By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Palm Beach, Florida
tRome’s Chief Rabbi urged a gathering of American Jews on Friday to “get ready” for a storm over a new book by an Israeli historian, which asserts a historical basis to perhaps the most sensational element of historic anti-Semitic rhetoric – that Jews once murdered Christians in order to use their blood in secret rituals.
tRabbi Riccardo Di Segni issued the warning about the book Bloody Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders at a national conference of the Anti-Defamation League in Palm Beach, Florida.
tHistorians have long regarded the charge that Jews murdered Christians in order to extract their blood, sometimes called the “blood libel,” as baseless. Yet the book by Professor Ariel Toaff of Bar Ilan University asserts that such murders actually took place in Europe between the years 1100 and 1500.
Toaff describes, for example, the mutilation and crucifixion of a two-year-old Christian boy to recreate Christ’s death on the Cross, an act he said occurred during Passover. The festival marks the fleeing of the Jews from Egypt, and Toaff claims that Christian blood was used for “magic and therapeutic practices.”
In some cases, Toaff claims, the blood was mixed with dough to make the unleavened bread for Passover. He says the acts took place in northern Italy, around the city of Trento in German-speaking areas that border modern-day Austria.
Toaff’s book has created a sensation in Italy, in part because the author comes from a distinguished Italian Jewish family. His father, Elio Toaff, was Di Segini’s predecessor as Chief Rabbi of Rome. The elder Toaff had a close relationship with Pope John Paul II, and was one of only two people mentioned by name in the late pope’s final testament. (The other was the pope’s private secretary, now-Cardinal Stanislaw Dzwisiz of Cracow.)
That lineage, Di Segni said, makes the book “particularly dangerous.”
“This is not Mel Gibson,” Di Segni said. “The author comes from a very important Jewish family. It’s not easy to call it ‘anti-Semitism.’”
Di Segni told the audience at the Anti-Defamation League to be ready to respond.
“All this will cross the ocean,” he said.
Bloody Passovers relies on transcripts of confessions from European Jews who were put on trial for ritual murder of Christians between 1100 and 1500. Use of such material drew criticism from Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, who said it was comparable to relying on the testimony of accused witches in Salem, Massachusetts, who confessed under torture, in order to prove the reality of witchcraft.
“The accusation, like many other conspiracy theories about Jews, was made out of whole cloth and reflected the tendency in Medieval Europe, based on Christian anti-Jewish doctrine, to demonize Jews and blame them for problems in society,” Foxman said in a prepared statement.
Di Segni earlier put out a statement in Italy asserting that “the only blood spilt in these stories was that of many innocent Jews killed for unjust accusations.”
Foxman expressed concern that the book will stoke contemporary anti-Semitism.
“This is a time when conspiracy theories about Jews are flourishing,” he said. “Extremist, anti-Semitic, and Islamic extremist groups will undoubtedly use this charge to further their hostile aims to the Jewish people.”