Wednesday, February 28, 2007
His most famous books are The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller and Ecstasies:Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath .
This review appeared in La Corriere della Sera:
Survey Shows 63 Percent Think Large Families are a Joy
Sixty-three percent of overall respondents said ideal number of children was four and above; 56 percent said respecting parents was the most important Jewish value
Ynet's weekly Yahadut-Gesher survey has revealed that some 63 percent of the public believes that the ideal family is comprised of a man, a woman and at least four children.
The survey was conducted by The Brands Institute among a sampling of 500 respondents from the adult Jewish population in Israel.
While recent data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics reported that 2.2 children was the average number of children per Jewish family in Israel, the new survey shows a significant discrepancy.
Sixty-three percent of overall respondents said the ideal number of children was four and above, and 29 percent preferred only two children. One percent of the population believes that the preferred situation is a single parent with two children, and another percentage said they would like to see same sex parents with two children.
As expected, the figures were higher among the more religious respondents. The secular community (47 percent), traditional (69 percent), orthodox and ultra-orthodox (87 percent) – said the ideal number of children per family was four and above.
A further surprising finding showed that two percent of the ultra-orthodox public prefers single parent families. Even the low figures pertaining to same sex couples were not obvious in face of the estimates by Open House, according to which 3-10 percent of the population in Israel are homosexuals and lesbians.
Education among traditional families deserves to be noted, said 36 percents of respondents. Ultra-orthodox (76 percent), religious (50 percent) and traditional (56 percent) chose their own form of education as the best, and only the secular community said that traditional education is more highly esteemed than their own (35 percent and 29 percent respectively).
In total 36 percent responded that the traditional community has better education, and 21 percent said they valued the religious education more, 17 percent preferred secular education and 12 percent preferred the ultra-orthodox form of education. An additional 10 percent refused to give in to stigmas, and said that the information differs from one family to another.
Leading value – respecting parents
In answer to the question what is the most important Jewish value, 56 percent said that respecting parents was the most important, there was a consensus on this among traditional and secular respondents (65 percent). The Shabbat was the second most important value with a significant gap - only 18 percent view this as a leading Jewish value , followed by holidays, charity and Torah study.
Among the ultra-orthodox community, 42 percent said the Shabbat was the most important value, followed by Torah study (18 percent). Even 38 percent of orthodox respondents noted that the Shabbat was the most important value, before respecting parents (22 percent) and Torah study (13 percent).
Another surprising, and perhaps worrying finding showed that despite the difficult socioeconomic situation, the religious implication of charity are not well known. Only six percent of the public views charity as the most important Jewish value.
At the same time, I despise hypocrisy even more.
This week Esterina Tartman, MK from Yisrael Beitenu, was nominated to serve as Minister for Tourism. Expectedly, the Left reacted with its typical hysteria. Tartman is a settler, a mother of four and doesn't trust Arabs ("What does she think? Does she think we're at war?"). Immediately, they started looking for a way to shoot down her nomination. Of course, they found one. Tartman listed herself as having a BA in Economics from Bar Ilan and an MA in the same from Hebrew U. Well, it emerges that the latter is false and the former degree was from Touro College and not from Bar Ilan. (Though Touro is, and always was, a fully recognized and (now) accredited instituion in Israel.)
This was molto stupido on her part, and she will likely pay with her ministerial position (as is proper). That's really a shame, because Tartman is a talented woman and would probably have been a good minister.
Nevertheless, the attacks on her emanate from circles that are so corrupt and hypocritical that 'my hands were clinched with rage' (Don McClean). Consider, the same self-important avatars of political and intellectual purity are perfectly willing to overlook the exact same sins among their own. As investigative reporter Yoav Yitzhak notes: a) Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel lied about having an MA in Law b) Israel Democracy Institute head Aryeh Carmon lied about being a Professor (and was forced to apologize to the President of Hebrew University) c) Media darling, self-appointed philosopher and former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg never finished his BA. However, no one has even suggested that Arbel be deposed, Carmon be dismissed or Burg (well, thank God he left politics-for now). True, Carmon apologized for his fraud but is still referred to as 'Professor.' (Maybe he plays piano.)
Fear neither the Pharisees or the Saduccees, but rather the hypocrites; who act like Zimri and seek to be rewarded like Phineas.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Since I work in the Tel Aviv area, and dwell in the Judean Hills, I think I can comment on her seeing this as proof of the superiority of the latter over the former.
No matter where you live, there is absolutely no better indication of the vacuous nadir reached by contemporary 'culture' (sic!) than the hysterics and fascination over the life and (admittedly) untimely demise of a mindless, artificially (you know) gold-digger. Is it funny? I guess in Tel Aviv anything that snacks of the cheapest American superficiality is funny.
Artifice upon artifice....Oh well, Purim does have its serious side too.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Meanwhile, Pasque di Sangue is being virulently defended by Post-Zionists, Anti-Zionists, and Antisemites.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Monday, February 19, 2007
Blood Libel: Ariel Toaff's Perplexing Book
By Kenneth Stow
Mr. Stow, the editor of Jewish History, is Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at the University of Haifa
A week after its publication, Ariel Toaff has withdrawn his Pasque di sangue (in English: Bloody Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders) from circulation. Hopefully this will elegantly end an unfortunate episode. The book’s thesis is unambiguous: Jews crucified Christian children and used their blood ritually. The author’s disclaimers, like that which appears in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, are unpersuasive. The argumentation of the thesis is also elusive.
Discussions of the negativity Jews expressed about Christianity during the festivals of Purim and Passover and the prominence of blood-imagery in especially Passover rituals (chapters ten and eleven) are followed by the opening words to chapter twelve, which say: “The use of the blood of Christian children in the celebration of Passover was apparently framed by precise rules, or at least this is what the depositions in the Trent trial indicate." Mere juxtaposition—of itself, and by itself: abstract imagery morphing into “acting out”—is at once the totality of the “proof” brought to suggest Jews committed ritual murder, as well as its vague disclaimer, found in the words "or at least." But, as it proceeds, the book neglects its disclaimer, recasting as unimpeachable the confessions made by the Jews tried for the (supposed) murder of the child Simone at Trent in 1475. The reader is equally to accept as true the tale of a Christian boy allegedly murdered by Jews in 415, although the sole teller is the Church historian, Socrates, no more reliable than his counterpart who wrote that during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 611 C.E., the Jews murdered 50,000 Christians. An article based on such evidence would be rejected by the journal I have been editing for twenty years, Jewish History, as methodologically flawed.
To disparage this book is not, as some have suggested, to challenge academic freedom. It is to decry bad historiographical method. The question is not whether historians have the right to assess the veracity of ritual murder charges, but whether their arguments must adhere to generally agreed rules of historical reasoning. Here, the rules were plainly ignored. Toaff, professor of medieval and Renaissance history at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, chose to put his uncritical trust in the literal words of Christian chroniclers, court notaries, and tendentious modern polemicists. In particularly in its final chapters, his book glides from images of martyrdom found in Hebrew Crusade chronicles, alongside maledictions of Christianity in the mouths of exhausted and many times massacred Ashkenazic Jews, to the supposed reality of ritual murder, framed as vendetta. And he does so on the sole basis of the appearance of these images and maledictions in the depictions of Simone’s death elicited by torture from the accused. More likely, as I see it, the accused were recasting older imagery as a real event in order to satisfy their tormentors. Jews, no doubt, had also imbibed what Christians were saying, which they may well have regurgitated when “put to the question.” Under duress, their mentality may have come to gibe with that of their prosecutors.
Toaff might at least have raised these possibilities, but he never does. For this would have meant abandoning a narrative mode which, as it is now, is but a skein of speculations offered as self-evident truth by an omniscient author. It is this totally self-confident narrative that makes this book so treacherous. The tale is told as though its author were vouchsafed with the “truth.” The passage from the verifiable to the hypothetical is completely unmarked. And it is for this reason that the book wreaks such havoc, of itself, for what it says, on the author, and no less on its publisher Il Mulino.
What the book never confronts is the other side of the coin, to query whether charges of ritual murder, blood libels, or host desecration were intrinsic to Christian discourse, regardless of Jewish actions. A short time ago, Bernard Joassart, head of the Bollandists, the Jesuit students and collectors of Saints Lives in Antwerp, wrote me, saying: "Cette affaire du meurtre rituel a traîné longuement dans la conscience catholique - et je ne suis pas sûr que tous ont révisé leur jugement." Joassart was following in the path of Bollandist predecessors like Hippolyte Delehaye (Joassart is also Delehaye’s biographer), Francois Halkin, and Francois Van Ortroy, who nearly a century ago described ritual murder and blood libels as inanité. Embroiling himself with Jesuit authorities in Rome, who, at that time, were touting ritual murder libels, Van Ortroy wrote a scathing review denouncing G. Divina’s 1902 Storia del Beato Simone (the title says all), which calls the charge of killing Simon of Trent in 1475 true. Yet it is precisely Divina, together with Benedetto Bonelli’s, Dissertazione apologetica sul martirio del beato Simone da Trento of 1747, whom Toaff repeatedly cites, far more, in fact, than the trial records themselves (condemned in their own day by the Dominican legate Bishop Battista de’ Giudici and seconded, if indirectly, by the then Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV) to prove that ritual murders actually took place. Toaff thus finds himself squarely on the side of Van Ortroy’s arch-conservative opponents (as he could have known from my recent Jewish Dogs: An Image and Its Interpreters [Stanford, 2006], which he cites in his notes).
Alas, ritual murder, blood libel, and host libel charges have been integral to ecclesiology from the earliest. The story of the Jewish boy of Bourges, whose father threw him into a furnace rather than letting him take communion was being told already in the mid-sixth century. The boy stands for the Eucharist, just as in like fashion, Werner of Oberwessel, said to have been martyred in 1287, was identified with the corpus verum (the Eucharist), the corpus mysticum (the church), as well as with Christ’s real person (Acta Sanctorum, April 2: 699-700). The purpose of the charges was to demonstrate the Eucharist’s unassailability, even when it was being pursued by those whom first John Chrysostom (fourth century) and eventually Pius IX (nineteenth century) called “Jewish Dogs,” who were said to be bent on defiling the Corpus Christi in all its religious and social forms. As put by the chronicler William of Breton (d. 1223), each year the Jews immolabant et communicabant, they sacrificed and—literally—took communion with the heart of (that surrogate Eucharist) a Christian boy. This idea, moreover, Breton continues, was commonplace in the Capetian palace about 1179, four centuries before Trent. Nor was it something wrung out of a Jew through torture. Indeed, tales of ritual murder are often essentially a collection of topoi, with only the purported vicitm’s name, the place, and date changed. And as Miri Rubin explains in her Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven, 1999), these tales, which she calls useful tales of exemplification, confer legitimacy—and legitimize Christian response.
If, then, these accusations could develop out of Christian need—and without Jewish input—why should we believe ritual murder actually occurred? Thomas of Monmouth’s account of William of Norwich, for one, is a later concoction, out of thin air. Yet Toaff treats Thomas’s “facts” as real, just as he never bothers to say that the 1329 murder charge in Savoy was rejected as folly by Christian judges. Toaff would have us believe that the specific charge of mixing blood in the haroset (the fruit and nut mix eaten on Passover to recall the mortar Jewish slaves used in Egypt) was true. He is also distracted by his inexplicable sub-theme that all “deviant” Jewish behavior was of Ashkenazi origin—Jews from German regions—as were the Jews in Trent in 1475. However, the custom of eating haroset on lettuce, as was charged at Savoy, is sefardi and italqi. Ashkenazim accompany haroset with horse-raddish. The late Isadore Twersky whom Toaff cites to show Ashkenazim were haughty, said the same of Spanish rabbis, whereas Italians freely absorbed from all Jewish traditions (Italia Judaica I, Rome, 1983, pp. 390-391).
Also perturbing are the constant references to practical (magical) kabbalah, which was more typical of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as indeed are the origins of most works of this nature that Toaff cites. Earlier references to Jewish magic, treated as reliable, often come from the writings of Bishop Hinderbach of Trent, the chief antagonist in 1475. In citing Hinderbach in this context, Toaff’s method reminds us of the original seventeenth century Bollandists (as opposed to their twentieth century heirs), who strove to validate the chronology of their sources, but failed to ask whether what the sources said was true. Yet Pasque di Sangue can also be disingenuous. Toaff brings legitimate sources on the use of animal blood for medicinal purposes, which he then melds (sia animale che umano, p.103) with supposed confessions about the need for human blood. But these confessions are reported at a distance, and once again by drawing on Bonfelli and Divina, as well as the fifteenth century Franciscan Alfonso de Espina, whose Fortalitium fidei against Jews makes hairs stand on end.
Ultimately, Pasque di Sangue comes across as the product of deliberate imagination rather than reasoned historical thought. To correct the book, as Toaff proposes, would mean to phrase the whole hypothetically and to discard a raft of tendentious (especially secondary) sources, leaving the book with essentially nothing to say. A pity, for Toaff’s materials could have led to a master book about beliefs and their reception, for which a starting point could have been chapter ten, which discusses Christian and Jewish attitudes toward blood. As its stands now, Pasque di Sangue is full of “sound and fury.” It signifies nothing more.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Now, Professor Hsia has weighed in on the latest discussion regarding this blood libel. In a long article in Haaretz he writes:
The real blood of Passover
By Ronnie Po-chia Hsia
On Easter Sunday 1475, the dead body of a 2-year-old Christian boy named Simon was found in the cellar of a Jewish family's house in Trent, Italy. Town magistrates arrested 18 Jewish men and five Jewish women on the charge of ritual murder - the killing of a Christian child in order to use his blood in Jewish religious rites. In a series of interrogations that involved liberal use of judicial torture, the magistrates obtained the confessions of the Jewish men. Eight were executed in late June, and another committed suicide in jail. Then the pope intervened and suspended the trial. Appeals from the Venetian and Jewish communities moved Sixtus IV to appoint the Dominican Baptista Dei Giudici, Bishop of Ventigmiglia, as the apostolic commissioner to investigate the affair.
The trial in Trent was highly irregular. The 1247 Decretum of Pope Innocent IV had prohibited ritual murder trials on account of the judicial abuses involved and the violence against the Jews. Dei Giudici's task, therefore, was precisely to see whether abuses and excessive violence were involved in the judicial procedure in Trent.
Skeptical of the evidence he saw and disapproving of the popular cult that had arisen around the dead boy's body, Dei Giudici quickly headed into a collision course with the ruler of Trent, the prince-bishop Johannes von Hinderbach, who had taken upon himself the promotion of the cult of Little Simon in his native Germany. The case of Simon of Trent quickly became politically explosive - a scandal for some, a cause celebre for others. To preempt opposition, Hinderbach ordered the trial resumed in October, executing another six Jewish men in January. The magistrates also put the women under judicial torture, putting four on the rack between November and March.
Strongly rebuked by the pope in April 1476, Hinderbach sent legates to Rome to plead his case. Sixtus appointed a commission of cardinals to adjudicate the acrimonious mutual accusations between Hinderbach and Dei Giudici. A final papal decision was rendered on June 20, 1478, after much legal wrangling, behind-the-scene lobbying and a widespread publicity campaign in Italy and Germany in support of the trial.
The cardinals' commission concluded that the trial was conducted in keeping with legal procedure. Thus Sixtus cleared Hinderbach of all suspicions of judicial abuse, but explicitly forbade Christians from killing or mutilating Jews, extorting money from them or preventing them from practicing their rites as permitted by law, without papal judgment. In effect, Sixtus IV accepted the fait accompli and his own powerlessness vis-a-vis the prince-bishop of Trent - who owed his appointment directly to the Holy Roman Emperor - while morally censuring his actions.
The testimonies from this notorious trial apparently persuaded Professor Ariel Toaff that "within Ashkenazi Judaism there were extremist groups that could have committed such an act [i.e. the murder of Christian children in order to obtain their blood for Passover] and justified it." Furthermore, Professor Toaff stated, "[He] found there were statements and parts of the testimony that were not part of the Christian culture of the judges, and they could not have been invented or added by them. They were components appearing in prayers known from the [Jewish prayer book]." These arguments formed the basis of his controversial book "Bloody Passover," which has just been published in Italy.
Professor Toaff is an expert on the history of medieval Italian Jewry, and I shall look forward to reading his latest work. But even before examining it, there are several comments that can be made to clarify this debate.
First, the testimonies of Jews to which Professor Toaff refers. To my knowledge, different copies of these testimonies, obtained under judicial torture, existed in three depositories: The Vatican Library in Rome and the Archivio di Stato in Trent had copies in Latin, and New York's Yeshiva University has a German version. Professors Diego Quaglioni (Trent) and Anna Esposito (Rome) have published the first volume of an exemplary scholarly edition on the Latin versions. I examined the German manuscript and the Trent documents while writing a book on the subject. Some of these testimonies indeed contain long passages about the use of Christian blood in the preparation of matzah and in Passover rituals. The testimonies of Tobias of Magdeburg, a physician, are notable in this regard. During his fifth interrogation on April 17, 1475, under torture on the rack, Tobias broke down and "confessed" to the ritual killing. He responded to the magistrates' question about the various gestures and words in the Passover celebration, spelling out the Haggadah curses against the Egyptians. Under further torture, Tobias "acknowledged" that Jews had used Simon's blood for their Passover, that he himself had purchased dried blood in the past, including once in 1468-69 from a Jew traveling from Candia, selling blood and sugar.
These details, so it seems, have convinced Professor Toaff of the existence of an extremist group among the Ashkenazim, fueled by their hatred of Christians due to the persecution inflicted upon them. There is plenty of evidence to suggest hatred between Jews and Christians, as many scholars have demonstrated regarding the Middle Ages. It is, however, quite a leap of imagination to take testimonies obtained under torture and to construct a hypothetical reality based on unrelated circumstantial facts. It may be true that dried blood or other exotic ingredients were used in popular medicine, Jewish or Gentile - not being an expert on the history of medicine, I remain open-minded on this; but it is sheer blind logic to jump to the conclusion that Jewish groups might have used Christian blood for ritual practices.
It appears as though Professor Toaff based his argument on the fact that the judges in Trent seemed to know a great deal about Jewish rituals, the implication being that if the Jews had not done it, how could they have concocted such a detailed narrative? The answer is in fact quite simple: The Jews, under interrogation and judicial torture, told the magistrates what they wanted to hear. The authorities who presided over the trial were Giovanni de Salis, a native of Brescia, and Jakob von Sporo, from the Tirol; the prince-bishop, Hinderbach, as we know, was German.
The Jewish community in Trent was, with one exception, entirely Ashkenazi. Most were recent immigrants to a city with a large German-speaking minority. The belief that Jews killed Christian children in order to obtain their blood for Passover (among other reasons) had existed in German-speaking Central Europe for at least a century. Just five years before Trent, there was a ritual murder trial in the small town of Endingen, in the Breisgau, then under Austrian Hapsburg rule. Four Jews were accused of ritual murder and executed before the Holy Roman emperor intervened to stop the trial from spreading. Bishop Hinderbach knew of this trial and of others in South Germany, for he sent an envoy to collect copies of testimonies from these places in 1476, when the trial in Trent faced heavy opposition.
We also know, from the testimonies used by Professor Toaff, that the Christian authorities were intensely interested in Jewish liturgy. During the interrogation of Anna, who was married to Israel, son of Samuel, the leader of the Jewish community, on March 9, 1476, the authorities specifically directed her to pinpoint the passage in the Haggadah that contains the maledictions against the Egyptians.
In sum, the Christian authorities were already convinced of the reality of ritual murder and expected the Jews to fill in the details. Convinced that such a crime did exist, they applied excessive torture to obtain precisely the bits of narratives that would make a horrendous tale plausible to those predisposed to the suspicion of Jews. The Christian authorities also had a Jewish informant, the young painter Israel of Brandenburg, a German Jew who was staying in Trent when he was caught in the dragnet. To save himself, Israel converted in April 1475 and became the informant for the Christian authorities, organizing the Hebrew books confiscated from the three families. The convert Israel played a double game, first as the informant for the Trent authorities and then as a secret messenger between the imprisoned Jewish women and the Apostolic Commissioner in the summer of 1475. He was arrested in October, put under severe torture, and during a November 2 interrogation, Israel, hanging on the rack, denounced the Christian faith. The judge asked Israel whether he believed it was right, according to Jewish law, that Jews kill Christian children and drink and eat their blood as he himself had said. Israel replied that "he believed firmly that it is right that Jews kill Christian children and drink their blood. He wants to have Christian blood at Easter; even now that he is baptized, he wants to die a Jew." Here, at last, is the kernel of truth in Professor Toaff's convoluted argument: Torture creates hatred!
Professor Toaff, however, is utterly misguided when he confuses the defiant words of a helpless man with the fantasized reality of the Christian authorities. For the Jews of Trent, and for other communities throughout the ages, Passover was indeed bloody, but it was the blood of the Jews that bore witness to a violent fantasy born out of intolerance.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Bar-Ilan University Condemns Publication of Book on Blood Libels
University expects Prof. Ariel Toaff to take immediate measures to repair the damage caused by the publication of his book
Following a preliminary investigation into the circumstances surrounding the publication of Prof. Ariel Toaff's book in Italy, Bar-Ilan University is expressing great anger and extreme displeasure at Prof. Ariel 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.
r-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.
Bar-Ilan University's executive leadership and academic faculty have consistently condemned any attempt to justify the terrible blood libels against the Jews. Prof. Toaff should have demonstrated greater sensitivity and caution in his handling of the book and its publication, in a manner that would have prevented the distorted and offensive reports and interpretations.
At Bar-Ilan University it is expected that now, after the extent of the damage caused to the Jewish public has become apparent, Prof. Toaff will take personal responsibility for his blunder and act to repair the damage which he caused.
In addition, the University expects all those involved in the matter to work to set the record straight and to remove the needless cloud that has formed in the wake of the distorted accounts.