Blood Libel: Definition & Concept

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

This article will define the term 'blood libel.' Then, this article will give a short lesson on the history of this term, how it came into existence, and how it is used.


'Blood libel' is a term that is not often used in mainstream American culture, but you may remember that Sarah Palin, the former Vice Presidential candidate and governor of Alaska, controversially used it in 2011 in response to the media's coverage of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords's shooting. Immediately, a number of groups, including the National Democratic Jewish Council, the Anti-Defamation League, and Jewish Funds for Justice, spoke up in condemnation of Mrs. Palin's words. What was it that incited such a backlash against Mrs. Palin specifically for her use of that term?

Blood libel refers to the incorrect rumors that people of the Jewish faith would use the blood of non-Jewish children in religious rituals. For one example, there were people who believed that Jewish people would kill Christians or other non-Jewish children and use their blood to make bread for the Jewish Passover holiday.

Matzo bread, which is an important part of Jewish religious rituals such as Passover, was rumored to have been baked with the blood of non-Jewish children as part of a blood libel
Matzo bread


'Blood libel' has been used as a term since the Dark Ages. There was widespread prejudice against Jewish people; they were often blamed for the death of Jesus Christ, and they were mistrusted by many Christian and Muslim worshipers throughout Europe, Central Asia, and Africa. Because of this prejudice, people often created and started terrible rumors about the Jewish faith and Jewish religious practices. Oftentimes, leaders would use claims of blood libel to blame things on Jewish citizens in their countries, and anti-Jewish rioting and violence, known as 'pogroms,' would often be started when a claim of blood libel would be brought against local Jewish people. However, there is no such practice as 'blood libel' in the Jewish faith, which is explicitly against killing.

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