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MichaelMeckler.com: This Week in History: 29 March

29 March 1858

On this date, the Scottish author and publisher Robert Chambers attended a Passover seder in the Alsatian village of Bollwiller.

Chambers gave a sympathetic and detailed account of the Passover activities in the village in his encyclopedic miscellany The Book of Days under the date of March 30.

Chambers explained why he was so interested in seeing a seder in a small, Jewish village in France when there were plenty of Jews in mid-19th century Britain whose religious activities were much more easily acertained:

Jewish life, which is every day losing its originality in towns, still has preserved in some village communities on the Continent its strong traditional impress. It is among the Vosges mountains and on the banks of the Rhine that we must look for the superstitions, singular customs, and patriarchal simplicity of ancient Judea.

Chambers' ethnographic approach coupled careful observation with but a tinge of Romanticism, and the positive portrayal of the villagers of Bollwiller served as an introduction in The Book of Days to his discussion of the ritual-murder accusations leveled against Jews in the Middle Ages, which Chambers described as "excuses for persecution and plunder."

Chambers added that the contemporaneity of medieval descriptions of ritual murder of children, such as in descriptions of the death of William of Norwich, "is no proof that the child was murdered by the Jews, (but rather) leaves no doubt of the fact of their being accused of it, or of the advantage which the English clergy took of it."

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