On April 22, 1823, in the small White Russian border town of Velizh, a three-yearold boy finished his lunch and went outside to play. Fedor never returned home, and several days later a neighbor found his body at the very edge of town, punctured in numerous places. Now largely forgotten, Fedor's death resulted in the longest and one of the most comprehensive investigations of ritual murder in the modern world. Using the analytical techniques of microhistory, this essay reconstructs small-town life in the Russian Empire, exploring along the way neighborly encounters, law and daily life, and the complex motivations that led to the ritual murder charge. While scholars usually attribute the charge to antisemitism and economic rivalries, this essay offers an alternative explanation. By recreating the day-to-day world of Velizh, I argue that tales of blood sacrifice proved remarkably contagious in the towns and villages of eastern Europe because of their role in the popular belief systems of the time and their ability to express the fears and preoccupations of a population that left no other records.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-326
Number of pages18
JournalJewish History
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2012


  • Alexander i
  • Antisemitism
  • Blood libel
  • Nicholas i
  • Peasant culture
  • Russian empire
  • Velizh

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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