The Bloody Passovers of Dr Toaff

Blood, betrayal, torture, and surrender are intervowen in the story of an Italian Jew, Dr Ariel Toaff, as if penned by his compatriot Umberto Eco. Dr Toaff stumbled onto a frightful discovery, was horrified but bravely went on, until he was subjected to the full pressure of his community; he repented, a broken man.

Dr Toaff is the son of the Rabbi of Rome and a professor in the Jewish University of Bar Ilan, not far from Tel Aviv. He made a name for himself by his deep study of medieval Jewry. His three-volumed Love, Work, and Death (subtitled Jewish Life in Medieval Umbria) is an encyclopaedia of this admittedly narrow area. While studying his subject he discovered that the medieval Ashkenazi Jewish communities of North Italy practiced a particularly horrible form of human sacrifice. Their wizards and adepts stole and crucified Christian babies, obtained their blood and used it for magical rituals evoking the Spirit of Vengeance against the hated Goyim.

In particular, he dwelt on the case of St Simon of Trent. This two-year old child from the Italian town of Trent was kidnapped by a few Ashkenazi Jews from his home on the eve of Passover 1475 AD. At night, the kidnappers murdered the child; drew his blood, pierced his flesh with needles, crucified him head down calling “So may all Christians by land and sea perish”, and thus they celebrated their Passover, an archaic ritual of outpouring blood and killed babies, in the most literal form, without usual metaphoric “blood-wine” shift.

The killers were apprehended, confessed and were found guilty by the Bishop of Trent. Immediately, the Jews took their protest to the Pope and he had sent the bishop of Ventimiglia to investigate. He allegedly accepted a hefty bribe from the Jews and concluded that the child was murdered by a Hamas mine in order to besmirch Israel, as there was no Tsahal ordnance found on the beach of Trent. “Simon had been killed by Christians with the intention of ruining the Jews”, said the pre-war Jewish Encyclopedia, in a clear case of premonition: the same argument was used by Jews in 2006 while explaining away the mass murder of children in Kafr Qana.

However, in 15th century the Jews were influential, yes, but all-powerful, no. They could not deal with the world like they did in 2002 after their massacre of Jenin by ordering everybody to buzz off. They had no American veto in the Security Council. They could not bomb Rome, and the word “antisemitism” was invented 400 years later. They were given a fair deal which is much worse than preferred treatment: Pope Sixtus IV assembled a commission of six cardinals chaired by the best legal mind of that time, for retrial; and this Supreme Court found the murderers guilty. See more for a Catholic version and a Jewish version of the events. The records of the trial have survived centuries and are still available in Vatican.

In 1965, the Roman Catholic Church entered a perestroika[i]. These were the halcyon days of the Vatican II when the modernizers uprooted the foundations of tradition hoping to update the faith and to fit it into the new Jewish-friendly narrative of modernity; in plain prose, the bishops wanted to be loved by the liberal press.

The ever-watchful Jews used the opportunity and pushed the bishops to decommission St Simon of Trent. They were happy to oblige: already in bizarre ritual, the Church leaders had found the Jews free from guilt for Crucifixion of Christ while admitting the Church’s guilt for persecution of Jews; the crucifixion of an Italian baby was a small matter compared with this reversal. In a hasty decision, the bishops ruled that the confessions of the killers were unacceptable because obtained under torture, and thus the accused were innocent, while the young martyr was anything but. His cult was discontinued and forbidden, and the remains of the martyred child were removed and dumped in a secret place to avoid resumption of pilgrimage.

And now we come back to Dr Ariel Toaff. While going through the papers of the trial, he made a staggering discovery: instead of being dictated by the zealous investigators under torture, the confessions of the killers contained material totally unknown to the Italian churchmen or police. The killers belonged to the small and withdrawn Ashkenazi community, they practiced their own rites, quite different from those used by the native Italian Jews; these rites were faithfully reproduced in their confessions, though they were not known to the Crime Squad of the day. “These liturgical formulas in Hebrew with a strong anti-Christian tone cannot be projections of the judges who could not know these prayers, which didn’t even belong to Italian rites but to the Ashkenazi tradition,” Toaff wrote. A confession is of value only if it contains some true and verifiable details of the crime the police did not know of. This iron rule of criminal investigation was observed in Trent trials.

This discovery has the potential to shake, shock and reshape the Church. The noble learned rabbi Dr Toaff brought back St Simon, the double victim of 15th century vengeance and of 20th century perestroika. This called for repentance of the Vatican doctors who forgot the murdered child while looking for friendship with important American Jews, but they still do not admit their grave error. Monsignor Iginio Rogger, a church historian who in the 1960s [mis]led the investigation into St Simon’s case, said that the confessions were completely unreliable for “the judges used horrible tortures”. This was an antizionist and hence antisemitic remark, for rejection of confessions obtained under torture would let all the Palestinian prisoners out of Jewish jails; this was an anti-American remark, for the US recognizes the value of torture and practices it in Guantanamo and elsewhere. This was a holocaust-denier remark for thus they invalidate the Nürnberg trials. The renown Jewish American lawyer and adept of torture Alan Dershowitz could have argued against Rogger; but somehow he did not.

“I wouldn’t want to be in Toaff’s shoes, answering for this to historians who have seriously documented this case,” said Rogger to USA Today. Toaff’s shoes are vastly preferable to those of Rogger who will have to answer for slighting the saint in Heaven.

Moreover, this Trento crime was not an exception: Toaff discovered many cases of such bloody sacrifices connected with the mutilation of children, outpouring of blood and its baking in Matzo (unleavened bread) spanning five hundred years of European history. Blood, this magic drink, was a popular medicine of the time, and of any time: Herod tried to keep young bathing in blood of babies, alchemists used blood to turn lead into gold. Jewish wizards meddled in magic and used it as much as anybody. There was a thriving market in such delicacies as blood, powder made of blood and bloody matzo. Jewish vendors sold it accompanied with rabbinic letters of authorization; the highest value was blood of a goy katan, a gentile child, much more usual was blood of circumcision. Such blood sacrifices were “instinctive, visceral, virulent actions and reactions, in which innocent and unknowing children became victims of the love of God and of vengeance,” Toaff wrote in the book’s preface. “Their blood bathed the altars of a God who, it was believed, needed to be guided, sometimes impatiently pushed to protect and to punish.”

This somewhat cryptic remark can be understood by reading Israeli professor Israel Yuval’s book Two Nations in Thy Womb. Yuval explained that blood libations were necessary (in the eyes of Jewish magicians) to bring forth Divine Vengeance upon the Goyim. He also quotes an irrefutable (i.e. not denied by Jews) instance of blood sacrifice by a Jew. ( Read about it in my article Bloodcurdling Libel.) Toaff improved upon Yuval by stressing the ordinary magic use of blood by Jews in the Middle Ages, and by allowing for the anti-Christian element: crucifixion of victims and the cursing of Christ and Virgin. Here his book is supported by (admittedly, more timid) Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence by Elliott Horowitz. Horowitz tells his reader of strange rituals: flagellation of the Virgin, destruction of crucifixes and the beating up and killing Christians.

Now it is behind us. We can look at the past and say: yes, some Jewish wizards and mystics practiced human sacrifices. They murdered children, mutilated their bodies and used their blood in order to outpour Divine Wrath on their non-Jewish neighbours. They mocked Christian rites by using Christian blood instead of blood of Christ. The Church and the people all over Europe were right. The Europeans (and the Arabs, and the Russians) weren’t crazy bigots, they understood what they saw. They punished the culprits but they left the innocent in peace. We, humans, can look at this dreadful page of history with pride, and shed a tear or two for the poor children destroyed by these wrath-seeking monsters. Jews may be more modest and cease carrying their historical wounds on the sleeve: their forefathers thrived despite these terrible doings by some of their coreligionists, while in the Jewish state, sins of some Palestinians are visited upon all of them. We can also dismiss with shudder the whining of Israel’s friends when they want us not to see the Jenin Massacre or Qana Massacre for – yes, exactly, this is like the “blood libel”, i.e. not a libel at all.

Let us hope that the great daring act of Professor Toaff will become a turning point in the life of the Church. The swing caused by perestroika of Vatican II went too far. Remember that the Russian perestroika ended with the collapse of the whole structure. While anti-papists feared an anti-Christ on the See of St Peter, there is the real danger of a Gorbachev.

In an Italian town of Orvieto on the Adriatic shore, the Jews demanded the removal of an exhibition of great artistic value and the cessation of the procession commemorating the miracle of Trani. There, a millennium ago, a consecrated host was stolen from the church by a Jewess, the thief decided to fry the body of Christ in oil, but miraculously the host turned into flesh and started bleeding profusely so that the holy blood poured all over the house. Indeed such cases of host desecration are well attended all over Europe; they were well described by Yuval, Horowitz and Toaff; they indeed occurred, and only infamous Jewish chutzpah pushed The Roman Association of Friends of Israel into writing a letter to the Pope demanding an end to a one-thousand-year-old observance. And they got it. The Church bent over, the panels were dismantled, the procession cancelled and profound apologies to Jews were issued, to the vast satisfaction of Israeli ambassadors Gideon Meir (to Rome) and Oded Ben Hur (to the Vatican) who dictated the capitulation.

“Strange world indeed ours. – wrote Domenico Savino in the excellent web-magazine Effedieffe. – The offense is brought to the Christian Faith and forgiveness is asked of those who had perpetrated it.” Savino muses whether it was impossible just to politely ignore the demand of Friends of Israel, and he quotes at length the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican representative at this capitulation. Kasper is doing full Monty: he denies that the Church is the True and Only Chosen Israel, asserts the equal position of the Jews as “elder brothers”, denies the necessity of Christ, asks forgiveness of the Jews while promising “a new spring for the Church and the world”.

“Spring for the Church?! – exclaims Savino. – Ah, but we have heard it already! The Pope said after Vatican II “We waited for the spring and the storm has come ». That spring has been enough for us and after this reconciliation in Orvieto I do not want more to hear the word ‘spring’ and see the wide smirk of satisfaction of “elder brothers” Gideon Meir and Oded Ben Hur!”

The perestroika came not only in Italy, and not only within the Catholic Church. In Germany a new sacrilege is being prepared: a “politically correct Bible” with the story of Passion being changed so as not to cause discomfort to Jews. The title is misleading: they may not call their bastard product “new German translation of the Bible free of gender bias and anti-Semitism”, like one can’t call one’s waste water, “wine free of intoxicants”. Changing one letter in the Bible is equivalent to ruining the world, says the Talmud, and adduces an example of a Torah scroll where one word is changed, from “meod” (very) to “mavet” (death). Such a death-celebrating Torah would surely cause our world to perish. “Antisemitism-free” scripture probably will center on Jewish suffering while the Church will play the role of the villain of the piece. It will extol Judas and reject Christ. Likewise, removing “gender bias” will also remove the Annunciation, this great divide between sterile monocausality of the Jews and the Christian meeting of Heaven and Earth. Indeed the Christian model was so much more successful that even Jews adopted it in their Cabbala, and apparently decided to dump the redundant old monocausality to the Germans.

In England, an old liberal weekly, the Observer, changed its feathers and became the neocon nest supporting the war and Bush-Blair alliance. In perfect logical sequitur the paper also renounced Christ and preferred Jews, as in this review of a new English book. Adam Mars-Jones prefers Oscar Schindler to General Adam von Trott who was executed for his part in Generals’ Plot in 1944: “That’s what made Schindler’s List such a startling film: it followed Jewish ethics by showing the hero’s outer journey, for once, rather than an inner one. The guy was tainted – so what? That’s his business, as long as he saved Jews. His mitzvahs earned him his place among the Righteous Gentiles, and in the absence of an afterlife (not really a feature of Jewish belief) that’s all that can be said. Let’s have more of that tone, and less of a cult of martyrdom. Veneration for sacrifice, for purely symbolic victory, can distort the most well-meaning enterprise, and risks insulting the dead, who had no options.”

The Observer reviewer made clear his choice for Judas or Caiaphas (“though tainted, he wanted to save Jews”) and against Jesus Christ who was the Sacrifice. His call for “less of a cult of martyrdom, less veneration for sacrifice, for purely symbolic victory” would make Golgotha the final last word, with no Resurrection in sight. Who needs Christian virtues? Man’s faults and vices are “his business, as long as he saved Jews”, and the best a goy may hope for is a “place among the Righteous Gentiles”. From this point of view, St Simon and other children did not die in vain; they helped the Jews call for God’s Vengeance, and that is the best they could possibly wish. Likewise, British soldiers could not hope for a better fate than to die for Israel on the streets of Basra, or Teheran, or elsewhere.

Thus, in Rome, Berlin or London, the Jews won a round or two in their competition with the Church. By stubbornly hanging on and never regretting, never apologizing, always working against Christianity, they succeeded in replacing in many simple minds the image of the Via Dolorosa, Golgotha and the Resurrection with their gross misrepresentation of human history as of a long line of innocent Jewish suffering, blood libels, holocausts and the Zionist redemption in the Holy Land. Though people reasonably rejected the idea of Jewish guilt in death of Christ, they installed instead an even more absurd idea of Church’s guilt in death of Jews.

The consequences are not purely theological. Britain, Italy and Germany acquiesce in Jewish strangulation of Christian Palestine, in the blockade of Gaza, in the robbery of Church lands in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They support American Drang Nach Osten. Worse: they lose their connection to God, their empathy to fellow human beings dries up, as if the blind spirit of vengeance conjured up by innocent blood caught up with them.

The publication of Dr Toaff’s book could become a not-a-minute-too-early turning point in the Western history, from apology of Judas to adoration of Christ. Yes, his narrative of murdered children makes just a small crack in the huge edifice of Jewish exceptionalism built in Europeans’ mind. But great edifices can fall in a moment, as we learned on 9/11.

Apparently, the Jews felt it and they attacked Toaff like maddened swarm. A renown Jewish historian, rabbi and a son of a rabbi, wrote about 500-year old events – why should they bestir themselves? In the Middle ages, use of blood, necromancy, black magic were not an exclusively Jewish realm. Witches and wizards of gentile background did it too. So just join the human race, warts and all! But this is too demeaning to the arrogant Chosenites.

“It is incredible that anyone, much less an Israeli historian, would give legitimacy to the baseless blood libel accusation that has been the source of much suffering and attacks against Jews historically,” said ADL National Director Abe Foxman. The Anti-Defamation League called the book “baseless and playing into the hands of anti-Semites everywhere.”

Not much of an historian, not much of a rabbi, Foxman has a priori knowledge, based on faith and conviction, that it is “baseless”. But then, he said the same about the Jenin Massacre.

In a press release, Bar-Ilan University “is expressing great anger and extreme displeasure at Toaff, for his lack of sensitivity in publishing his book about blood libels in Italy. His choice of a private publishing firm in Italy, the book’s provocative title and the interpretations given by the media to its contents have offended the sensitivities of Jews around the world and harmed the delicate fabric of relations between Jews and Christians. Bar-Ilan University strongly condemns and repudiates what is seemingly implied by Toaff’s book and by reports in the media concerning its contents, as if there is a basis for the blood libels that led to the murder of millions of innocent Jews.”

These are firing words. Toaff came under strong community pressure: he was about to find himself at 65, on the street, probably without pension, without old friends and students, ostracized and excommunicated. Probably his life was threatened as well: Jews employ professional secret killers to deal with such nuisances. In the old days, they were called rodef, now they are called kidon, still as efficient as of old, and they were intercepted less often than bloodthirsty maniacs. His reputation would be annihilated: a Sue Blackwell would “consult her Jewish friends” and call him a Nazi, an ADL-sponsored Searchlight would discover, invade or invent his private life, many small Jews in the Web would denigrate him in their blogs and in their flagship, the Wikipedia. Who would befriend him? Probably not a single Jew, and not many Christians.

In the beginning of the attack, he tried to brave it: “I will not give up my devotion to the truth and academic freedom even if the world crucifies me.” Toaff told Haaretz earlier this week that he stood by the contention of his book, that there is a factual basis for some of the medieval blood accusations against the Jews.

But Toaff was not made of stern stuff. Like Winston Smith, the main character of Orwell’s 1984, he broke down in a mental cellar of Jewish inquisition. He published a full apology, stopped distribution of his book, promised to submit it to Jewish censorship, and “also promised to donate all the funds forthcoming from the sale of his book to the Anti-Defamation League” of good Abe Foxman.

His last words were as touching as those of Galileo recanting his heresy: “I will never allow any Jew-hater to use me or my research as an instrument for fanning the flames, once again, of the hatred that led to the murder of millions of Jews. I extend my sincerest apologies to all those who were offended by the articles and twisted facts that were attributed to me and to my book.”

Thus Ariel Toaff surrendered to the community pressure. Not that it matters what he says now. We do not know what mental tortures were prepared for him in the Jewish Gestapo of ADL, how he was forced to recant. What he gave us is enough. But what has he given us? In a way, his contribution is similar to that of Benny Morris and other Israeli New Historians: they repeated the data we knew from Palestinian sources, from Abu Lughud and Edward Said. But Palestinian sources were not trusted – only Jewish sources are considered trustworthy in our Jewish-centered universe. Thus Morris et al helped millions to free themselves from the enforced Zionist narrative. This would not be necessary if we were able to believe a goy vs. Jew: an Arab about the Expulsion of 1948, an Italian about St Simon, maybe even a German about war deportations. Now Ariel Toaff has freed many captive minds by repeating what we knew from a variety of Italian, English, German, Russian sources. If “blood libel” turned out to be not a libel but a regular criminal case, maybe other Jewish claims will go down, too? Maybe the Russians were not guilty of pogroms? Maybe Ahmadinejad is not a new Hitler bent on destruction? Maybe Muslims are not evil Jew-haters?

Ariel Toaff gave us also a window to view processes inside Jewry, in order to learn how this incredible discipline of Swarm is maintained, how dissidents are punished, how uniformity of mind is achieved. Jewry is indeed exceptional from this point of view: a Christian (or Muslim) scientist who would find a blemish in the long history of the Church will not hide it, he is not likely to be terrorized into obedience; he will not be ostracized if he embraces the most vile view; even if excommunicated, the scientist or the writer will find enough support, as Salman Rushdee, Voltaire and Tolstoy discovered. Nor Church neither Ummah command this sort of blind discipline, and nor Pope neither Imam wields the power of Mr Abe Foxman over his coreligionists. And Foxman does not care for truth, but goes for what is (in his view) good for the Jews. No amount of witnesses, not even a live broadcast of Jewish blood sacrifice would force him to accept unpleasant truth: he will find a reason why. We saw it in the case of Qana bombardment, when Israeli planes destroyed a building and killed some fifty children, surely more than the wizards of Umbria did. Thus do not expect Toaff’s book will convince Jews – nothing can.

Do not envy this unity of Jewish hearts and minds; this unity’s obverse side is that No Jew Is Free. A man is forced to become a Jew by his parents; he has no freedom of mind on any stage; he has to follow the orders. My Jewish reader, if you’ll understand that you are a slave, not in vain you’ve read that far. Until you are able to answer the rhetoric question “Aren’t you a Jew?” with simple “No”, you’ll remain a prisoner on parole, a captive on the string. Sooner or later they will pull the string. Sooner or later you’ll have to lie, to search for weasel words, to deny what you know is right and true. Freedom is at your gate; stretch your arm and take it. Like the Kingdom of Heaven, freedom is yours for asking. Freedom is Christ, for a man chooses Christ with his heart, not with his foreskin. You are free when you accept Christ and are able to reply as the Gospel says (Matth 5:37) “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes, I am a Christian’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No, I am not a Jew.’ Luckily, it is possible. Toaff could have had it; what a pity his courage failed him!

His fate reminds me that of Uriel (almost the same name!) Acosta. A noble forerunner of Spinoza, Acosta (born c. 1585, Oporto, Portugal – died April 1640, Amsterdam) attacked Rabbinic Judaism and was excommunicated. “A sensitive soul, Acosta found it impossible to bear the isolation of excommunication, and he recanted, writes Encyclopedia Britannica. Excommunicated again after he was accused of dissuading Christians from converting to Judaism, he made a public recantation after enduring years of ostracism. This humiliation shattered his self-esteem, and he shot himself.” Acosta’s error was that he went far, but not far enough.

[i] Uncannily, this church process practically coincided with the first Perestroika (Debunking of Stalin) initiated by Khrushchev on the XXII Party Congress in 1961, when the Communist Party repented sins and crimes of its great old leaders. One generation, thirty years later the Party collapsed, its membership was decimated by the second Perestroika. Penitence is good for soul, but then, soul is immortal.

Israel Shamir is a critically acclaimed and respected Russian Israeli writer. He has written extensively and translated Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Jaffa, is a Christian, and an outspoken critic of Israel and Zionism.