The Damascus Blood Libel: Part 1

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28 Mar 2007

A Lesson For the Children: It all started one winter day in the city of Damascus about 160 years ago. An Italian monk, Badro Tomaso, came to the Jewish market to post a notice about selling something. And from that point the mystery began. Night fell, and Tomaso did not return home. Search parties that were sent all over the city could not find anything, and nobody knew where the monk had disappeared.

“It is simple,” some of the prominent Christians of the city declared, “the holiday of Pesach is approaching, and the cruel Jews must have caught this unfortunate man and slaughtered him. We all know that they are required to mix the blood of a Christian in the matzot that they make for Pesach!”

“Death to the Jews! Torture for the murderers!” This was the battle cry of the agitated crowds. A crowd began to gather around the house of the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Yaacov Antebi. They managed to drag him from his house, accompanied by shouts and angry declarations, and the people demanded that within three days he reveal who the killer was. Otherwise, he would be punished. However, how could he be expected to answer? Could his own private investigation succeed where the authorities had failed? But all of this did not interest the incensed crowd. If he did not hand over the murderer, both he and the heads of the community would be put to death!

Meanwhile, in another cell in the prison, a new development took place. The prisoner in this cell was Mohamed Talli, a high Turkish official, who had been arrested for the crime of embezzling and stealing from the government. That day, Mohamed called the warden of the prison and said to him, “If you acquit me in my trial and set me free, I will give you some very important information. As part of my role I often visited the homes of the Jews, and I know very many of their secrets…” The warden understood the hint, and he quickly freed Mohamed Talli, announcing that he was completely innocent of the charges against him.

Mohamed returned to his former respected position, and as a result of his testimony many Jews were arrested for participating in the “murder” of the monk Tomaso. They were tortured severely, especially one of the Jews, a barber by the name of Suleiman. It was near his shop that Tomaso had been last seen, hanging up the notice offering something for sale. Mohamed made a promise to Suleiman that he would set him free if he admitted that he had witnessed the murder. Suleiman could not withstand the torture and gave in. He told the court that he had seen seven leaders of the Jews, including Rabbi Yaacov Antebi, making plans to kill the monk, and that the wealthy Jew David Harari had slaughtered the victim, with the others helping him. Among the participants in the murder he listed other wealthy Jews, in addition to a young man named Mushon, the son of another rabbi in the city. Actually, Suleiman read all this from a list that Mohamed had given to him.

And soon the barber “remembered” another important detail. He said that he had heard the Jews making plans to hide the bones of their victim in a specific place in the Jewish market. In addition to the barber, another “witness” was found who had been convinced and forced by the same Mohamed to tell where the bones of the victim were hidden. Messengers of the court were rushed to the scene, with an agitated Arab crowd following close behind. Some strong men quickly dug in the indicated place, and within a few moments everybody was astounded: They had indeed discovered buried human bones!

Who hid the bones at the site? I am sure that my readers can guess the answer… But the Arab crowd was not interested in the truth. The people ran, incited and angry, to attack the neighborhood of the Jews.

(To Be Continued…)

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.