Blood libel or ritual murder libel (also blood accusation) is an antisemitic canard which falsely accuses Jews of murdering Christian children (or other gentiles) in order to use their blood in the performance of religious rituals. Historically, echoing very old myths of secret cultic practices in many prehistoric societies; the claim as it is leveled against Jews, was rarely attested to in antiquity. It was however, frequently attached to early communities of Christians in the Roman Empire, reemerging as a Christian accusation against Jews in the medieval period. This libel—alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration—became a major theme of the persecution of Jews in Europe from that period to the present day.
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Blood libels typically claim that Jews require human blood for the baking of matzos, an unleavened flatbread which is eaten during Passover, although this element of the accusation was allegedly absent in the earliest blood libels in which then-contemporary Jews were accused of reenacting the crucifixion. The accusations often assert that the blood of Christian children is especially coveted, and historically, blood libel claims have been made in order to account for the otherwise unexplained deaths of children. In some cases, the alleged victims of human sacrifice have become venerated as Christian martyrs. Three of these – William of Norwich, Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, and Simon of Trent – became objects of local cults and veneration; and although he was never canonized, the veneration of Simon was added to the General Roman Calendar. One child who was allegedly murdered by Jews, Gabriel of Białystok, was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Altogether, there have been about 150 recorded cases of blood libel (not to mention thousands of rumors) that resulted in the arrest and killing of Jews throughout history, most of them in the Middle Ages. In almost every case, Jews were murdered, sometimes by a mob, sometimes following torture and a trial.
The term 'blood libel' has also been used in reference to any unpleasant or damaging false accusation, and as a result, it has acquired a broader metaphoric meaning. However, this wider usage of the term remains controversial, because Jewish groups object to it.