Jews, Blood Libel and the Firmans of the Ottoman Sultans

The Jews have been subjected to the accusations regarding their rituals throughout history. The Blood Libel is associated with one of the most remarkable, disputable and yet false claims raised by the Christians. The accusation was based on a belief that Jews kidnapped and murdered the Christian children to use their blood in their ritual ceremonies, mostly during the Passover. The multireligious Ottoman Empire mostly governed such religious clashes between the Jews and Christians through embracing a detailed research on the related issue. Sultan Suleiman I had already confirmed in 1553 and 1554 that the Jews were innocent and the accusations, aiming to defame the Jews, were not true. However, those claims continued to fan the flames of conflict and were prevalent even in the nineteenth century. A catholic monk disappeared in Damascus in 1840. In the very same year, a Christian boy got lost in Rhodes. These two dramatic events were misguidedly linked by the Christian community as the outcomes of Jewish rituals. Thereby, many restrictions and discriminations were deployed by the Ottoman Christians against the Ottoman Jews. These accusations finally reached to the Imperial Throne in Istanbul. As a result, Sultan Abdulmecid I announced a Firman (royal decree) about the issue to protect the Jews against these accusations. Even after this Firman, Sultan Abdulaziz, who ruled after Sultan Abdulmecid I, declared a similar Firman, which you see above.

The Firman was issued by Sultan Abdulmecid I and addressed to the chief justice of Istanbul. He wrote in his own handwriting the following words: ‘Let that be executed which is prescribed in this Firman.’

The Firman of Sultan Abdulmecid I:

“Ancient prejudice prevailed against the Jews. The ignorant believed that the Jews were accustomed to sacrifice a human being, to make use of his blood at their feast of the Passover.

In consequence of this opinion, the Jews of Damascus and Rhodes (who are the subjects of our Empire) have been persecuted by other nations. The calumnies which have been uttered against the Jews, and the vexations to which they have been subjected have at least reached our Imperial Throne.

But a short time has elapsed since Jews dwelling in the Isle of Rhodes have been brought from thence to Istanbul, where they have been tried and judged according to the new regulations, and their innocence of the accusations made against them fully proved. That therefore which justice and equity required has been done in their behalf.

Besides which the religious books of the Hebrews have been examined by the learned men, well versed in their theological literature, the results of which examination is, that is found that the Jews are strongly prohibited, not only from using human blood, but even that of animals. It therefore follows that that charges made against them and their religion are nothing but calumnies.

For this reason, and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation to be vexed and tormented upon accusations which have not the least foundation in truth, but that in conformity to the Hatti-I Sherif which has been proclaimed at Gülhane, the Jewish nation shall possess the same advantages, and enjoy the same privileges as are granted to the numerous other nations who submit to our authority.

The Jewish nation shall be protected and defended.

To accomplish this object we have given the most positive orders that the Jewish nation dwelling in all Parts of our empire shall be perfectly protected as well as other subjects of the Sublime Porte (a metonym for the central government of the Ottoman Empire), and that no person shall molest them in any manner, whatever (except for a just cause) neither in the free exercise of their religion, nor in that which concerns their safety and tranquility. In consequence, the present Firman, which is ornamented at the head with our ‘Hoomaioon’ (sign manual) and emanates from our Imperial chancellerie, has been delivered to the Israelitish Nation.

Thus you, the above mentioned Judge, when you know the contents of this Firman, will endeavor to act with great care in the manner, therein prescribed. And in order that nothing may be done in opposition to this Firman, at any time hereafter, you shall register in the Archives of the Tribunal; you will afterwards deliver it to the Isrealitish nation, and you will take great care to execute our order and this our sovereign will.”

Given at Istanbul on 6 November 1840.

For more information about the Blood Libel and the Firman, please see Salahi Sonyel. Minorities and the Destruction of the Ottoman Empire. (Ankara: Turkish Historical Society Association, 1993), pp. 226-227.