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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."
Dr. Amos Luzzatto, former president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities said, "I would expect a more serious statement than 'it might have been true.'" He also expressed dismay at the sensationalism with which Corriere della Sera, Italy's leading daily, treated the issue.
"It is totally inappropriate to utilize declarations extorted under torture centuries ago to reconstruct bizarre and devious historical theses," declared 12 of Italy's chief rabbis in a press release refuting Toaff's claims.
"The only blood spilled in these stories was that of so many innocent Jews, massacred on account of unjust and infamous accusations," the statement continued.
The town of Trent, near the Austrian border, commemorated Simonino's "martyrdom" for five centuries, until, in 1965, the Vatican published the Nostra Aetate, which aimed at extirpating anti-Semitsm from Catholic doctrine. The Bishop of Trent signed a decree proclaiming that the blood libel against the city's Jews of that city was unfounded.
Alessandro Martinelli, the Catholic Church's delegate for Interreligious Dialogue in the Diocese of Trent, recalls a well-documented DVD and historical monograph by historian Diego Quaglioni disproving Jewish responsibility for Simonino's death. A plaque the community had erected to mark the tragedy of the Jews who were martyred called for atonement and reconciliation between Catholics and Jews based on adherence to historical truth.
To all this, Dr. Amos Luzzatto comments, "Even if the author should manage to prove that a deviant sect existed for centuries...clearly it could never be identified as a Jewish group, or as part of a Jewish community. This would be comparable to saying that the rabbis who were present at [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's Holocaust Denial Conference in Teheran represent mainstream Judaism."