In the book, Toaff alleges that a ritual killing was carried out by members of a fundamentalist group in reaction to the persecution of Jews. He based his book on confessions he says came from Jews captured and tried for the practice. Toaff said several were executed after confessing to the crucifixion of Christian children.
The claims were denied by leading Jewish figures, including Toaff's father Elio, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome. Rabbi Toaff welcomed Pope John Paul II to Rome's synagogue two decades ago in a historic visit that helped ease Catholic-Jewish relations after centuries of tensions.
Rabbi Toaff and Italy’s other senior rabbis issued a joint statement condemning the book. "There has never existed in Jewish tradition any permission or custom for using human blood for ritual purposes," they said. "Such a practice is considered with horror. It is absolutely improper to use centuries old statements, extracted under torture, to formulate singular and aberrant historical theses. The only blood shed in these stories is that of many innocent Jews."
Bar-Ilan University expresses its strongest reservations over the media reports of Prof Toaff's research. In a statement released Sunday, Bar-Ilan University management said it would be proper to wait for explanations from Prof. Toaff, who is traveling abroad. The statement said, "Immediately upon his return to the country in the coming days, Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Moshe Kaveh will summon Prof. Toaff and ask from him explanations regarding his research. Until then, we believe that we should refrain from relying on baseless reports that have been denied by Prof. Toaff himself and which, apparently, lack any connection to the research itself."
Jewish and Catholic scholars have denounced Toaff's work, saying he has not presented any new documents and that he gave credence to confessions extracted under torture.
Toaff's 91-year-old father said he was looking forward to reading his son's book and examining the documents, but stressed that according to the Torah and tradition, the consumption of animal blood, not to mention that of humans, was strictly prohibited.
Monsignor Iginio Rogger, a church historian who led an investigation in the 1960s into the 15th-century murder of 2-year-old Simon of Trento, for which 16 Jews were hanged, said many scholars have concurred that the confessions were completely unreliable.
Hebrew University historian Professor Israel J. Yuval, a blood-libel expert, said that from the information he had received, Professor Toaff's interpretation sounded "trumped-up."
Abe Foxman, chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, said, "It's hard for me to believe that someone, especially an Israeli historian, would legitimize the baseless claims of the blood libels."