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The Beilis Conspiracy

A century after the last blood libel trial, the idea that Jews drink Christian vital fluid is still alive and well

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Beilis, center, with Rabbi Iakov Mazeh and lawyer Oskar Gruzenberg. (Collage Tablet Magazine; original image YIVO)
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After the trial was over, Beilis wrote a memoir, The Story of My Sufferings, the most remarkable part of which is his memory of how many non-Jewish Russians, including even a few diehard members of the Black Hundreds (the anti-Semitic organization responsible for many pogroms), ardently professed their support for the beleaguered Jew. When he was in jail, Beilis remembered, a fellow prisoner embraced him and wept, hoping aloud that God would protect Beilis, because “the Jews are an honest people”; when Beilis’ wife and children visited him, prison guards turned aside with tears in their eyes. The detectives first assigned to the case, along with the chief of Kiev’s secret police, were sent to jail as a result of their belief that Beilis must be innocent.

In his trial, Beilis was defiant when he needed to be. He answered one of the judge’s opening questions, “To what religion do you belong?” with, he remembered, “something approaching a shout”: “I am a Jew.” As the trial went on, the prosecution’s case collapsed. The workers that Beilis supervised testified to his honesty; they knew he was incapable of murder. A 10-year-old boy, a friend of the dead Andrei, had been primed by the Tcheberiak gang to testify that Andrei had often played near the brick factory and had been chased off the factory grounds by Beilis. Instead, the boy stated that Andrei had never gone near the factory. The student who had distributed the anti-Semitic leaflets at Andrei’s funeral fainted when he took the stand. Then, in a moment of high drama, the lamplighter who had originally said that Beilis had chased Andrei from the brickyard recanted his testimony, proclaiming, “I am a Christian and fear God. Why should I ruin an innocent man?”

The prize piece of evidence for the prosecution was theological: expert opinion that would prove that Jews engaged in ritual murder. Here, the prosecution thought, was perfect material to sway a jury of uneducated Russian peasants. But they could find only two expert witnesses, and neither of them was persuasive. One was a priest who turned out to be a convert from Judaism; he admitted that he had never seen or heard any trace of ritual murder in his father’s Jewish house, but had only been told of the bloody practice by Christians. The second expert witness was a Catholic priest named Father Pranaitis. (To the prosecution’s dismay, the Orthodox scholars they wanted were nowhere to be found.) Pranaitis claimed to be an accomplished scholar of Jewish practices and beliefs, but the defense unmasked him as a fraud whose knowledge of Hebrew was practically nonexistent. The climax of the hapless priest’s humiliation by Beilis’ legal team (led by Oskar Gruzenberg, who was renowned for his championing of Jewish causes) occurred when they asked Pranaitis, “When did Baba Batra live and what was her activity?” When Pranaitis answered, “I don’t know,” the Jews in the courtroom erupted in laughter. Baba Batra is one of the most famous tractates of the Talmud; but Baba in Russian means grandmother—the Christian “expert” was easily tricked.

The judge, however, stood steadfast in his determination to find Beilis guilty. His final instructions to the jury were somber and pointed: “This trial … has touched upon a matter which concerns the existence of the whole Russian people. There are people who drink our blood.” Despite such heavy-handed instruction, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty (although they did indicate that they believed a ritual murder had occurred).

After the verdict, wild jubilation stormed the courtroom. Beilis reported that a “very distinguished and gigantic looking Russian,” a factory owner who had left his business for a month to attend the trial, approached him with these words: “Now, the Lord be blessed, I can go home rejoicing. … I wish you all the happiness in the world, Beilis.” The freed Jew became an instant celebrity. In the fall of 1913, three plays about Beilis ran at the same time in New York, featuring the greatest stars of the Yiddish stage.

From the moment he became a free man again, Beilis found himself mobbed by throngs of admirers, who had come from all over Europe to see him. At one point, he wrote later, he had 7,000 visitors a day. Some insisted that they must see him or they would commit suicide. A Russian priest knelt and kissed Beilis’ hand, asking forgiveness. Finally, Beilis left Russia, unable to bear the harassment of constant adulation. When his train passed through Lvov, word got out that Beilis was on it: A swelling crowd demanded to see him and threatened to damage the station or sit down on the tracks if he did not appear. Beilis turned away offers to make his home in London and New York and chose Palestine instead. Even in Eretz Yisrael there was a heated competition for his presence: The Jews of Jerusalem reminded him that they had prayed for him at the kotel and told him it would be an insult for him to settle in Tel Aviv—but he did.

Beilis wrote that, during his visit to the Temple Mount, he was permitted to enter the Dome of the Rock by “one of the leading Arabs,” who told him, “You belong to the three great Jewish heroes and martyrs”—Dreyfus was another, the Arab said; Beilis didn’t catch the name of the third. Beilis’ memoir ends with his departure for New York, after nine years in the holy land. The Rothschilds and others had promised Beilis financial assistance. “But could I live on promises?” Beilis lamented that he never received the money. There was no livelihood in Palestine; the new world, the true goldene medina, beckoned.


Mendel Beilis entered the limelight again, long after his death in New York in 1934, when Bernard Malamud decided to write a novel based on his prison experience. The novel was The Fixer, which would win for Malamud both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1967. (The title refers to the hero’s vocation: He is a repairman before he becomes a factory supervisor.) For his book, a tour de force of misery and dry wit, Malamud drew conspicuously on Beilis’ memoir. Six times a day, Beilis wrote, he was subjected to body searches. The door of his cell had 13 heavy locks, and each had to be shot back with a blood-chilling clang before Beilis was stripped and inspected by taunting guards. Malamud changed the number of locks from 13 to 12, but his account of the searches is clearly modeled on Beilis’ version. One of Beilis’ sons later charged Malamud with plagiarizing his father’s memoir; there are in fact strong resemblances between Beilis’ account of his prison life and Malamud’s version.

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My grandfather, Rabbi Idel Idelson, presided over Mendel Beilis’s funeral in 1934 at the Eldridge St Synagogue. The event itself was an amazing affair. You can read further here:

I believe the perversion is the accusers ‘dream/wish’ to do these things to Jews and/or any other group the have a mindless hate for. They then transfer this evil onto the target to justify the hate.

herbcaen says:

A better comparison would be with Leo Frank, who was also tried in 1913 for a crime that he didnt commit. Leo Frank did not do so well

Moshe says:

Excellent article-well researched and a lot of information. Thank you.

Jacob Arnon says:

Before Mendel Beilis there was the 19C blood libel accusation of a Jew in Syria Known as the Damascus affair. !840:

Damascus affair:

“The Damascus affair was an 1840 incident in which the accusation of ritual murder was brought against members of the Jewish community of Damascus.
Eight notable Jews of Damascus were falsely accused of murdering a
Christian monk, imprisoned and tortured. Several of the imprisoned died
of torture, and another was forced to convert to Islam. In addition, the
Muslim populace of Damascus fell upon the Jewish synagogue in the
suburb of Jobar, pillaged it, and destroyed the scrolls of the Law.”

That an Israeli Professor tried to argue that there maybe merit in this accusation tells me that humanities in Israel is in a state of moral panic. This is but one more attempt by Israeli academicians to reach out to their European counterparts by stating that they are not one of those “bad” Jews but “someone who thinks for himself” etc.
This is bullshit even idiots think for themselves. The problem is that their thought is rubbish and so is the thought of little “professor” in the Negev.

It seems to me the internet made possible a rich underground life for antisemitism and we ignore it at our peril.

Jacob Arnon says:

This was an excellent article. Two things impressed me: the authors feel for quotient existence, and this may be related, he finds the heroic in ordinary people who embrace daily life in all its ambiguity. Contrast this to Malamud spurious hero who while a “little man” reads great writers like Spinoza, that champion of the disaffected Jew who wishes to be seen as a Jew.

But above all the article makes clear that antisemitism exists above the heads of ordinary people: it an abstract principle all the more malicious for being abstract. It is a malevolent ideal all the more powerful because it is embraced (and this will shock some readers unacquainted with its history) embraced by pseudo intellectuals and even by many intellectuals, think of Voltaire (the list of those intellects who embraced antisemitism is too long to mention.

In the same way that today anti-Zionism, that stand in for antisemitism, is being embrace by all too many intellectuals and Professors: Judith Butler comes to mind and so does evil bigoted lawyer Richard A. Falk. Like that Orthodox Priest who was a convert from Judaism these bigots come from Jewish families who become all the more dangerous because of it. They claim that “as Jews they know more about “evil Jess” even though their view of Jews has the feel of a malicious invention: the Jews or Zionists they hate are figments of their own imagination.

I salute the author David Mikics who has written that rare article which not only is true but has the feel of the truth.

Although this piece is very interesting, especially the latter section about Malamud, it begins with the customary disinformation about the origins of the blood libel in Europe. The anti-Jewish murder libel which appeared to begin in Norwich,had actually travelled slowly from Syria while the ‘blood’ aspect was an add-on which first appeared in Blois, France about 25 years after William was killed. The details are easily available from the website of the Jewish Historical Society of England.

Long before the Damascus affair came a late 4th century blood libel in Syria. which was recorded, without question, by Socrates Scholasticus. This is how the modern anti-Jewish libels began. Everything goes round in circles. I’m just a very ordinary, but interested layperson. I think it’s time for the academics to get it right.

You want to see the Blood Libel in action? Watch the first X-Men movie.

Myron Bassman says:

Even earlier, Josephus in “Against Apion” reports that Egyptian Greek anti-Judhaists believed that a Greek youth was sacrificed each Passover in the Temple.

“In 2009 the Swedish social democratic newspaper Aftonbladet ran a story alleging, without evidence, that Israelis were harvesting the organs of Palestinians for use on the black market.”

HAHAHA Israeli organ harvesting is real, excellent example of why humans hate Jews.

Reminder Jewesses drink Christian vital fluid daily in colleges across the country.

Natan79 says:

It goes on both directions…

Natan79 says:

An Asian like you is an anti-Semite? Go fuck yourself and your Asian mother too (though she may be busy with the family dog).

Natan79 says:

You look like the Virginia Tech bomber, a hating violent loser. I hope the FBI finds out soon who you Alpha Loser Asian are.

Natan79 says:

Exactly. No fantasies of revenge possible there. Leo Frank was murdered by Southern US bigots.

skamble says:

Today’s version of this is the Hezbollah official with a dead baby in his arms, dressed as a rescue worker.

You sorta look like me.Was your mom a whore at Susy Wong’s in Hong Kong?

I’d almost forgotten that Israel is also a hub for sex trafficking.

They do it through a hole in the sheet so it’s perfectly kosher.

Much like the neo-Nazis imagined to be populating the American heartland, the Virginia Tech Bomber never existed.

discovered many cases of such bloody sacrifices connected with the Jewish mutilation
of children, outpouring of blood and its baking in Matzo spanning
five hundred years of European history. Some confessions were obtained under torture, but it that necessarily invalidates all confessions, many Palestinian prisoners would have to be released.


Do not try to reason with those who hate Jews! They are devilish! We are solely in need of a leader like King David. He would have stuck it to the world!


Natan79 says:

I’d almost forgotten your mother fucks your dog and yourself, alternatively.

Natan79 says:

You have an amazing potential for violence. Whenever the re is shooting against Jews in the USA, you will be a prime suspect. I certainly will not forget you. Your computer can be traced.

Natan79 says:

One day at your door there’ll be some agents, at night… they’ll show you some Hitler.

Natan79 says:

He sorta looks like his mother’s dog.

Natan79 says:

Hey Aspie, bark for us for here, like your father did. Good boy!


Natan79 says:

If we met in person, you’d be sorry.

CygnusA81 says:

Shouldn’t you be f’ing your dog right now you POS.

AverageRandomJoe says:

Please do not feed the animals or trolls. Move along.

lumiss says:

excellent. thank you for this article.


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The Beilis Conspiracy

A century after the last blood libel trial, the idea that Jews drink Christian vital fluid is still alive and well