The Damascus affair of 1840 refers to the arrest of several notable members of the Jewish community in Damascus on the accusation of murdering Father Thomas, a Christian monk, and his servant for the purpose of using their blood to bake matzo, an anti-semitic accusation also known as the blood libel. The accused were imprisoned and interrogated under torture by the Egyptian governor of Damascus, after which they confessed to the murder. In the aftermath of the incident, Christian and Muslim violence against the Jewish population increased. The affair drew widespread international attention, especially among European Jewry. After receiving a request from Sir Moses Montefiore and Adolphe Crémieux, Muhammed 'Ali released the remaining prisoners but without officially acquitting them. In November 1840, after the restoration of Ottoman rule over Syria, Sultan Abdülmecid I issued a firmān (edict) that denounced the blood libel charges.
In 1840 Damascus belonged to the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922). Under Ottoman rule, the society was organized by the so-called millet system, which divided the Ottoman subjects into different millets based on their religious affiliation. This system guaranteed considerable autonomy to the different millets as long as its members remained loyal to the sultan. The Muslim millet was by far the biggest since Islam was the most dominant religion in the area. Christians and Jews were considered dhimmis—a class of non-Muslims possessing some limited rights under Muslim rule—and allowed to practice their own religion. In return, the Christians and the Jews had to pay jizya (a special tax imposed on non-Muslim subjects), and they possessed a lower legal and social status than their fellow Muslim citizens. Under the pressure of European powers, who sought to establish a better status for the Christian communitites in the Ottoman Empire, sultan Abdülmecid decreed in 1839 that all subjects, regardless of their religion, were equal before the law. This edict of Gülhane signalled the start of almost three decades of modernization, known as the Tanzimat period, which was aimed at a reorganization of the Empire.
Since the beginning of the sixteenth century, Syria had been part of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922). However, in 1831, eight years before the Tanzimat reforms, Ottoman Syria had come under the control of the Egyptian Muhammad Ali, the viceroy of Ottoman Egypt who had turned against the sultan. Muhammad Ali was said to have been influenced by European powers, particularly by France, which often attempted to safeguard and ameliorate the position of members of Catholic orders in the region. Under the rule of Muhammed Ali, the rights afforded to the Christian population increased and, like the Muslim inhabitants of the region, they were conscripted into the army. These new rights strained the relationship between the Muslim majority and their non-Muslim counterparts. However, the relationship between other non-Muslim groups could become tense as well. The relation between Jewish and Christian communities was tense as the result of economic rivalry between both communitites in which the Jewish merchants often acquired the most economic prosperity. In this economic struggle, both groups sought the support of the Muslim majority. In general, the relationship between Jewish and Muslim communities was better than the relation between Muslim and Christian communities, which was partially caused by Muslims' resentment at the new rights afforded to the Christians under the rule of Muhammad Ali.
The disappearance and the accusation
Contemporary drawing of Father Thomas and his servant Ibrahim Amara
On February 5, 1840, Father Thomas, an Italian monk belonging to a Franciscan Capuchin friar from the Island of Sardinia, and his Muslim servant, Ibrahim Amrah, dissapeared in Damascus. Soon after their disappearance the Jewish community was accused by the Christians of murdering Father Thomas and his servant, and to have extracted their blood in order to bake matzo. The accusation that the blood of Christians was used by Jewish people for their Passover bread is commonly known as the blood libel which has its roots in medieval Europe. In 1840 Damascus, the Christians were supported in their accusation by the French consul at Damascus, Ulysse de Ratti-Menton, an antisemite who was known to favour Christian merchants and advisers over their Jewish counterparts. Upon Father Thomas' disappearance, Ratti-Menton ordered that an investigation be carried out in the Jewish quarter where both men had last been seen. Because French officials had underheld a good relationship with Muhammad 'Ali, who then controlled Ottoman Syria, Ratti-Menton got the support of Sharif Pasha, the Egyptian governor (wali) of the city and the son-in-law of Muhammad 'Ali.
Under torture a confession was extracted from a Jewish barber called Negrin who told the persecutors that he, together with seven other notable Jewish men (including members of the influential Farḥī family), had killed Father Thomas on the night of his disappearance. These other men were interrogated under torture as well, during which five of the seven prisoners confessed to the murder of the Father and his servant. Although there is no consensus among scholars about the number, it is certain that some prisoners died during their interrogation. When bones were discovered in a Jewish quarter, Ratti-Menton and Sharif Pasha considered this discovery as a confirmation of the confession extracted from the imprisoned Jews. More Jews were accused and arrested on charges of involvement in the murder of Father Thomas. In the direct aftermath of the blood libel and the arrests, the Christians and Muslims of Damascus commited violence against the Jewish population. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906) the synagogue in the suburb Jobar was pillaged by a mob in a reaction to the blood libel and the scrolls of the Law were destroyed.
The release of the prisoners
The Damascus Affair increased the concern of European Jews about the situation of their Arab co-religionists. The Austrian Consul in Aleppo Eliahu Picciotto reported the incident to the Jewish communities in Europe, and made representations to Ibrahim Pasha, Muhammad Ali's son in Egypt, who then ordered an investigation into the matter. Sir Moses Montefiore, a British politician and leader of the British Jewish community, and the French lawyer Adolphe Crémieux, called on Muhammed 'Ali to release the Jewish prisoners. Negotations about their release lasted from 4 to 28 August. In the end, Muhammed 'Ali released the prisoners who had remained alive, but without officially acquitting the prisoners of the charged brought against them. Only in November 1840, when Syria fell under Ottoman rule again, Sultan Abdülmecid I issued a firmān (edict) denouncing the blood libel of Damascus. The edict declared that blood libel accusations are a slander against Jews and are prohibited throughout the Ottoman Empire. A part of the edict reads:
"... and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth...".
The Damascus Affair is illustrative for the tensions that existed between the Jewish and Christian populations of Syria. The incident is also notable for being an exception to the rule of Jewish-Muslim relations. During the Tanzimat period, Jewish-Muslim relations were generally much better than Christian-Muslim relations, which had gotten strained by the economic ascendancy afforded to the Christian community with the relaxation and the eventual elimination of the dhimmi status rules in the 1850s. While occasional outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence erupted during this time, far more serious outbreaks of violence occurred between Muslims and Christians and between Christians and Druzes.
In the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th century, there were many instances of the blood libel in Ottoman lands. These instances most often came from Christian communities, sometimes with the connivance of Greek or French diplomats. The Jews could usually count on the goodwill of the Ottoman authorities and increasingly on the support of British, Prussian and Austrian representatives.
Influence of the incident and reactions to it
In a new and groundbreaking effort, the American Jewish community of 15,000 protested in six American cities on behalf of their Syrian brethren. "For the first time in American Jewish life, Jews... organized themselves politically to help Diaspora Jewry in distress." Among the new ethnic immigrant populations to the United States, the Jews were the first to attempt to sway the government to act on behalf of their kin and co-religionists abroad; with this incident, they became involved in the politics of foreign policy, persuading but not pressuring President Van Buren to protest officially. The United States consul in Egypt expressed the protest.
According to Hasia R. Diner, in The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000, "For the Jews, the Damascus affair launched modern Jewish politics on an international scale, and for American Jews it represented their first effort at creating a distinctive political agenda. Just as the United States had used this affair to proclaim its presence on the global scale, so too did American Jews, in their newspapers and at mass meetings, announce to their coreligionists in France and England that they too ought to be thought of players in global Jewish diplomacy."
According to Johannes Valentin Schwarz, the events also encouraged the growth of a modern Jewish press. "As a result, a sense of solidarity was evoked among the Jewish communities of Europe they had never experienced before. Thus, the Damascus Affair gave birth to modern Jewish press especially in Western Europe, such as to the long-lived papers Les Archives Israélites de France (1840-1935) in Paris or The Jewish Chronicle (1841 ff.) in London."
Later references to the affair
Accusations of the affair were published in the Egyptian daily Al Akhbar in 2000 and again in 2001 in an article titled The Last Scene in the Life of Father Toma. In 2002, the Middle East Media Research Institute reported that some of the 1840 accusations emerged in a 1983 book The Damascus Blood Libel (1840) by the Syrian Minister of Defense, Mustafa Tlass. The book was described as being influential in international antisemitic circles as a reliable source of information on "ritual murder by the Jews." In 1983, Tlass wrote and published The Matzah of Zion, which is a treatment of the Damascus affair of 1840 and repeats the ancient "blood libel", that Jews use the blood of murdered non-Jews in religious rituals such as baking Matza bread. In this book, he argues that the true religious beliefs of Jews are "black hatred against all humans and religions", and that no Arab country should ever sign a peace treaty with Israel. Tlass re-printed the book several times, and he stands by its conclusions. Following the book's publication, Tlass told Der Spiegel that this accusation against Jews was valid and that his book is "an historical study ... based on documents from France, Vienna and the American University in Beirut."
In 2007, Lebanese poet Marwan Chamoun, in an interview aired on Télé Liban, referred to the "... slaughter of the priest Tomaso de Camangiano ... in 1840... in the presence of two rabbis in the heart of Damascus, in the home of a close friend of this priest, Daud Al-Harari, the head of the Jewish community of Damascus. After he was slaughtered, his blood was collected, and the two rabbis took it."
The novel Death of a Monk (2004), written by the Israeli author Alon Hilu, is based on the affair.
The blood libel was featured in a scene in the Syrian TV series Ash-Shatat in 2003, while in 2013 the Israeli website Arutz Sheva reported cases of Israeli Arabs asking "where Jews find the Christian blood they need to bake matza".
- ^ Parfitt, Tudor (1985), 'The Year of the Pride of Israel: Montefiore and the blood libel of 1840'. in: Lipman, Sonia and Lipman, V.D., (eds.), The Century of Moses Montefiore, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.131-148.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i Ma'oz, Moshe (2010), “Damascus Affair (1840)”. Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, Leiden: Brill.
- ^ Sahin, Emrah (2012), "Ottoman Institutions, Millet System." Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa 1 (2012): 181-83.
- ^ Makdisi, Ussama (2000), Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth Century Ottoman Lebanon, Los Angeles: University of California Press. p.3, p.10.
- ^ a b c d e Harel, Yaron (2009-04-15). "What are the origins of Muslim anti-Semitism?". Ha'aretz. Archived from the original on 2010-03-27. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
- ^ Harel, Yaron (1998), "Jewish–Christian Relations in Aleppo as Background for the Jewish Response to the Events of October 1850." International Journal of Middle East Studies 30, no. 1: p.77-96. p.81
- ^ Makdisi, Ussama (2000), Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth Century Ottoman Lebanon, Los Angeles: University of California Press. p.52.
- ^ Harel, Yaron (1998), "Jewish–Christian Relations in Aleppo as Background for the Jewish Response to the Events of October 1850." International Journal of Middle East Studies 30, no. 1: p.77-96. p.83-87.
- ^ Harel, Yaron (1998), "Jewish–Christian Relations in Aleppo as Background for the Jewish Response to the Events of October 1850." International Journal of Middle East Studies 30, no. 1: p.77-96. p.87-88.
- ^ a b c Ma'oz, Moshe (1982), "Communal Conflicts in Ottoman Syria during the Reform Era: The Role of Political and Economic Factors" in Braude, Benjamin and Lewis, Bernard (eds.) Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, Vol. II: Arabic-Speaking Lands, New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., p.91-101.
- ^ a b c "The Damascus Blood Libel". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
- ^ Stillman, Norman A. , Aytürk, İlker, Uran, Steven and Fine, Jonathan (2010), “Anti-Judaism/Antisemitism/Anti-Zionism”, Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, Leiden: Brill.
- ^ a b c Tsur, Yaron (2020), "Who Introduced Liberalism into the Damascus Affair (1840)? Center, Periphery and Networks in the Jewish Response to the Blood Libel," in: Green, Abigail and Sullam, Simon L. (eds) Jews, Liberalism, Antisemitism. Palgrave Critical Studies of Antisemitism and Racism. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. p.263-287. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48240-4_11
- ^ Frankel, Jonathan (1997). The Damascus Affair: 'Ritual Murder', Politics, and the Jews in 1840, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.60.
- ^ a b c d Deutsch, Gotthard and Franco, M. (1901-1906). "DAMASCUS AFFAIR - JewishEncyclopedia.com". www.jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2021-04-01.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- ^ Green, Abigail (2012), "Chapter 7. The Damascus Affair". in: Moses Montefiore, ed. Green, Abigail, Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, pp.133-157. p.136.
- ^ Harel, Yaron (1998), "Jewish–Christian Relations in Aleppo as Background for the Jewish Response to the Events of October 1850." International Journal of Middle East Studies 30, no. 1: p.77-96. p.82.
- ^ Levinsohn, Isaac Baer (1841), Éfés dammîm: a series of conversations at Jerusalem between a patriarch of the Greek Church and a chief rabbi of the Jews, concerning the malicious charge against the Jews of using Christian blood, London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. p.14. ISBN 1177904624.
- ^ Harel, Yaron (1998), "Jewish–Christian Relations in Aleppo as Background for the Jewish Response to the Events of October 1850." International Journal of Middle East Studies 30, no. 1: p.77-96.
- ^ a b c Lewis, Bernard (1984), The Jews of Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p.158-159.
- ^ Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, p.366
- ^ Alexander DeConde, Ethnicity, Race, and American Foreign Policy: A History, p.52
- ^ Hasia R. Diner, The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000, p.176
- ^ The Origins and the Development of German-Jewish Press in Germany till 1850 by Johannes Valentin Schwarz. (66th International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Council and General Conference. Jerusalem, Israel, 13–18 August 2000. Code Number: 106-144-E
- ^ The Blood Libel Again in Egypt's Government Press (MEMRI Special Dispatch Series - No. 201) April 2, 2001
- ^ The Damascus Blood Libel (1840) as Told by Syria's Minister of Defense, Mustafa Tlass (MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Series - No. 99) June 27, 2002
- ^ An Anti-Jewish Book Linked to Syrian Aide, The New York Times, 15 July 1986.
- ^ a b "Literature Based on Mixed Sources – Classic Blood Libel: Mustafa Tlas' Matzah of Zion". ADL. Archived from the original on 13 April 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
- ^ Blood Libel Judith Apter Klinghoffer, History News Network, 19 December 2006.
- ^ Lebanese Poet Marwan Chamoun: Jews Slaughtered Christian Priest in Damascus in 1840 and Used His Blood for Matzos (MEMRI Special Dispatch Series - No. 1453) February 6, 2007
- ^ Anti-Semitic Series airs on Arab Television Archived 2015-06-30 at the Wayback Machine, Anti Defamation League, 9 January 2004
- ^ Clip from Ash-Shatat, MEMRI
- ^ Blood Libel Alive and Well in the Muslim World, Arutz Sheva, 25 March 2013