Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia

Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia

The Ritual Murder Trial of Mendel Beilis
Robert Weinberg
Distribution: World
Publication date: 10/10/2013
Format: paper 204 pages, 19 b&w illus., 2 maps
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-01107-7
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On Sunday, March 20, 1911, children playing in a cave near Kiev made a gruesome discovery: the blood-soaked body of a partially clad boy. After right-wing groups asserted that the killing was a ritual murder, the police, with no direct evidence, arrested Menachem Mendel Beilis, a 39-year-old Jewish manager at a factory near the site of the crime. Beilis's trial in 1913 quickly became an international cause célèbre. The jury ultimately acquitted Beilis but held that the crime had the hallmarks of a ritual murder. Robert Weinberg's account of the Beilis Affair explores the reasons why the tsarist government framed Beilis, shedding light on the excesses of antisemitism in late Imperial Russia. Primary documents culled from the trial transcript, newspaper articles, Beilis's memoirs, and archival sources, many appearing in English for the first time, bring readers face to face with this notorious trial.

Author Bio

Robert Weinberg is Professor of History at Swarthmore College and author of The Revolution of 1905 in Odessa: Blood on the Steps (IUP, 1993) and Stalin's Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland.


"A concise historical reconstruction of one of the most publicized and notorious ritual murder trials in the modern world. Written in a clear and engaging style, the book analyzes a wide array of archival and published primary documents . . . all of which help capture the drama and complexity of the Beilis case." —Eugene M. Avrutin, author of Jews and the Imperial State: Identification Politics in Tsarist Russia

"Lucidly written, well argued, and rich with primary source material . . . the story unfolds like a gripping detective novel. . . . It is social history at its finest." —Jarrod Tanny, author of City of Rogues and Schnorrers: Russia's Jews and the Myth of Old Odessa (IUP, 2011)

"[A] riveting history. . . Weinberg has culled documents from the trial transcripts, newspaper articles, and Beilis's memoirs, many appearing for the first time in English, to bring us face to face with this notorious trial." —
Jewish Book World

"Weinberg has assembled and translated a collection of documents from the case, such as contemporary newspaper accounts and excerpts from the verbatim trial scripts […] The documents convincingly illustrate not only the virulent anti-Semitism of the right wing press, which pushed forward the ritual murder idea at the time when most investigators found the concept ludicrous, but also the contradictory testimonials and unreliable witness statements that the prosecution used to builds its case against Beilis." —Times Literary Supplement

"A first-rate summary of how leading historians of the period now view the trial's backdrop can be found in Robert Weinberg's excellent new volume . . . which tells the story through well-chosen and translated primary documents together with an insightful analysis." —Jewish Review of Books

"The combination of text and sources make this very useful for studies of religious prejudice and the over-coming of religious prejudice. The book is also a fascinating read. It is a basic study for collections dealing with the Jewish experience in Eastern Europe as well as Eastern Christianity." —Religious Studies Review

"Weinberg’s research is based on a wealth of published and unpublished sources, including trial transcripts, newspaper articles, political cartoons and Beilis’s memoirs. . . This is an excellent historical reconstruction told in a gripping and deeply engaging style." —Assn Jewish Libraries

"This is an excellent historical reconstruction told in a gripping and deeply engaging style. Highly

recommended for all library collections." —
AJL Reviews

"Overall this book succeeds in providing both a concise yet thorough account of the trial and an exploration of the significance of the Beilis Affair for late imperial Russian society. It also provides a historical perspective on an important case from the history of antisemitism, and in so doing contributes to our understanding of the social history of late imperial Russia." —Slavonic & East European Review

"This concisely written book forcefully tells the story of the outrageous ritual murder trial of Mendel Beilis in Kiev. Through careful review of published and unpublished sources . . . the author lays out the process resulting in a trial during which the state prosecution attempted to convict the entire Jewish religion of the crime of ritual murder. . . What concerns the author is that readers should come to recognize the power of prejudice, hatred, fear, and suspicion, combined with state interest, to suppress challenges to traditional authority." —Jewish Book Council

"Weinberg’s short work provides a sober and informed analysis of the affair, coupled with a collection of relevant primary source documents." —Slavic Review

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Table of Contents

Dramatis Personae
Introduction: A Murder Without a Mystery
1. The Initial Investigation
2. The Case Against Beilis
3. The Trial
4. Summation and Verdict
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