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.