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Acharei Mot: The Blood Libel Is Alive and Well – But This, Too, We Will Survive

Fifteenth century painting depicting William of Norwich. His death became the first case of the Blood Libel in England. By unknown author via Wikimedia Commons [Public domain].

 None of you shall eat blood, and the stranger who sojourns among you shall not eat blood,” and those who do, says God in the Book of Leviticus, “will be cut off from my people.” This is just one of many detailed commandments, mostly related to the slaughter of animals and how to carry out sacrifices, listed in this week’s parsha, “Acharei Mot.” But this command related to blood is a famous and significant one; as it informs one of the pillars of keeping kosher, and, perhaps more relevant today, it demonstrates the absurdity of so-called blood libels, which continue to challenge us in new ways. 

 Even though this ban on consuming blood is central to keeping kosher, requiring raw meat to be soaked in salt water to drain it of any traces of blood, it has not stopped centuries of antisemitic slurs and violence. Throughout the generations, many thousands of Jews have been killed after being accused of baking their matzos with the blood of Christians. The particular reasons given for such beliefs and the resulting violence against Jews vary from place to place and era to era. But what they have in common is using Jews as scapegoats to advance political and religious agendas. Thankfully, the myth of Jews killing Gentiles for their blood is relatively rare today in most of the world, with a few exceptions in some extreme corners of the Middle East. But the idea of spreading false narratives about Jews–and Israel—continues to haunt and threaten us. 

 A glance at news headlines about Gaza demonstrates the proliferation of information based on hate and bias, rather than reality. “Israel is bombing hospitals in Gaza with Israeli doctors’ approval” (Al Jazeera); “Reasonable grounds’ to believe Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, UN rights expert says” (CNN).

Many journalists, public officials and organizations also described Gaza as “occupied” by Israel, when in fact, Israel withdrew its military posts and residential communities from the area in 2005. Israel has also been accused of turning Gaza into an “open-air prison, “ another piece of misinformation. As even before the war, poverty and corruption plagued Gaza due not to Israel, but to the actions and policies of Hamas, which ruled the territory, and invested in amassing weapons and digging attack tunnels rather than developing the economy. Other egregious claims against Israel include accusing its soldiers of sexual violence towards Palestinian women. And, infamously, claims were abound in October that Israel bombed al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, killing hundreds, when, in fact, it soon became clear that the explosion at the facility was caused by an errant Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel. Although many retracted their claims, the damage was already done to Israel.

These lies are not just lies, but they are dangerous, leading to growing public support and justification for violence by Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups against Israeli and Jewish civilians. Narratives about Israel committing genocide, warcrimes and apartheid also contribute to eroding Isreal’s relationships with its critical allies and open up debates foreign military aid, which is essential to saving lives through systems like the Iron Dome, which has intercepted thousands of rockets since Oct. 7.

 In the face of such challenges, Israel must continue to highlight the truth, and persevere, as we have for centuries, through the destruction of two Temples and subsequent exiles, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Holocaust and the countless pogroms and deportations. 

This perseverance, too, is a theme in our parsha. After Aharon’s two sons died in the midst of what was supposed to be the happiest day in the history of Am Israel until that point – the inauguration of the mishkan – that could have been the tragic end of the story. The nation could have fallen into despair and mourning, giving up on the whole mishkan project because Aharon’s sons suffered death after bringing “foreign fire,” not commanded by God, into the tabernacle. Instead, the parsha goes on to describe how God gave them a second chance, outlining the proper way to enter the Mishkan and offer sacrifices, including the process of atoning for sins and the service in the tabernacle on Yom Kippur. 

There are of course many messages and ways to interpret this complex turn of events, including what constitutes the “foreign fire,” and what sin, exactly, the sons of Aharon were accused of committing. But putting those aside, a big picture view of this story allows us to see how hope and redemption can come at the same time, or on the heels of terrible tragedy and challenging situations. We must believe that God will continue to give us the tools for this perseverance, the same way we received the gift of Yom Kippur at a moment when atonement was so badly needed.

 The lesson for us is that despite the increasing waves of hate, despite the ongoing war, despite the blood libels, despite the threats that surround Jews in Israel and around the world, G-d is still with us – and it is our belief that, just as this parsha describes, from tragedy will come forth salvation, and a better tomorrow for us, and the entire world.

About the Author
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt is the President of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) and exiled Chief Rabbi of Moscow. Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt is also the recipient of the Aachen International Charlemagne Prize in 2024.
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