It was common in the Middle Ages for Jews to get the blame for the spreading of disease. In the 14th century, Jews were accused of poisoning wells, infecting the water with something terrible that was then transferred to the whole community.

There was of course never one shred of evidence of this. The Black Death had nothing to do with the Jews—it was a bacterial infection transferred through many sources—but they caught the blame anyway. Indeed, that’s where we get the phrase “poisoning the well.” It has anti-Semitic connotations in history.

Scapegoating Jews is a habit with ancient origins. It is an ominous sign and a terrible omen of what is to follow. Indeed, the treatment of the Jews in any society is a “canary in a coal mine.” When they are unjustly blamed for social ills, nothing good follows. We know this from all experience dating to the ancient world.

Nonetheless, at the very outset of the big virus, fully two weeks before the government announced 15 Days to Flatten the Curve, the New York Times said that the right way to handle the coronavirus was to “go Medieval on it.” That was Feb. 28, 2020 and the author was their lead virus reporter Donald G. McNeil. This was the very first indication in that grim season that something was about to go very wrong.

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