Who Is for Free Speech? The Ariel Toaff Case

Enza Ferreri



This article is about three things: Jewish attitudes on free speech, a book about the so-called “blood libels”, and how these ritual murders of which Jewish groups have been accused are linked to aversion for Jesus and Christians in Judaism.

The threads are all related. I’ll start from the third.

The above video, which I posted on my blog, among others attracted comments to the effect that it is not representative, publishing it is a biased choice, and the people in it are just a band of idiotic alcoholics. (In addition, Christians in Israel are treated wonderfully, have the same rights as Jews, and they all lived happily ever after.)

Those who make these claims have (or pretend to have) little knowledge of Jewish religion and Jewish history.

Because the people in the clip may as well have been drunk (or not), but what they say is due to much more than just alcohol. After all, as they say, in vino veritas, “in wine there is truth.”

The video shows images of 2012 Jewish attacks on a church and a monastery in Israel, with the background of a song from a group of Jews who gathered on Christmas Eve 2007, “to ‘celebrate’, in the Jewish way, the birth of Jesus.”

The signs defacing the church’s walls read “We will crucify you”, “Death to the Christians”, “Jesus is dead”, “Jesus son of Mary, the prostitute”, “Jesus the son of a whore”, “death to Christianity!” And on a car: “Jesus is now a corpse.”

The lyrics of the song repeatedly convey one of the messages written on the church’s walls: “Jesus is a bastard.”

In the same way as Islamic apologists attempt to portray Muslim terrorists, murderers and jihadists as betraying the true meaning of Islam, so Judaism apologists try to describe Jews who have attacked Christian buildings or gratuitously insulted Christian beliefs as having nothing to do with Judaic religion.

Both are wrong.

Today, March 24th, is the Feast of the Holy Infant Martyr St. Simon, patron saint of Trent.

He is the subject of a book published in early February 2007, Pasque di sangue. Ebrei d’Europa e omicidi rituali (English translation: Blood Passover. The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murder), which shows that there may well have been some truth to several “blood libels,” including the case in which Ashkenazi Jews of German descent living in the northern Italian city of Trent, near the Austrian border, were found guilty of murdering a Christian 2-year-old boy named Simone, crucifying him head down, mutilating his body and using his blood to bake matzot for Passover in 1475.

The child was canonised by the Church and became San Simonino di Trento. His entry in the Roman Martyrology was removed in 1965, after the Jewish-friendly, please-forgive-us Vatican II which gave us Nostra aetate re-examined the case and changed the verdict.

What makes this book extraordinary is that it wasn’t written by a nasty “anti-Semite,” but by Professor Ariel Toaff, who is descended from a line of rabbis, is the son of Elio Toaff, former chief rabbi of Rome and considered Italy’s highest Jewish spiritual and moral authority from the end of World War II to the early 2000s, and is a rabbi himself.

He also teaches at Tel Aviv University and at the time of the book’s publication was professor of Medieval and Renaissance History at Bar Ilan University in Israel. His work has focused on Jews and their history in Italy and is regarded as a world authority on Italian Jewry.

Ariel Toaff, who holds dual Italian and Israeli citizenship, was 64 when Blood Passover was published by the academic publishing house Il Mulino based in Bologna, a highly reputable company that prints books used in university courses, especially in humanities like philosophy and history. If you, like me, had studied philosophy at an Italian university, many — if not most — of your books would have been published by Il Mulino. This is important, as it shows that the scholarship of this volume must have been of a respectably high level, or this publishing house wouldn’t have risked its reputation by printing it.

As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz commented at the time of its publication in the aptly-titled article “And if it’s not good for the Jews?”:

It would have been far easier to dismiss the book if the author had been Christian. Then the dilemma could have quickly been solved by branding the scholar an anti-Semite. [Where have we seen that before?] It’s also easy to dispense with radical Diaspora Jews who not only attack Israel’s policies but also sometimes challenge its very right to exist. They can simply be dubbed self-hating Jews. The matter becomes much more complicated when a Jewish scholar from a religious Jewish university touches on an issue that arouses primordial Jewish fears.

The book’s blurb tells the reader that “this book takes on, courageously, one of the most controversial themes of the history of European Jews … rereading the vast documentation of this trial [the Trent Trial] and of many others without prejudice … the author explains the ritual and therapeutic meaning of blood in Jewish culture and reaches the conclusion that as far as Ashkenazi Judaism is concerned, the ritual murder accusation was not always an invention.”

Blood Passover was viciously attacked even before it was published by people, to use the author’s words, who didn’t even know what colour its cover would have:

The book sparked intense controversy including calls for him to resign from or be fired from his professorship, the questioning of his research, historical method(s), and motives as they relate to his writing of the book, threats to his life, and demands that he be prosecuted. [Emphasis added]

Really? And here I was, thinking, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, “Je Suis Charlie” and free speech marches, that Jewish communities everywhere were totally in support of freedom of speech. Shocking!

Some sordid, mindless cartoons must obviously be on a much higher level, far more worthy of being defended than decades-long scholarly historical research.

Censorship in this case is a mild word. Violent polemics erupted in the Italian media, and within the Jewish community even before the book was out. Blood Passover was withdrawn from bookshops very few days after its release, deliveries were blocked and the merchandise recalled.

Such a rapid action of withdrawal from the market can be comparable only to that of products which are physically harmful.

EBay quotations of such a rare work fetched at the time 100-400 euros.

The actions against Blood Passover were compared by historian Franco Cardini to Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, in which books were considered damaging for people’s minds and burnt. A book withdrawn from circulation after few days is tantamount to a book burnt or destroyed in other ways.

Two days before the volume’s publication, an advance review by another Italian Jewish historian, Sergio Luzzatto, appeared in Italy’s main daily Il Corriere della Sera, entitled “Those Passovers of Blood. The staggering revelation of Ariel Toaff: the myth of human sacrifice is not just an anti-Semitic lie”. It’s worth quoting a long excerpt from it:

Trent, March 23 1475. Eve of Pesach, or Passover. In the home-synagogue of a Jew of German origin, the usurer Samuel from Nuremberg, the battered body of a Christian 2-year-old baby, Simonino, the son of a humble tanner, is found. The city is in shock. As the only consolation, the investigation is moving forward. According to the investigators, the most notable men of the local Jewish community participated in the kidnapping and killing of the “cherub”, also involving women in a macabre ritual of crucifixion and outrage of the corpse. Even Moses “the Elder”, the most respected Jew of Trent, made a mockery of the hanging body of Simonino, as if to mock a renewed passion of Christ. … Only torture — it was thought — could push peaceful Jewish householders to confess to have killed children of the Gentiles: murder followed not only by the crucifixion of the victims, but also by practices of ritual cannibalism, i.e., the consumption of young Christian blood for magical or therapeutic purposes. …

So, in today’s world, only an unheard-of gesture of intellectual courage could allow to reopen the whole dossier, on the basis of a question as precise as it is delicate: when we discuss all this — the crucifixions of infants on the eve of Passover, the use of Christian blood as an ingredient in the unleavened bread eaten during the feast — are we talking about myths, namely ancient beliefs and ideologies, or rites, namely real events and even prescribed by the rabbis? The act of bravery has been accomplished now. The disturbing question has been posed to the sources of that age, by a historian perfectly equipped to do so: an expert in the food culture of the Jews, including religious precepts and eating habits, as well as the story of the intertwined Jewish and anti-Semitic ideas. …

Toaff maintains that approximately from 1100 to 1500, in the period between the First Crusade and the autumn of the Middle Ages, some crucifixions of Christian “cherubs” — or perhaps many — really happened, leading to reprisals against entire Jewish communities, punitive massacre of men, women, children. Neither in Trent in 1475, nor elsewhere in late medieval Europe, Jews were always innocent victims. In a large geographic area of ​​the German-speaking area between the Rhine, the Danube and the Adige, a minority of Ashkenazi fundamentalists really performed, and many times, human sacrifices.

Moving with extraordinary skill on the land of history, theology, anthropology, Toaff illustrates the centrality of blood in the celebration of Passover: the blood of the lamb, celebrating the liberation from slavery in Egypt, but also the blood of the prepuce, from the circumcision of Israel’s male infants. It was blood that a biblical passage in Exodus says was spilled for the first time by the son of Moses, and that some Orthodox tradition regarded as one with the blood of Isaac that Abraham was ready to sacrifice.

Therefore, in the ritual meal of Passover, the solemn unleavened bread was mixed with powdered blood, while other dried blood was dissolved in wine before reciting the ten curses of Egypt. Which blood could be more fit for purpose than that of a Christian child killed for the occasion, asked the most fanatical among the Jews studied by Toaff? This is the blood of a new Agnus Dei [lamb of God] to be consumed for the purpose of good wishes, so as to precipitate the downfall of the persecutors, cursed followers of a false, lying faith. [Emphases added]

This astonishing declaration confirms what Professor MacDonald and The Occidental Observer have always said: in their interactions with European Gentiles, Jews may have been victims at times, but they were not passive victims, and quite often they were not innocent victims. Something, other than mere “racism” (of which anti-Semitism is considered a form), incited the often despised and hated goyim to attack the “Chosen People.”

Before his outright persecution — there’s no other word for it — Ariel Toaff was so sure of his assertions, the result of decades of studies and research, continually taught in his university courses, that he gave an interview to Trent’s regional newspaper L’Adige on 8 February 2007 titled “The truth about San Simonino and the Convictions for the Simonino Rituals, the Case Must Be Reopened” and subtitled “Professor Ariel Toaff has no hesitation:  “The case of Simonino must be reopened, because there is reason to believe his ritual infanticide probable.” In it he said (the original article has been removed from the paper’s site, but I’ve found the following reproduction):

In short, the analysis of these acts and other documents prompts me to consider unlikely that the judges had been able to put in the mouth of the accused, who spoke a sort of German Hebrew, tales so full of precise references to the tradition, the rites, the memory of these communities of the Germanic area. It’s not possible that public officials knew all that; therefore those testimonies could not be the result of extortion or a projection of the thought of the judges.

About his method, he says:

I started by ignoring the most problematic aspects of the matter: the Passover, the blood for the Passover, unleavened bread, etcetera. So I checked that for everything else there is a hundred percent historical evidence. For example, a witness mentions an acquaintance, one Asher, a Jew convicted of usury in Venice: I checked and it was all true. At this point, I focused on Passover celebrations and compared the Trent depositions with the texts of the Jewish communities in Germany at the time: here too the correspondence is perfect.

This is crucial, because the convictions were based on the confessions of the accused, and the 1965 review of the trial exonerated the Jews on the grounds that the confessions must be false because extracted under torture. Forced confession is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Yes, the final obstacle was exactly the testimonies which made ​​reference to the sacrifice of Simonino. And it’s here that the linguistic aspect is fundamental. It was a bad Hebrew which was said to add an exotic and Satanic aura to these communities. I used not the Italian but German pronunciation, looked for the possible semantic variants and found the references to a certain environment of Nürnberg Judaism. In this way it became clear that the speech in Ashkenazi Hebrew of Trent Jews could not have been induced by non-members of the community. Therefore the confessions can be considered credible. Let’s not forget that we are talking about a minority of fundamentalists who were not representative of the entire religious galaxy: the Jewish world of the time was as varied as the Islamic one, which harbours even small fringes of terrorists, is today.

Ariel Toaff explains that he covers the story of Trent in eight chapters of his book, adding that he studied trials of Jews in various parts of Europe. A series of elements, the professor maintains, clearly confirms the thesis that infanticide has actually happened. He concludes:

I’m ready for discussion, but first I wish my interlocutor be informed on my research. Those who answer by reminding me that the Jewish tradition forbade the use of human blood in rituals adds nothing serious to scientific analysis: we’re talking about fanatics who violated the prohibition. On the other hand, several colleagues who have approached my work agree with my reconstruction of the presence of those violently anti-Christian Jewish communities which included very virulent and aggressive members. There may be someone who still has doubts on the last link of my reconstruction, ritual murder. For my part, however, I believe there is no room for doubt in terms of historiography. Therefore I think it would be right for Trent to reopen that chapter on the basis of the new elements in my book. [Emphases added]

When Taoff examined the trial records of the murderers of St. Simon of Trent he was staggered. The confessions of the murderers contained details of the crime that only the killers could know, and material that could not have been known to the Italian clergy or public officials. The secret rites practiced by the Ashkenazi community, which could not have been known by the judges, were faithfully reproduced in the confessions.

Even historian and member of the Venice Jewish community Gadi Luzzatto Voghera, who is clearly a Jewish apologist, admitted that there was no real argument among the Italian Jewry to answer Toaf’s accusation:

In Italy (but the reaction would have been the same in France or Britain) even the Jewish intellectual elite is clearly without arguments when faced by Toaff’s arguments. They lack the basics, to use soccer jargon, namely they completely lack the knowledge of Hebrew (which would allow one to read and learn about the rich bibliography produced in thousands of years of history by the Italian Jewish communities), they are not up to date with the real and not rhetorical situation of historical studies and research on even fundamental issues like the Trent Trial in 1475. They are desperately looking for ‘expertise’ that cannot be improvised.

In other words: Italian Jewry knew that the atrocities described in the book never happened even without knowing — or maybe because they didn’t know — any of the relevant facts.

Dr. Amos Luzzatto, former president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said:

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.

On the contrary, it would be comparable to saying that terrorists shouting “Allahu Akbar” and proclaiming to vindicate the prophet Muhammad while killing Jews are not a Muslim group, which is the opposite of what most Jewish people say. Fanaticism among Jews is notorious, impressing commenters from the ancient world to the present and now driving the ethnonationalist right in Israel and its legion of supporters in the Diaspora.

Just after the book’s release in Italy, in the article “Bar-Ilan to order professor to explain research behind blood libel book” Haaretz showed that initially, despite the pressure he was under, Toaff was still defending his position, albeit with some incipient signs of vacillation:

University historian Toaff has raised a storm by alleging in his book that some blood libels — accusations that Jews killed Christians in ritual murders to add their blood to matza and wine on Passover — may be based on real ceremonies in which the blood of Christians was actually used. …

In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Toaff responded angrily to his critics, saying, “My research shows that in the Middle Ages, a group of fundamentalist Jews did not respect the biblical prohibition and used blood for healing. It is just one group of Jews, who belonged to the communities that suffered the severest persecution during the Crusades. From this trauma came a passion for revenge that in some cases led to responses, among them ritual murder of Christian children.”…

In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Toaff said, “There is no proof that Jews committed such an act.” But he added that the confessions do hold some truth — as when the accused recount anti-Christian liturgies that were mainly used on Passover, when the Israelites’ liberation from ancient Egypt became a metaphor for Judaism’s hope for redemption from its suffering at the hands of Christians.

“These liturgical formulas in Hebrew cannot be projections of the judges who could not know these prayers, which didn’t belong to Italian rites but to the Ashkenazi tradition,” he said. …

Bar-Ilan University spokesman, Shmulik Algrabli, said, “Professor Toaff is one of the greatest scholars in his field, and we have confidence in his scientific method. The contentions of the study will be clarified when the author returns to Israel.” [All emphases added]

After his post-publication statements in Italy that he would let himself be crucified in order to stand by his book’s conclusions, when he returned to Israel Toaff surrendered, withdrew the book from the market and said he would give the proceeds from the past sales to the (then) Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. A new, revised edition of the work was published in 2008, which however didn’t substantially change the thesis of the first edition.

For a murder to be ritual an essential component is religious hatred. And this has been very widespread, deep-rooted, taught from an early age, practised for generation after generation.

For Jews, says Toaff, in rabbinic texts Abraham did kill Isaac, was not stopped by God as in the Bible. Isaac was then resurrected by God.

This shows that the two prohibitions adduced by the rabbis as obstacles to the ritual murders examined in Blood Passover — prohibition on the consumption of blood and prohibition to kill — become absolutely null and void if even the patriarch Abraham was considered pious for ritually sacrificing his son.

Toaff’s book incontestably shows that there has been a profound, sometimes violent and even murderous, anti-Christian streak in European Jewish communities.

It’s not an accident. It derives from Jewish sacred texts, filled with hatred for Jesus and Christianity, which say very much the same as the song and the graffiti in the video above this article.

There are numerous texts, besides Blood Passover, illustrating Jewish hate for Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Christians, who have been the symbols behind various Jewish sacrifices, rituals and obscene mockeries over the ages. What Toaff says in Chapter 12, that Jesus was called “bastard, son of whore”, was already well known.

In the Jewish book Toledot Yeshu (Generations of Jesus, or Life of Jesus), Jesus is described as an illegitimate child, “the bastard son of a menstruate woman.” Jewish tradition considered as the worst thing for a woman to conceive during menstruation, a period of ritual impurity during which relations are forbidden according to Jewish Law. In the case of Mary, this was made even worse by the accusation that the child’s father was a pagan, and she had committed adultery. The same book says that Jesus was a sorcerer, and is now in Hell immersed in boiling excrement.

Toledot Yeshu only reproduces descriptions of Jesus contained from the Talmud.

Rev. I.B. Pranaitis writes in The Talmud Unmasked. The Secret Rabbinical Teachings Concerning Christians:

The Talmud teaches that Jesus Christ was illegitimate and was conceived during menstruation; that he had the soul of Esau; that he was a fool, a conjurer, a seducer; that he was crucified, buried in hell and set up as an idol ever since by his followers.

Author Mirza Tahir Ahmad says:

[A]uthentic Jewish religious literature is full of their gloatings about Jesus’ death upon the cross…

The Talmud, the doctrinal book which fully expounds all the knowledge and beliefs of the Jewish people, taught that Jesus had not only an illegitimate birth, but was doubly uncouth in view of his having been born out of a devilish wedlock of Mary during the period of her menstruation…

All that is decent in man revolts against the stinking filth which was heaped upon the holy name and image of Jesus in the literature of his hostile antagonists.

Peter Shäfer, in his Jesus in the Talmud, comes to similar conclusions:

Rabbinic texts present Jesus as the illegitimate child of an adulteress who leads a licentious life and seduces other Jews to idolatry through the practice of magic and blasphemy. He does not find his place in heaven but in hell, where he is condemned to sit eternally in boiling excrement in punishment for his sins. (see here)

I conclude with Ariel Toaff’s entry in Discover the Networks. I find it odd that it considers the fact that the Jewish people who confessed to the sacrifice of the little boy San Simonino did so under torture as a sign that their confession is false, but they don’t consider the fact that Toaff has recanted the accusations contained in his book under various threats, including death threats, as a sign that his recanting is also false.

His overall behaviour has in fact seemed very different from that of a man who has altered his views.

But then, freedom of speech is only invoked when the targets of free expression are Muslims — or even better Christians. When it comes to Jews, the rules of the game immediately change.

H/t to Giovanni of the London Forum

Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based Philosophy graduate, writer and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L’Espresso, La Repubblica.

She blogs at www.enzaferreri.blogspot.co.uk.

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