Ariel Toaff (born 1942) is a professor of Medieval and Renaissance History at Bar Ilan University in Israel, whose work has focused on Jews and their history in Italy.
He came to international prominence with the 2007 publication of the first edition of his controversial book Pasque Di Sangue (Passovers of Blood), in which he seemed to surmise that there might be some historical basis for a possible ritual use of human blood, obtained by murder. The alleged claim was criticized as lending support to the so-called blood libel, an allegation that modern historians have described as unsupported by facts and which the Catholic Church has similarly repudiated since the 13th century. Toaff wrote that these critics had misunderstood his book, which argued that the ritual use of small quantities of dried blood in magical curses had been a real practice among medieval "Ashkenazi extremists", but that this was unrelated to the accusation of ritual murder which was the central claim of the "blood libel".
Among his works are The Jews in Medieval Assisi 1305-1487: A social and economic history of a small Jewish community (1979); Il vino e la carne. Una comunità ebraica nel Medioevo (Wine and Meat. A Jewish Community in the Middle Ages, 1989); Mostri giudei. L'immaginario ebraico dal Medioevo alla prima età moderna ("Jewish Monsters. The Jewish Imaginary from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era", 1996); and Mangiare alla giudia. La cucina ebraica in Italia dal Rinascimento all'età moderna (Eating Jewish style. Jewish Cooking in Italy from the Renaissance to the Modern Age, 2000).
Passovers of Blood
Toaff's most recent book, Pasque di sangue. Ebrei d'Europa e omicidi rituali ("Passovers of Blood: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders"), was published in February 2007. The book analyzes the cultural and historical background to a notorious 1475 murder trial in Italy. A group of Jews were accused of murdering a young boy, later known as Simon of Trent, and using his blood for Passover rites. The accused were tortured and confessed to killing the boy, who was informally venerated as a saint by Catholics until the 1960s. The consensus of scholarship has dismissed cases such as Simon of Trent's as a blood libel against Jews.
The book sparked intense controversy, including calls for Toaff him to resign from or be fired from his professorship, and questioning of his research, historical method, and motives as they relate to his writing of the book. Threats were made against his life, and some sought his prosecution.
The book was widely criticized for providing material that anti-Semites might capitalize on, though Sergio Luzzatto praised his intellectual courage in reopening a dossier that had lain under a taboo. While Toaff framed his analysis in hypothetical language, and phrased his speculations in conditional language, the reception of the book often tended to translate this caution, according to Hanna Johnson, into the indicative language of accepted fact.
Toaff promised not to give in to pressure and defend his work "even if crucified". In response to a statement from Italian Jewish leaders that consumption or use of blood is prohibited by Jewish law and tradition, Toaff stressed that he was not implicating all Jews, but only "a group of fundamentalist Jews [who] did not respect the biblical prohibition [against use of blood]." However, Toaff did eventually pull his book from circulation. He clarified that in regard to the specific trial, dealing with Jews accused of killing Simon of Trent for ritual purposes at Passover, there was no relationship whatsoever between the so-called 'ritual of blood' and ritual infanticide. He denied that the Jews implicated were in any way involved in the murder of Simon. On February 14, 2007, Toaff said in a statement that he ordered the Italian publisher of his book to freeze distribution of his book so that he can "re-edit the passages which comprised the basis of the distortions and falsehoods that have been published in the media."
A second edition of the book appeared in February, 2008. In an afterword to this edition in defence of his book, Toaff responded to his critics. To forestall possible misinterpretations, he said that the idea that Jews practiced ritual murder is a slanderous stereotype, and that ritual homicide or infanticide was a myth. That said, the possibility existed that:
certain criminal acts, disguised as crude rituals, were indeed committed by extremist groups or by individuals demented by religious mania and blinded by desire for revenge against those considered responsible for their people’s sorrows and tragedies.
The evidence supporting this hypothesis draws on confessions extracted under torture. His book examines the strong documentary evidence in medieval medical handbooks that dried human blood, traded by both Jewish and Christian merchants, was thought to be medicinally efficacious. Under the stress of forced conversions, expulsions and massacres, Toaff thinks it possible that in certain Ashkenazi groups dried human blood came to play a magical role in calling down God's vengeance on Christians, the historic persecutors of the Jews, and that this reaction may have affected certain forms of ritual practice among a restricted number of Ashkenazi Jews during Passover.
- Hannah Johnson, Blood Libel: The Ritual Murder Accusation at the Limit of Jewish History,University of Michigan Press, 2012 pp.132ff. p.132.
- The Apostolic See and the Jews, Documents: 492-1404; Simonsohn, Shlomo, p. 188-189,193-195,208
- [https://'Gregory X: Letter on Jews, (1271-76) - Against the Blood Libel,'
- Ariel Toaff, 'Trials and Historial Methodology: In Defence of Pasque di sangue,' p. 2
- S.Buttaroni, S. Musial (eds.) Ritual Murder Legend in European History, Krakow, Nuremberg, Frankfort, 2003 p.12 reads:'It is important to state from the very beginning that Jewish ritual murder never took place. Today proving such theories wrong is not the goal of scientific research'. Cited Toaff, Pasque di sangue 2007 p.225 n.2
- Adi Schwartz, Toaff fights for his good name, in Haaretz, 1 March 2007.
- Biale, David (2007). Blood and Belief: The Circulation of a Symbol Between Jews and Christians. Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. xi. ISBN 978-0-520-25304-9.
- Ofri Ilani, MKs seek to try Prof. Toaff over claims in blood libel book.' in Haaretz, February 2007.
- Ofri Ilani,, "Bar-Ilan professor who claimed Jews used Christian blood in Passover ceremonies defends his book: 'I will fight for my truth, even if I am crucified'." in Haaretz, 12 February 2007
- The Associated Press and Ofri Ilani Haaretz Service, "Bar-Ilan to order professor to explain research behind blood libel book: Ariel Toaff's book alleges accusations of Jews using Christian blood may be based on real ceremonies", 11 February 2007; accessed 04 July 2013
- Adi Schwartz 'Historian recants theory that Jews killed Christian child in ritual murder,' in Haaretz, 24 February 2008.
- Matthew Wagner and AP, 'Blood libel' author halts press in The Jerusalem Post Feb. 14, 2007
- Gabriel Sanders,Scholar Pulls Book Revisiting Blood Libel - Says Press Distorted His Work, Pledges Proceeds to ADL in The Forward, February 16, 2007
- Ariel Toaff, Ebraismo Virtuale,Rizzoli, 2008 pp.101-105.
- Sabina Loriga, "The Controversies over the Publication of Ariel Toaff's "Bloody Passovers"," Journal of The Historical Society, 8,4 (2008), 469-502.
- Commentary (German) by Johannes Heil of the University of Heidelberg
- Commentary on Toaff's Book on Blood Libel (Haaretz)
- Article on Toaff and the Jewish-Italian Community (Haaretz)
- A blood-stained version of history (Haaretz)
- Toaff fights for his good name (Haaretz)
- MKs demand the author of blood libel book be prosecuted (Haaretz)
- Professor's Claim Of Truth To 'Blood Libel' Plays Into Hands Of Anti-Semites—from the ADL