The Relationship of Medieval Jews to the Consumption of Human Blood.
Jan Peczkis review of the ” Blood Passover”- March 6, 2016
My review is based on the November 10, 2014 version of this book—a version that replaces all earlier versions. The Foreword identifies the reason that this version had been written, “The following translation was performed free of charge in order to protest an injustice: the destruction by the ADL [Anti-Defamation League] of Ariel Toaff’s BLOOD PASSOVER on Jewish ritual murder. The author is the son of the Chief Rabbi of Rome, and a professor of Jewish Renaissance and Medieval History at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, just outside of Tel Aviv…If it [the book] had been published in Israel, in Hebrew, no one would have cared. There are large bodies of literature in Hebrew that Jews do not wish Gentiles to know about.” (p. 4).
However, as soon becomes clear to the reader, there is nothing sensationalistic about this work. The author rejects the validity of most accusations of Jews murdering Christian children. (p. 14, 177). In addition, Toaff never claims, much less proves, that Jews actually engaged in ritual murder. However, he provides solid reasons for not rejecting ALL such claims out of hand. That, perhaps, is what the fuss is all about. Toaff’s work undermines the standard narrative of Jews solely being the innocent victims of baseless accusations.
THE NAKED EMPEROR
Consistent with the foregoing premise, Toaff comments, (quote) Any additional example of the two-dimensional “flattening” of Jewish history, viewed exclusively as the history of religious or political “anti-Semitism” at all times, must necessarily be regretted. When “one-way” questions presuppose “one-way” answers; when the stereotype of “anti-Semitism” hovers menacingly over any objective approach to the difficult problem of historical research in relation to Jews, any research ends up by losing a large part of its value. (unquote). (p. 10).
ANTECEDENT JEWISH-CHRISTIAN HOSTILITIES
Questions related to the blood libel, and accusations of ritual murder, did not arise in a vacuum. They flowed from centuries of reciprocal Jewish-Christian enmity.
Ariel Toaff affirms the fact that the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 57a) refers to Jesus Christ burning in hell in hot excrement, and that this teaching was especially prominent among the Jews of German origin. (p. 301). He also affirms the fact that the TOLEDOT YESHU, which he dates to the 5th-8th century, was a Jewish “Counter-Gospel”. (p. 273, 298, 301).
As a result of the Crusades, the Jews had developed an elaborate vindictive worldview that called for the destruction of not only those Christians that had persecuted the Jews, but of ALL Christians. The Jewish drinking of Christian blood was thus an extension of this elaborate vendetta.
The Jews had a custom of roasting the Passover lamb skewered on a spit in a vertical position, with the head upwards. This was a creative mockery of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, in which He was the AGNUS DEI (Lamb of God). (p. 70).
Now consider Purim. It long included many visible manifestations of anti-Christian rituals. (For examples, see pp. 192-195).
Finally, Jews had many contemptuous terms for Christians. These included SHEKEZ, SHEKZ, SHEGHEZ, SCEGHESC, and SHIKSA or SHIKSE, etc. (p. 265).
WHENCE BLOOD LIBEL ACCUSATIONS
Ariel Toaff contends that it is unlikely that the medieval notions, of Jews conducting ritual murder, were merely copied from similar accusations in Antiquity, as the latter were probably not widely known and disseminated in the Middle Ages. (p. 185). Instead, they probably arose de novo. [They developed out of gentile awareness of the Jewish vendetta against Christianity as a whole, as noted from the YUVAL work mentioned above.]
The extensive Jewish involvement in the slave trade also played a major role in the medieval-era accusations of ritual murder. It induced Christians to think that Jews would kidnap Christian children. (p. 188). [During the 1946 Kielce Pogrom, the tendency of Holocaust-surviving Jews to reclaim Jewish children from Christian families made some Poles suppose that Jews would kidnap Polish children.]
WHY SOME BLOOD-LIBEL ACCUSATIONS ARE CREDIBLE
The standard line of thinking posits that Christians made all the blood-libel stuff up, and Jews “agreed” under torture. Author Toaff is well aware of this standard narrative (e. g, pp. 10-12, p. 120, 146), but rejects it as much too simplistic.
To begin with, the accounts are much too sophisticated to be dismissed as the products of Christian imagination or fabrication, (Quote) A careful reading of the trial records, in both form and substance, recall too many features of the conceptual realities, rituals, liturgical practices and mental attitudes typical of, and exclusive to, one distinct, particular Jewish world—features which can in no way be attributed to suggestion on the part of judges or prelates—to be ignored. (unquote). (p. 11).
Interestingly, when Jews were accused of ritual cannibalism, they did not reject the probative evidence. Instead, they resorted to a TU QUOQUE (“you too”), in which they accused of Christians of engaging in similar practices, and in which they adopted an exculpatory “done to Jews first” tale of Pharoah bathing in the blood of the cruelly massacred Jewish children. (p. 13).
Most interesting of all, accusations of Jews engaging in ritual murder were not geographically random. They were directed specifically against German Jews, including those German Jews now living in Italy, Spain, etc. (p. 14, 102, 117, 120, 273; See also p. 146). They were not directed against those Jews that were native to places such as Italy and Spain. (p. 117, 271). This argues for the validity of some of these charges. Were gentile Christians, and Jewish converts to Christianity, merely making up defamatory stories against Jews in general, one would not expect to find the foregoing geographic differentiation of such accusations. Yet we do.
PROHIBITIONS AGAINST BLOOD CONSUMPTION WERE NOT ABSOLUTE
The standard argument adduced against the validity of ritual-murder accusations is the one that consumption of blood is abhorrent to Judaism. Toaff shows that this was not necessarily so. (pp. 152-155).
Let us touch on a few specifics. To begin with, sometimes, the tail of Jewish conduct wagged the dog of Jewish religious strictures. That is, customs already practiced by Jews were often ipso facto considered valid according to halakha, even if they contradicted the Torah. (p. 154).
Some Jews reasoned that the prohibition applied solely to the consumption of animal blood, and not human blood, especially if it was the blood of the Jews’ enemies (e. g, Christians). (p. 152). Others reasoned that, what was prohibited between Jews (e. g, usury: Deuteronomy 23:21), was not prohibited if Jews did it to Christians. (pp. 152-153). In addition, some rabbis reasoned that, if the blood has first been dried, it has lost part of its essence, and that this vitiated any scruples on the consumption of blood. (pp. 154-155).
The external use of animal and human blood, for various cultic and magical purposes among Jews, was long-standing and unremarkable. (pp. 142-143). Pointedly, however, Jewish sources make it clear that blood could also be used for INTERNAL consumption. Toaff cites several of them, and then concludes the following:
(Quote) In fact, if we turn once again to the compendia of SEGULLOT in use among Jews of German origin, we will find a broad range of recipes providing for the oral ingestion of blood, both human and animal…The compendia of SEGULLOT furthermore stressed the prodigious properties of human blood…(unquote). (p. 150).
(Quote) In conclusion, the Jewish custom in the Germanic territories, throughout history, of consuming potions and medications based on animal blood, without regard to the ritual prohibition of the Torah, appears to be incontrovertibly confirmed by authoritative and significant Hebraic texts. As we have seen, the compendiums of SEGULLOT in many cases expanded the lawfulness of using human blood, to be administered dried and dissolved in another liquid, which was to be recommended, not only for therapeutic purposes, but in conjurations and exorcisms of all kinds. (unquote). (p. 155).
A CLEAR DOUBLE STANDARD ON TESTIMONIES EXTRACTED BY TORTURE
I now go beyond the contents of this book in order to contextualize it. Consider those commentators on this book who reject, out of hand, the testimonies of Jews who had been tortured by the Inquisition. However, those who accuse Poles of having murdered the Jews of Jedwabne have no problem unquestioningly accepting the results of the 1949 Lomza trial. This is despite the fact that the defendants had been tortured, had been in a position in which they had to accuse each other in order to try to escape blame themselves, and had been forced to be defendants in a trial that took place in an overall atmosphere of rampant Communist terror. The reader must also remember that the perfidy and sophistication of Communist interrogation methods made those of the Inquisition seem almost amateurish.
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