At the Crossroads of Law and Society: The Trial of Mendel Beilis
Forthcoming, Journal of Law and Literature
20 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2015
Date Written: August 21, 2015
The trial of Mendel Beilis lies at the crossroads of numerous points of interests. It reveals on one level the intensity of one man’s rise in an existential sense to the demands of a situation into which he was thrust suddenly and utterly without warning. From this perspective, it is a story of captivating human and psychological interest. The legal proceedings reflected a torn and complex society on the verge of implosion, as well as one in which the tsarist judicial system, although subject to corruption and fraud at the highest levels, nevertheless had a considerable measure of independence. The trial oscillated between a story of the failures and the triumphs of justice. Finally, the trial reflected and animated fierce anti-Semitism as well as unexpectedly dedicated and enlightened support for Beilis in the Christian world of Russia and beyond, with the incipient Russian Revolution as an important context. I try to illustrate these various intersecting points of interest with the assistance of sources such as the trial transcripts; Beilis’ memoirs; the memoirs of one of his defense lawyers, O.O. Gruzenberg; and Léon Poliakov’s analysis of anti-Semitism in Russia during that period.
Keywords: commemoration, blood libel, Beilis trial, tsarist judicial system
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