Accusation of ritual murder brought against the Jews of Damascus in 1840. At that time Damascus, together with Syria, belonged to Mohammed Ali, pasha of Egypt, who had revolted against the authority of his suzerain, the sultan Maḥmud of Constantinople. The governor of Damascus was an Egyptian Arab, Sherif Pasha by name.
On Feb. 5, 1840, Father Thomas, originally from Sardinia, and the superior of a Franciscan convent at Damascus, disappeared with his servant. This monk, who practised medicine, was very well known in the Jewish and Mohammedan quarters, as well as among the Christians. Some days previous he had had a dispute with a Turkish muleteer, who had heard him blaspheme Mohammed, whereupon the Turk is reported to have said: "That dog of a Christian shall die by my hand." Upon Thomas' disappearance the French consul at Damascus, Ratti Menton, who was an enemy to the Jews, following the advice of certain monks, instituted investigations in the Jewish quarter; and the governor, Sherif Pasha, pretending to act merely in accordance with the friendly relations existing between the governments of Louis Philippe and Mohammed Ali, aided the French consul in a culpable way. A confession was extorted by torture from a Jewish barber named Negrin, and eight of the most notable Jews, among them Joseph Lañado, Moses Abulafia, and Farḥi, were imprisoned and tortured. Their teeth and beards were pulled out, they were burned, and finally tempted with gold, to persuade them to confess an imaginary crime. Lañado, a feeble old man, died under this treatment. Moses Abulafia became a Mohammedan in order to escape the torture. In spite of the stoic courage displayed by the sufferers, Sherif Pasha and Ratti Menton agreed on the guilt of the accused in view of the words resembling a confession that had escaped them in their agony. While Ratti Menton published libels against the Jews in French and in Arabic, Sherif Pasha wrote to his master, Mohammed Ali, demanding authorization to execute the murderers of Father Thomas. In the mean time the populace fell upon the synagogue in the suburb of Jobar, pillaged it, and destroyed the scrolls of the Law.
The Jewish communities of Europe were appealed to, and public meetings were held in London, Paris, and even New York and Philadelphia. Especially important was a meeting called by the lord mayor of London at the Mansion House, London, July 3, 1840. As a result the lawyer Isaac Crémieux and the Orientalist Solomon Munk from France, and Sir Moses Montefiore from England were sent as mediators to Alexandria to plead with the khedive. They arrived at Alexandria Aug. 4, and after repeated interviews with Mohammed Ali, obtained from him, on Aug. 28, the unconditional release and recognition of the innocence of the nine prisoners who still remained alive of the thirteen imprisoned. They then went to Constantinople, and obtained from the sultan Majid a firman declaring the accusation of ritual murder to be absurd (see Blood Accusation). The Austrian consul at Damascus, Merlatto, and the Austrian consul-general at Alexandria defended the rights of the Jews during all the incidents arising in this celebrated case. It was in part the Damascus affair which suggested tosome French Jews later the idea of founding the Alliance Israélite Universelle.
- J. G. Lowenstein, Damassia, 1840;
- Stimmen Berühmter Christen, 1841;
- Persecution Contre les Juifs de Damas, Paris, 1840;
- D. Salomons, An Account of the Recent Persecution of the Jews at Damascus, London, 1840;
- Persecution of the Jews in the East, Philadelphia, 1840;
- Jost, Gesch. der Israeliten, xi. 345-381;
- Copies of Letters Received from Sir Moses Montefiore, 3 issues, 1840;
- Graetz, History of the Jews, v. 632-661.