Israeli historian: “blood libel” not completely unfounded

A prominent Israeli Jewish historian has revealed that the medieval canard about Jews killing Christian children and using their blood in making pasta for the Jewish holiday of Passover is not entirely unfounded.

Ariel Toaff, Professor of History at the Bar-Illan University argued in a new book, published recently in Italy, that “there is a factual basis for some of the medieval blood libels against the Jews.”

“I tried to show that the Jewish world at that time was also violent, among other things because it had been hurt by Christian violence. I don’t claim that Judaism condones murder. But within Ashkenazi Judaism, there were extremist groups that could have committed such an act and justified it.”

In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz Monday, 12 February, Toaff said he reached this conclusion after examining the records of the trial for the murder, ostensibly by Jews, of a Christian child, Simon of Trento in 1475.

The 3-year-old child went missing around Easter in Trento, Italy, in March 1475 and his father accused the Jews of the town of kidnapping and murdering him, and then draining his blood for use in baking their Passover matzohs and also for occult rituals secretly adhered to by them.

The leaders of the Jewish community in Trento were arrested and seventeen of them confessed to the murder, probably under torture. Fifteen of them, including Samule, the head of the community, were sentenced to death and burned at the stake.

“I found there were statements and parts of the testimony that were not part of the Christian culture of the judges, and they could not have been invented or added by them. They were components appearing in prayers known from the Jewish prayer book,” Toaff was quoted as saying.

He argued that the established view that Ashkenazi Jews didn’t use human blood on Passover was not entirely true.

“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.”

Toaff said that although the use of blood was prohibited by Jewish religious law, he found proof of rabbinic permission to use blood, even human blood.

Toaff has been the target of vitriolic attacks and vilifications by Jewish leaders and commentators for “vindicating anti-Semitism” and giving anti-Semites a “cause celebre.”

Bar-Illan University President Moshe Kaveh said he would summon Toaff to explain his research once he returned from Italy.

Israeli and Jewish commentators, as well as talks-backers on several Israeli websites, have been heaping calumny on Toaff, calling him, inter alia, “self-hating Jew” and “collaborator with anti-Semites.”

However, Toaff said he wouldn’t be silenced no matter how vociferous are the criticisms of his book.

“I will not give up my devotion to the truth and academic freedom even if the world crucifies me.”

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