Jewish scholar courts controversy over "blood libel" claims

A book by an Italian-Israeli historian who claims there is a factual basis for medieval allegations of ritual murder of Christians has drawn fire from Jewish and Catholic scholars.

The just published book by Ariel Toaff, who is also son of Elio Toaff, chief rabbi of Rome who once welcomed a historic visit by Pope John Paul II to the Italian capital's synagogue, has shocked Italy's small Jewish community, the International Herald Tribune reports.

The author, who teaches medieval and Renaissance history at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv, Israel, delves into the charge that Jews added the blood of Christian children to wine and unleavened bread for Passover - allegations that resulted in torture, show trials and executions, periodically devastating Europe's Jewish communities over the years.

Historians have long disputed the medieval allegations, dismissing them as racism. But "blood libel" stories remain popular in anti-Semitic literature today.

In his book, Pasque di Sangue ("Bloody Passovers"), Toaff cites confessions from Jews accused of ritual murder to expose what he claims was a body of anti-Christian literature, prayers and rites among the communities of central Europe.

Jewish and Catholic scholars have denounced Toaff's work, saying he simply reinterpreted known documents - and has given credence to confessions that were extracted under torture.

In interviews with the Italian media and in parts of his book, Toaff has suggested that some ritual murders might have really taken place, committed by Ashkenazi Jews seeking revenge for a slew of massacres, forced conversions and persecutions suffered by German Jewry from the First Crusade of 1096 onwards.

Such acts were "instinctive, visceral, virulent actions and reactions, in which innocent and unknowing children became victims of the love of God and of vengeance," Toaff wrote in the book's preface.

"Their blood bathed the altars of a God who, it was believed, needed to be guided, sometimes impatiently pushed to protect and to punish."

However, Catholic Msgr Iginio Rogger, a church historian who in the 1960s led the investigation into the cases and confessions cited by Toaff, said many scholars have concurred that the confessions were completely unreliable.

"I wouldn't want to be in (Toaff's) shoes, answering for this to historians who have seriously documented this case," he said. "The judges used horrible tortures, to the point where the accused pleaded: 'Tell us what you want us to say.'"

Historian angers fellow Jews by exploring medieval accusations of ritual murder of Christians (International Herald Tribune, 11/2/07)
Anger after Bar-Ilan historian suggests blood libels based in fact (Haaretz, 11/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Ariel Toaff (Bar Ilan University)
Ariel Toaff (Wikipedia)
Blood libel (Wikipedia)
Anti-Jewish Myths (Florida Holocaust Museum)

12 Feb 2007