Ariel Toaff: Scholar's Book Challenging Consensus on 'Blood Libel' Accusations Meets Growing Chorus of Criticism

Historians in the News

A new book by an Italo-Israeli scholar of Jewish history, which has drawn strong criticism from Jewish community leaders and academic critics alike, may have placed its author's job in jeopardy.

The scholar, Ariel Toaff, a professor of history at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, was "discussing the fate of his job" with the university's Academic Senate on Monday evening, according to an e-mail message from a spokeswoman for the book's publisher.

A spokesman for Bar-Ilan, however, dismissed that statement as "hot air," and insisted that Mr. Toaff's position was secure. He promised that Mr. Toaff would issue a clarifying statement through the university's media-relations office today.

Repeated attempts by The Chronicle to reach Mr. Toaff over the past few days were unsuccessful.

Mr. Toaff's book, Pasque di sangue: Ebrei d'Europa e omicidi rituali (Passovers of Blood: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murder), was published, in Italian, last Thursday by Il Mulino, a publishing house in Bologna, Italy. The book is a study of "blood libel": the infamous claim, made repeatedly during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, that Jews murdered Christian children and consumed their blood as part of Passover celebrations. It is the now the consensus of historians that such accusations were false and fueled by anti-Semitism.

Pasque di sangue focuses on the case of Simone da Trento (or "Simon of Trent"), a young boy allegedly murdered by Jews in 1475 in the northeastern Italian city of Trent, and for nearly 500 years thereafter venerated as Roman Catholic martyr. The church revoked Simone's beatification in 1965 after concluding that popular belief in his martyrdom was unfounded.

In the book, Mr. Toaff defies the historical consensus by suggesting that not all "blood libel" accusations were necessarily false, and that small numbers of fanatical Jews might actually have committed acts of ritual murder against Christians. In his preface, he declares his intention to investigate the "heterogeneous elements and the particular historical-religious experiences that would probably have rendered possible in a certain period and in a certain geographic area ... the killing of Christian infants for ritual purposes."
Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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