Fury over book on blood libel

February 23, 2007

Jewish historian pulls book that claims Jews killed Christians for ritual purposes. Helena Flusfeder reports

The outrage in Israel over a book in which a history professor reportedly claims that there is a "factual basis for some of the medieval blood libels against the Jews" has led the author's university to distance itself from the work and the author to ask his Italian publisher to suspend distribution.

Pasque di Sangue ("Easter of Blood") was written by Ariel Toaff, a professor of medieval and Renaissance history at Bar-Ilan University and the son of a former Chief Rabbi of Rome. It was published in Italy two weeks ago by Il Mulino.

Bar-Ilan expressed "great anger" at the scholar for his "lack of sensitivity in publishing his book about blood libels in Italy". It said the work was a private endeavour and not connected to the university.

In the book, which is based on his research, Professor Toaff alleges that "ritual killings" such as that of a two year-old Christian child, Simon, in the Italian town of Trento in 1475, were carried out by members of a fundamentalist group in reaction to the persecution of Jews.

Professor Toaff's claim that Jews in the Middle Ages murdered Christians for their blood so they could use it in rituals was denied by a group of Italy's senior rabbis, among them Professor Toaff's father, Elio Toaff.

The rabbis issued a joint statement condemning the book. "There has never existed in Jewish tradition any permission or custom for using human blood for ritual purposes. Such a practice is considered with horror."

Diego Coliani, a correspondent of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera , said Professor Toaff relied on testimonies of people who had confessed under torture.

In the wake of the furore, Professor Toaff asked the Italian publisher to "stop further distribution of the book, in order that I may re-edit those passages that comprised the basis of the distortions and falsehoods that have been published in the media".

In some newspaper reports, Professor Toaff was quoted as saying: "Over many dozens of pages, I proved the centrality of blood on Passover. Based on many sermons, I concluded that blood was used, especially by Ashkenazi Jews, and that there was a belief in the special curative powers of children's blood.

"It turns out that among the remedies of Ashkenazi Jews were powders made of blood."

He added: "I will not give up my devotion to the truth and academic freedom, even if the world crucifies me."

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