Pin the Crime on the Jew: Blood Libel and the Case of Mendel Beilis

Edmund Levin plumbs trial transcripts to examine how one of Russia’s biggest court cases fed on the myth of Jewish malice

The myth that Jews murder Christian children and use their blood to make matzo, a legend known as the blood libel, used to rear its ugly head with frightening frequency. Arguably the most famous instance of this accusation took place in 1913, with the trial of Mendel Beilis.

Beilis, a barely observant Jew, worked in a brick factory in the slums of Kiev. In 1911, he was accused of murdering Andrei Yushchinsky, a poor, 13-year-old boy. From the outset, “ritual murder” served as an excuse to accuse a Jew, despite ample evidence that the crime was the work of a local gang—not Jewish.

In A Child of Christian Blood: Murder and Conspiracy in Tsarist Russia: The Beilis Blood Libel, writer and TV producer Edmund Levin digs up a wealth of archival material to introduce us to the heroes, villains, and ordinary villagers who either bolstered this preposterous allegation or helped quash it. Levin joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss how Mendel Beilis came to be implicated in this murder, why Tsar Nicholas II was so invested in the trial, and what can be learned about present-day Russia from the Russia of 100 years ago.