In truth, there is absolutely no excuse for what Professor Ariel Toaff did. This academic, a tenured professor at Bar Ilan University, wrote a book, Bloody Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders, published just weeks ago, suggesting that the historic blood libel against Jews who have been accused of killing Christian children to use their blood in Passover cooking actually had a basis in fact. As “evidence” Toaff returned to confessions elicited from Jews under extreme torture in the case of one notable case of a child’s murder and claimed that these confessions were truthful. He did this despite numerous studies exculpating Jewish blame for the murder – including those conducted by the Catholic Church. Toaff claims that some of the evidence given by the Jews had to be truthful because it was particular to Jewish faith and customs and therefore proves that they were speaking truth since their interrogators would otherwise not request such information. Of course, this is nothing more than an idiotic claim considering the holes any third rate scholar could punch in this scenario. At the very least, adding such detail could buy the tortured person credibility, for example.

However, the damage has been done. Toaff has given those who seek to have such information ammunition that buttresses one of the most vile libels of the Jews ever, and specifically one that has caused the death and harm to many Jews over the course of centuries.

Ha’aretz has coverage of how Toaff’s family and extended community of Italian Jews are relating to him these days. It is a tragic story, but one worth reading. This past week in Jerusalem, Ariel Toaff’s niece was getting married and many members of their clan along with members of the Italian Jewish community in Israel were there. This is in no small part because Ariel Toaff and his family are considered royalty in this community, his father being Elio Toaff, an important and well known rabbi in Italy – yes, the one who gets to meet the Pope when there’s a need. Ariel’s sister, Miriam, is married to Sergio DellaPergola, an important academic in Israel who is well known for his research into demographic issues. It was their daughter who was marrying.

Ariel Toaff didn’t attend the wedding.

Guests at the wedding related that this was a tacit agreement, between him and the family, because his presence was simply not desired. Some of the guests related that the atmosphere was happy and cheerful. The parents looked pleased and one of Ariel’s brothers even came from Italy to participate in the traditional Seven Blessings ritual. No one mentioned the matter of the book aloud in the presence of Miriam, Ariel’s sister; after all, it was her special day. But around the tables this was the sole topic of conversation.

It is clear the community is befuddled as to why he would do such a thing, particularly after the great efforts made after the Holocaust to address such libels.

Many members of the community are Holocaust survivors, as is Ariel Toaff himself. They cannot understand how he of all people, who deals with history, decided to play in this dangerous field with such a lack of responsibility. How can it be that he was not aware of the great delicacy of the topic with which he is dealing? It was as though he had ignored everything this community had absorbed during the past 100 years alone. As though he did not know what efforts Jewish and non-Jewish historians had made during the past decades to eradicate accusations associated with the blood libel from the pages of history. As though it had not been his own father who put so much effort into improving relations between the Jews of Italy, and Jews in general, and the establishment that had spearheaded the decrees against them for centuries.

Some of them could relate that senior figures in the Catholic Church, who are identified with its liberal and progressive side, almost fell off their chairs. After people had already admitted that the Trento affair was one big invention, along comes a historian and revives it? And an Israeli, to boot? Toaff’s son?

There is some discussion in the article about Toaff’s motivation, but it seems nothing more than conjecture to suggest that a man in his 60s would need to somehow, even subconsciously, attack his father or attempt to assert himself. Perhaps these is truth to this, or perhaps Toaff didn’t see this book as anything more than an attempt to research a topic and raise some questions. In any case, this has become immaterial now that the book is out and the discussion has been made public. The topic has been re-opened and even though Toaff has stopped publication of the book, the genie, as they say, is out of the bottle.

Some of the people still love and admire him, but even they can’t understand this. The damage is simply too great. If only he hadn’t given that horrible title to the book. If only he hadn’t written it at all. And even the new revelations that were published this week in Haaretz, to the effect that Prof. Toaff did not think that the Jews of Trento murdered Simonino, are of no comfort.

You know what they say in Italian, the man says: Sometimes the patch is worse than the hole. What good does it do now, that Toaff is apologizing and explaining? He can say whatever he wants to now. He has already done his damage. The simple people don’t read professors’ articles. The simple people will only remember that Toaff’s son said that Jews murdered Simonino. And we are going to suffer from this.

What a stupid and irrevocable situation.

About the author

themiddle

27 Comments

  • It is all part of a bigger picture. We are returning to times when Jews were pariahs, hated, loathed, and murdered without reservation. Ironically our greatest friends today are the evangelical Christians, and our greatest enemy is ourselves.

    The madman of Tehran spreading his vile and repugnant hate mongering, the incessant drum beat of jihad from the world of Arabs and the 100 million or so Muslims taht want to see us gone, the blood libel (which most hard core anti-semites never gave up believing) — we are somehow returning to normalcy after the bubble of freedom we experienced after the SHoah.

    Often the only way Hashem can remind us who is in charge is through punshment. As a parent tries all means before resorting to punishing their child, Gd has tried in vain to get Israel and the Jewish world to tread down a path of Torah. i am not saying becoming haredi jews, just going in the direction of learning Torah and performing mitzvos.

    We see that this has not worked.
    I am afraid that we will see a return to Jews being evicted soon from countries, as in the old days. Yes, that seems to be a logical step. Eventually all the Jews in Iran or elsewhere will be considered zionist spies and kicked out.

    I am not pessimistic. We can turn things around in a heartbeat.

    Esther did.

  • Eh, Muffti is sure he is being stupid, but what is the real interest in a murder case that happened well over 500 years ago? Say some Italian Jews did go crazy and kill a kid. What the hell does that have to do with anything?

  • Yonah:

    “We are returning to times when Jews were pariahs, hated, loathed, and murdered without reservation.”

    No we’re not.

    “Ironically our greatest friends today are the evangelical Christians, and our greatest enemy is ourselves.”

    Very myopic. Evangelical Christians want you converted or dead, period.

    “Often the only way Hashem can remind us who is in charge is through punshment. As a parent tries all means before resorting to punishing their child, Gd has tried in vain to get Israel and the Jewish world to tread down a path of Torah.”

    Bullshit. Explanations of anti-Semitism that justify God “punishing” Jews for “straying” from Torah are the pinnacle of logical venality.

    If you really believe in this kind of God — a God who will murder millions of Jews because they have strayed from the Bible — then you believe in the Devil.

  • GM, as we write and prior to Toaff’s book, these assertions were and are part and parcel of the anti-Jewish propaganda in the Middle East and parts of the Muslim world. Surely that’s meaningful.

  • TM, point well taken, but seriously, Muffti doesn’t really get why the truth of a murder case hundreds of years ago shows anyhting interesting about what jews are like now. Or about other jews. Anyone who thinks that individuals of group X did something bad a long time ago entials that people of grop X are generally bad is probably going to be pretty damned insensitive to the fine points of historical research in any case. By getting all upset, don’t we give prima facie support to people who reason like that?

  • What do you mean “by getting all upset?” If we don’t call misinformation what it is, then why should we contest any information at all? I would add to this that there is a hierarchy when addressing misinformation in that some is more pertinent than other misinformation. Blood Libel happens to be quite a biggie in our history and it’s important to point out that it’s false. Toaff himself is now going around proclaiming that it’s a false claim and that his work was misinterpreted.

  • Well, we don’t have time to address all misinformation. And it isn’t always worth the effort. As you piont out, there is a loose heirarchy of importance.

    But what Muffti isn’t getting is why this isn’t essentially a historical sidenote. Do you think that anyone who is really willing to infer from a few scattered evetns to a general truth about a certain people is really all that sensitive to our attempts to disinform him?

  • No, I think the lesson is that at various times in history, violence against Jews has developed as a result of accusations and misinformation. Not everybody is a sophisticated consumer of information, Muffti, and there are many people who are raised with certain pre-conceived ideas about other people.

    Jews, as you know, have been victims of these types of situations many times in our history and all you need to do is look back at the Third Reich to see a fairly modern occurrence of this. In fact, I was at a bookstore today and happened to walk by a recently written book about the Nazi propaganda machine. Essentially, they convinced their people that they were victims of the Jews and that the Jewish people were were the cause of the ills and dangers befalling the German state and people. At the time, to remind you, Germany was considered by many to be one of the great societies of the modern world with many leading lights in the sciences, the arts, etc. A little propaganda and boom!

    This particular blood libel that Toaff speaks about is part of an unspoken but deeply believed set of perceptions of Jews by many people. Great efforts have been made to correct this misperception, with some success I should think. Then, he comes along and with his little pebble shatters the recently calmed waters.

    Yes, I do believe that scattered events, when combined with other elements, can lead to a very hostile environment. As example one, I bring you the current and ongoing vilification of Jews with respect to Iraq and the fact the US is embroiled in a number of difficult situations overseas. You simply need to read Walt & Mearsheimer’s crappy paper, soon to be published by an important publisher. These two academics strung together a bunch of accusations, butressed with a great deal of biased views of history, not to mention errors and willful ignoring or sublimating critical information that undermines their claims, and manage to give us a US and in turn a world that is driven by Jewish interests. If you read this Nazi propaganda book and think about their paper, there is a similar method going on where legitimate and credible actors begin to influence public perceptions.

    Anybody reading W&M’s paper who has been on the Internet a while (in our circles anyway) can easily identify much of the information contained therein because it’s part of the ongoing campaign to delegitimize Israel, Zionism and their supporters. It’s a hodge podge of select info intended to paint a particular picture. Well, it’s now about to become a book written by a U of Chicago and a Harvard professor. Will the blood libel matter when you have these modern attacks on Jews? Yes. In a subtle and unspoken way, it reinforces the overt attacks. Not for everybody, to be sure, but then again, you don’t need everybody to have a problem with us before it becomes our problem.

    The best way to fight this is with truth and facts and to make sure that even the small issues are addressed.

  • Oh, brother. After the efforts made to put ‘blood libel’ craziness to rest, it’s all the more important to try to rebottle this genie.

  • It ain’t gonna be rebottled, Tom. From now on and for as long as the Internet exists, there will always be sources alluding to an Israeli professor who is a Holocaust survivor and son of one of Italy’s most important rabbis who states the blood libel isn’t a libel. Unless the reader knows the full story or has access to Toaff refuting claims that this is what his book says, they will simply read this information as factual.

  • That’s true, I suppose, of the likes of the ‘muslim scholars’ who staged President Ahmadinejad’s recent academic exercise in Tehran.

  • Middle,

    Muffti agrees that we should fight falsity, misinformation as well as propaganda. And Muffti agrees that W&M’s stuff should be rebutted as carefully as possible. But that example actually sort of illustrates Muffti’s point.

    This of it this way: if W & M’s paper was essentially correct, Muffti would think that America really should change the way that its governments deal with Israel and that a concerted effort should take place to block the lobby from ruining american interests and getting young american soldiers killed as pawns. And as such, its pretty important that we refute that.

    But the blood libels are different. Say evidence comes to light that the jews realy did commit the murder of Simonino and say that it was done by some misguided whackos who really had decided that matza wasn’t quite right without the blood of a gentile boy. Would that really change the way you think about anything in teh world today vis a vis the jews and their relationship with gentiles? If it turned out that some Jews realy did kill jesus, would you think that woujld be the appropriate cause of changes between how jews view the rest of the world and vice versa? If you found out that the slave trade really had been funded and supported nearly entirely by rich jewish financiers, would that change how the jews as a whole should be viewed?

    Muffti hopes that the answer to all of these questions is ‘no’. Of course, some people will answer ‘yes’ to these and they are called ‘anti-semites’ or ‘very poor reasoners and generalizers’. The former, sio far as Muffti can tell, are never anti-semites because they have real historical convictions about murders in Trent in the 1400s. The latter are awfully hard to persuade by rational means, but surely the latter group should be persuaded to see, if anything, that its simply invalid to argue from the actions of a few members of a group to hte expected action of the group as a whole. To do that, it is irrelevant to figure out who killed who in the 1400s.

    That’s where we should be doing our intellectual excersizes. Whether or not the blood libels are supported by the evidence is and should be a matter of interest to history buffs.

  • No Tom, of the likes of Walt & Mearsheimer. They also use historians as sources. Biased ones.

    No, Muffti, a vacuum is filled by something and if it isn’t you it will be someone who you’d rather not fill that vacuum. We don’t live in a sterile world where everything is lovely and all think well of the Jewish people. My son, when he was 7 years old was approached by a friend who asked him directly why the Jews killed Jesus. This is a boy who comes from a nice family, educated middle class parents and certainly if you were to ask them, they would tell you they were horrified to hear that their son said such a thing. Maybe they were, or maybe they weren’t. A story like this isn’t one they will openly accept, but it will confirm some deep feelings that logic has little to do with. Muffti, not everyone studies philosphy and not everyone is an atheist. We are plumbing depths that go back millenia – for Jews as well.

  • GM, speaking gently, this is not just about what great ..great …great grandpa might have done. Or not done. We are still continuing to live, today, essentially intact, a very ancient culture. A few local customs have been chipped off the edges, but the core belief system is the same. Whatever we did in our past, we are presumed to still be doing now. Libels like this are about the kind of people we are.

    TM is right. It matters a lot that this is not from “muslim scholars,” but from one of us, and from a prominent family.

    As, in reality, we shun eating ANY blood at all – kosher meat is totally drained of blood – it is so extremely opposite to what we really believe and do!

    GM, it is about demonizing people. Today’s people.

    It is all nonsense, but evil nonsense needs to be confronted. Words matter. Words lead to deeds. Words matter even if they never lead to deeds.

    I am sure it will come out in time that the guy is insane, or was bribed, or he hated his family and wanted to show them up, or something. It ought to be obvious that people will say anything under torture. They will say the moon is made of green cheese. It means nothing.

    But as TM says, it is bad.

  • Fine, so I said it was indeed bad, and needed to be confronted, not ignored.

    But I am not addressing the larger issues such as what kind of times these are, where it is all heading, why, and what we should do. I don’t feel like it right now.

  • Just one thing, alot has to do with the glamorization that is done in the media of high earning rap and movie stars.

    This contributes to the general public depression you have in the USA. Everyone (w. a few exceptions) is depressed, angry, irritable. Cannot relax. If they have to wait 25 minutes for their food order, there is panic, agression,
    violence.

    This is happening because of the wastefulness of the USA society. When people see such wealth on the one hand, and their own spartan existence, there are obvious jealousy issues.

    This is one of the reasons that our Gedolim in Europe urges in the Diaspora to not live so comfortable, even if one is already wealthy. But this edict, is not followed. We started the McMansion syndrome in Flatbush and Boro Park.

    The anti Semitism works on many levels, but they use the wealthy Jewish names out there to stir up anti Jewish feelings amongst the public.

    I believe we will continue to see more and more vicious attacks against Jews in the diasora particularly the USA.

  • Did EV say that Rabbi Yonah worships the devil??

    Let Muffti ask a hypothetical question: say it turns out that the jews did indeed murder simonino and used his blood to make matza that much grosses than it already is. Do you think that then the anti-semites have better justification for disliking us? Or would you do waht Muffti is urging you do already: fight the inference from ‘people of a group did action A’ to ‘the group is full of members or characterized by members who do A.’

    Anyhow, Muffti sees your point. He just doesn’t really understand why we should get uptight about how the historians rule over things that happened to, as JM puts it, our great, grea…great… as she said, people take it htat what those poele did reflects on us now. We shoujld be fighting that connection. No matter hwat our great great great..parents did or didn’t do is, so fars Muffti can tell, completely irrelevant.

  • No, of course they don’t have any greater justification for their actions.

    The problem isn’t one of justification, it’s one of self-justification (in the sense that those who might wish to cause harm can claim that historical instances such as this justify their anger/hatred/violence/etc.) and also of laying groundwork where the likelihood of problems grows.

    Did you click on the link in my previous comment?

  • GM, you are trying for an easy way out. It isn’t going to work. You don’t want to get your hair mussed.

    You are saying, “I am not with them, officer, they are not my friends” meaning the Jews of the past. “Who knows, and who cares, what they did.”

    But you will not escape the group. They are calling you, yes you, a cannibal.

    No Jewish Mother ever, ever wrung the neck of a chicken. No Jew was ever put to bed by hands that had ended a life, earlier that day.

  • (Our chickens met their ends at the hands of a trained person, always a man, called a Shochet. Then came the modern butcher, then the supermarket. But it is still true. No Jew’s mother has ever, to this day, killed the family’s food. It makes for a different kind of hands.)

  • Muffti did take a look. thanks TM, that was interesting. And very very long 🙂 Muffti saw Dan Dennett speak on these topics a while ago and he has to say he wasn’t overwhelmed, though he thinks that studying the genetic origins of religion is a pretty reasonable project – though it’s simply the genetic fallacy to conclude that because something has its origins in fact A, it is justified by fact A. So he doens’t really think teh adaptationist story is logically tied to atheism at all. Though it heavily suggests the reasonability fo atheism.

    As for JM, Muffti doesn’t mind getting his hair mussed. But he can’t see the sense in engaging with people who are convinced that guilt by very loose association is a valid form of inference. They can call Muffti a cannibal all they like. The Grand Muffti will look into their histories and taunt them for the follies and crimes of their ancestors. Then maybe we can all realize how silly it is to be angry at a group, ashamed of a group, or proud of a group on behalf of what small numbers of its members did or may have done.

    If one might to wish to cause harm and justifiies their anger by remote historical instances/ antecedents, they simply aren’t to be reasoned with.

    It’s as bad as someone telling you that you are an idiot because the person who sits beside you said something stupid. how would you argue with that? By showing that the person sitting besides you actually said something smart and therefore you are off the hook from the charge of being stupid? Is that really a reasonable way to proceded?

  • Fair enough, but then again I’m not trying to reason with anybody. I just want to avoid the likelihood of a negative outcome for Jews in a variety of societies where negative outcomes might happen.

  • Hey middle u making up posts w/ my name ? WHy don’t you own up to that? Cuz someone is, and I don’t like that. U calling me useless, fool?

  • Uh, Jobber, I don’t know how to tell you this, but somebody else edited your last comment. I’d love to know what it said that would get another poster here to edit your wisdom, but I’m sure it’s a well deserved edit.

  • But GM. This isn’t someone sitting next to you. This is about the culture you are personally a part of. You are trying to be history-less. You are in Philo, and you want that to be outside time. Actually, that is very, very Jewish of you.

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