Ariel Toaff was born in 1942 in Italy, the son of Elio Toaff, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome and nicknamed by some “the Pope of the Jews.” Ariel Toaff became a professor of Medieval and Renaissance history at Bar-Ilan University, in Ramat Gan, Israel. He is the author of many books and articles, most infamously Pasque di Sangue (Bloody Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders). Published by Il Mulino in February 2007, Bloody Passovers claimed that Jews had used gentile blood in religious rituals, citing as evidence an event in 1475 in which Jews had been blamed for sacrificing a Christian child in ritual murder. When an international uproar erupted over the contents of Bloody Passovers and Bar-Ilan University began investigating the author’s scholarly methodology, Toaff quickly sought to contain the controversy, stating categorically: “I believe that ritual murders never happened […] There is no proof that Jews committed such an act.”
Although he had originally declared that “I will not give up my devotion to the truth and academic freedom even if the world crucifies me,” Toaff withdrew Bloody Passovers from circulation a week after its publication, primarily accusing the press of having misinterpreting his work:
“When I became aware that my explanations had no effect with a press that was nourishing a theme that every day became more dangerous for the Jewish people, I decided it was my duty to do two things: first, to block the book; secondarily, to take an action to show that it was not done, at least not by me, with intention to profit. So I renounced all proceeds. I won’t make a lira from this, and those proceeds will go to the struggle against anti-Semitism.”
Notwithstanding this defense, Ariel Toaff’s father, Elio Toaff, announced that “the criticism that everyone has expressed about his book was justified. His arguments in the book were an insult to the intelligence, to the tradition, to history in general and to the meaning of the Jewish religion. It saddens me that such nonsense was put forward by my son of all people.”
A year later, in February, 2008, Ariel Toaff published the revised version of his book. He had now completely recanted his original claim. Although he did not change the provocative title, he incorporated many of the arguments that his critics had made against the original book, contending that Jewish ritual murder was a libel fabricated by Christians and based on information extracted through torture.
Despite his recantation, Toaff’s original claim that Jews used Christian blood in religious rituals has become an indelible part of the propaganda of the anti-Israel movement. Indeed, many in the Arab academy had already accepted his blood libel as fact. Muhammad Al-Buheiri, one of Egypt’s top professors, proclaimed that Toaff “proved scientifically and objectively […] that there was indeed a group of extremist Jews, who used to slaughter Christian children, and to collect their blood in order to make the Passover matza.”
For many on the Left, moreover, the international outcry over Toaff’s scholarship simply amounted to a consistent and concerted effort on the part of Israel to silence dissent. In an August 2009 article published in CounterPunch, Alison Weir, a prominent anti-Israel activist, wrote that Toaff was “one of the greatest scholars in his field” and that his Passover blood libel had been based upon “35 years of research.”