authors, treats it
Jews with Satan.
Continued From Page 5
more rarely, sanction against
the lynch mobs attacking, torturing, and murdering them.
Although an imperial ukase of
1817 formally prohibited criminal prosecutions on such
claims, 43 Jews were indicted in
1823, Child’s research reveals.
Proceedings spread over the
next 12 years, only to conclude
in acquittal for all “on account of
the entire failure of proof.” But
that was not the end of such
prosecutions in Russia, as the
case of Mendel Bellis shows,
which prosecution Bernard
Malamud used as the basis for
his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel,
The slander’s literary lineage,
among non-Jewish authors,
treats it mythically, allying Jews
with Satan. Chaucer’s Prioress’s
Tale marks the principal literary
analogue for the slander,
although apparently it is easily
more than 850 years old. The
tale recounts how a Christian
boy, on his way to and from
school through the Jewish quarter, sings the “Alma Redemp-toris Mater,” apparently in the
way of tuneless whistling, paying taunting homage to the Virgin. And he sings it after death,
though a Jew has cut his throat.
The ballads usually have the
boy playing with his friends,
until their ball goes over the
wall of “the Jew’s” garden or
through his window. Once
tempted inside the house, the
boy is often tortured in the way
of Christ, then rolled in a “cake
of lead” and cast into a well 50
fathoms deep. The post-mortem
serenade is a sort of resurrec-
tion, but ballads collected by
Child and MacEdward Leach do
not have it, nor do they pick up
Chaucer’s especially vile detail
that the body’s dumping-ground
is a public privy.
Jeffrey Miller, a writer, free-
lance translator (French-Eng-
lish) and lawyer, teaches law
and literature at the University
of Western Ontario. His latest
book is the comic novel, Murder
on the Rebound.
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