Ariel Toaff: Promises to turn over book profits to Jewish group

Historians in the News

A new book by an Italo-Israeli scholar of Jewish history that revisits violent controversies involving medieval and Renaissance Christians and Jews has been withdrawn from circulation at the request of the author, who now says that news accounts distort what he actually says.

The scholar, Ariel Toaff, is a professor of medieval and Renaissance history at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, in Ramat Gan. His book, Pasque di sangue: Ebrei d'Europa e omicidi rituali (Passovers of Blood: European Jews and Ritual Homicides), drew strong criticism from Jewish community leaders and academic critics when it was published this month, in Italian, by Il Mulino, a publishing house in Bologna, Italy....

The author denies that his book suggests that Jews during the Middle Ages and Renaissance might actually have sacrificed Christian children, saying that idea was a misinterpretation of his work that emerged in newspaper articles even before his book was published.

"If people read the first chapters of my book, they will understand exactly how I refer to the ritual homicides as lies," he told The Chronicle on Thursday.

He said that his intention in analyzing confessions extracted by torture was to "reconstruct the mentality" of the Jews condemned for these crimes, a mentality characterized by a "very vigorous and very justified hostility toward the Christians."

Explaining why he withdrew the book, Mr. Toaff said that his first duty was to tamp down the controversy. "When I became aware that my explanations had no effect with a press that was nourishing a theme that every day became more dangerous for the Jewish people," he said, "I decided it was my duty to do two things: first, to block the book; secondarily, to take an action to show that it was not done, at least not by me, with intention to profit.

"So I renounced all proceeds. I won't make a lira from this, and those proceeds will go to the struggle against anti-Semitism." [The profits will go, he says, to the Anti-Defamation League in New York.]

Even the judgments of expert reviewers in Italy had been influenced by unfavorable advance publicity, Mr. Toaff said. "They found themselves having above all to disqualify a text that lent itself to those interpretations" that the ritual murders had actually occurred. "No one would want to praise the book if that meant seeming to praise the interpretations that had already been made of it."

Mr. Toaff said that he hopes eventually to recast the book, but he added that "my basic error was to think that a subject of this kind could be addressed in an antiseptic, scientific manner. Instead, it's not possible because it's linked to so many emotions, so many memories, and so many associations, including with recent events that have happened to our people."

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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