The Happy Arab News Service

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Blood Libel

Ariel Toaff is plainly looking for troubles with his new book. The Jerusalem Post reports:

An Israeli historian of Italian origin has revived "blood libel" in an historical study set to hit Italian bookstores on Thursday. Ariel Toaff, son of Rabbi Elio Toaff, claims that there is some historic truth in the accusation that for centuries provided incentives for pogroms against Jews throughout Europe.

Toaff's tome, Bloody Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders, received high praise from another Italian Jewish historian, Sergio Luzzatto, in an article in the Corriere della Serra daily entitled "Those Bloody Passovers."

Luzzatto describes Toaff's work as a "magnificent book of history...Toaff holds that from 1100 to about 1500...several crucifixions of Christian children really happened, bringing about retaliations against entire Jewish communities - punitive massacres of men, women, children. Neither in Trent in 1475 nor in other areas of Europe in the late Middle Ages were Jews always innocent victims."

"A minority of fundamentalist Ashkenazis...carried out human sacrifices," Luzzatto continued.

Toaff offers as an example the case of Saint Simonino of Trent. In March 1475, shortly after a child's body was found in a canal near the Jewish area of Trent, the city's Jews were accused of murdering Simonino and using his blood to make matzot.

After a medieval trial in which confessions were extracted by torture, 16 members of Trent's Jewish community were hanged.

Toaff reveals that the accusations against the Jews of Trent "might have been true."

Toaff refers to kabbalistic descriptions of the therapeutic uses of blood and asserts that "a black market flourished on both sides of the Alps, with Jewish merchants selling human blood, complete with rabbinic certification of the product - kosher blood."


It's enough to read the first dozen of comments to realize that Toaff should now better ensure that he has a good lawyer by his side. A couple of bodyguards may come in very handy too.

Of course the theory is extremely controversial to say the least and confessions extracted under torture by a medieval court can hardly count as a reliable evidence. A medieval black market selling kosher human blood looks quite a stretch of imagination. Yet one (at least me) just does not want to throw away Toaff's theory outright because suddenly there seems to appear a chance to finally make sense of the absolutely abnormal and bizarre history of the Jews in Europe.

It goes without saying that if anything like this ever existed it should have been an extremely fringe sect and clearly it runs absolutely contrary to the mainstream Judaism's practices and any sane rabbi will consider the very idea of human sacrifices absolutely satanic. And even if there is a basis to some blood libel claims, most, probably 99%, of all Pogroms were provoked by allegations that had no basis in the reality. There should be little doubt that even if such a sect existed it should have kept itself in secret from the majority of the Jews too. And while there might have happened probably just a few cases of real human sacrifices they eventually lead to hundreds and thousands of Pogroms that targeted Jews as a whole and in which hundreds of thousands and millions of them found their death. Toaff himself does not appear to claim more than this:

Toaff holds that from 1100 to about 1500...several crucifixions of Christian children really happened.

The existence of such a fringe, and by all Jewish standards absolutely deranged, sect among the minority of the Askenazi fundamentalists could have explained the puzzling persistence of the blood libel's allegations, its primarily European origin (it's a safe bet that outside Europe it was plagiarized by local opponents of the Jews) and the wretched relationships between the Jews and Christians in Europe.

In the end Toaff's theory is just what it is, a theory. Whether it's of a dubious value or well argued it does not change the basic fact that it's just a theory that can potentially provide an explanation for the more weird aspects of the history of the Jews in the Medieval Europe. And as in case of any historical theory it should be left to the historians to figure out the plausibility of Toaff's claims.

Yet, and it's another safe bet, there are more than enough Jews who will now be waiting for the book's arrival in the state of total horror. And even more people who are now waiting for it salivating in anticipation. It is a testimony to the sad state of affairs in our world that such a book, which under normal conditions should be of interest only to the afficionados of the history of the Medieval Europe, will provoke a storm and will put on the defensive millions of Jews worldwide. This is because even if Toaff may be wrong there appears to be more than enough people who for all kinds of reasons are just dying to see him proved right and more.

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