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Ritual Gone WrongWhat We Learn from Ritual Disruption$
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Kathryn T. McClymond

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199790913

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199790913.001.0001

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Blood Libel

Blood Libel

Ritual Misrepresentation

(p.65) 3 Blood Libel
Ritual Gone Wrong

Kathryn T. McClymond

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the false charge leveled against Jews for centuries, the charge that Jews have murdered individuals in order to use human blood in religious ritual. Blood libels were a distinctive form of ritual disruption in which an outside community misrepresented Jewish tradition through allegations against Jewish individuals and communities. The blood libel contributed to a distinctive caricature of Jewish identity situated in a polarized dynamic between Christians and Jews: Jews embodied the “other,” while Christians embodied the preferred “norm.” Christians were human and morally superior, while Jews were nonhuman and morally inferior. Mischaracterizations reinforced an already socially, politically, and economically unequal relationship while simultaneously revealing much of what preoccupied Christians theologically, socially, and historically. Jews were cast as the monstrous “other” as a foil for Christians’ self-representations, illustrating the general point that a dominant group may bolster its own self-presentation through rhetoric that misrepresents another group’s ritual practice.

Keywords:   blood libel, ritual murder, Host desecration, William of Norwich, Thomas of Monmouth, Simon of Trent, The Damascus Affair, Beilis Trial

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