ARIEL TOAFF: EXCERPTS FROM "JEWISH MONSTERS"
Excerpts from Ariel Toaff, "Mostri giudei. L’Immaginario ebraico dal Medievo alla prima età moderna" [JEWISH MONSTERS: Jewish Myths and Legends from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era” (1996)
More examples of Toaff's use of references. When a medieval convert describes Jews as endlessly scratching their genitals and stinking of farts and shit, or to prove that medieval Jews believed there was a river in Africa that flowed all week but rested on the Sabbath, you get proper references. But for the existence of the fantastic "voluntary donors", intended to disprove the alleged calumny of Jewish ritual murder, there is nothing.
I think we are justified in assuming that the fairy tale of the "voluntary donors" is just that: a fairy tale.
Personal note: I once had a French teacher who got to reminiscing about life in France, and one thing he said was, "When a Jew stinks, he really stinks". Personally, my nostrils have been spared this famed olfactory treat.
Excerpt from Chapter VI: The Ridiculous Jew
The Levantine Samuel Nahmias, one of Leon de Modena’s disciples, who converted to Christianity in 1649 and took the name of Giulio Morosini, had a visceral abhorrence of the rites of Judaism, which his Venetian teacher had attempted to defend and to explain. The Sephardic neophyte, in his long pilgrimages from his native Salonica to Venice and finally to Rome, where he was appointed lector of Hebrew at the Collegio di Propaganda Fide [College for the Propagation of the Faith], had acquired a heartfelt detestation of Jews and Judaism (8). Samuel/Giulio was obsessed by the foetus judaicus
[“Jewish stink”, a surprisingly common confusion between fetus and foetor, the latter being correct. This is one of the “astonishing translation mistakes” mentioned by Gian Marco Lucchese and Pietro Gianetti in their fine translation of “Blood Passover”. How is this possible? “Fetore” means “stink” even in Italian, and everybody knows what a “feto” or “foetus” is. This is obviously an error in the original source material, since Toaff knows Latin extremely well. - C.P],
the intolerable and unmistakeable stench emanating from the Jews, which a thousand ablutions were unable to eliminate. Following in the footsteps of the Franciscan Robert Caracciolo, who exclaimed, in his Mirror of the Christian Faith (Venice, Bernardino di Bindoni, 1536, cc. 48r-49v) “how often have I, a sinner, experienced how abominably the Jews stink!”, the Levantine neophyte addressed his ex-fellows in the faith, accusing them of offending the sense of smell in an intolerable manner: “You are filthy and foul, stinking scum of the earth” (9).
Their own doctrines, contained in the Talmud, were filthy and foul, because they originated from “an impious, filthy, fetid and abominable source [...] which can only be dirty and contagious” (10). Precisely for this reason, their attempts at washing to conceal and camouflage their terrible and repellent odour were similar to the ridiculous attempts of dung beetles to fashion some order in their stinking balls of excrement.
“Every time you come out of your privies you are obliged to wash your hands or, if there is no water, to clean up in some other way. Every time you relieve yourselves or pass water, you are commanded to wash your hands and recite the benediction. Knocking yourselves out to thank God for a necessary action reveals something reprehensible about you, not because there is anything wrong with it, but because you fail to do things in the correct proportions; while in bigger things, in which it would be more civilised to take more time, all of a sudden you are in a hurry. It is characteristic of dung beetles to make nice neat rounded balls of filthy material, rather than of things worthy of being seen and smelt” (11).
Morosini offered a curious explanation of why the synagogues were equipped with washbasins. The Jews, filthy and flea-ridden, were accustomed to visit their houses of worship every morning, emitting nauseating odours, after long hours spent scratching their genitals and minutely examining their bodies to eliminate fleas, giving off a fetid, intolerable stench of farts and shit.
“They teach you to bless God every morning after washing your hands, because you are filthy. You have to be filthy, considering how much time you spend touching the hidden parts of your bodies to kill fleas and lice, and because of all your farting -- or for other reasons -- and that’s why they equipped the synagogues with washbasins and ordered you to clean up by washing yourselves.” (12).
A clean, perfumed Jew was a contradiction in terms, such as to arouse the mockery and hilarity of Christians...
8) On Giulio Morosini, see, in particular, Steinschneider, Letteratura antigiudaica, cit., XXX(1882), pp. 372-373).
9 ) Giulio Morosini, Via della fede mostrata a’ gli ebrei, Rome, in the printshop of the Sacra Cong. De Prop. Fide, 1683, p. 218.
10) Ibidem, p. 1130
11) Ibidem, pp. 183-184
12) Ibidem, p. 251.
Ariel Toaff, "Mostri giudei. L’Immaginario ebraico dal Medievo alla prima età moderna" [JEWISH MONSTERS: Jewish Myths and Legends from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era” (1996)], pp. 103-04.
Excerpt from Chapter II, The Sambation, Living River
The marvellous peculiarities of the river of the Ten Tribes were concisely described in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 65b), which informs us that “the river Sambation carried rocks [along its course] every day of the week, but rested on the Sabbath”. In the lands of the vanished tribes [of Israel], where the laws of the Torah were scrupulously observed by all, it appeared unthinkable that the river Sambation or Sabation (whose name signified “the river of the Sabbbath”) should, through its uncontrollable current, dream of violating the weekly day of rest prescribed by God. Thus it was precisely the Sambation which became the paradigm of conduct for all Jews (1).
Flavius Josephus (The Jewish War, VIII 5, 1) confirmed that the river Sambation was thus called “from the name of the weekly holiday of the Jews”, but described its stupendous and marvellous characteristics quite differently: “.... the riverbed is always full, and the waters flow rapidly; later, the sources cease to supply it, and the bed dries up for six days. Then, suddenly, on the seventh day, the waters start flowing again, in the same volume as before”. Paradoxically, or perhaps due to an erroneous interpretation of sources, for Josephus Flavius, the Sambation rested for six days and started flowing again precisely on the Sabbath, when it was once again transformed into an impetuous torrent, restless and alive. Writers following the footsteps of the Greco-Jewish historian are subsequently said to have rectified their error, irreconcilable with Jewish ritualism, retouching, with Orthodox solicitude, the characteristics of the fantastic course of the Indo-African waters. The Sambation was said to return to compliance with the requirement to respect the Sabbath -- as was proper -- while, for the rest of the week, its waters were said to have resumed its tempestuous course, propelling rocks and detritus downstream with the violence of its current […]
Separated from each other by the tortuous and furious current of the Sambation (“two hundred metres wide as the crow flies, dragging heaps of rubbish and rocks, with the uproar of a storm at sea”), the tribes were only able to communicate with each other by means of white doves (2) [...]
1.) On the myth of the Lost Ten Tribes, and their development, see, among others, A. Neubauer, Le vicende delle dieci tribù, in Hebrew, Kovez al-yad, 4 (1888), pp. 9-74; idem, Where are the ten tribes?, in “The Jewish Quarterly Review”, I (1889), pp. 14-28, 95-114, 185-201, 408-423. Among recent studies, please see A. Foa, Il popolo nascosto. Il mito delle tribù perdute d’Israele tra messianismo ebraico ed apocalissi Cristiana (XVI-XVII secolo), in M. Caffiero, A. Foa and A. Morisi Guerra (authors), Itinerari ebraico-cristiani. Società, cultura, mito, Rome 1987, pp. 129-160; M. Waldman, Beyond the Rivers of Ethiopia. The Jews of Ethiopia and the Jewish People, in Hebrew, Tel Aviv, 1989, pp. 17-91.
2) A. Epstein, Eldad ha-Danì, in Hebrew, Pressburg, 1891, pp. 22-29.
Ariel Toaff, "Mostri giudei. L’Immaginario ebraico dal Medievo alla prima età moderna" [JEWISH MONSTERS: Jewish Myths and Legends from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era” (1996)], ibid, pp. 29-31]
Chapter III: The Black Messiah
To all intents and purposes, the Negro was considered a monster. The Talmud (Berakhot 58b) did not hesitate to compare them to deformed creatures, freaks, marvellous curiosities, exotic animals and monkeys. Their grotesque appearance could not be contemplated with nonchalant carelessness or indifference, which might have deleterious consequences.
Anyone viewing a Negro or a redskin or an albino, a lanky giant or a dwarf, or a man with a twisted mouth, must say: ‘Blessed be the Lord, who creates strange creatures’ [...] Similarly, anyone viewing an elephant, a mandrill or a Barbary ape, must say: ‘Blessed be the Lord, who creates strange creatures”.
Rather than a blessing, directed at an omnipotent God, responsible for all creatures, whose designs were not given to Man to understand, this was a formula intended to ward off evil -- an exorcism imagined to constitute an efficacious, tried-and-tested recipe, warding off evil spells, with a record of extraordinary success over time. It is not therefore surprising that an anonymous Jewish chronicler in the Middle Ages, recording, with great concern, the birth of a monstrous freak in the Viterbo region, did not fail to utter the ritualistic formula, intended to alleviate the justifiable apprehension aroused by this nightmarish apparition:
“On the Sabbath day, 22 of the month of Tishri in the year 1261, a lamb of monstrous appearance, which no legs and just the head, was born at Viterbo. Blessed be the Lord, who creates strange creatures (1).”
The Talmud provides an explanation of why the Negro was considered an abnormal product of creation, stressing that “the Negro owes its strangeness to the colour of its skin” (Mo’ed Katan 16b). But that was not all.
The Negro’s cast of mind awakened feelings of disapprobation and censure as well, while his behaviour appeared immoral and ridiculous. His intellectual capacities were to be considered limited, to say the least. The Negro was described as a scoundrel, a drunken, incontinent blockhead, easy prey to the most licentious instincts, a docile victim of the riotousness of the senses. With picturesque imagery, the Talmud (Kidushin 49b), again informs us that “ten measures of drunkenness descended upon the world. The Negro took nine, and the rest of the world took [only] one”.
Beniamin da Tudela , in his exotic Itinerary, recorded, with tones of implicit disapproval, that “the children of Kush are worshippers of the Sun, make forecasts based on the stars and are all black” (2). The people of Kush, whom the traveller from Navarra perhaps identified with the populations of Central-West Africa, lived on the banks of the paradisiacal river of Pishon, often confused with the Nile in the Middle Ages. His description of the Negro is less than flattering. The stereotype of the savage, bestial, extraordinarily simple-minded Negro, with an inborn proclivity to incest and adultery, vehicle of the most violent instincts, reinforced by incontinent nudity, is fully expressed in Beniamin’s highly-coloured and pitiless description:
“The blacks from the land of Kush [...] are like animals. They eat grass along the banks of the Pishon and in the surrounding fields. They don’t have brains like other men. They go around completely naked and lie with their sisters and any other woman as soon as they sense that the woman is in heat” (3).”
Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164), a native of Tudela like Beniamin and his contemporary, in his exegesis on the Biblical text, was anxious to provide authoritative reinforcement to the ambiguous image of the sexual promiscuity of the blacks and their amazing licentiousness and incontinence, censured, in no mild terms, by common morality, but arrogantly prominent in the upside-down world of the dream-like Occidental mental horizon, witnessing, with stupefied admiration, the unrestrained and irresponsible amatory capacities of the bare-buttocked savage. Commenting on the passage of the prophet Amos:
“Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians [= Kush] unto me, O children of Israel?” (Amos, 9:7), the learned Spanish rabbi explained to anyone who wasn’t [already] aware of it that 'Negro women are lascivious, and when a black baby is born, nobody knows who the father is'".
In the view of the more well-known Biblical and Talmudic exegetic, Rashì (R. Shelomosh ben Izchaq of Troyes, 1040-1105), a Frenchman, to be born black was a true and proper malediction [...]
The malediction of giving birth to a black baby could be avoided by honest and chaste behaviour, meriting the benediction of the much-desired white-skinned progeny. The mentality of the Jews during the Middle Ages was not greatly different, in this sense, from that of their Christian contemporaries, for whom the negative image of the Negro appeared founded, not just on divine malediction, but on well-established, incontrovertible fact.
1) A. Toaff, Un movimento messianico nell’anno 1261, in “Annali della Libera Univerisità della Tuscia", 4(1973), booklets III-IV, pp. 1-9.
2) Beniamin da Tudela, Sefer Massa’ot, Constantinople, Eliezar Soncino, 1543, c. 25r.
3. Ibidem, c 26v.
Ariel Toaff, "Mostri giudei. L’Immaginario ebraico dal Medievo alla prima età moderna" [JEWISH MONSTERS: Jewish Myths and Legends from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era” (1996)], pp. 49-51.
Professor Toaff goes on to describe the widespread medieval Jewish myth that, despite the above, the famed “Lost Tribe of Israel” still existed in Africa, and was black. This black “Lost Tribe of Israel” was said to be led by a powerful black king, advancing steadily from victory to victory, exterminating the Christian armies of the equally mythical “Prester John”, after which they were destined to overrun Europe, exterminate the Christians and set up the Jews to rule the word.
Plus ça change, plus la même chose.
-C.P., 17 October 2011
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