, 1980. ISBN 978-0-87203-072-5
  • Frankel, Jonathan. The Damascus Affair: "Ritual Murder," Politics, and the Jews in 1840. Cambridge University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0-521-48396-4
  • Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0-691-00807-3
  • Poliakov, Leon. The History of Anti-Semitism. Volume I: From the Time of Christ to the Court Jews. transl. by Richard Howard. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2003. ISBN 0-8122-1863-9
  • Encyclopedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0). Ed. Cecil Roth. Keter Publishing House, 1997. ISBN 978-965-07-0665-4



Embed code:
Advertisements






Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message