Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blood Libel Redux: An Anti-Ashkenazi Vendetta

[Somehow, I missed this review by a leading Jewish Historian, which is the most far-reaching to date. It appeared in the Times Literary Supplement.]

Blood libels are back
David Abulafia

Ariel Toaff
Ebrei d’Europa e omicidi rituali.
366pp. Bologna: Il Mulino.

Nothing can have been more alarming for the Jews of the north Italian town of Trent than the discovery, on Easter Sunday 1475, of the body of a missing child, in a stream running beneath one of their houses. They reported the find to the authorities; but they had no illusions about the violent consequences. Since the reign of Emperor Frederick II in the thirteenth century, rumours had circulated in German-speaking lands of the killing of Christian boys by Jews, in order to obtain blood, supposedly used in bizarre rituals. Frederick was convinced by the counter-argument that the consumption of blood was strictly forbidden in the Mosaic law code; nevertheless, copycat accusations persisted, coming in great waves at times of social tension, and resulting in massacres of Jews.

The Trent discovery added fuel to the lurid denunciations of the Jews by friars travelling around northern Italy at this time; the Jews were also accused of dishonouring the consecrated host, even stabbing it until Christ’s blood spurted out. In Trent, the town’s Jewish men were executed, while the women converted to Christianity; the community came to an end, but not its memory in the minds of the Christians – the tomb of the dead boy, Simon, became a focus of devotion, and a wave of tales of ritual murder spread across Europe. The authorities reacted to these stories in different ways: the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor defended the Jews, while the Pope doubted the testimonies made under torture.

The story of Simon of Trent has once again given rise to furious controversy in Italy. The Israeli historian Ariel Toaff argues, in Pasque di sangue, that the story of Simon, and, pari passu, other stories of ritual murder around the time of Passover, reflect practices in what he calls an extreme, “fundamentalist”, group within medieval German Judaism.

His sensationalist title, “Passovers of Blood”, is not calculated to comfort those who reject these stories as fantasies, calumnies, or tragic misunderstandings. For Professor Toaff, the Jews of Trent were typical of a new and alien Judaism which was laying down roots in northern Italy. Demand for credit led cities and lords to authorize limited Jewish settlement; one result was the arrival from north of the Alps of German Jews, and it is on these Ashkenazim (“Germans”) that Toaff focuses, noting that accusations of ritual murder were associated with the Ashkenazi Jews and not with the Sephardim of Iberia, nor with the Italian communities – a statement which ignores vigorous accusations in late thirteenth-century Italy. But for Toaff, the Ashkenazim were outsiders in a way that the native Italian Jews could not be, because the latter were much more integrated into the local economy, society and culture. If the Ashkenazim tried to speak Italian, “it was difficult to understand them because of the heavy German accent of their pronunciation and the many German and Yiddish phrases that peppered their speech”. Their “radically different” pronunciation of the liturgical language, Hebrew, made it “practically impossible to pray together” with Italian Jews. In fact, Toaff’s profoundly negative image of Ashkenazi Jews who lived in an almost sealed world is belied by the evidence that there were Christians, even priests, on good terms with these Jews and anxious, as far as possible, to help them in their time of trial. For Toaff, rulers who befriended the Jews were mainly interested in the profitability of the Jewish loan banks.

It was the Germanness of these Jews that was, in Toaff’s account, their undoing. They were not just pawnbrokers but merchants and artisans, and some became involved in the German trade in dried blood; but blood took many forms. The most common form was “dragon’s blood”, derived from trees in Africa and the Canary Islands (though, as the name suggests, it was often uncertain whether exotic spices were animal, vegetable, or mineral). In the lands of blutwurst, animal blood was collected – Jews may have been a regular source of this, because kosher slaughterers would drain as much blood as possible from the carcass in accordance with the commandment not to consume blood. But the medieval pharmacopoeia also contained unguents and potions made of powdered blood and human tissue, a witches’ brew that might include rendered fat from executed criminals, and most notoriously mummia, powdered Egyptian mummy. These items were traded by Christians and Jews, and rabbis were asked whether they could be used: the rule of thumb was that even a commandment as strict as that against eating blood could be ignored when undergoing vital medical treatment. It is thus no surprise that the testimonies gathered at Trent in 1475 mention the trade in blood.

Therapeutic use of various types of blood was, Toaff argues, matched by magical uses: during circumcisions small quantities of blood might be gathered from the wound, mixed with wine, and even consumed; while barren women in some areas competed to seize and swallow the foreskin. Perhaps there is an analogy in the modern fashion for consuming placentas. Toaff is anxious to prove that Ashkenazi Jews did occasionally consume blood; still, there is a great gap between its therapeutic use and the killing of Christian children for their blood.

Toaff wants to take all this much further. Blood, not liberation, was, he asserts, the great theme of the Passover festival, particularly the night-time meal at the start of the festival: “a true and proper river of blood ran at Passover across the Seder table and through the pages of the Haggadah”, the order of service telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Here the author exploits the controversial research of Israel Yuval, who has presented many themes in the Jewish liturgy as a response to the challenge of Christianity; and there is no doubt that certain elements in the Passover ritual, such as the invocation, “Pour out your wrath upon the nations . . .”, were directed at Christian persecutors. But Toaff is carried away by his theme. Everything in the Passover Seder becomes infused with blood: the blood of the first plague, when the River Nile turned red; the blood of the Paschal lamb (even if represented by a charred bone); the haroset, a paste made to represent the mortar used by the Israelites as slaves in the land of Egypt; the wine which came to life, as it were, during the listing of the ten plagues in Egypt, when (in the German custom) a drop of wine was spilled for each plague.

Here were communities which had suffered slaughter and forced conversion since the armies of the First Crusade marched through the Rhineland in 1096. Then and subsequently, Ashkenazi Jews put their own children to death so that they would not be taken from them and baptised; by sacrificing their children, who, they thought, would be better off in the Next World as Jews, than in this one as Christians, they called upon God to come to their defence and to avenge their spilt blood. Christians saw this happening and concluded that Jews were violent, killed their own children, and might all the more easily kill Christian ones.

Toaff wants us to believe that a small group of fanatics took these ideas about the salvific nature of blood and the necessity of vengeance so far that they conspired secretly to kill Christian children, whose murder was supposedly a re-enactment of the killing of Christ; that their leaders secretly took small quantities of powdered blood and mixed it with the special flour used for baking the three slabs of unleavened bread used at the Passover meal (despite extremely strict laws about their ingredients – exclusively flour and water); moreover, that they sprinkled powdered human blood on the wine which they spilled (but did not drink) as they enumerated the ten plagues of Egypt. Toaff uses the statements gathered from witnesses under torture in 1475 to argue this case. This is the sort of evidence he is using (drawn here from Ronald Po-Chia Hsia’s authoritative Trent 1475, 1992): “He was asked whether he saw the murdered boy. Joaff: ‘In the ditch.’ Podestà: ‘Think again.’ Joaff: ‘In the antechamber of the synagogue’”. This was under threat of torture. Then, during torture: “‘Let me down because I will say the truth.’ He was let down and asked where he saw the child in the synagogue. He said, ‘On a bench”’.

According to most of these witnesses the child was killed in the synagogue antechamber, and then laid on the reading-desk, before the ark containing the scrolls of the Law (thus flouting the laws concerning ritual purity). The Jews in Trent were supposed to have cawed over the body of Simon: “Go and say to Jesus, your God, and Mary, that he will help you, pray that he will free you and take you from our hands”. Though one would expect the draining of blood to be a very messy business, no forensic evidence was provided from the synagogue; after all, Umberto Eco’s Baskerville was long dead and Sherlock Holmes unborn.

Ariel Toaff’s handling of the evidence is deeply flawed; he takes extorted statements at face value, and he assumes that his disparate pieces of “evidence” from Jewish sources fit together. Evidence that Jews committed acts of violence against one another or against Christians, the trade in blood, rituals of circumcision, the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, images of Pharaoh’s massacre of the innocents, early medieval parodies of Christianity, rowdy celebrations of Esther’s victory over Haman at the festival of Purim, are all woven loosely together; meanwhile, highly relevant Christian material, notably the surge in accusations of host desecration, and the friars’ campaigns against the Jews, is hardly addressed. It is there that we can identify the reasons for the repeated accusation of ritual murder, there that we see the assumption that Jews constantly recrucify Christ in countless ways, of which this is the most horrible. It was taken as proof that all Jews, ancient and contemporary, were indeed Christ-killers.

The biggest mystery about Pasque di sangue is what Toaff is trying to say about accusations of ritual murder before 1475. He takes us back to the first clear accusation of child crucifixion, in Norwich in 1144. What is disconcerting is how here and elsewhere he tells these stories in the past-indicative mood without the usual qualifications one would expect from a historian writing in Italian – a liberal use of the conditional mood, a good sprinkling of subjunctives, some sign of suspension of belief. Children did turn up dead in medieval towns; fingers were pointed at those who were seen as outsiders. Jews were terrified of the accusation of child murder, and were perfectly aware that any rumour of violence against Christians could bring destruction upon the entire community. Nor was it just Jews who were accused of child murder: heretics and witches who made bread out of the ashes of sacrificial children were an equally familiar trope. So we have to conclude that Toaff sees the Christian accusation as in some sense the source of a Jewish practice, in the following sequence: Jews are accused of doing this; some Jews begin to believe that they do this; some Jews do this. And yet at other times he is clearly arguing that these ideas emerged within the Jewish community, and that they had a life of their own there. Meanwhile the significance of blood in Christian culture, and in particular the significance of the Eucharistic sacrifice, is largely ignored as an explanation of the fantasies, for such they were, about Passover rituals, fantasies in which the unleavened bread and wine became explicit negations of the body and blood of Christ.

The blood libel has played a particularly nefarious role in the history of anti-Semitism. Similar accusations resurfaced in Damascus in 1840, and a century later in Hitler’s Germany; the persistence of the blood libel makes it all the more important that it is examined responsibly and not credulously. Ariel Toaff’s book has caused a predictable outcry in Italy, and the publishers, in Bologna, have now withdrawn this edition of Pasque di sangue – though a new one is promised. A historian who finds it so difficult to distinguish truth from fiction, however, is best advised to lay down his pen.
David Abulafia is Professor of Mediterranean History at the University of Cambridge. His books include Italy in the Central Middle Ages, 2004, and A Mediterranean Emporium: The Catalan kingdom of Majorca, 1994.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Face of the Generation

The Appointment Committee for Dayyanim met today and appointed fifteen new judges. Thirteen were hand picked by Rav Elyashiv. There is no question that he is a Godol ba-Torah. He also has a stated agenda, which includes: a) Abolition of the Heter Mekhira for Shemitta b) Emasculation of legitimate halakhic measures to free women whose abusive husbands keep them in thrall (One of his chosen dayyanim recently threatened to cancel a get retroactively, for a woman who's remarried and had children with the second husband. That, actually, causes a nine hundred year old Herem of Rabbenu Tam kick in. Cf. מרדכי סוף גיטין סי' תנ"ה. But then, who was Rabbenu Tam? ) c) To stop conversionin its tracks.

The truth is, I never understood Rav Elyashiv. He (and his community) never accepted the Heter Mekhira anyway. They don't use the Rabbanut courts anyway. They don't recognize Rabbanut conversions, anyway. So, why doesn't he just leave us alone?

Who wins from this? a) The Haredim, who just placed thirteen more people in high paying jobs. b) Reform and Conservative Judaism, who will now find it easier to inveigh against the Torah. c) The radical Hilonim, for the same reason.

Who loses? a) Agunot b) Potential Converts c) The agriculture industry d) Religious Zionism e) Modern Orthodoxy.

What's to be done? בדחילו ורחימו, it's time to set up non-governmental courts for Gittin, Conversion and to facilitate the Heter Mekhira. Create facts on the ground with the Talmide Hakhamim in our own ranks. The Rabbinate is now a branch of the Eda ha-Haredit. That's not the institution that was founded eighty years ago.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Thus saith the Lord: Aha! Another Graduate of the University of Dah!

So, the Core curriculum at my old Alma Mater will include a unit on 'Culture and Belief.' Commenting on the inclusion of the study of belief in Harvard's vaunted curriculum, we find the following gem:

Louis Menand, co-chair of the six-professor committee and Bass Professor of English, explained the importance of adding this requirement. “Religion turns out to be an enormously important phenomenon in the world, which 30 or 40 years ago we didn’t think we had to deal with.” Menand added that religion is often easy to disparage in a secular environment and that courses on religion were seen as “esoteric” in his earlier days in the academy.

I don't know Professor Menand, but he is clearly a graduate of what Dr. Steven Plaut calls 'The University of Duuuuuh.' Religion? A significant factor in society? People believe in God and organize their lives accordingly. Even educated people, with doctorates, and Nobel Prizes...Ma Ata Omer?

My favorite Peter Berger line comes from his introduction to a collection of essays on the religious revival. (I'll try to find the exact citation.) Instead of studying how it is that so many people believe in God, we really should examine how it is that so many academics don't, and find those that do to be oddities.

O Tempora! O Mores! (Cicero)

In his drasha on Parshat Nitzavim ( in Sefer Duda'i Reuven), Rav Reuven Katz זצ"ל questions why Joshua found it necessary to convene the twelve tribes, toward the end of his life, for a reenactment of the Covenant between Israel and God (Joshua 24). After all, he observes, the Jews were already bound by the commitment they had made at Sinai. Following the lead of R. Nissim Gerondi (Derashot Ha-RaN, ch. 15), he offers that the Covenant at Sinai was made by a tired, persecuted people, who had only recently been enslaved in Egypt. They were desperate for help, tempest tossed by the traumas of servitude. Searching for God and accepting the Torah under such circumstances was natural.

Now, however, the Jews were faced with a totally different situation. They were faced with a life of plenty, peace and tranquility. The temptation to graze in foreign religio-cultural fields abounded. Under those circumstances, a renewed commitment to Torah was required, especially since the residence of the Jew in the Land of Israel is contingent upon faith in God and adherence to the Torah. [Ironically, the Merkaz HaRav/Gush Emunim/Har HaMor crowd seem to forget this little fact. The maintenance of every little outpost in Judaea and Samaria (as much as I support it) means nothing if the religious and moral rot that is taking hold in the rest of the country is ignored.]

In a painful, and emotional coda to his sermon, Rav Katz prays:

Without the Jewish people, there is no place for the in-dwelling of God’s Presence. Therefore, this prayer is doubly pressing. ‘He who returns his Shekhinah to Zion.’ Except that in this generation we are duty-bound to ask the Jewish People, as well, that it allow the Shekhinah to return to Zion, to create a life of Torah and Jewish Heritage so that the Shekhinah may find therein a dignified and appropriate abode.

Imagine! 'We are duty-bound to ask the Jewish People, as well.' And where are we on that score?

Well, let's see. 1) Fifty-Seven percent of Secular Jews wouldn't mind if their children intermarried. 2) The media is hysterically celebrating the fact that Jews have made it. One of our own, Bar Rafaeli is the live-in mistress of Leonardo diCaprio. They even went to the Kotel! (Boy, the Shekhina must be thrilled! Another, Linor Abergil married a Lithuanian Basketball star, who plays in the NBA. Nahas. 3) Our intellectually challenged Education Minister ( along with our former Justice Minister) claim that there's no difference between Haredim and Hamas. Never mind the full time Hillule HaShem perpetrated by the Rabbinate (as in the threatened, ex post facto, revocation of a Get).

This Shabbat we read of another convocation, for Shemirat Shabbat. Food for Thought.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Peace for Them, Piece for Us

CAMERA on Peace Now's "corrected" report:

March 15, 2007
by Alex Safian, PhD
Peace Now’s Blunder: Erred on Ma'ale Adumim Land by 15,900 Percent
Peace Now, the Israel-based advocacy group, claimed in an October 2006 report that Israeli settlements are situated mostly on “private Palestinian land,” and in particular that the territory of the largest settlement, Ma’ale Adumim, is 86.4 percent “private Palestinian land.” CAMERA raised a number of serious objections (
here and here) to Peace Now’s claims, which the group has failed to address.

The original report, Breaking the Law – One Violation Leads to Another, was based on information described as leaked government data, and now, through Israel’s Freedom of Information laws, Peace Now has gained access to updated information which it portrays as confirming its original claims. However Peace Now has had to admit that it made a massive error regarding Ma’ale Adumim, a 15,900 percent mistake. Rather than 86.4% Palestinian land, the new data shows just 0.54% of Ma’ale Adumim’s land as supposedly Palestinian. In addition, Peace Now deceptively omits any mention of this extremely serious error both in its press release posted on its US website, and in the announcement posted on its Israeli website. Only in the middle of its updated report, strangely enough entitled Guilty, does Peace Now get around to its updated claims regarding Ma’ale Adumim’s land.

Such a massive error – acknowledged in such a grudging and deceptive way – raises serious questions about Peace Now’s credibility, and the reliability of the rest of their claims. If they could make such a transparently absurd allegation about Ma’ale Adumim – and it was transparently absurd – then how can one trust their assertions about the land situation in other communities?

In addition, nowhere in its updated report does Peace Now deal with the broader problems that also afflicted its earlier report:

1. Peace Now is relying upon government maps that are based not on Palestinian ownership of land, but on Palestinian claims to ownership of land. With Ma’ale Adumim, for example, there were indeed Palestinian (more accurately Bedouin) claims over the land, but they were investigated and found to be baseless, as even the claimants eventually admitted. That would perhaps explain why there was a huge change in the map in this case.

2. Peace Now continues to misleadingly ignore crucial details of land law in the West Bank, in particular that: (A) Under the Ottoman Land code which Israel inherited largely intact from previous sovereigns, most of the West Bank land used by Israeli settlements, being quite far from other built up areas, is mewat or waste land, which is always owned by the state and cannot legally be owned by private individuals.

(B) Any land used by the settlements which was not mewat land was almost certainly miri land, which means land of the Emir, or the sovereign. Miri land is state land over which a private individual can gain certain rights of use by the fact of cultivation, something like squatters’ rights. Those rights expire, however, once the land is no longer being cultivated, but the fact that someone once had rights to use the land (as long as hundreds of years ago) may still be recorded in the land registry, even long after the rights have expired. Peace Now apparently is counting as “private Palestinian land” any land over which any Palestinian ever gained such rights via cultivation. Which renders their term “private Palestinian land” meaningless.

In their original report Peace Now charged that Israel “deprived thousands of Palestinians of the basic human right of possession.” We challenged them then, and we repeat that challenge now – If they claim the land is “private Palestinian land,” let them name the owners. Which persons owned this land, what are their names, what were the boundaries and where are the deeds? If they can’t answer such obvious and basic questions, their original and updated claims are nothing short of reckless.

[Of course, the Israeli branch of the PA Propaganda Ministry ignores most of this. (Meanwhile, the Haaretz report has disappeared from their website.)]

Israelis Are Stupid, or How Far Can a Jew Run?

Israel Harel in Today's Haaretz:

A happy evacuation
By Israel Harel

In the western Negev, according to Channel 2 television, Israel is feverishly implementing the lessons of Lebanon. When the Qassam fire resumes - and no one doubts this will happen - residents will be evacuated to beyond the rockets' range. Each community already knows where its residents will be evacuated - not far from their homes, but outside rocket range - and even which household will host each family. These evacuees, say the planners, will not need Arcadi Gaydamak's tent city, and their evacuation will not produce the scenes we witnessed in Sderot, when residents fought over places on the buses that brought them to Eilat - another Gaydamak initiative. In the well-organized regional councils, which mainly comprise kibbutzim, there will be no panicked flight by the healthy and wealthy as occurred in Safed, Nahariya and Kiryat Shmona. Here, community leaders say, there will be an organized evacuation. No one will be abandoned to his fate.

Two days after this plan was revealed, Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin, an eternal pessimist, informed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that over the last year, the year of the cease-fire in Gaza, more than 30 tons of explosives were smuggled into the Strip, and improved rockets, among other things, are now being built with this material. Kiryat Gat and other nearby towns, and not just Sderot and Ashkelon, will now be in Qassam range. The evacuation planners are worried: Most of the communities that are supposed to house the evacuees now in rocket range will themselves be in range of the new rockets. But they, and residents of the Kiryat Gat region as well, would be well-advised not to go into a panic.

The Shin Bet, as is its wont, likes to exaggerate. For instance, the public remembers its warning - which, of course, proved false - about the results of the disengagement. The same is true of its false prophecies on the eve of the historic withdrawal from Lebanon, which brought Israel, at the price of a few kidnapped and killed Israelis, years of quiet and growth in the Galilee. The organization reached its peak of exaggeration when it classified the recent declarations by Israeli Arab leaders, who represent only a negligible minority, as a strategic threat. Declarations, even if they are unpleasant, do not kill. Qassams do. Therefore, there is no need to alter the doctrine which holds that comprehensive evacuations are the winning answer to the Qassam terror.

It is necessary, of course, to change the names of the host kibbutzim, as the existing ones will now also be in rocket range. We must also not forget to include these in the evacuation plan. But there are communities east, north and south of Kiryat Gat that have been suffering from population loss for years, and they would be happy to host the evacuees - even permanently. And what will happen when the Palestinians increase the range beyond Kiryat Gat? Israel will not be orphaned. As it says in the holy scriptures, we have a broad and expansive land. And the Jewish people, for whom welcoming guests was a foundational commandment, will be happy to observe this commandment in Ashdod, Kiryat Malachi and Yavneh. And when the range increases still further, in Nes Tziona and Rehovot as well.

I therefore propose that the line at which the rocket fire becomes a casus belli - the "here and no farther" line - be drawn, as it was in the last war, at Tel Aviv. (And congratulations to the defense minister on the committee he has set up to find a name that will reflect his achievements and those of the Israel Defense Forces in this eventful war.) Because if tens of thousands of refugees were to flood its streets, that might make life difficult for the residents and disrupt the normal routine of life in the only city that manages to maintain its sanity without interruption. This city also houses the stock exchange and the state's principal cultural treasures. And nearby, along that same horizontal line, sits Israel's only international airport. Just as long as the rockets do not reach there, God forbid. If they do, how will we be able to evacuate the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have equipped themselves with foreign passports in recent years, precisely for this purpose?

[I believe in God, and in His eternal covenant with Israel. The question that won't leave me is: If we keep beating up the Torah (both by rejecting it and abusing it), why should He not invoke the penalty clauses of that Covenant?]

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Interim Score: Judicial Dictatorship: 1 Democracy: 0

The news just arrived that the Judicial Dictatorship Bulldozer set in motion by Aharon Barak, keeps moving on and flattening the opposition.

The new Justice Minister, Prof. Daniel Friedman, has suggested legislation that would allow the elected representatives of the people (i.e. the Knesset) to overturn 'Judicial Review.' Now, he's buckled under to pressure from Chief Justice Dorit Beinish and MK Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson and withdrawn the bill.

As a result, the judicial noose around the remaining shreds of Israeli democracy grows tighter. The court already decides a) military strategy b) political policy c) the degree of safety that Israeli Jews may expect d) how families may raise their children e) how Jewish expression is legitimate f) whether gays may be recognized as married g) how conversion functions and the lise goes on. Yesterday, it stopped just short of deciding what the Knesset may or may not discuss.

Keep in mind. This is a court that is 90% ideologically homogenous. It is a court that appoints its own successors. All of its members attended the same Law School.

What happened to democracy. Well, according Barak (and his less talented mimics), formal democracy resides in the Knesset. Real, substantive democracy is whatever the court, in its post-modern liberal homogenity, says it is.

Baudrillard may have died today, mais il vraiment vit.

God Save the State of Israel from this Court.

Vintage Dry Bones (1998)

(Courtesy of Israelity)

The RCA on Pasque di Sangue

The Rabbinical Council of America has issued the following statement on Pasque di Sangue. It is my understanding that it was vetted by a world famous medieval Jewish historian :

Mar 1, 2007 -- The accusation that Jews practice a ritual in which they murder a Christian child in order to utilize his blood has led to untold suffering inflicted on innocent Jews from the twelfth century into modern times. During the last several generations, all civilized people came to realize that this is a hostile fantasy with no basis in reality. Notwithstanding this consensus, virulent anti-Semites, from the Nazis in Der Sturmer to a disturbing number of contemporary Arab enemies of Israel, have maliciously continued to affirm its validity.

Now, a book by the Israeli professor Ariel Toaff has provided aid and comfort to such anti-Semites by implying that a small group of late medieval Jewish extremists might have actually engaged in such behavior. Toaff has withdrawn the book and insisted that he never meant to say this, but his work has been widely understood to suggest such a possibility. Readers of news reports naturally wonder whether he has really discovered evidence that should lead to a reassessment.

It is extremely important that everyone understand that he has uncovered nothing—absolutely nothing—that calls the utter falsity of the blood libel into question. His argument rests essentially on the following: Some medieval Europeans—Jews and Christians-- believed that blood had curative powers; a few of them traded in medicines containing blood; Jews had reason to be hostile to Christians who persecuted them, and they sometimes expressed this hostility in their religious texts; Jews interrogated under torture confessed to ritual murder; some of these Jews supplied accurate texts of the Passover haggadah to their interrogators, though the texts themselves lend no support whatever to the accusation in question.

It is an insult to the intelligence to affirm that these considerations generate even a minuscule degree of support for the proposition that Jews murdered Christians for their blood. Internal Jewish texts contain not a scintilla of evidence for such a practice. They flatly forbid murder, and the legal principles they embody render unthinkable the practice of blood rituals of the sort that the torturers report. Jews, Christian scholars, even the vast majority of Jewish converts to Christianity through the ages affirmed that such charges are entirely, outrageously false. Indeed, Adriano Prosperi, a distinguished non-Jewish Italian historian, described Toaff’s book as a “carnivalesque joke in the worst taste.” Jew-haters have no interest in truth and will both embrace and inflate reports purportedly confirming their fabrications. It comes as no surprise that their websites have gleefully disseminated the imagined findings of Toaff's book. But people of good will should not be confused. The blood libel has always been a lie—and it remains a lie.

Siddur on Line

A few months ago I complained that there's no siddur on line. Well, that's been rectified (for Ashkenazim, at least). At My Siddur you can get davening for Shabbos and Hol. Thanks to JR for the reference.)

On the other hand, I wonder how Hazal survived without this handy little item.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Are There Limits to Academic Freedom?

Hence, the answer of Professor Reuven Bonfil, in today's Haaretz:

ממה חוששים שם, בבר אילן
האומנם גוזר החופש האקדמי חובה שלא להגיב על פרסומים בעייתיים
מאת ראובן בונפיל
חלפו שלושה שבועות מאז החל מחול השדים סביב ספרו השערורייתי של אריאל טואף "פסח של דם". אך המבוכה, הבלבול והחרדה שנגרמו בעטיו לא נמוגו. אדרבה, בעקבות התנהגותו ההפכפכה של המחבר והעמדה העמומה של אוניברסיטת בר אילן, ויותר מכך בעקבות התגובה של ועדת החינוך של הכנסת, שעוררה אצל רבים וטובים חשש להתערבות שלטונית בחופש המחקר במוסדות להשכלה גבוהה, מוסט עתה הדיון לכיוון עוד יותר בעייתי. ישראל היא מדינה חופשית ודמוקרטית. במדינה חופשית רשאי אדם לכתוב ולפרסם מה שלבו חפץ, ובלבד שלא יחצה את גבול הפלילים.
אשר על כן, חופש הדיבור והבעת דעות אינו כלל ממין העניין כאן. במדינה חופשית אין גם מקום להתערבות שלטונית בחופש ההוראה המחקר והפרסום במוסדות להשכלה גבוהה. שאלה אחרת לגמרי היא שאלת זכותו של אדם להשתמש בלא הגבלה באצטלה המקצועית המוענקת לו בתור חבר סגל במוסד אקדמי. אריאל טואף הוא פרופסור מן המניין באוניברסיטה מכובדת בישראל. מעמדו מעניק לו זכות וחובה להורות לתלמידים ולהדריך אותם במלאכת המחקר ההיסטורי, לשפוט את הישגי עמיתיו בשבתו בוועדות מקצועיות ולהכריע בגורלם האקדמי.
אם אמנם ראשי אוניברסיטת בר אילן רואים את שיטותיו המחקריות של טואף כתואמות את הסטנדרטים של המוסד ומייצגות אותם נאמנה, זכותם ואף חובתם לגבות אותו בשם החופש האקדמי, יהא המחיר אשר יהא. אם זה המצב, רשאים ראשי אוניברסיטת בר אילן גם להתעלם מחוות הדעת של המומחים שפסלו את "פסח של דם", ולבכר את דברי הסבורים שהוא ראוי להתייחסות אקדמית רצינית במסגרת מחלוקת חוקרים הראויה להתקיים, תוך התעלמות מהנזק לביטחונם של יהודים בעולם, מהאפשרות לשימוש בספר בתעמולה האנטישמית, או מהפגיעה בתהליך העדין של ההידברות עם הכנסייה הקתולית. הם גם רשאים להתעלם מתסכול של ההיסטוריונים העושים מלאכתם באמונה באוניברסיטת בר אילן. אולם אם יש ספקות בעניין זה בקרב הנהלתה, על נשיא האוניברסיטה, על הרקטור ועל דיקן הפקולטה למדעי היהדות להציג עמדה ברורה ולנקוט צעדים המתבקשים מעמדה כזו.
ממה הם חוששים? וכי ידיו של המוסד כבולות לחלוטין, גם כאשר מתברר שמי מחברי הסגל שעד אתמול היה נראה ככשיר מבחינה מקצועית ואתית אינו כזה ונוהג בצורה שאינה הולמת את מקצועו וגורם נזק גדול? האומנם גוזר החופש האקדמי חובה בלתי מוגבלת שלא להגיב ולהתייחס בשוויון נפש בפני הגילויים של שנאת ישראל שהפרסום מלבה בחוץ לארץ ואחריתם מי ישורנו? אם במקרה כזה יחליטו ראשי האוניברסיטה לשחרר את טואף מכל תפקידיו האקדמיים ויסתכנו בתביעה משפטית, היעלה על הדעת ששופטים בישראל או בכל מדינה חופשית אחרת יחייבו אותם להעניק חזקת אמינות מקצועית למי שנראה פשוט וברור שאינו ראוי לה?
כל הדיבורים על חופש הדיבור, חופש המחקר, חופש הפרסום ושכמותם אינם ממין העניין כאן כלל ועיקר. מי שמסיט את הדיון לכיוון זה גורם נזק תדמיתי נוסף למדינת ישראל, ולמערכת ההשכלה הגבוהה בה.
הכותב הוא פרופסור אמריטוס להיסטוריה של עם ישראל, באוניברסיטה העברית

Of Temple Emanuel, Kavod ha-Beriyot and Other Problems

In the past, I have had occasion to mention the fact that I grew up in a Conservative home, and to acknowledge (with thanks) the education that I received, as a result. That is, perhaps, why I feel a tinge of outrage at the abysmal ignorance (ignorant arrogance, and arrogant ignorance) that characterizes Conservative rabbis and (a fortiori) laypersons.

I recently came upon a poignant case in point, on the website of my former haunt, Temple Emanuel in Newton Centre (Ma.). The current rabbi, a very nice fellow who I once met at the Kotel on Shavuoth morning, has posted his position on Gay 'commitment ceremonies.' Truth to tell, I was not surprised that he supports these, and is willing to perform them. Nor was I bowled over to read that the performance of such 'ceremonies' in the synagogue will be put to a congregational vote. (After all, as the late Marshall Sklare once pointed out, Conservative Judaism is the Jewish version of American Congregationalism.)
What upset and angered me, as it always does, was the shallowness of the argument presented. In addition, I never cease to be amazed at the incredible moxy of Conservative apologists, who distort, distend and disembody elements of Jewish tradition in order to achieve their ends. (Here, indeed, I place the onus on the appointed spokesmen and scholars of the movement. The rabbis they train mere repeat their words.)

Enough has already been written about the illegitimate use of the word 'halakhic' (sic!) to describe the violent removal of a verse from the Bible. There's no novelty in that either. The Conservative movement has been doing that for sixty years. (In fact, I must add that while I was well on my way out of the movement when I read it, the so-called 'responsum' on driving to synagogue on Shabbos gave me an added push. Rarely, before or since, have I encountered a more intellectually dishonest presentation. Even if it was written 'from a good place.') Shabbos, Gilui Arayos...What's the difference?

What really got my lather up was the appeal to 'Human Dignity' or Kavod ha-Beriyot. Quoting, Rabbi Elliott Dorff, the rabbi writes:

He then brought in another crucial halakhic concept called k’vod habriot, human dignity, which itself flows from one of the Torah’s most powerful teachings: that all human beings are created in God’s image. And if they are created in God’s image, they deserve dignity.

This is not some fuzzy funkadelic 21st century concept. The Talmud itself makes a big deal about human dignity as being a halakhic imperative which can override rabbinic and even biblical precepts.

So, now: Human Dignity trumps submission to God. Human Dignity allows one to sin (and commit Giluy Arayot, at that). Human Dignity is, in effect, the highest value known to Man, er... Judaism. Truth to tell, that has been the case with the Conservative Movement, ever since it was hijacked by Mordechai Kaplan. It is a narcissistic religion that worships man. God, as a result, must bend His Will to fit Man's ever-changing perception of Life. As Chernihovsky put it, they put Tefillin on the Statue of Apollo. I wish they would simply be intellectually honest and admit (as Reform Judaism did over a century ago) that they reject anything Jewish that does not fit their dynamic weltanschauung.

On the other hand, Kavod ha-Beriyot certainly is a powerful and central feature and value of Judaism. It overrides a number of De-Rabbanans (which are based on De-Oraysas). Many,many people who view themselves as observant Jews could well use a refresher course in the Laws of Human Dignity. (See the Introduction of the Netziv to his commentary on Bereshis.)

Nevertheless, it has its limits, however. Human convenience, even human need, never overrides God's Will. Does that raise moral issues? Certainly. Do we need to grapple and address those issues within the parameters afforded us? No Question. Does it require of us both sensitivity and respect? Absolutely!!! Does it justify doing violence to the Torah, or intellectual and spiritual dishonesty. Under no circumstance!!!

Food for thought, as we go to dispense of our spiritual חמץ

Monday, March 05, 2007

Moderate Palestinians? Give Me A Break!

This latest from Martin Sherman (via YNet; Emphases Added):

Myth of moderation: Fundamentalist Hamas, secular Fatah have same vision: Israel's destruction
Martin Sherman

Strangely enough, a poll recently published by Near East Consulting (NEC,) an institution that conducts monthly surveys of Palestinian public opinion, was given hardly any attention by the Israeli media – despite its grave and far reaching ramifications. The results of the poll showed that when asked the question: "Does Israel have the right to exist?" an overwhelming majority (75 percent) of the respondents answered with a resounding "No."

However, worrying as these findings are, analysis of the results according to the age of those polled gives even more cause for concern. These show that the younger the respondents are, the greater their tendency to reject Israel's right to exist. For example, among those aged 18-21, about 90% stated that Israel had no right to exist. For younger age groups, the refusal to acknowledge this right was virtually absolute, reaching almost 100%. Accordingly, there appears little hope that future generations will be the harbinger of better understanding.

In spite of the gravity of these results, they should come as no real surprise to the sober observer of Palestinian society. After all, we should recall that the great majority of the Palestinian public belongs to, supports and/or identifies with, either the Hamas or the Fatah movements. This is reflected in the results of the last election for the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006, in which these two organizations won over 90% of the seats in the Council – 119 out of 132.

Just what the intrinsic nature of these groups is, can be easily ascertained from an examination of their founding charters, which reveal the fundamental raison d'etre for their existence and the motivations behind their creation.

In the case of Hamas, there is of course little room for doubt. In the opening paragraph of its Charter, one finds the following declaration: "Israel … will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors." The impossibility of accepting the State of Israel and its right to exist are further underscored in Article 28, which asserts: "Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims."

Presumably, the venomous style and content of the Hamas' texts will not come as a great shock to much of the Israeli public. This, however, is not the case when it comes to the Fatah, the organization headed by Mahmoud Abbas, a man invariably portrayed as the epitome of moderation and ardent advocate of peace.

Confront leaders with troubling question
In the public debate in Israel, the prevailing custom is to strive to differentiate clearly between the implacable enmity of Hamas towards Israel, and the allegedly more restrained Fatah attitude. However, cursory perusal of the Constitution of the organization will quickly dispel this illusion. For it is immediately apparent that it articulates the very same burning hatred of the Jews and very same repudiation of the right of Jews to a state in the Land of Israel.

Thus for example, Article (19) proclaims: "Armed struggle is a strategy and not a tactic, and the Palestinian Arab People's armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated." This sentiment is reinforced in Article (12), which declares that Fatah's goal is the "Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence."

So it turns out that the major difference between the extremist Hamas and the moderate Fatah is that while the former formulates its aspirations to destroy Israel in religious terms, the latter does so in more secular terms. But this cannot obscure the fact that both are immutably committed to erase all remnants of Zionism from the face of the Earth.

In light of all this, one might expect the Israeli public to urgently confront those charged with safeguarding its destiny, with a troubling and trenchant question: When the political leadership constantly stresses the need to strengthen "the moderate factions" among the Palestinians, who is it actually referring to? Who is it recommending should be allowed to control the hills overlooking Ben Gurion Airport, to deploy along the length of Highway 6 (the trans-Israel motorway,) to take over vital water sources east of the coastal plain and the approaches to the "strategic installations" around Ashkelon? Those who wish to destroy Israel in the name of Islam; or those who wish to do so in the name of a more secular rationale?

One might expect that the democratic duty of the Israeli public would be to force this question onto its leadership and insist on clear, coherent and convincing answers. But will the public take the time to put aside the weekday pressures of mortgage payments and the weekend pleasures of barbeques and beaches to do so? If the past is any criterion to judge by, this would appear doubtful – and perhaps that is exactly what the political patrons of the myth of moderation are counting on.

Don't Fence Me In

Over the past few months, we've watched the behemoth rise over us: The so-called security fence that: a) won't stop suicide bombers b) will weaken our claim on most of JUdea and Samaria c) won't stop rockets and missiles d) won't discourage our enemies e) will embitter our lives and those of our visitors f) won't stop the flow of arms to the Israeli Arabs and g) will advance the cause of the leftists who run the judiciary (who've never met an Arab they didn't like or a Jew they didn't loath. E.g. they upheld Arab land claims in Gush Etzion that were 'certified' by the State of Israel, on YomKippur and 'signed' by clerks long dead.)

In light of that, consider the following:

A Call to Yesha Residents: Pass Through Freely!
15 Adar 5767, 05 March 07 03:39

by Hillel Fendel

( The Yesha-based Komemiyut (Uprightness) organization calls upon the pioneering Jewish residents not to cooperate with plans to stop all non-local cars from driving freely to Yesha (Judea and Samaria).A test-run of a new army system to control traffic into and out of Yesha is in place at the Eliyahu Crossing, leading into Karnei Shomron, Tzofim, Alfei Menashe and other areas. Local residents are identified by car-stickers or electronically by their license plates, and are allowed through freely; other vehicles - such as those of visitors and suppliers - will have to either wait in line with Arabs, including the potential terrorists who are the reason for the checkpoints, or will be routed through a different line.A recent issue of Komemiyut's weekly journal wrote as follows:
In the past few years, the horizons around us are changing, as are our daily lives. The expanses of Samaria, Binyamin and Judea are being sliced and cut through with ugly, broad concrete walls, which have wounded both the landscape and the loyal Jewish heart.Of late, large threatening "border crossings" have been added to these walls, closing us off even further. The security establishment has now unilaterally decided on a system that effectively turns the checkpoints into full-fledged border crossings. The test-run at the Tzofim Checkpoint is designed to check our behavior, in preparation for its implementation at all the checkpoints....So what's so terrible if we get to pass freely through special lanes? But what about our relatives and guests who will have to wait for a long time in the slow lanes - they will think twice about coming! In addition, the new system turns the Partition Wall into a de-facto political border in every sense. The authorities will be able to close of the crossings at any time, and hermetically seal off and isolate our communities for various purposes, such as when they want to destroy outposts.The new system is a copy of the closing of the Kisufim Crossing - which hermetically sealed off Gush Katif in preparation for its destruction - throughout all of Judea and Samaria. With our past bitter experience, we know that we cannot let this begin to happen. But most important of all is the far-reaching psychological influence this will have on the public regarding the status of our communities. People will regard our towns as being practically in another country! We will be out the public eye, and out of the public heart. Therefore, we must stand strong at this time - and refuse absolutely to cooperate with the new system, so as to cause it to be withdrawn and canceled. We call upon the residents not to mark their cars with stickers, and not to register our cars with the electronic identification system. Let us arrive at the checkpoints and demand to be let through. If they stop us, we will stand in place and not move until they let us. It will cost us much time and nerves at first - but we must realize that the army needs these fast lanes even more than we do, in order to avoid a dangerous mixing of Israeli and Arab cars.If we are willing to pay a price in the short run, and don't give in to IDF threats and the natural desire for short-term convenience, the situation will return to what it was. If not, we will pay a much higher price in the medium and long range.This civil struggle is part of a larger campaign involving Knesset Members, regional council heads, lawyers, and more. We have too many walls, fences and checkpoints! We must wake up, stand upright, and continue to be a free nation in our land!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Layl Purim 5767

A Gut un freilichen Purim to Everyone! The Rav זצ"ל in this shiur, published in the first chapter here, notes that Purim is both a serious and a deliriously happy day. So, a few notes in that light.

1) Purim Torah Number One: Today someone in shul started a discussion as to whether men are allowed to wear wedding rings. He told me that two rabbanim (both of whom I respect) are against it, unless the wife wants it. I hope this is Purim Torah. If it's prohibited, the wife's desires are irrelevant. As it happens, it's not assur. Why should it be? 1) It's not כלי אישה because we're talking about men's rings. 2) It's not a problem with the קידושין because we're no discussing double ring ceremonies (which are allowed, if properly done. IOW, the חתן gives the ring after שבע ברכות and it's made clear that this gift has no halakhic significance.) 3) It's not חוקות עכו"ם because it's a) not irrational b) not arrogant c) not done in order to assimilate. Ayyy, yeshivish people don't do it. Zollen mir zayn gezunt un shtark. That's irrelevant.

2) Pasque di Sangue Redux- For those of you who think that the book has no defenders. Think again. The noted post-Jew, Yehiam Shorek, has stood up for the exposing of nefarious Jewish practices. Ben Dror Yemini responds to him here. As for the Muslims, they're eating this up. Note this exchange on Egyptian TV (courtesy of MemriTV.)

3) Amalek Redux- The commandment to wipe out Amalek certainly poses moral questions. It is especially challenging in light of the famous comment by Reb Hayyim Brisker זצ"ל that nations who try to destroy the Jews attain the sttus of Amalek. Some of the issues are noted by Gil, here. So let's ask ourselves the following question: The Iranians (i.e. Persians) are planning to nuke the Jews of Israel and murder 6,000,000 Jews. That's a fact. The world will do absolutely nothing to prevent. That too is a fact. (See Caroline Glick's latest column.) So, do we hit first and kill untold numbers of Iranians, or do we do what the Leftists and the rest of the World would prefer, 'Go gently into that (not so) good night'? The trouble is that while the idea of dying for the salvation of mankind may have emerged from Judaism, we do not believe in it.

I promised hilarity. No go. I'll go open the bottle of Chivas I bought in the JFK duty free. Then we'll see what develops.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Italian Jewry in Shock

This appeared in today's Haaretx:

So unwelcome in his home
By Adi Schwartz

The Italian community in Israel is a small and intimate group. There are no more than 3,000 people who were born in Italy, and altogether the community numbers about 10,000 - counting spouses and children. Somehow everyone knows just about everyone, whether as family or as friends. This one is that one's cousin, she is the rabbi's sister-in-law, and someone was in the Bnei Akiva youth movement with that one. This is an esteemed and educated community, but also discreet and respectable, which does not tend to wash its dirty laundry in public, certainly not "on the record."

During the past two weeks they have had quite a lot of dirty laundry. For this community, the events surrounding the publication of the book by Prof. Ariel Toaff, "Bloody Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders," were almost like a suicide bombing. Perhaps even worse, as Toaff comes from the community's innermost family circle, a famous rabbinical family, and is the son of the man who has been representing Italian Jewry for more than half a century. It was as though one of the body's essential organs had decided one morning to turn against the body itself - to consume and gnaw away at it in the most painful place. They know Ariel Toaff; there is simply no other possibility. They have seen him on all kinds of occasions. Or because he is The Rabbi's son, with a capital "T" and a capital "R." Or because they studied with him at the university, or were neighbors back in Italy.

But all of this knowledge of theirs, which is so familial, did not prepare the members of the local Italian community for the book that he wrote. A few hundred of them met this week in Jerusalem, at a family celebration: the wedding of Prof. Toaff's niece, granddaughter of the 92-year-old Rabbi Elio Toaff and the daughter of Miriam Toaff and Prof. Sergio DellaPergola. Last week they discussed among themselves whether Ariel would come to the wedding, whether he would dare show his face in a place that up until three weeks ago had been his natural environment, the warm bosom of the community, or would prefer to avoid the embarrassment.

In the end, he didn't go. Anyone who asked him just a few days ago heard from him that it was his intention to attend the celebration. But the prevailing assessment was that he would prefer to stay home. Guests at the wedding related that this was a tacit agreement, between him and the family, because his presence was simply not desired. Some of the guests related that the atmosphere was happy and cheerful. The parents looked pleased and one of Ariel's brothers even came from Italy to participate in the traditional Seven Blessings ritual. No one mentioned the matter of the book aloud in the presence of Miriam, Ariel's sister; after all, it was her special day. But around the tables this was the sole topic of conversation.

'We're going to suffer'

The general agreement was: "We're going to suffer from this." Someone mentioned Sheikh Ra'ad Salah's speech during demonstrations in Jerusalem's Old City, in which - a few days after the book was published - he was already speaking about bloodsucking Jews. Another said that relatives in Italy had heard that people are already saying that "Hitler was right to kill them." One woman talked about Jewish self-hatred and wondered why it is that the Jews excel at this.

Many members of the community are Holocaust survivors, as is Ariel Toaff himself. They cannot understand how he of all people, who deals with history, decided to play in this dangerous field with such a lack of responsibility. How can it be that he was not aware of the great delicacy of the topic with which he is dealing? It was as though he had ignored everything this community had absorbed during the past 100 years alone. As though he did not know what efforts Jewish and non-Jewish historians had made during the past decades to eradicate accusations associated with the blood libel from the pages of history. As though it had not been his own father who put so much effort into improving relations between the Jews of Italy, and Jews in general, and the establishment that had spearheaded the decrees against them for centuries.

Some of them could relate that senior figures in the Catholic Church, who are identified with its liberal and progressive side, almost fell off their chairs. After people had already admitted that the Trento affair was one big invention, along comes a historian and revives it? And an Israeli, to boot? Toaff's son?

Initially there was a great deal of curiosity about what exactly he had written. Quickly enough this was satisfied. The press in Italy, and after it in Israel and the United States, was inundated with a long series of articles by the best historians, who expressed astonishment at the flaws in the book. The conclusion that they came to was that apparently this wasn't a matter of history, but rather something else. Then came the turn of the rumors. Gradually, with the utmost delicacy, people began to wonder about Prof. Toaff's motives. Perhaps he did what he did for money? Perhaps for fame? Or perhaps, just perhaps, because of something unresolved with his father?

'Nice' books

One member of the community, who has known Ariel since childhood, says that he has always loved to be exceptional. A polemicist, a brilliant man, someone who was always attracted to the extraordinary and the unexpected. He belonged to Bnei Akiva in Italy, and studied at the tory books that he wrote, they say in the community, are "nice." One was about food in the Jewish community and the other, about monsters.

But there is no greater insult to a historian than to say that his books are "nice." He was always in the wings, looking for the moment to burst onto the stage. A colorful figure, they relate in the community, "a mischievous historian." Nevertheless, he lived the first half of his life in the shadow of a man who was always in the spotlight and conducted his community's external relations vis-a-vis the Vatican and other institutions. Who knows how much time he had left to devote to the children?

Nearly everyone is wondering about the possibility that the real reasons are personal, a kind of revenge or hatred directed by Toaff at his father - but immediately the speakers hedge their speculation and say that they aren't psychoanalysts. In any case, this possibility also poses a problem for them. If this really is the story, then what does it say about the father, the person of whom they are so proud?

One person who has actually expressed this feeling is Prof. Reuven Bonfil, who is considered one of the leading historians of Italian Jewry. In an article he published last week in The Jewish Chronicle, he wrote: "Toaff's book is an insult to the intelligence ... The question of why he proceeded with this project will remain a mystery for all who do not dare enter the minefield of Freudian speculation."

Now people are curious, waiting for the next issue of Kol Ha'italkim, the magazine of the Italian community in Israel, which is edited by none other than Miriam Toaff, a well-known figure in her own right. The elders of the community have it delivered to their homes, to their mailboxes. And what will Miriam decide to write about the affair? And how will she relate to it as an editor, as Ariel's sister, as Elio's daughter?

Some of the community's members want to drop the whole miserable affair. To stop dealing with it and to hope that in this way, perhaps, it will be erased from the pages of history. In any case there has already been too much talk about it. One of the wedding guests, who is friendly with the Toaff family, said that as far as he was concerned, Ariel has finished his career. He was not referring only to Toaff's academic career, but also to his whole personal career.

Some of the people still love and admire him, but even they can't understand this. The damage is simply too great. If only he hadn't given that horrible title to the book. If only he hadn't written it at all. And even the new revelations that were published this week in Haaretz, to the effect that Prof. Toaff did not think that the Jews of Trento murdered Simonino, are of no comfort.

You know what they say in Italian, the man says: Sometimes the patch is worse than the hole. What good does it do now, that Toaff is apologizing and explaining? He can say whatever he wants to now. He has already done his damage. The simple people don't read professors' articles. The simple people will only remember that Toaff's son said that Jews murdered Simonino. And we are going to suffer from this.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Book of Love: Yoma Tava le-Rabbanan

Yesterday, the owner of our local Seforim Store informed me that Sefer Ahavah, the final volume of the magnificent Frankel edition of the Rambam, has been published and should hit the stores before Shabbos.

Now there's a wonderful idea for Shaloch Manos!