Earlier this year, Chabad.org announced the launch of a special page dedicated to the Mendel Beilis case, the last major blood-libel trial of the 20th century. After several months of ongoing research, a new video documentary has now been released.

Titled Target of Opportunity: The Beilis Blood Libel, 1911-1913, it reconstructs the events as they unfolded through a series of interviews with experts and with Jay Beilis, a grandson of the trial’s unwilling hero. The story, with its dramatic cast of characters, is brought to life by many period press cuttings and original photographs.

An important new focus is the role allocated to the Chabad Chassidic movement by the anti-Semitic conspirators who fabricated the case against Beilis.

According to Eli Rubin, a research writer at Chabad.org and the film’s producer, “the conspirators were looking for some kind of hook to accuse the entire Jewish people, but even they had to admit that such a claim was far too outrageous for any jury to believe; therefore, they decided to accuse the Chassidim specifically.”

Edmund Levin, whose book A Child of Christian Blood: Murder and Conspiracy in Tsarist Russia has recently been published, adds that “in one way or another, the prosecution really was blaming all Jews, but formally, they focused on the Chassids to—I would imagine—numbing detail for the jury.”

Mendel Beilis and family after the trial.
Mendel Beilis and family after the trial.

The film also places the case in the wider social and political context of the time.

Robert Weinberg, a professor of history whose book, Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia: The Ritual Murder Trial of Mendel Beilis, has also been printed recently, explains that the notion of an international Jewish conspiracy was a key catalyst in the case. According to Weinberg, “many people sincerely believed it in the Russian empire; the tsar, too. ... If you want to prevent future political reform, using the Jews as a political scapegoat makes perfect sense.”

The full documentary can be watched here: