The purpose of the present file is to provide a searchable version of BLOOD PASSOVER showing all major deletions and interpolations in both editions of the text. Most of the changes were made to the Preface, and Chapters Five, Six, Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen.
There are also a great many ritualistic disclaimers inserted under duress -- pressure exerted by the ADL, who had never even read the book.

These ritualistic disclaimers include the newly-invented fairy tale of the "voluntary donors", in which Toaff obviously does not believe, and for which there is no more evidence -- according to Toaff's own source material -- than for the existence of unicorns or the miracles of Mohammed.

The “evidence” consists of a single sentence from Ronnie Po-chia Hsia’s MYTH OF RITUAL MURDER, falsified, mistranslated and taken out of context, totally distorting the plain meaning of both context and sentence. This is the sort of thing that ruins the reputation of an historian.

It should not be forgotten that one of John Demianiuk's defenders in Israel was nearly blinded by an acid thrower while attending a funeral, while another one "committed suicide" by "falling" from a 15th story window.

Nevertheless, at the minor cost of mutilating a masterpiece, Toaff has achieved most of his aims: he got his book published, regaling us with even MORE disgusting examples of the eating, drinking and sucking of human blood by Jews, and nobody threw acid in his face.

Mea Culpa, or Eppur si Muove?

Red= deletions from first edition
Green = interpolations in revised edition
Blue = emphasis

For a short summary of these deletions and interpolations, click here
For added chapter of no interest to anyone, click here
For Ariel Toaff's Apologia pro Vita Sua, click here
For quotes from Ronie Po-chia Hsia, click here
For general discussion of Toaff's newly invented fairy tale of the "voluntary donors", click here
For excerpts from Mostri giudei ["Jewish Monsters"], click here
Minor errors in the 1st edition, mostly inconsistencies in the translation of proper names, have been corrected.
Since there are so many deletions and interpolations, the footnotes have been shuffled around a bit and appear in a different order in the revised edition, but are largely intact.


[back cover]



Professor of Medieval and Renaissance History at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Toaff has written Wine and Bread: A Jewish Community in
the Middle Ages (1989; translated into English under the title Love, Work and Death, and French under the title Le Marchand de Pérouse), Jewish Monsters: Jewish Myths and Legends from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era (1996) and Eating Jewish Style. Jewish Cooking in Italy from the Renaissance to the Modern Age (2000).

p. 7]


Ritual homicide trials are a difficult knot to unravel. Most researchers simply set out in search of more or less convincing confirmation of previously developed theories of which the researcher himself appears firmly convinced. The significance of any information failing to fit the preconceived picture is often minimized, and sometimes passed over entirely in silence. Oddly, in this type of research, that which is to be proven is simply taken for granted to begin with. There is a clear perception that any other attitude would involve hazards and repercussions which are to be avoided at all costs.

There is no doubt that the uniformity of the defendant’s confessions, contradicted only by variants and incongruities generally relating to details of secondary importance, was assumed by the judges and so-called "public opinion" to constitute “proof” that the Jews, characterized by their great mobility and widespread dispersion, practiced horrible, murderous rituals in hatred of the Christian religion. The stereotype of ritual murder, like that of profanation of the Host and cannibal sacrifice, was present in their minds from the outset, suggesting to both judges and inquisitors alike the possibility of extorting symmetrical, harmonious and significant confessions, triggering a chain reaction of denunciations, veritable and proper manhunts and indiscriminate massacres.

While attempts have been made, in certain cases, to reconstruct the ideological mechanisms and underlying theological and mythological beliefs, with their theological and mythological justifications, which rendered the persecution of the Jews possible as the practitioners ofoutrageous and blood-thirsty rituals, particularly in the German-speaking countries of Europe, little or nothing has been done to investigate the beliefs of

p. 8]

the men and women accused -- or who accused themselves -- of ritual crucifixion, desecration of the host, haematophagy [eating of blood products]  and cannibalism.
On the other hand -- if an exception be made for the first sensational case of ritual crucifixion, which occurred in Norwich, England, in 1146,or the equally well-known “blood libel” case at Trent, Italy, in 1475 -- the trial records and transcripts (usually referred to under the generic term “historical documentation”) constitute, in actual fact, very poor and often purely circumstantial evidence, highly condensed in form and very sparse in detail, totally insufficient for research purposes. Perhaps for this very same reason, that which is missing is often artificially added, assumed or formulated as a hypothesis, in the absence of any explicit probative evidence one way or another (i.e., in the desired direction); in the meantime, the entire matter is immersed in a tinted bath, from which the emerging image is superficial at best, enveloped in a cloud of mystery, with all the related paraphernalia from a distant past, and must remain forever incomprehensible to researchers intent on examining these problems through the application of anachronistic interpretive categories. These efforts -- obviously unreliable – are generally performed in good faith. Or, more exactly, almost always in good faith.

Thus, in Anglo-Saxon (British and American) historical-anthropological research on Jews and ritual murder (from Joshua Trachtenberg to Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia), magic and witchcraft traditionally feature among the favorite aspects under examination. This approach, for a variety of reasons, is enjoying an extraordinary rebirth at the present time (1). But that which seems to obtain a high degree of popularity at the moment is not necessarily convincing to meticulous scholars, not content with superficial and impressionistic responses.

Nearly all the studies on Jews and the so-called “blood libel” accusation to date have concentrated almost exclusively on persecutions and persecutors; on the ideologies and presumed motives of those same persecutors: their hatred of Jews; their political and/or religious cynicism; their xenophobic and racist rancor; their contempt for minorities. Little or no attention has been paid to the attitudes of the persecuted Jews themselves and their underlying patterns of ideological behavior – even when they confessed themselves guilty of the specific accusations brought against them. Even less attention has been paid to the behavioral patterns and attitudes of these same Jews; nor have these matters been considered worthy even of interest, attention or serious investigation. On the contrary: these behavioral patterns and attitudes have simply been incontrovertibly dismissed as non-existent -- as invented out of whole cloth by the sick minds of anti-Semites and fanatical, obtusely dogmatic Christians.

Nevertheless, although difficult to digest, these actions, once their authenticity is demonstrated or even supposed as possible,

p. 9]

should be the object of serious study by reputable scholars. The condemnation, or, alternatively, the aberrant justification of these rituals cannot be imposed upon researchers as the sole, and banal, options. Scholars must be permitted the possibility of attempting serious research on the actual, or presumed, religious, theological and historical motivations of the Jewish protagonists themselves. Blind excuses are just asworthless as blindly dogmatic condemnation: neither can demonstrate anything other than that which already existed in the mind of the observer to begin with. DELETED It is precisely the possibility of evading any clear, precise and unambiguous definition of the reality of ritual child murders rooted in religious faith which has facilitated the intentional or involuntary blindness of Christian and Jewish scholars alike, both pro- and anti-Jewish.

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.

All such research is thus transformed, by the very nature of things, into a “guided tour” conducted against a fictitious and unreal background, in a “virtual reality show” intended to produce the desired reaction, which has naturally been decided upon in advance (2). FOOTNOTE DELETED 2) For example, the recent volume by S. Buttaroni and S. Musial, Ritual Murder. Legend in European History, Crakow - Nuremberg - Frankfurt, 2003, opens with a preamble which is, in its way, conclusive: "It is important to state from the very beginning that Jewish ritual murder never took place. Today proving such theories wrong is not the goal of scientific research" (p. 12).

As stressed above, it is simply not permissible to ignore the mental attitudes of the Jews who were tried, tortured and executed for ritual murder, or persecuted on the same charge. At some point, we must ask ourselves whether the “confessions” of the defendants constitute exact records of actual events, or merely the reflection of beliefs forming part of a symbolic, mythical and magical context which must be reconstructed to be understood. In other words: do these “confessions” reflect merely the beliefs of Gentile judges, clergy and populace, with their private phobias and obsessions, or, on the contrary, of the defendants themselves? Untangling the knot is not an easy or pleasant task; but perhaps it is not entirely impossible.

In the first place, therefore, we must investigate the mental attitudes of the Jews themselves, in the tragic drama of ritual sacrifice, together with the accompanying religious beliefs and superstitious and magical elements. Due attention must be paid to the admissions which made ritual murder appear “plausible” within a particular historical and local context, identifiable within a succession of German-speaking territories on both sides of the Alps, throughout the long period from the First Crusade to the twilight of the Middle Ages. In substance, we should investigate the possible presence of

p. 10]

Jewish beliefs relating to ritual child murders, linked to the feast of Passover, while attempting to reconstitute the significance of any such beliefs. The trial records, particularly the minutely detailed reports relating to the death of Little Simon of Trent, cannot be dismissed on the assumption that all such records represent simply the specific deformation of beliefs held by the judges, who are alleged to have collected detailed but manipulated confessions by means of force and violence to ensure that all such confessions conformed to the anti-Jewish theories already in circulation at the time.

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. Only a frank analysis of these elements can make any valid, new and original contribution to the reconstruction of beliefs relating to child sacrifice held by the alleged Jewish perpetrators themselves -- whether real or imagined – in addition to attitudes based on the unshakeable faith in their redemption and ultimate vengeance against the Gentiles, emerging from blood and suffering, which can only be understood in this context.

In this Jewish-Germanic world, in continual movement, profound currents of popular magic had, over time, distorted the basic framework of Jewish religious law, changing its forms and meanings. It is in these "mutations" in the Jewish tradition – which are, so to speak, authoritative – that the theological justifications of the commemoration [in mockery of the Passion of Christ] is to be sought, which, in addition to its celebration in the liturgical rite, was also intended to revive, in action, vengeance against a hated enemy continually reincarnated throughout the long history of Israel (the Pharaoh, Amalek, Edom, Haman, Jesus). Paradoxically, in this process, which is complex and anything but uniform, elements typical of Christian culture may be observed to rebound -- sometimes inverted, unconsciously but constantly -- within Jewish beliefs, mutating in turn, and assuming new forms and meanings. These beliefs, in the end, became symbolically abnormal, distorted by a Judaism profoundly permeated by the underlying elements and characteristic features of an adversarialand detested religion, unintentionally imposed by the same implacable Christian persecutor.

DELETED:  We must therefore decide whether or not the alleged “confessions” relating to the crucifixion of children the evening before Passover; the testimonies relating to the utilization of Christian blood in the celebration of the feast of the Passover, represent, in actual fact, mere myths, i.e., beliefs and ideologies dating far back

p. 11]

in time; or actual ritual practices, i.e., events which actually occurred, in reality, and were actually celebrated, in prescribed and consolidated forms, with their more or less fixed baggage of formulae and anathemas, accompanying the magical practices and superstitions which formed an integral part of the mentality of the Jews themselves.

CHANGED In any case, I repeat, we should avoid the..
CHANGED, p. 13 of new edition: In any case, even in eliminating the calumnious stereotype of ritual child murder, central to the accusation, we should avoid the easy short-cut of considering these trials and testimonies only as projections -- extorted from the accused by torture and other coercive methods, both psychological and physical -- of the stereotypes, superstitions, fears and beliefs of the judges and populace. Such a method would trigger a process inevitably leading to the dismissal of these same testimonies as “valueless documents with little basis in reality”, except as “indications of the obsessions of a Christian society” which saw, in the Jew, merely a “distorted mirror image” of its own defects. This task appears to have seemed absolutely prohibitive to many scholars, even famous ones, well-educated men of good will, having concerned themselves with this difficult topic.

First, Gavin Lanmuir, who, starting from the facts of Norwich, England, considers the crucifixion and ritual haemotophagia, which appear in two different phases of history, as simply the cultivated and interested inventions of ecclesiastical groups, denying the Jews any role at all except a merely passive one, devoid of responsibility (3).
Lanmuir was later followed by Willehad Paul Eckert, Diego Qualiglioni, Wolfgang Treue and Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia, who, although examining the phenomenon of ritual child murder from different points of view, intelligently and competently, starting with the late MiddleAges, paying particular attention to the Trent trial documentation, considered it all tout court and often a priori a baseless libel, an expression of hostility on the part of the Christian majority against the Jewish minority (4).

According to the point of view adopted by these researchers, the inquisitor’s interrogation methods and tortures served no purpose other than to orchestrate a completely harmonious confession of guilt, i.e., of adherence to a truth already existing in the minds of the inquisitors. The use of leading questions and a variety of stratagems, including, in particular, refined torture, were intended to force the defendants to admit that the victim had indeed been kidnapped and tortured according to Jewish ritual, and finally killed in hatred of the Christian faith. The confessions are said to be obviously unbelievable, since the murders were allegedly committed to permit the ritual use of Christian blood, in violation of the Biblical prohibition against the ingestion

p. 12]

of blood, a prohibition scrupulously observed by all Jews. DELETED As to torture, it is best to recall that its use in the municipalities of northern Italy, at least from the beginning of the 13th century, was regulated, not only by tractate, but by statute as well. As an instrument for determining the truth, torture was permitted in the presence of serious and well-justified clues in cases in which it was considered truly necessary by the podestà [magistrate] and judges. All confessions extorted in this manner, to be considered valid, had to be corroborated by the inquisitor, later, under normal conditions, i.e., in the absence of physical pain or even the threat of renewed torture (5). These procedures, while unacceptable in our eyes today, were therefore in fact normal, and seem to have been observed in the case of the Trent trials.

FOOTNOTE 5 DELETED:  In this regard, see E. Maffei's recent Dal reato alla sentenza. Il processo criminale in età communale, Rome, 2005, pp. 98-101.

Israel Yuval, following in the footsteps of Cecil Roth’s stimulating pioneering study (6), is more critical and seems more open-minded. Yuval stresses the link between the “blood libel” accusation and the phenomenon of the mass suicides and child murders during the German Jewish communities during the First Crusade. The picture which emerges is one of Ashkenazi Jewry’s hostile and virulent reaction against surrounding Christian society, a reaction finding expression, not only in liturgical invective, but above all, in the conviction that the Jews themselves were capable of compelling God to wreak bloody revenge against their Christian persecutors, thus bringing redemption closer(7). More recently, Yuval very relevantly demonstrated that the Ashkenazi responses to ritual murder accusations were surprisingly weak.

These responses, whenever they were recorded, contained not the slightest rejection of the probative evidence; rather, they consisted of a mere tu quoque of the accusation against Christians: "Nor are you, yourselves, exempt from guilt of ritual cannibalism" (8). As Yuval wrote, David Malkiel had already noted the manner in which phenomenal prominence was given to the scene, described in a secondary Midrasheven in the illustrations of the Passover Haggadah of the German Jewish communities, to the scene, of the Pharaoh taking a health-giving bath in the blood of cruelly massacred Jewish children (9). The message, which cast not the slightest doubt upon the magical, therapeutic effectiveness of children’s blood, seemed intended to turn the accusation around. “It is not we Jews, or, if you wish, not just we Jews, who have committed such actions; the enemies of Israel in history have been guilty of these things as well, in which case it was Jewish children who were the innocent victims”.

DELETED Any showing that these murders, celebrated in the Passover ritual, represented, not just myths, i.e., more or less consistently widespread, consistent religious beliefs,

p. 13]

but, rather, actual rites, pertaining to organized groups and forms of worship which were actually practiced, requires a respect for due methodological prudence. The existence of this phenomenon, once it is unequivocally proven, must be viewed within its historical, religious and social context, not to mention the geographical environment in which it is presumably said to have found expression, with all the related and peculiar characteristics which cannot be replicated elsewhere. In other words, we must attempt to search for the heterogenous elements and particular historical-religious experiences which are alleged to have made the killing of Christian children for ritualistic purposes appear plausible, during a certain period, within a certain geographical area (i.e., the German-speaking regions of trans-Alpine and Cisalpine Italy and Germany, or wherever there were strong ethnic elements of German Jewish origin, any time between the Middle Ages and the early modern era), as the expression of collective adjustment of Jewish groups and a presumed desire on the part of God in this sense, or as the irrational instrument of pressure to reinforce that desire [on the part of God], as well as in the mass suicides and child murders "for the love of God", during the First Crusade.

In this research, we should not be surprised to find customs and traditions linked to experiences which did not exist elsewhere: experiences which were to prove more deeply rooted than the standards of religious law itself, although diametrically opposed in practice, accompanied by all the appropriate and necessary formal and textual justifications. Action and reaction: instinctive, visceral, virulent, in which children, innocent and unaware, became the victims of God’s love and vengeance. The blood of children, bathing the altars of a God considered to be in need of guidance, sometimes, of impatient compulsion, impelling Him to protect and to punish.

At the same time, we must keep in mind that, in the German-speaking Jewish communities, the phenomenon, where it took root, was generally limited to groups in which popular tradition, which had, over time, distorted, evaded or replaced the ritual standards of Jewish halakhah, in addition to deeply-rooted customs saturated with magical and alchemical elements, all combined to form a deadly cocktail when mixed with violent and aggressive religious fundamentalism. There can be no doubt, it seems to me, that, that, once the tradition became widespread, the stereotypical image of Jewish ritual child murder continued inevitably to take its own course, out of pure momentum. Thus, the Jews were accused of every child murder, much more often wrongly than rightly, especially if discovered in the springtime. In this sense, Cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli, later Pope Clement XIV,

p. 14]

was correct in his famous report, in both his justifications and his “distinctions” (10).

The records of the ritual murder trials should be examined with great care and with all due caution. In connection with the witchcraft trials, Carlo Ginzburg pointed out that the defendants (or victims), in a “show trial” of this type,

“…ended up by losing all sense of their own cultural identity, as a result of the acceptance, in whole or in part, by violence or apparently out of spontaneous free choice, of the hostile stereotype imposed by their persecutors [i.e., a sort of Medieval “Stockholm Effect”]. Anyone who fails to conform by simply repeating the results of these findings of historical violence must seek to work upon the rare cases in which the documentation is not just formally set forth in question and answer form; in which, therefore, one may find fragments relatively immune from distortions of the culture which the persecution was intent upon blotting out" (11).

The Trent trials are a priceless document of this very kind. The trial records -- especially, the cracks and rifts in the overall structure permitting the researcher to distinguish and differentiate, in substance, not just in form, between the information provided by the accused and the stereotypes imposed by the inquisitors are dazzlingly clear. This fact cannot be glossed over or distorted by means of preliminary categorizations of an ideological or polemical nature, intended to invalidate those very distinctions. In many cases, everything the defendants said was incomprehensible to the judges – often, because their speech was full of Hebraic ritual and liturgical formulae pronounced with a heavy German accent, unique to the German Jewish community, which not even Italian Jews could understand (12); in other cases, because their speech referred to mental concepts of an ideological nature totally alien to everything Christian. It is obvious that neither the formulae or the language can be dismissed as merely the astute fabrications and artificial suggestions of the judges in these trials. Dismissing them as worthless, as invented out of whole cloth, as the spontaneous fantasies of defendants terrorized by torture and projected to satisfy the demands of their inquisitors, cannot be imposed as the compulsory starting point, the prerequisite, for valid research, least of all for the present paper. Any conclusion, of any nature whatsoever, must be duly demonstrated after a strict evaluation and verification of all the underlying evidence sine ira et studio, using all available sources capable of confirming or invalidating that evidence in a persuasive and cogent manner.

p. 15]

DELETED The present paper could not have been written without the advice, criticism, meetings and discussions with Dani Nissim, a long-time friend, who, in addition to his great experience as a bibliographer and bibliophile, made available to me his profound knowledge of the history of the Jewish community of the Veneto region, and of Padua in particular. The conclusions of this work are nevertheless mine alone, and I have no doubt that that the above named persons would very largely disagree with them. I have engaged in lengthy discussions of the chapters on the Jews of Venice with Reiny Mueller, over the course of which I was given highly useful suggestions and priceless advice. Thanks are also due to the following persons for their assistance in the retrieval of the archival and literary documentation; for their encouragement and criticism, to Diego Quaglioni; Gian Maria Varanini; Rachele Scuro; Miriam Davide; Ellioth Horowitz; Judith Dishon; Boris Kotlerman and Ita Dreyfus.Grateful thanks are also due to those of my students who participated actively in my seminars on the topic, held at the Department of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University (2001-2002 and 2005-2006), during which I presented the provisional results of my research. First and foremost, however, I wish to thank Ugo Berti, who persuaded me to undertake this difficult task, giving me the courage to overcome the many foreseeable obstacles which stood in the way.--

p. 16]



p. 17]


It was in February of 1469 that Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich III, traveling from Rome, made his solemn entrance at Venice with a long retinue for which that which was to be his third and last official visit to the city which he so loved and admired (1). It was to be his first visit to the City of Venice since his triumphant reception immediately following his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope in Rome in1452 (2).

As was customary on these magnificent occasions, Friedrich spent entire days in diplomatic meetings and in receiving the official visits of ambassadors, and in conferring diplomas, stipends and privileges of all sorts upon beneficiaries selected from long lists of names prepared by his officials, as dictated by imperial interests and his own. In those days, intriguers, wheeler-dealers and adventurers attached to the monarch’s court, or who thought they were, toiled with a calculated industriousness to intercede in favor of various persons seeking official ratification of their own professional and economic success; of priests, patricians and academics bent upon crowning their own cursus honorum through the attainment of some precious imperial investment, or those of a variety of ethnic and religious communities intent on achieving confirmation of their ancient or recent privileges, not to mention merchants and intriguers intent on covering up affairs of dubious honesty and scraping up advantages for themselves during the solemn visit (3).

Friedrich was known as a fanatical and often naive collector of relics of all types. It is not therefore surprising that the objectives of his trip to Venice should have included a passionate and unrestrained hunt for relics, hawked about in abundance by wheeler-dealers and impertinent intermediaries at high prices, a fact noted with malicious humor by Michele Colli, a salt superintendent, in a report sent from Venice to the Duke of Milan, in which he cast doubt on Friedrich's alleged competence

 p. 18]

where relics were concerned. According to the Milanese official, the Emperor, in this type of business, which he presumed to carry out directly and without regard to price, was a sucker to be plucked assiduously, adding, to add to the ridicule, half-seriously half facetiously, that "certain Greeks sold him dead bones including the tail of the ass that brought Christ to Bethlehem" (4).

On this occasion, some supposed relics of Saint Vigilius found their way to Venice in the hands of a loving and faithful subject of Friedrich, Giovanni Hinderbach, a famous humanist and man of the Church who had traveled from Trent to the City of the Lagoons, not only to present the Emperor with the highly-valued relics, but above all as an act of gratitude, on the occasion of his receipt of his much sought-after investiture of the temporality of the episcopate of Trent. Again, it was Colli who informed the Duke of Milan that "His Illustrious Majesty invested the Bishop of Trent with a thousand temporal solemnities and celebrations" (5). But Hinderbach was not the only person to have undertaken the uncomfortable journey from Trent to Venice during the German Emperor’s distinguished presence in the city.

Tobias da Magdeburg was an obscure Jewish herb alchemist who, after traveling down from his native Saxony and finding exile among the mountains of the region of Trent, practiced the art of medicine and surgery with some success, at least on the local market. A few years later, he was to meet Hinderbach under much unhappier circumstances, under indictment for participation in the cruel ritual murder of Little Simon, later sainted as Simon of Trent. Imprisoned in the castle of Buon Consiglio and admitting his guilt, he was to meet a cruel death at the stake, accompanied by the confiscation of all his goods (6).

Maestro Tobias appears to have been acting in accordance with other motives during the Emperor’s official visit to Venice, particularly, the possibility of meeting large groups of German Jews arriving from the other side of the Alps along with Friedrich’s baggage train, many of whom Tobias looked forward to seeing again after years of involuntary separation. There was no shortage of German Jews at Venice in February of 1469: disciplined, humble, but totally self-absorbed and self-interested.

In his depositions before the judge of Trent in 1475,Tobias was not exaggerating when, after recalling his own presence in the city during "His Most Serene Highness’s visit to Venice”, he stressed that many Jewish merchants, in crossing the Alpine barrier, had actually traveled from the German territories to the City of the Lagoons for the purpose of acquiring a wide variety of high-priced goods without paying taxes or duty of any kind, passing them off

 p. 19]

as goods owned by the Emperor, in whose baggage train they were said to have found their way back to Germany. This astute and bold stratagem was well worth the physical and economic cost of the difficult trip to the city of the Doges (7).

But Tobias’s presence in Venice was not due to any mere nostalgia for the people among whom he had been born and grew up. As a physician, and as a Jewish physician in particular, he knew that the Emperor, during his visit, would, as he was normally accustomed to do, grant doctoral degrees in medicine to a swarm of more or less highly recommended candidates, including a few Jews. In fact, it was during that same February of 1469 that Friedrich granted a license permitting the College of Physicians of San Luca, an institution of higher learning teaching students of various origins -- not just Venetians -- to confer the insignia of Imperial Authority upon eight medical degrees per year (8). Enea Silvio Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, recalled the manner in which Friedrich graduated a swarm of medical students during his second visit to Italy.

The number of Jews on the Emperor’s lists of candidates remains unknown. Nor do we know who filed the petitions to inscribe these Jewish candidates, or the methods used, or the reasons for doing so. We only know that many Jewish physicians, of various origins, in addition to Tobias, a resident of Trent, were in Venice during the Emperor’s visit, attracted by an opportunity of obtaining some much sought-after title from Emperor Friedrich in person; nor do we know how many of them had already spent considerable periods of time in the City of the Lagoons in search of fame and fortune (9). Among them were the Jews Moschè Rapp, Lazzaro (10) and the better-known Omobono (Simcha Bunem or Bunim), keeper of the pharmacy "della Vecchia" at San Cassian, with a house at San Stae, only a few steps from the Albergo dei Bresciani ("magister Homobon, Jewish physician, at the Speziaria de la Vechia at San Cassian, with his house near San Stae, not far from theCasa de Bressani, at Venice") (11). Accompanying them was the physician Moisè da Rodi, whose presence is attested to with certainty in1473 (12), but who probably arrived in Venice even earlier, and "Maestro Theodoro (Todros), Jewish physician", who reached Venice in1469 with Friedrich (13).

The best-known of all, however, was, without doubt, the rabbi and barber surgeon Jehudah messer Leon, certainly a product of Ashkenazi Jewish environment, if his origins at Montecchio in the Vicentino region are indeed a fact (14). This same Leon, who resided in Venice starting in 1469 at the earliest, where his son David was born, was officially granted his degree in medicine

 p. 20]

during the Emperor’s visit, although formally the diploma was only signed a few days later by the imperial notary at Pordenone (but still in the month of February) (15). Similarly, years later, in August of 1489, the Emperor, still at Pordenone, is said to have granted a doctorate in medicine to two Jewish candidates, both of them from Sicily and belonging to the Azeni family at Palermo, David di Aronne and Salomonedi Mosè (16).

The petitions of the Jews to the Emperor, who had always been highly esteemed for his benevolent attitude, filed during his stay in Venice during the winter of 1469, were submitted by an ambassador admitted to Friedrich’s presence for that particular occasion. The occasion was described as follows, early in the 16th Century, with some satisfaction although with undoubted exaggeration, by the chronicler Elia Capsalia, rabbi of Candia, who had studied medicine at the Talmudic academy of Padua:
"The Emperor (Friedrich III) was very favorable to the Jews. During his visit to Venice (in 1469), when his vassals and subjects presented him with (gastronomic) gifts, he never refused to eat them before his servants and functionaries had tasted them first, as is the custom among emperors. Whenever the Jews brought him gifts of this kind, Friedrich never hesitated to eat any of the dishes immediately, saying that he had complete faith in the loyalty and honesty of his Jewish subjects.

"Later, Frederic, traveling from Venice, went to Padua to gain an impression of that city. On that occasion, the Serenissima prepared a carriage for him and placed it on the city walls: the horses pulled the carriage from which the Emperor admired the entire city. This was doneso that he might easily verify the thickness and solidity of the walls (of Padua). Friedrich signed a pact with Venice and remained its faithfully for the entire time he lived" (17).

In all probability, the ambassadorship of the Jews conferring with Friedrich III as described by Capsali was headed by David Mavrogonato (in Italian, Maurogonato), an adventurer and not overly-scrupulous businessman in the service of the Republic of Venice, a person of enormous financial resources and great influence, a native of Candia who was often sent on hazardous missions to the lands of the Aegean and the Great Turk, where he was to run many risks and die a cruel death; on the other hand, he was certainly capable of procuring sumptuous stipends and profitable privileges for himself (18).

 p. 21]

Maestro Tobias da Magdeburg, the humble physician from Trent, had seen Mavrogonato at Venice during the days of the imperial visit, although he did not know Mavrogonato’s name. He had observed Mavrogonato with respect and reverential fear; he knew approximately where he lived, although he did not know the exact address; but he was well aware that he would never have been able to approach Mavrogonato without undergoing the suspicious appraisal of Mavrogonato’s bodyguards. Perhaps Tobias thought that Mavrogonato’s recommendation would help get him, Tobias, included in the list of people enjoying the Emperor's favor, or those about to receive a Doctorate, but he was unable, or did not dare, to ask for it. The personage and appearance of Mavrogonato nevertheless remained imprinted in his memory after many years; in 1475, in speaking to the judges at Trent, he envisioned Mavrogonato as follows, erroneously imagining that he might be still alive:

"He might have been forty four or forty five years old; he wore his hair long and wore a black beard, like the Greeks. He wore a black cloak that came down to his feet, and covered his head with a black cap. In substance, he dressed like the Greeks" (19).

But who was David Mavrogonato really? An ambiguous and mysterious character, Mavrogonato appeared in Venice in 1461 on his own initiative to reveal a conspiracy being hatched on the island of Candia against the Serenissima. The Council of Ten did not hesitate to take the Jewish merchant into its service and send him back to Candia on a secret mission to spy on the conspirators and report them to the Venetian authorities, after gathering the evidence required for their arrest (20). Mavrogonato carried out the mission to perfection, although his tireless commitment finally ended by blowing his cover, rendering continued residence on his native island impossible, since, as he claimed, both Greeks and Jews "pointed him out with their fingers", considering him a vile informer, or malshin in Jewish juridical terminology, a term with lethal penal implications (21). We also know that Mose Capsali, rabbi at Constantinople, had threatened Mavrogonato with excommunication at the request of the Jews of Candia (22).

The privileges requested early in his career by Mavrogonato in return for services rendered were granted without delay and with expressions of profound gratitude by the Council of Ten in December of 1463. These rights, which extended to his sons Jacob and Elia and his descendents in perpetuity included, among other things, exemption from the wearing of the distinctive sign required of the Jews, and authorization

 p. 22]

to move about armed wherever he wished. He was not, however, granted the privilege, odd in appearance, but perfectly consistent with the type of persons with whom he had to deal, of striking two names off the list of banned wanted by the Serenissima for the crime of homicide (23). Mavrogonato, Judeus de Creta et mercator in Venetiis, knew full well who might have benefited from such a clause, and had very definite ideas about certain people condemned in absentia who might thus have been permitted to return in the territories under Venetian domination. At this point, the entrepreneurial Jew from Candia, a permanent resident of Venice since the beginning of 1464, traveling frequently and easily, supervising his goods and entering and leaving the port en route for Candia and Constantinople, was officially a spy in the service of the Republic and at its disposal for other, more or less hazardous, secret missions.

In effect, Mavrogonato is thought to have been sent to Candia and Constantinople at least four times, in 1465, the next year, in 1468 and in1470, during the first Venetian-Turkish War (24). It is possible that, in 1468, on the eve of Friedrich’s imperial visit to Venice, Mavrogonato may have accompanied a vessel, loaded with goods owned by himself, from Candia to the Venetian landing place. In June of 1465, a decree signed by the Council of Ten officially admitted that Mavrogonato had been sent to the capital of the Great Turk to spy on the enemy; in1466, he was referred to the "Jew from Crete, called David", called upon by Venice to participate in the peace negotiations with the Sultan Mahomet II (25).

David Mavrogonato died as mysteriously as he had lived, probably during his fourth mission. On 18 December 1470, the Doge of Venice, writing to the Duke of Crete, mentioned the death of his secret agent, but without providing any details as to the circumstances of his death (26). Mavrogonato may have accepted the dangerous assignment of plotting the Great Turk’s assassination in one way or another, and may for some reason have failed in the mission, meeting an unexpected death in the process. Other, later, clues are also thought to point in this direction.

Among the requests filed by Mavrogonato with the Council of Ten after his first secret mission to Candia in the years 1461-1462, was that of being permitted to avail himself of a body guard, assigned to his personal defense ("that you might deign to grant him the privilege [...] of keeping [...] some person near him for the safety of his person, so that no violence or ignominy may be done to him by some villain or other evil person").

 p. 23]

Once his petition had been accepted by the Venetian legal authorities in February 1464, the merchant from Candia made haste to appoint a person originally described as a sort of bodyguard, but referred to in the document as Mavrogonato’s "associate", a designation quite distinction scope as well as quality. This bodyguard, or “associate”, was to share in almost all the privileges granted by the city of Venice to Mavrogonato, including that of being authorized to engage in business of any kind, on a basis of equality with Venetian merchants, and being permitted to move about the city and territory wearing the black hat of a Christian gentlemen instead of the crocus-colored beret of the Jews(for this reason, Mavrogonato, in Venice and its domains, was known as "Maurobareti") (27). Mavrogonato was an experienced and rich businessman, but not a muscular street fighter or expert in the martial arts; these latter services were to be provided by a man bearing the name of Salomone da Piove di Sacco, known throughout Venice and the entire Veneto region as a banker, merchant and rough-and-ready financier, as bold as he was unscrupulous (28). Starting in 1464 and continuing thereafter, Mavrogonato is thought to have entrusted his affairs to Salomone da Piove di Sacco during his enforced and prolonged absences from Venice, including the management of his lordly dwelling at San Cassian and his joint interest in commercial ventures undertaken on the maritime routes to the great markets of the Levant.

Finally, Mavrogonato is also believed to have entrusted Salomone da Piove with some of his own precious secrets as a diplomatic spy in the pay of Venice. On the eve of his first, risky trip to Constantinople in June 1465, David Mavrogonato informed the Council of Ten that he had indeed confirmed Salomone as his business agent at Venice "due to the complete faith which I have in him" (29).

Salomone’s ancestors had arrived in Italy in the last part of the 14th century from the Rhine region in Germany, perhaps from the same important seat of the archbishop of Cologne. The family had gradually extended its offshoots from Cividale del Friuli, where Maruccio (Mordekhai) and Fays -- Salamone’s father and grandfather respectively -- had operated in the local money market, to Padua, where, in the mid-15th century, the same Salomone managed the bank of San Lorenzo in the city district of the same name (30).

Salomone and his clan formed part of a migratory flow extending to all regions of northern Italy since the very late 14th century, involving the massive transalpine migration of entire German-speaking communities, both Christians and Jews,

 p. 24]

from the Rhineland, Bavaria and upper and lower Austria, Franconia and Alsace, the Kärnten, Styria and Thüringen, Slovenia, Bohemia and Moravia, Silesia, Swabia and Saxony, Westphalia, Württemburg in the Palatinate, Brandenburg, Baden, Worms, Regensburg and Spira. A heterogenous German-speaking population, made up of rich and poor, entrepreneurs and artisans, financiers and scoundrels, men of religion, adventurers and rascals, traveling from the transalpine territories via the mountain crossings in a process of long duration, towards the lagoons of Venice, as well as the cities and lesser centers of the terra firma of the Veneto region (31).

This was a large-scale phenomenon containing a large Jewish component which had already come to the fore in the regions of northern Italy, in consequence of the persecutions following the Black Death in the mid-14th century as well as sporadically during the century before.

Ashkenazi, i.e., German, Jewish communities of diverse numerical consistency formed in a myriad of localities, large and small, from Paviato Cremona, from Bassano to Treviso, from Cividale to Gorizia and Trieste, from Udine and Pordenone to Conegliano, from Feltre andVicenza to Rovigo, from Lendinara to Badia Polesine, from Padua and Verona to Mestre (32). Here they stayed, a stone’s throw from Venice, an enterprising Jewish community of considerable economic weight, whose members came mostly from Nuremberg and the adjacent areas. In 1382, a few Jews from Mestre obtained authorization to move to Venice to practice money-lending, but were expelled a few years later, in 1397, for failing to comply with the conditions under which the government of Venice had admitted them to the city (33).

The Serenissima thus returned to its traditional policy of refusing to grant permanent residence to Jews on the banks of the Great Canal, except under exceptional circumstances and for periods of short duration. This policy, frequently quite contrary to actual practice, witnessed Jews crowding the streets of certain city districts during the day and remaining there in great numbers even after dark, lodged in houses and inns, sometimes for long periods of time. There was no shortage of Jews in Venice: mostly physicians, influential merchants and bankers, having established themselves more or less permanently at Venice. The numerical consistency of this community, heterogenous in professions but more or less homogenous in ethnic origin, originating from the transalpine German-speaking territories, has, until today, been considered

 p. 25]

from an unjustly simplistic point of view. Beginning in the second half of the 15th century, they tended to gather in one particular strategic area, a sheltered location in the international market at Rialto, the node of the great trading systems linking the city of Venice, by land and sea, to the centers of the plains of the Po River valley and the German-speaking regions which constituted a constant point of economic, social and religious reference, towards which the eyes of these Ashkenazi Jews continued to be directed (34). These areas included the districts of San Cassian, where a kosher butcher's shop soon opened, preparing meat according to the Jewish custom, Sant Agostino, San Polo and Santa Maria Mater Domini. At San Polo, they probably also attended the German-rite synagogue, authorized by the Venetian government in 1464 to serve "the Jews who reside in the capital or who meet there to carry on their businesses", with a decree which nevertheless limited their liturgical collective meetings to the participation of ten adults of the male sex (35).

Moreover, the Jewish community at Venice, like the others of more or less distant Ashkenazi origin to be seen in the more immediate and smaller centers of northern Italy, formed part of a German-Jewish koinè, consisting of German-speaking Jews on both sides of the Alps, linked by liturgical usages and similar customs, sharing the same history, often marked by events both tragic and invariably mythologized, as well as by the same attitude of harsh hostility to the arrogant Christianity of surrounding society, the same religious texts of reference, the same rabbinical hierarchies, produced by the Ashkenazi Talmudic academies to whose authority they intended to submit, and the same family structures (36). These communities made up a homogenous entity from the social and religious point of view, which might be called supranational, in which the Jews of Pavia identified themselves with those from Regensburg, the Jews from Treviso with the Jews of Nuremberg, and the Jews of Trent with those from Cologne and Prague, but certainly not with those from Rome, Florence, or Bologna.

Relations with the Italian Jews who often lived alongside them, where such relations existed, were markedly fortuitous, based on contingent common needs of an economic nature, and the common perception of being viewed as identical by the surrounding Christian environment.

Many of these Ashkenazi Jews did not speak Italian, and if or when they did speak it, it was difficult to understand them due to the heavy German inflection of their pronunciation and the many Germanic and Yiddish terms with which their phrases were cram-packed. Not only the Hebrew language,

 p. 26]

but the common liturgical usage of German and Italian Jews, was pronounced in a radically different way, so that the two groups considered it impossible to pray together (37). It is not therefore surprising that Italian Jews were not on terms of much familiarity with German Jews.

Despite their close proximity, they had little knowledge of them, distrusted their aggressive economic audacity, which generally had little respect for the nation’s laws, and dissented from their religious orthodoxy, which they considered exaggerated and depressing. Sometimes, rightly or wrongly, they feared them.

The Italian Jewish koinè, i.e, of distant Roman origin (Jews active in the money trade only moved from Rome to seek permanent residence in the municipalities of central and northern Italy starting in the second half of the 13th century), lived side with the German Jewish koinè, of more recent origin, but without assimilating, without merging and without being influenced, except to a minor and quite secondary degree. They were distant brothers, even if they were not "brothers who hate and fear each other".
The first group of "Roman" Jews, i.e., Jews of Italian origin, flowing into the centers of the plane of the Po from their preceding seats in the Patrimonio of San Pietro, in Umbria, in the Marca d'Ancona, in the Lazio and in Campagna to carry on the authorized money trade, i.e., regulated by permits, did not reach these regions simultaneously with the arrival in those regions of the German transalpine Jews, active in the same profession. They in fact preceded them by several decades. The first Jewish money lenders at Padua and Lonigo, in the Vicentino region, were Italians, and initially settled there between 1360 and 1370. Jews of German origin only reached the region in consistent numbers at a later time, at the end of the century, and, in particular, at the beginning of the 15th century (38). A comparison of the clauses of the permits granted to the German Jews compared to those granted to the Italian Jews, often active in the same areas, reveals obvious traces of profound differences in religious usage and mentalities, sediments of particular and diverse historical experiences. The attitudes and ceremonial components, the fears and mistrust, the sense and dimension of life, the relations with the surrounding Christian society of these German Jews, immersed in the new Italian reality in which they felt profoundly foreign, remained influenced and marked by their experiences in the Germanic world from which they originated, and which they had only left physically.

The principal concern of these immigrants seemed to be, understandably, that of ensuring their physical safety

 p. 27]

and the protection of their property against the dangers represented by a surrounding society which considered them treacherous and potentially hostile. Almost obsessively, the chapters of the permits repeatedly mention the exemplary punishments to be threatened to anyone causing damaging or injury to the Jews, or subjecting them to trouble or vexations.

The permit granted by the municipality of Venzone to the money lender Benedetto of Regensburg in 1444 contained the condition that wet nurses and Christian personnel in the service of the Jews were not to be molested or offended, nor could they be made to work on Sunday or the feast days of the Christian calendars (39). The transalpine Jews were particularly sensitive to the possibility of being falsely accused and, in consequence, of suffering from legal proceedings and expropriations, as shown by their preceding experience in the German territories, the scars of which they still bore. In 1414,Salomone da Nuremberg and his companions requested and obtained a concession from the government of Trieste stating that, if Jews accused of any crime or offense before the judges of that city would not be subjected to torture to extort confessions without at least four citizen witnesses, trustworthy and of good reputation, against them (40).The permits signed by the municipalities of Lombardy and Triveneto with the Ashkenazi Jews were characterized by a constant concern that they be guaranteed the freedom to observe their religious ritual and ceremonial standards with zealous scrupulousness.

The religious clauses inserted in the chapters were more detailed in this sense than those found in the contemporary permits granted to Jewish money lenders of Italian origin, undoubtedly an indication of greater adherence to the observation of religious precepts on the part of the Ashkenazi community than the Italian one. It was significant in this regard that the appearance of the clause relating to the undisturbed provision of kosher meat, i.e., meat butchered according to ritual law, appears for the first time in the permits granted to German Jews at the end of the14th century (from Pavia in 1387 to Udine in 1389, from Pordenone in 1399 to Treviso in 1401), approximately twenty years before this made its initial appearance, certainly in imitation of, and under the influenced by, the Ashkenazi prototype, in the permits of the Italian Jews(41).The religious clauses inserted in the permits of the German Jews include, in addition to the right to supply themselves with kosher meat to observe their festivities freely, the right not to be compelled to violate the standards of Hebraic law in the exercise of

 p. 28]

their lending activities or having to appear in court on Saturday or the feast days of the Hebraic calendar. The same clauses furthermore permitted the safeguarding of the other Jewish alimentary norms, such as the supervised preparation of the wine, cheeses and bread (a clause usually missing from the permits granted to Italian Jews); the right to "attend synagogue" (Pavia 1387); to use a piece of land as a cemetery and to permit Jewish women to take regular baths of purification, after the end of their menstrual periods, in the city baths on particular days set aside for them (Pordenone, 1452) (42).

But the most characteristic clause, absolutely generalized in the permits of Jews of German origin, but significantly absent from the permits of the Italian Jews, was that referring to protection against forced conversions to Christianity. In particular, the Ashkenazi appeared obsessed with the possibility that their children might be kidnapped, subjected to violence or swindled with snares and tricks to drag them to the baptismal font. That this possibility was anything but remote seemed obvious to anyone having experienced this type of traumatic experience at first hand on the banks of the Rhine or the Main. Permits issued in Friulia, Lombardy and Veneto granted to German money lenders, as early as the end of the 14th century, explicitly prohibited friars and priests of any order from proselytizing among Jewish children not yet having reached their 13th birthday (43). In 1403, Ulrich III, bishop of Bressanone, granted the Jews of the Tyrol protection from any possible ecclesiastical claims to a right of forced conversion of Jewish children. This protection could, and did, include the dangers represented by baptized Jews, zealous and implacable in plotting the ruin of the Jewish communities from which they originated (44). In 1395, Mina da Aydelbach, representing the Jewish families of German origin residing in Gemona, first stopping place on the main road to the lagoons of Venice after the mountain crossing of Tarvisio, obtained, in the initial clauses of their permits explicitly provided for the immediate removal from the city of so-called "Jews turned Christian", who were said to constitute elements of scandal and disturbance (45).

The die was already cast between the Italian and German Jews, settled in the lands beyond the River Po, by the mid-15th century. With a few exceptions, the piazza was henceforth solidly in the hands of Yiddish-speaking Jews who, in the best of cases, badly mangled Italian (46). Informer times, they had crossed the Alps fearfully and almost on tip-toe, in search of sufficiently modest and desirable dwellings

 p. 29]

so as to live and survive comfortably, but they also, when need arose, proved themselves enterprising in financial matters, courageous and even bold in their commercial undertakings, nonchalant and often arrogant and impudent in their relations with the government, only obeying the law when it was strictly necessary or too dangerous to do otherwise. Victory was now theirs, and it was because of these same banker sand merchants that many of them had been able to accumulate huge sums of capital in a relatively short lapse of time, such as to bear no comparison with the fortunes possessed by Christian mercantile families and patricians who were both more distinguished and of higher rank.

The chronology is relatively precise. In 1455, all Italian Jews active in the money trade were expelled from Padua and compelled to shutdown their banks, while the "Teutonic" Jews, divided from, and now entirely separate from, the Italian Jews, gained the upper hand in the local money market [Padua], the most important in the terra firma of the Veneto region, as early as ten years before. At Verona, all lending banks owned by Italian Jews had already been closed in 1447, while, in 1445, the permits of the Jewish bankers of Vicenza were not renewed(47). With the Italian Jewish banks shut down in all the principal centers of the Veneto region, a few district lending banks, few in number but of great economic potential, particularly because of the higher interest rates charged by them in comparison to the rates formerly charged by banks controlled Italian Jews, remained open to serve the needs of the clientele in the cities and in the countryside (48). These were the banks of Soave and Villafranca in the district of Verona, Mestre for Venice, and Este, Composampiero and, above all, Piove di Sacco in thePadua district (49).

The forced and almost simultaneous dismantling of the Jewish banks of Padua, Verona and Vicenza led, as an immediate consequence, to the almost total extinction of the Hebraic community of Roman origin, which was compelled, for the most part, to flow into the centers on the nearer side of the Po; on the other hand, however, it allowed other money lenders, from Treviso and the territories of Friulia, who took over the assets and management of the few remaining lending banks, to make extraordinary fortunes. As we have seen, these banks benefited from an extremely broad catchment area and could rely on a numerous and heterogenous clientele. Their economic success was therefore guaranteed and proved to be exceptional in scope. The lucky few bankers remaining on the piazza were almost all Ashkenazi, the same Jews who had hastened or more or less directly procured the financial ruin of the Italian Jews. The

 p. 30]

most prominent among them was, in the end, Salomone di Marcuccio, owner of the Banco di Piove di Sacco and, after 1464, David Mavrogno da Candia’s official business associate, with a more or less official residence at Venice (50).

Rich and influential, Salomone, although not a man of great culture, was not averse to sponsorship ventures, in which field he established himself with flare and good taste. At Piove, where the local community was practically one of his fiefdoms, in 1465, he became associated with the German printer Meshullam Cusi, whose presence at Padua is attested to in the same year. Cusi undertook the initial printing of one of the first Hebraic cunabulae, certainly one of the most important and monumental, at Piove, towards the end of 1473. This was a classic ritualistic code, Arba'a Turim, a work of the German rabbi Ya'akov b. Asher (1270 circa 1340), whose family originated from Cologne but had carried on its activities for the most part at Barcelona in Catalunya, and later at Toledo in Castille.

The four volumes, printed on Cusi’s presses with great care and heedless of cost, were completed in July 1475 and constituted one of the most splendid and elegant examples of Hebraic printing (51).Certain copies of great beauty were printed on parchment and intended for a highly sophisticated readership, particularly from the economic point of view, one of the most important of whom was to be Salomone di Piove. The printing costs linked to the supplies of machinery, type, materials and labor, were to fluctuate between seven hundred and one thousand ducats, a large sum which Cusi might not have had available, without the direct or indirect joint involvement of the Jewish banker di Piove.

We believe that consideration should be given to the possibility that Salmone may have also undertaken another artistic-literary undertaking of great importance, at proportional economic cost. The precious miniatures of the so-called "Rothschild Miscellanea", one of the most sumptuous and famous of all Jewish legal codes, were executed in the decade between 1470 and 1480, probably in Leonardo Bellini’s workshop at Venice. The artistic decoration of the manuscript cost almost one thousand ducats, a sum equivalent to half the taxes paid by the entire Jewish community of the Duchy of Milan during the same period (52). Salomone may well have been the only Jewish sponsor living more or less permanently in the city of the lagoons able to make

 p. 31]

an investment of such magnitude without difficulty. For purposes of comparison, we know that in 1473, Salomone, still active on the piazza of Venice, together with one of his sons, Marcuccio, his first born, was able to pay a gigantic sum, equal to 300 ducats in cash and another360 in credits, intended for the restoration of the perimeter wall of the old Arsenal (53).

Between 1468 and 1469, in view of Emperor Friedrich’s forthcoming visit to Venice, Salomone hosted a plenary meeting at Piove of the German rabbis of the Jewish community of northern Italy, presided over by their most authoritative exponent, the jurist Yoseph Colon, then active in the community of Mestre (54). The petitions said to have been presented by the Jewish ambassadorship to the solemn and magnificent Emperor during the anticipated audience described by Rabbi Elia Capsali di Candia in his chronicles may have been drawn upon that occasion.

During the summer of 1470, David Mavrogonato set sail from Venice to return to Candia for what was to be his last mission. He had long since prudently avoided reappearing on his native island. He was probably accompanied on this voyage by Salomone di Piove himself, who, at the end of June, left his son Salamoncino with a power of attorney for the purpose of collecting a huge loan from the bank Soranzo at Venice, a transaction which he would normally have conducted directly (55). As we know, this was a voyage from which Mavrogonato is thought never to have returned alive, meeting with his tragic demise a few weeks later, certainly before September of that year. From that time onwards, Mavrogonato’s name and memory were to be systematically omitted from all documents signed by his former associate, Salomone da Piove, as well as by Salamone’s sons, although reference to the privileges obtained by the influential merchant from Candia appears to have become an established custom. This is not surprising and cannot be merely accidental. Salomone certainly knew the truth about that last voyage to Constantinople in which Mavrogonato is believed to have met with unexpected death. Did Salamone know too much? Did he wish to forget, or rather, cause others to forget, that he had been with him on that tragic maritime voyage? What is certain is that Salomone da Piove was close to David Mavrogonato until the end. Perhaps too close.

It is not therefore surprising to learn that, at around this same time, Salomone personally took over a bold project, perhaps planned beforehand by his associate and collaborator from Candia,

 p. 32]

"to take the life of the Great Turk", thus doing the government of Venice a great favor (56). To provide for the assassination of Mahomet II, the nonchalant financier informed the Council of Ten that he had sent a Jewish doctor named Valco, whose Italian name was probably derived from the well-known family of doctors, natives of Worms, called Wallach, Wallich or Welbush, to Constantinople, at his expense (57).

"Salamon, as appears in the books of Your Majesties the Council of Ten, due to his wish to do a great yourselves and all of Christianity agreat service by attempting to take the life of the Great Turk, chose, at his expense, sent for a Maestro Valco, a Jewish doctor, whom he sent with his own money" (58).

Even before that, we know that the Venetian authorities had been glad to avail themselves of the services of a Jewish barber-surgeon, Jacob da Gaeta, the Sultan’s personal physician, an expert spy and double agent, greedy for gain and treacherous, with whom Mavrogonato had maintained frequent contacts (59). It also appears that Maestro Jacob had reached Venice in secrecy, together with Gaeta, on the same vessel from Ragusa, in very late 1468, on the eve of the imperial visit and the Venetian congress of Jewish physicians, held on that occasion (60).

Maestro Valco, paid by Salomone, moved to Constantinople, and went quickly to work, but apparently with little result. Mahomet II was still alive and kicking when the Jewish banker from Piove finally died, between the end of 1475 and the very early part of the following year. But Salamone was occupied with certain other matters, much more serious and more disagreeable then merely "taking the life of the Great Turk" during that period, which was to prove fraught with danger for all the Jewish communities of northern Italy. The Trent trials of the Jews accused of little Simon’s martyrdom had ended with the condemnation and execution of the principal defendants, who were burnt at the stake or decapitated in June of 1475. Other defendants, including the women of the small community, were waiting to learn their final fate, after which the trial proceedings were suspended in April by order of Sigismundo IV, Count of Tyrol, and were then newly interrupted the following July by order of Pope Sixtus IV after a brief recommencement, requested by several parties for purposes of intervening in the affair. The Pope then personally sent a special commissioner to Trent, the Dominican, Battista de’ Giudici, bishop of Ventimiglia, with the task of investigating and

 p. 33]

reporting on the facts. De’ Giudici, who had initially taken up lodgings at Trent, later moved to the nearby, but more secure, seat of Rovereto, in territory belonging to Venice, where they met with the lawyers, all of top rate importance, whom the Jews of Padua had decided to make available to the defendants (61). Salomone da Piove played a prominent role in the affair, requesting the Pope to appoint an apostolic inquisitor and probably meeting Battista de' Giudici at Padua, on de’ Giudici’s way to Trent (62).

In accordance with de' Giudici, with whom he maintained intense epistolary relations, as well as through another Jew from Piove, belonging to the Cusi family of typographers, having strategically moved, to Rovereto, Salomone provided a safe conduct to a Paduan Jew, a native of Regensburg, and sent him to Innsbruck with the mission of pleading the cause of the Trent defendants still in prison, before Sigismundo, Count of Tyrol, and, if possible, obtaining their release. Salomone Fürstungar, his agent on this delicate mission, was an unscrupulous intriguer who camouflaged himself by dressing, not as a Jew, but "in the German-style, with a short overcoat and a cap on his head", returned from Tyrol disappointed and empty-handed. His bitter failure was also an indication of the failure of the efforts of all the German-origin Jewish communities from the Veneto region to avoid the tragic consequences of the Trent affair for the defendants who were still alive (63).Salomone da Piove is said to have died shortly afterwards (64).

The leadership of this conspicuous group, committed, as always, to avoiding the political and financial effects and repercussions of the Trent trials on their Jewish brethren, thus passed into the hands of Manno di Aberlino (Mandele ben Abrahim) of Vincenza, maximum exponent of the influential Ashkenazim community of Pavia (65). A prestigious banker with vast financial resources, he had been appointed collector ofJewish taxes to the Lombard communities by the Duke of Milan in 1469. Manno was related to Salomone da Piove, whose first-born son Marcuccio had married one of his brother Angelo’s daughters (66). Manno was to meet Salomone da Piove at fairly frequent intervals at Venice, where he had more or less officially opened a money lending shop, of secondary importance compared to the great bank at Padua but still of strategic importance (67).

When Salomone Fürstungar, just recovering from the setback at Innsbruck, thirsting for revenge or just to reshuffle the cards, took to considering murdering the captain of the guards of the podestà of Trent

 p. 34]


[Letter in Hebrew sent by the banker Manno (Mandele) of Pavia to the physician Omobono Bonim of Venice, March 1476 (State Archive ofTrent, Archivio Principesco Vescovile, S.L., 69, 68).] and even bishop Hinderbach himself, hiring an assassin for the task, a person above suspicion, a priest named Paolo da Novara, the industrious Manno offered to finance the bold initiative, without regard to cost (68). Manno asked the priest, Paolo da Novara, who was probably contacted through his brother Bartolomeo, a druggist at Piove di Sacco (69), to poison the persons responsible for the Trent trial and to obtain the arsenic required to do so from the Venetian physician Omobono (Bunim), owner of the "della Vecchia" pharmacy at San Cassian, who is also believed to have issued instructions on how to use the arsenic. As a reward, Paolo was to receive four hundred ducats, half of it immediately, and the other two hundred to be withdrawn over the counter a Manno’s bank at Venice (70). But the conspiracy, the most prominent members of which were all Jews from Pavia, Padua, Novara, Soncino, Parma, Piacenza, Modena, Brescia, Bassano, Rovereto, Riva and Venice, failed miserably, with the arrest and confession of the fanciful and avaricious priest (71).--

 p. 35]


Salamoncino da Piove had four sons and a daughter. His family, in addition to managing the ("al Volto dei Negri") lending banks of Piove diSacco and Padua, had major joint interests in other banks operating in Verona, Ferrara, Montegnara, Soave, Monselice, Cittadela, Bassano and Badia Polesine and was active in the textiles and precious stone trade. A secret and elite clientele, ranging from the Sforza at Milan to the Soranzo of Venice (1), came to them for huge sums. Marcuccio, Salomone's first-born son, when not operating in Piove si Sacco and Padua(2), supported by his brothers, stayed at Venice to assist his father in the company set up with David Mavrogonato, and to take over their functions when they accompanied the merchant from Candia in his maritime missions, which were conducted more or less secretly. He was in the City of the Lagoons in the autumn of 1466, as well as in the first half of the following year; thus, he was there in 1468, at the beginning of 1469, during the imperial visit of Friedrich III, and in 1473.

While Salomone was considered a bold and nonchalant businessman, his first-born, Marcuccio, and above all his other son, Salamoncino, darkened his reputation, at least in this respect. Marcuccio was famous to all for his overbearing boastfulness. It was said that, in that of Padua, he used to brag of his strength, real or presumed, with resounding threats: "There is no Christian who would have had the temerity totouch me with one finger, and would not have gotten a good hiding from a couple of well-armed ruffians" (3).Marcuccio, who lived at Padua "facing the Parenzo or il Volto dei Negri" at least until the end of the winter of 1473, made his appearance as an officially approved money lender at Montagnana in 1475. He was still to be found in that financial center at the beginning of the summer of 1494, when Bernardino da Feltre arrived there to preach. On that occasion, Marcuccio did not hesitate to strut about on the piazza with a defiant air

 p. 36]

where the violent and fiery Friar da Feltre was expected to preach. As a result, Marcuccio was soon recognized by a Christian who insulted him, and the whole affair terminated in a sensational brawl, with a mutual exchange of fisticuffs, at the culmination of which the infuriated Marcuccio unsheathed his dagger threateningly. It is not surprising that he was to find himself imprisoned in the prisons of the Republic with relative frequency (4).

Marcuccio could nevertheless still count on the influential protection of the city of Venice, which protection he had inherited, together with the privileges obtained by his father, Salomone da Piove. In April 1480, the Council of Ten declared him a fidelis noster civis [loyal citizen] of Venice, under the terms of a law approved by the Serenissima at the end of 1463 on the protection of Jewish money lenders. We know that his father chose to live in Venice during this same period, and it is not difficult to believe that this law was in some way the product of some self-interested initiative (5).

But it was Salamoncino, his brother, who maintained uncontested primacy in this poorly regulated financial sector, where transactions took place with the underworld and the law was only obeyed in those rare cases in which its defenders refused large bribes. Salamoncino took over the management of the bank at Pivoe di Sacco after 1464, when his father took up a more or less stable residence at Venice for the purpose of looking after Mavrogonato’s interests, although -- as we shall see -- he seems to have taken up provisional residence at Verona in the years 1470-1480 (6). In 1474, the Duke of Milan ordered an inquiry of Salamoncino and his suspected accomplices, all accused of illegal purchasing and selling pearls, despite the legal provisions prohibiting Jews from engaging in this trade (7).

Salamoncino had already experienced serious legal problems. In 1472, two common criminals, Giovanni Antonio da Milano and Abbondio da Como, were arrested in Venice under the accusation of importing large quantities of counterfeit silver coin from Ferrara and selling it in Venice, earning large profits (8). This fraudulent trade was operated through a front operation, a butcher shop owned by a certain Nicola Fugazzone, "butcher at Venice", at San Cassian, and a Jewish intermediary, Zaccaria di Isacco, who had his provisional residence in Venice, and was responsible to Salamoncino, money lender at Piove di Sacco (9). The police authorities succeeded in laying their hands on all members of the gang, and they were tried before the judges of the Municipal Avogaria of Venice on 29 May 1472.

 p. 37]

The two criminals, from Lombardy, Giovanni Antonio and Abbondio, were sentenced to the cruel amputation of the right hand, the loss of an eye, a fine of two hundred fifty ducats in gold each, and were banned in perpetuity from Venice and all the territories of the Republic (10). The sentence was carried out publicly on the same day, in the usual place, the Piazza San Marco, between the columns of San Marco and San Todaro, where the waters of the lagoon washed the pavement. The butcher, Nicola, and one accomplice, Lorenzo Paolo, were condemned to one year's imprisonment, and banned from Venice for eight years. Paolo was also fined one hundred ducats (11). The intermediary, Zaccaria, considered Salamoncino’s “enforcer”, was sentenced one year's imprisonment, in addition the fine of two hundred gold ducats. After serving the sentence, he is said to have been banned from Venice and its territories for eight years (12).Salamoncino was obviously linked to the shady traffic at both ends: at Ferrara, where his family had a bank, and where the counterfeiters operated, sending the counterfeit coins to Venice, via their couriers; and at Piove di Sacco, where Salamoncino usually resided, and where the counterfeit coins were usually shipped before being distributed to retailers (13). Arrested and subjected to torture, Salamoncino signed a confession and admitted that he had earned a profit of ten percent from the trade in counterfeit coin (14). The Venetian judges sentenced him to six months imprisonment and the huge fine of three thousand gold ducats: two thousand payable to the Arsenal, and the remaining one thousand payable to the Avogaria di Comun. Furthermore, the banker from Piove was banned for ten years from Venice and the surrounding district, as well as from Padua and the territory of Padua. In the event of violation of the ban, the penalty of another year’s imprisonment and a further fine of one thousand gold ducats was provided for (15). While, on the one hand, Salamoncino may have more or less voluntarily submitted to the fine and perhaps to the imprisonment, at the same time, he is thought to have found a way -- and it is not difficult to imagine how -- to evade the ban, at least in part. At the end of the year, he was already active again at Soave and Verona; five years later -- as we shall see -- he firmly resumed management of the bank at Piove di Sacco and the Volto di Negri bank at Padua (16).

The wolf had lost a few tufts of fur, but not his teeth. According to records written by the Paduan orator, Giolamo Campagnola, in 1480,Salamoncino was then presumably resident at Verona, and once again found himself in prison, at the disposition of the Council of Ten,

 p. 38]

under the accusation of selling clipped and counterfeit coin, a charge which he was able to evade in part by shifting the blame onto an accomplice, a miserable brigand from Verona, who ended up at the stake (17).

Salamoninco da Piove, Salamoncino's father, was dead by the beginning of 1477. Maestro Valco, the Jewish physician who had received the assignment -- obviously for pay -- of assassinating Mahomet II at the behest of the Serenissima, had, in the meantime, returned to Venice, presumably to render account to his instigator of the progress of the plot. At Venice, or during the course of his voyage from Constantinople, the physician had been informed that Salamoncino was no longer alive. Understandably anxious about the continued existence of the mission, but, above all, because he feared for his pay, which had been promised by the now-deceased banker, Valco set out to track down Salamoncino, returning rapidly to Piove di Sasso.

At first, Salamoncino was thunderstruck; but, then, examining his father's records, he found clear evidence of the contract signed with the homicidal physician in the past. As a practical and alert person, Salamoncino was immediately aware that Valco possessed the necessary talents to carry out the hazardous mission of assassinating the Great Turk successfully. At the same time, he weighed all the potential benefits to be derived from future relations with the government of Venice. At this point, Salamoncino did not hesitate to assume responsibility for continuation of his father's commitment from both the strategic and financial points of view. On 9 July 1477, he officially informed the Council of Ten of his resolution to do so, making it to appear an act of disinterested devotion to the Republic. Obviously, in1470, Salamone da Piove, perhaps inheriting a project initially dreamed up by Mavrogonato, suggested that Maestro Valco should carry out the plan "to take the life of the Great Turk", by 1480 -- a period of ten years, believed sufficient for the task. Salamoncino, rejoining the ranks of the conspiracy, ensured the city of Venice that the task would indeed be carried out during the stipulated time period, and that, Mahomet II would meet the death he deserved, at Valco’s hands, in less than two and one half years.

"Maestro Valco, a Jewish physician [...] who returned and, finding the said Salamon (a Jew who kept the banco da Pieve) to be dead, turned to Salamoncin, son of the said Salamon, and, having informed him of the matter, and Salamon, examining the books, found this to be the case.

 p. 39]

“Not wishing to be a lesser servant of your most Illustrious Lordship than he who was my father, and having learned from the said MaestroValco, Jewish physician, of that which had happened to the person of the Great Turk [...], Salamonzin examined the said Maestro Valco, and having witnessed his courage and intelligence and being convinced of his determination, being the slave and servant of your Most Illustrious Lordship (18), as was his father, without costing your Most Illustrious Lordship one penny, offers to send the said Maestro Valco, with all things requested by the said Valco, at Salamoncin’s own expense [...] and is certain that the said Maestro Valco will kill the said Lord Turkby the end of 28 May, which matter will be to the glory of this Illustrious State and all Christianity (19).

"It goes without saying that Salamoncino was not entirely disinterested. In exchange for these services, "because, in so doing, he acts in danger of his life, which cannot be repaid with money", if the mission ended successfully, Salamoncino, following in Mavrogonato’s footsteps, asked Venice for a few privileges, including an annual provision of two thousand florins, the beneficiaries of which are said to have included Salamoncino, Maestro Valco and their descendants in perpetuity, the entitlement of occupying themselves with some branch of  trade ("request that the said Salamoncino and his brothers, with their descendants, be permitted to deal in trade in this terrain, as any gentleman may do"), a privilege generally prohibited to Jews, and to purchase real property at Venice and its dominions, up to a total value of  twenty five thousand ducats (20). Salamoncino, who was certainly not lacking in healthy doses of impudence, in addition to an uncommon dose of greed, furthermore requested that he be permitted to open lending banks modeled on the example of those operating at Mestre, and, in  particular, one in the much-sought after piazza of the island of Murano ("intending that one of these locations be understood to refer to Murano"). He finally requested that he enjoy immunity from any possible future bans issued by the Venetian authorities against him personally or any member of his family (21).

The Council of Ten officially accepted Salamoncino’s  petitions, but on the condition that the granting of the privileges be subject to the presentation of certain proof of the death of Mahomet II at the hands of Maestro Valco. But things turned out differently. In 1480, MahometII was still alive, despite the efforts of Valco and Simoncino to bring about a contrary state of affairs, while Venice, concerned with the pressure of the Turkish armies on its confines, had already signed a

 p. 40]

peace treaty with the Sublime Porte a year before. The Sultan then terminated his earthly existence in 1481 – in all probability, as the result of perfectly natural causes. Salamoncino's financial plans and those of his family, linked to the ambitious plot, which had failed miserably, therefore appeared definitely on the wane.

Either something or someone had moved the city of Venice to grant the benefits requested by Salamoncino, at least in part. In fact, we know that the government of Padua, in 1495, under pressure from the weavers' guild, had requested Venice to abrogate the privileges enjoyed by Salamoncino and his family at Piove di Sacco and Padua (22). Even more interesting is the confirmation that, much later, in 1557, a certain "Salamon, a Jew, a certain Marcuzio, known as ‘da Muran’", was called upon to testify in a trial held before the Holy Office at Venice . This Salamon was certainly a descendant of Salamone da Piove -- or, to be more exact, a nephew of his son Giacobbe. The fact that he was known as the “Jew of Muran” is an indication, not to be undervalued, in support of the hypothesis that the plan to open a lending bank on the island of Murano, strongly desired by Salamoncino, had in some way succeeded, for reasons unknown to us (23).

During the second half of the 15th century, the family of Salamone da Piove and the Camposampiero was experiencing the ups and downs of the loan market sector at Padua, enjoying undisputed hegemony within the local Jewish community (24). It was in 1453, precisely in the palace of Salomone di Marcuccio da Cividale (who is later believed to have become the famous Salomone da Piove), at Padua, in the Santo Stefano district, that Salomone Levi had taken over the ownership of the bank of Camposampiero, thus initiating his fortunate career as a high-ranking banker (25).

But the unforeseen and disagreeable presence of a certain someone constituted grounds for disturbance and concern. After the Jewish banks of Padua were officially closed in 1455, a Swiss Jew appeared in the city in the early summer of 1464, not concealing his own intentions and, above all, without having asked and obtained the implicit and apparently indispensable authorization of the powerful bankers of Piove and Camposampiero. The Swiss Jew was Aronne di Jacob, a Jew from Wil, north of Zurich, a short distance from Schaffhausen, on the Rhine, a village located at the boundary between the Swiss Confederation and Germany. Aronne had decided to move to the strategic Venetian financial center in search of

 p. 41]

money and fortune, dragging his two brothers, Vita and Benedetto, along with him (26). Furthermore, around 1471, just as other Jewish bankers had already done in the district, in 1468, Aronne obtained authorization to carry on activity as approved lender at Padua, three days in the week, ultimately freeing himself this de facto restriction. He thus began to operate the bank "del Duomo" with undeniable success, despite the powerful cartel of his adversaries (27).

It should not surprise us that in the spring of 1472, an anonymous denunciation, easily attributable to the entourage of bankers of Piove and Camposampiero, noted that Aronne's bank, against all the regulations, had kept its doors open on Sunday, in open violation of the Christian religion (28). In the summer of 1473, Salomone da Piove, in a dispute with Mattia, lender of the Paduan bank of San Lorenzo, appointed as arbiter a friend of the family, i.e., Jacob, the son of Salomone da Campsosampiero. Representing the adverse party was Aronne, who did not bother to conceal his own enmity towards the powerful bankers of Piove and Camposampiero (29).

A few years later, in 1476, the Swiss Jew saw himself compelled to sell the two banks owned by him, the "del Duomo" bank at Padua and the bank at Monselice, to Abramo di Bonaventura, a Jew of Ashkenazi origin from Ulm, Germany (30). Abramo hastened to fall in line with the Paduan cartel of Jewish bankers, particularly, Jacob, Salomone di Padova’s son, and Simone, Salomone da Camposampiero’s son, who already controlled the two most important banks in the town center of Padua -- the “al Volto dei Negri” bank and the bank of San Lorenzo --since 1472. Exactly who formed of this powerful cartel emerges clearly from the negotiations between the Republic of Venice and the Paduan Jewish bankers in 1486, including Jacob da Piove, Simone da Composampiero, Abramo da Ulm and Isacchetto Finzi (31).

Aronne appears not to have been very successful in the difficult business of lending money at interest, both at Padua and Monselice. Obstacles were placed in his way on many occasions, and it was a consolation to him that he had not been broken or killed. Aronne had already restricted his activity to that of “rag paper making” as early as 1473 (32); a few years later, he attempted to invest the modest sums he had been able to scrape together from the sale of his bank in a safe manner. Aronne, the Swiss Jew from Wil, had arrived at Padua as an outsider, bold and without resources, at least in the eyes of Piove and Camposampiero. Salomone da Piove’s

 p. 42]

impatient and fiery sons had their pockets full and were waiting for Aronne to hit bottom.

In 1481, Salamoncino da Piove dreamed up a colossal swindle -- this time to the detriment of other Jews -- to rake in money by the wheelbarrow full. In cahoots with David di Anselmo, known as “David Schwab”, he secretly decided to transfer the savings invested by Paduan Jews in the Bank at Soave, to bank at Piove di Sacco, owned by David di Anselmo. These savings amounted to a huge sum, as much as 1,500 ducats in gold, belonging to Paduan Jews, from the lower middle classes, mostly small investors and savers. The victims of the inevitable, deliberate, collapse of the Banco di Soave included rabbis, students, widows and other poor people, among them the unfortunate Aronne da Wil, who had deposited the money collected from the sale of his banks there in 1476. Aronne, acting on behalf of the other victims of the fraud as well, had the Banco di Soave agent -- Jacob di Lazzaro – arrested; this same agent was still in jail at the end of 1485,when he finally succeeded in obtaining his release, after withdrawing part of the money earlier stolen via Salamoncino’s bank and returning it to Aronne (33). But he was obviously the smallest fish of the lot.

“David Schwab” went bankrupt "with his pockets full", in an artful financial crash thought up in league with the negligent bankers of Piove, who had gotten their hands on a notable slice of the money embezzled from the tills of the Banco di Soave. But Schwab was pursued by a religious interdict (cherem), pregnant with consequences, handed down against him by Rabbi Anshel (Asher) Enschkin, who had lost more than a thousand ducats entrusted to him for investment by persons of modest wealth. Enschkin publicly unmasked Schwab, who had declared bankruptcy "notwithstanding the fact that he still had all the money". The religious condemnation handed down by Enschkin, was approved and subscribed by some of the most influential rabbis of Germany (34).

Nor did Aronne da Wil intend to stop attempting to bring an action directly against Salamoncino da Piove and his Paduan accomplices. In the spring of 1481, the two contending parties, by common accord, decided to submit to the arbitration of two Jews of German origin, residents of the region of Padua. The two arbitrators were the rabbis Isach Ingdam and Viviano da Vacheron, residents of the Duomo and San Cancian districts, at Padua, respectively (35). Obviously the final award, expressed in accord with the legal system in use at Venice, was far from satisfactory

 p. 43]

to Salamoncino, who was, on several occasions during the following years, obliged to face his exasperating and implacable rival in court. In the end, the Piove di Sacco banker lost his patience -- which he must not have possessed in excessive doses -- and decided to take the law into his own hands, freeing himself from what he now considered an enemy to be eliminated.

In the winter of 1487, Salamoncino sent a hired killer to Venice, where Aronne was staying at that time, with the assignment of getting rid of Aronne without a trace. In a night in January Isaia Teutonico, known as Salamoncino’s  servant and bodyguard, attacked the impoverished Aronne from behind, just as Aronne was leaving the Jewish hospice at San Polo, before he could reach his son-in-law’s home, a few islands away. Aronne was struck on the head with an edged weapon and left to die, on the ground, in a pool of blood (36).

Aronne, despite a serious head wound and skull fracture, survived the attack, and later denounced his unknown aggressor. A reward was immediately placed on the attacker’s head, and his identity was quite soon discovered by the police authorities (37). On 22 May 1488, the would-be killer, Isaia, who had, in the meantime, prudently taken flight, was tried in absentia and banned in perpetuity from Venice and its territories. If he was captured, he was to suffer a particularly cruel fate: dragged to the scene of the crime, he was to lose his right hand, after which, with his own hand appended to his neck, he was to be conducted to the Piazza San Marco and publicly beheaded between the two usual columns (38).

Once the attacker was identified, it was child’s play for the Venetian city authorities to identify the instigator, the unscrupulous businessman from Piove di Sacco, who had already served more than one term in the prisons of the Republic. Finding himself unmasked, Salamoncino spontaneously appeared at the Public Prosecutor’s office, admitting to commissioning the crime and paying the killer to commit it. He then excused himself by saying that the victim had never ceased importuning him, dragging him through one long, exhausting judicial dispute after another until, driven to his wits’ end, he had decided to free himself from the intolerable nuisance once and for all (39). Salamoncino got off with a relatively mild sentence, which is not surprising in view of the type of relationship linking him, more or less obviously and officially, with the Venetian authorities. In the end, he was sentenced to six months imprisonment, in commutation of which he would be banned from Venice

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and its territories for four years, in addition to the payment of a fine of two hundred gold ducats, to be paid partly to the Hospital of Piety (40).

But Salamoncino was back at work as early as one year later, in 1489, managing his network of banks, at Piove di Sacco and Padua (41). In1495, the municipality of Padua petitioned the Republic of Venice to revoke the chapters of the loan granted to Salamoncino as well as all related privileges (42). But Venice refused. As mentioned by Marin Sanudo in his Diaries, in 1499, "Salamonsin de Piove de Sacho" was one of the Jewish bankers engaged in negotiations with Venice for the concession of the huge sum of fifteen thousand ducats, to be pledged by the Republic "in the Turkish matters", i.e., the war effort against the Sublime Porte (43). Salamoncino -- who had intended to remain at Piovedi Sacco at least until 1504, according to Sanudo -- was definitively expelled from the city of Venice one year later, allowing the city to breathe one last sigh of relief. Salamoncino’s  memory, ambiguous and disturbing, was then lost in the mists of the lagoons of Venice.


Master Tobias da Magdeburg, the physician from Trent, who reached Venice in February 1469 during Friedrich III’s visit, had other information to be supplied to the judges investigating the death of little Simon. His news was disturbing, linking the German Jews, reaching Venice in the Emperor’s train, with the personage of the Candian merchant, David Mavrogonato, and his mysterious dealings.

It seems that Mavrogonato, for the occasion of the imperial visit, had brought with him, perhaps from Cyprus, a large consignment of sugar and blood to be peddled on the Venetian piazza. These were expensive ingredients, indispensable to the preparation of medications and unguents considered of certain effectiveness and of great advantage by the pharmacopoeia of the time, and it is not to be marveled at that the shrewd merchant from Candia intended to offer them for sale at Venice, where all the Jewish physicians, surgeons, herb alchemists, and specialists, both Christians and Jews, had agreed to meet on that occasion, attracted by the prospect of a flattering and profitable imperial recognition. But, according to Maestro Tobias, those German Jews who turned to Mavrogonato in great numbers -- known by them as the "Jew with the sugar" -- to acquire the precious goods he had for sale, were, in fact, seeking to purchase Christian blood, and, in particular, the blood of Christian children, for use, not only in the preparation of costly and miraculous medications, but in obscure magical and religious rites as well (1). David Mavrogonato had no intention of dirtying his hands directly in negotiations of this kind, but used, as a go-between, an unscrupulous local charlatan, a certain Hossar (or Osser, which rendered in the Ashkenazi pronunciation the name Asher, corresponding to the Italian Anselmo). This Jew, from Cologne, was known all over Venice as "the Jew with the beard" (2).

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The name of this Hossar, dedicated to shady dealings between Venice and the cities of the mainland and linked twofold to Mavrogonato, appears in the depositions of another important personality in the Trent trials. Israel, son of Mayer (Meir) of Brandenburg in Saxony, was a young man twenty three years old, itinerant artist by profession, earned his money as a miniaturist, and, in the case in question, a binder of manuscripts and Hebraic and Latin codes. He, too, was arrested in 1475 in Trent under the accusation of complicity in the killing of little Simon. He was to prove a bold and shrewd double-dealer, agreeing in appearance to convert to Christianity and assume the new name of Wolfgang, not just to save himself from a certain and cruel condemnation to death, but above all, camouflaged by conversion, to assist the Jewish women accused and arrested for the crime, obtaining their release or facilitating their escape (3). Once discovered and unmasked, he was publicly executed in January of 1476. His body, broken on the wheel, was to be left at the place of execution, a spectacle for public mockery and a feast for animals.

Israel Wolfgang had informed the judges at Trent that he had been Salamone da Piove di Sacco’s guest in the spring of 1471, for the Passover dinner, with the participation of the banker’s sons, David Mavrogonato’s business associates, and their respective families. The patron of the house was said to have made use of dried and pulverized blood for ritual purposes, as was the custom among German Jews, dissolving it in the wine and kneading into the unleavened bread. Under these circumstances, Salomon's son, Salamoncino, in the presence of the brother Marcuccio, is said to have informed young Israel that the blood, probably extracted from the veins of a Christian child, had been supplied "by a Jewish merchant, who had brought it from overseas, perhaps from the island of Cyprus", alluding, by means of this periphrasis [circumlocution], to Mavrogonato (4). What is more, Salamoncino confirmed that the go-between in those sales was, as usual, Hossar, or Asher, whose business it was to sell blood from Venice to the other centers of the Republic in which there were active Jewish communities.

The famous money lender Salomone di Lazzaro "from Germany", active at Crema and Cremona, was also an assiduous client of this itinerant wanderer (5).

Wolfgang knew Hossar personally, and visited Hossar in prison near the Ponte di Paglia in Venice, where he was detained for attempting to sell "alchemical silver", i.e., counterfeit money. The reasons for this strange visit are not

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clear, nor did Wolfgang bother to explain. Perhaps it would not be too far from the truth to think that he intended to supply himself with powdered gold and silver at advantageous prices from the capable and expert dealer which Hossar was reputed to be, for use in miniatures of any codes which he might be commissioned to paint by rich and influential persons. This might explain the presence of the enterprising artist at Piove di Sacco, in Salamone’s house, whose table would otherwise be inaccessible to a young man of low rank and without resources, like him.

Wolfgang had furthermore come into contact with Hossar before, and knew that that alchemist of dubious reputation lived near the Rialto, in the direction of Mestre, and might be about forty years old, dressed in black and wearing a beard of the same color. At Venice, Hossar was known by boys as "the Jew with the beard". Hossar had a brother, some years older than he, called Big Salamoncino, due to his stature, and perhaps to distinguish him from Salamoncino da Piove, whose presence in the heart of the Jewish community of Venice and at the official ceremonies in the synagogue must have been frequent. According to Wolfgang, who made his depositions before the judges of Trent in November 1475, Hossar-Anselmo, "the Jew with the beard", had died about six months before, perhaps in prison (6).

The information supplied by Israel Wolfgang of Brandenburg in his testimony is exactly, and very many ways, surprisingly, confirmed bythe archive documents. Hossar-Asher "with the beard" (Anselmus judeus a barba) was in fact tried at Venice on 3 September 1473 on an accusation of selling two bars of false gold, i.e., silver covered with a foil of gold powder, to an artisan in that city, after having extorted a fraudulent official registration from the essayer of Rialto, responsible for the stamping and weighing of gold (7). Hossar "with the beard" was sentenced to six months in prison and stricken from the registry of bulk gold and silver dealers at Venice (8). He was also said to have been compelled to compensate the victim of the swindle for the economic harm done, before serving his term of imprisonment.

Strangely, the clauses of the sentence hint at the eventuality of an escape from prison by the Cologne-born Jewish alchemist, or his death in prison (9). In effect, as reported by Israel Wolfgang to the judges at Trent, Hossar died in the first few months of 1475, and may be that he was still in prison. It is therefore surprising that the Venetian judges should provide in advance for such eventuality, almost as if they knew for a fact that David Mavrogonato’s unscrupulous ex-right arm

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man -- dedicated to mysterious illegal dealings at Venice, where he was known by all, both Jews and Christians -- had powerful friends in the mainland financial centers capable of helping him break jail or of silencing him for good, to prevent him from revealing his embarrassing secrets. Salamoncino da Piove, who was perfectly well aware of the German alchemist's activities, may have known him personally during his stays in Venetian prisons, "near the Ponte di Paglia", of which he was an influential and assiduous inmate.

Just what the artful German herb alchemist [Hossar] was selling on all those frequent trips which took him to the cities of the Veneto region, apart from medicinal blood and quack remedies of miraculous effectiveness and bright and treacherous “silver of alchemy” -- in the manufacture of which he was considered a specialist -- remains unknown. It is, however, certain that, the merchandise to be found in Hossar’s haversack -- according to Salamoncino da Piove – included one particular item, purchased from an itinerant merchant named Abramo, stopping by Trent in 1471 on his way from Saxony to Feltre or Bassano, and that this particular item was considered particularly valuable. According to Wolfgang’s later statements before the Trent judges, Abramo’s clients included the physician, Tobias da Magdeburg.

Abramo’s red leather pouch, with its waxed bottom, in fact, concealed a certain amount of blood, to be put up for sale -– clotted blood --coagulated and reduced to curdles or powder, as was normal practice, to cause it to harden over time (10).

According to Maestro Tobias da Magdeburg, many of the Jewish and German merchants who reached Venice in 1469 along with Friedrich III’s baggage train intended to supply themselves with the blood of Christian children for the Passover rite -- blood which Mavrogonato was said to have brought from Candia or Cyprus on that occasion. It does not appear that the Jews of that island had ever been accused of ritual murder at that time. Yet, Jewish Passovers at Candia in the mid-15th century were anything but tranquil affairs, and were often the source of scandal and clamorous indignation.

During Passover week, 1451, the Jews of the ghetto of Candia were accused of crucifying suckling lambs (perhaps due to the impossibility of procuring Christian children) [NOTE: This is not necessarily Prof. Toaff’s opinion here; he is summarizing the Latin: fortasse quia fideles pueros captare nequiverat], in contempt of the Christian religion, with a grotesque and sacrilegious anti-ritual (11). The symbolism of the suckling lamb placed on the cross seemed obviously linked, in an intolerable and obscenely blasphemous manner, to the passion of Christ, the Agnus Dei [Lamb of God].

The accusation

 p. 49]

does not appear to have been completely groundless, in view of the ancient Hebraic custom of roasting the Passover lamb skewered on the spit in a vertical position, with the head upwards, to ridicule and deride the crucified Christ; just how widespread this custom was, is difficult to determine from either a chronological or geographical point of view (12).

The Venetian criminal judiciary was immediately informed of the affair by the Duke of Candia, Bernardo Balbi, while the Doge, Francesco Foscari, hastened to appoint Gradenigo, "district mayor in the Levant", who was already on the island, with responsibility for investigating the matter ("to obtain the truth about the crucified lambs in any manner whatever"), identifying the guilty parties, and punishing them with the maximum strictness. Edicts were posted “in the Piazza and in the Giudaica di Candia", promising cash rewards for anyone supplying the inquisitor with information useful to the investigation and threatening severe punishment to "any persons with knowledge of the abovementioned case of the crucified lambs and conceals the same".

The well-known Venetian politician and humanist, Lodovico Foscarini, already podestà [magistrate] of Feltre in 1439, of Vicenza in 1445and at the time, podestà of Verona, also occupied himself with the thorny mater. In a letter, presumably written between 1451 and the following year, and addressed to Antonio Gradenigo, Foscarini praised the Venetian inquisitor [Gradenigo] warmly for bringing his investigation into the "sacrilegious sacrifice" to a close, zealously and with undoubted success, and for his success in demonstrating the guiltof the Jews of Candia in the crucifixion of the lambs to a certainty (13).

The outcome of the matter came to our attention through a Jewish source which has until now been misinterpreted on this point: the chronicleof Elia Capsali. The Candian rabbi, based on a report on the events written in Hebrew, reported that the investigation into the crucifixion of the lambs was concluded on 26 January 1452, when the Council of the Forty informed Bernardo Balbi, the Duke of Candia, that, as a result of inquisitor Gradenigo’s denunciation, nine notables of the Jewish community had been placed in shackles for their participation in the crime.

After a brief period of detention in the prisons of Candia, the prisoners were transferred in chains to Venice, where they were interrogated in expectation of the trial before the Avogaria di Commun. Two of the prisoners died as a result of torture, while the survivor remained in custody awaiting the decisions of the Major Council, which met on 15 July 1452, on Saturday. To everyone's

 p. 50]

great surprise, the Jewish defendants were absolved, notwithstanding Gradenigo’s indignant protests, with 220 votes in favor, 130 against and 80 "not convinced", i.e., abstaining; on 9 August following, the defendants were released and left Venice. They finally landed in Candia after a 13-day voyage and were joyfully and triumphantly received by the entire Jewish community on the island (14).

[The report reads in part:]

"In 1423, Francesco Foscarini was elected Doge of Venice [...] Under his government, almost at the end of his term, in 1451, the Jews of the community of Candia were falsely accused of the so-called 'calumny of the lamb', (15) by a nun named Orsa. The matter took an ugly turn when Antonio Gradenigo, the inquisitor, visited Venice at the Avogaria di Commun to cause the Jews to be tried, setting forth the particulars of the accusations made against them. On 26 January, Bernardo Balbi, the Duke of Candia, received an order from Venice to arrest nine notables of the Jewish community, after which they were held in prison for thirty five days. The Duke then ordered their transfer to Venice in a ship captained by Giacomo Aponal di Candia, which docked after a 49-day voyage, during which the prisoners remained in chains, suffering terribly. At Venice, the defendants were thrown in a dark, unwholesome prison, separated from each other, and subjected to cruel and insupportable tortures and torments, which caused the miserable death of two of them "in the sanctification of the name of God", but they confessed nothing. As a result, the case was presented to the judge of the Great Council [...] and the Jews were therefore absolved, thanks to the Lord’s assistance and His mercy towards them. This happened on Saturday [...] on 15 July 1452 [...] and on 9 August following, these same Jews left Venice, and reached here [Candia]  thirteen days later, expressing their praise and gratitude to God the Blessed.

"But the matter was anything but over. The implacable Antonio Gradenigo appealed against the sentence of absolution before the Avogaria di Commun. According to him, the Jews of Candia had bribed some of the magistrates, purchasing their favorable votes with money. Once again, Capsali reported that the allegation had been examined by the Avogaria di Commun in March 1453. The subsequent investigation led to the arrest of one of the counselors, Girolamo Lambardo, on a charge of corruption and Lambardo’s subsequent condemnation to one year in prison; he was also struck off the role of the Members of the Great Council for five years. The fate of the Jews of Candia were again in the hands of the "Great Council", which met on 16 May 1454 without reaching a decision. The

 p. 51]

meeting was adjourned on 7 June following, when the charges were finally dropped after innumerable rounds of voting, on 13 July (16).

"On a Saturday in the month of Tamuz of the year 5214 [=1454] in the afternoon [...] our Messer Antonio Giustinian’s galley docked here in the port of Candia, bringing us the happy news of our acquittal. May He be Blessed who rewarded us with all well-being, rendering vain the machinations brought against us. The Lord has saved, not only our fathers, but ourselves as well, our children and descendents. In fact, salvation has not only been granted to the Jewish community of Venice, because the Lord has thus liberated our community of the Jews of Candia and the other communities under the dominion of the Serenissima, and under the government of the gentiles generally, from terrible danger [...] This sort of persecution is the work of the perfidious Haman, seeking to exterminate women and children, old persons and notables and sack our property in one single day (Esther 3:13) (17).

"Capsali’s report, richly detailed, finds precise confirmation in the official Venetian documentation, supplementing and clarifying the picture (18). As early as September 1451, several months prior to conclusion of district mayor Antonio Gradenigo’s inquiry into the crucifixion of the lambs at Crete during the Passover period of that year, Gradenigro appealed to the Greater Counsel that the defendants be transferred to another, more pliable, level of the legal system, such as the Quarantia Criminal [Council of Forty Judges] to ensure a more expeditious conclusion of the matter (19). Gradenigo’s appeal upon acquittal of the Jews in the court of first instance was preceded by a decision of the Greater Counsel to the effect that, in the interests of expediting the case, the presence of three hundred magistrates should in this case suffice instead of the four hundred judges provided for by law (20).

What is certain is that, at the end of June 1452, twelve Jews from Candia were being held in a cell of the "New Prison" of Venice. Capsali reports that nine (and not twelve) Jewish notables were arrested in Candia; the idea that Candia was simply mistaken seems implausible.

Perhaps the other three Jews from Candia were arrested for other crimes, unrelated to the foul charge of the “crucified lambs" It would not even surprise us to learn that David Mavrogonato, whose adventures as an "intriguer" with limited scruples did not always end happily, was one of them. These Jews at Candia were lodged in the same cell with a Christian,
p. 52]

probably in jail for another crime, a certain Antonio da Spilimbergo. Spilimbergo was rather unhappy about being the only believer in Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary in the forced company of these vociferous and arrogant Jews, who were as loud-mouthed as they were uncouth, and who did nothing but mutter their incomprehensible prayers and chant from morning to night, in Hebrew, with an unpleasant Ashkenazi inflection. Their actions, which the poor Antonio, out of ardent Christian zeal, presumed were highly heretical, as well as their strange and repellent garb, drove him practically mad. He therefore file an urgent appeal with the commanding authorities for transfer to the "Carcere Novissima" [new prison] a petition which the authorities immediately granted, in a full understanding of Spilimbergo’s plight (21).

The text of the defendants’ final acquittal, on 7 June 1454, contains important details relating to the case as a whole. The principal defendants turned out to be the physician, Abba di Mosè del Medigo di Candia, who, according to the denunciation of a converted Jew, "crucified a lamb in mockery of Jesus Christ, at night, in his own room, together with other Jews, on the very holy day of Holy Friday (of the year1451)". Gradenigo's inquiry shows that the Jews of Candia repeated this contemptuous ritual every year, in the days preceding Christian Easter (22).

Abba del Medigo and the other defendants’ attempts to bribe the judges were not in vain, as attested to by the relevant documents. As we have seen from Elia Capsali’s report in March of 1453, one of the members of the Greater Counsel, the nobleman Girolamo Lambardo, was arrested and sentenced for selling his vote to the Jews. The minutes of the Greater Counsel confirm that an inquiry against Lambardo had in fact been brought and had concluded with the condemnation of the noble counselor for improperly attempting to extort money from Abba (23).

As early as February 1452, the ineffable Candian physician [Abba del Medigo], already under indictment for vilification of the Christian religion, was further accused of attempting to bribe one of the "district mayors in the Levant", Antonio Priuli, one of Gradenigo’s a colleagues, perhaps correctly considered more pliable than the implacable inquisitor of the crucified lambs.

But in fact, in a certain sense, Abba, rather than the author of the design to bribe judges and other high-placed persons involved in the trial, had himself been the naïve victim of a clever swindle. Bonomo di Mosè, a Jewish money lender active at Mestre, owner of the

 p. 53]

bank of San Nicolà at Padua (24), was, out of piety or self-interest, accustomed to visiting Abba frequently in the New Prisons where the latter was incarcerated. During one of these visits, Bonomo, who bragged of high-placed friendships in wealthy Venice, is said to have confessed to the impatient and depressed Candiota [Abba del Medigo] that one of the "district mayors in the Levant", Priuli to be exact, would gladly sell his vote in exchange for a loan of fifty ducats without interest.

Having scraped up the sum, the good Abba promptly delivered it to Bonomo, who misappropriated it, obviously without turning it over to Priuli, who was completely ignorant of the whole scheme. But the whole scheme finally came unraveled and the swindle was discovered.

The money lender from Mestre, responsible for the swindle, was sentenced by the Avogadori to the payment of a fine of one hundred gold ducats and one year in prison, after which he would be banned from Venice and its territory for five years (25). Abba del Medigo, for his part, was tried for trying to bribe a public official, but was ordered acquitted (26).

The island physician was less fortunate, however, at the end of October of the same year, when his Christian fellow prisoners accused him of serious offenses and blasphemies against the Christian religion. According to the denunciation, Abba, in his cell, was alleged to have unhesitatingly placed his filthy piss-pot right below the crucifix. Soundly rebuked by the other prisoners, the intemperate Candiota was said to have replied with profanity, insulting them and shamelessly ridiculing Jesus the Messiah and the blessed Holy Virgin. His condemnation was inevitable and well-deserved: one year’s additional prison time, in addition to the payment of a fine of one thousand lire to the Avogadori di Commun (27).

But who was this Abba del Medigo – the protagonist, despite himself, in the affair of the crucified lambs? He certainly came from one of the most illustrious Jewish families in Candia, being the son of Mosè "the Old Man", rabbi and head of the community, and related to the famous philosopher Elia del Medigo, a physician like himself. He had married Ritte, otherwise known as Rivkah, with whom he had had three children, Elia, Diamante and Yehudah, called Giuliano in Italian and known as Yudlin among the Ashkenazim of the Veneto community.

The latter had married Sofia, called Shifra in Hebrew, the aunt of the chronicler Elia Capsali. The family lived at Padua, but after the death of Abba, which occurred rather early in 1485, he moved mostly to Soave, where Elia and Yudlin del Medigo had obtained a money lending permit, which was renewed in 1496 (28).

 p. 54]

Elia Capsali remembered that he had stayed with his aunt Sofia at Padua in the winter of 1508, on his way from Venice, and that he had heard her say "that my relatives (del Medigo) were no longer at Padua, because they had moved to Soave" (29). We know that Elia, Abba’s first-born, was murdered in Venice under mysterious circumstances in 1505. Implicated in the murder, one as the instigator and the other asan accomplice, were two Jews, from Soncino and Feltre, the latter a resident of Monselice, who were condemned by the Avogadori di Commun to prison, the confiscation of their property and expulsion from the territories of Venice, Padua and the surrounding district (30). It is probable that Capsali stumbled across a copy of the trial documents relating to the crucifixion of the lambs on the island of Candia, in Padua, among Yudlin's letters, who had died many years before, stating the grounds for the acquittal, and that he used it among his sources.

Out of prudence, or perhaps simply desiring to respect the privacy of the Medigo-Capsali family, although half a century had already passed since these events, Elia preferred to omit any mention of the names of the defendants in the trial for the crucified lambs -- mainly, any mention of Abba del Medigo, father-in-law of his aunt, Sofia, as well as of the assassination of the son of the latter two, Elia, committed atVenice by other Jews only a few years earlier.

Lodovico Foscarini was a friend of Gradenigo, the inquisitor for the crucifixion of the Passover lambs, but he was no friend of the Jews, least of all to Jewish physicians, whom he hated, feared and suspected, and against whom he considered himself engaged in incessant warfare  (perpetuum bellum) (31).

Foscarini, the patrician of the Veneto region, recalled the manner in which the Jews, in their Passover ceremonies, solemnly swore on the Torah scrolls to cause serious injury and harm to those faithful in Christ and placed the Christians on guard against eating unleavened bread prepared by Jews. He was also convinced that Jewish physicians were the servants of the Devil and were dedicated to the magical arts and to necromancy, poisoning their Christian patients in body and spirit. In a letter written in the summer of 1462, Foscarini considered it unacceptable that many governors, particularly, those from Venice, tolerated the cheeky and arrogant presence of Jewish physicians and surgeons, and thus facilitated their presence, and maintaining that presence for reasons of dubious honesty (32). Foscarini, then Lieutenant of Friulia, had a short time before suffered two years imprisonment, lamenting that, during this period, the Serenissima, profiting from his absence, had signed official agreements with Jewish physicians (33).

One scandalous example of blasphemous shamelessness, according to Foscarini, was a “gowned physician”, garnished in gold and adorned with

 p. 55]

jewels, who had had the boldness to turn to certain noblewomen in mourning, maliciously deriding their religious belief, and in particular, the sacrament of the Host. "I pity you, ladies, for your ignorance", the learned Jewish surgeon is alleged to have said on that occasion, in atone of open mockery, "in believing that your God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, would offer Himself to be consumed, and thus does not therefore disdain to offer himself up as food to the jaws of obscene ruffians and the filthiest of whores" (34). In view of the fact that the most famous "gowned Jewish physician” living in Venice in Foscarini’s time was Jehudah messer Leon da Montecchio, who is said to have been granted the honor of the imperial doctoral privilege by Friedrich III during the latter’s stay in Venice in February 1469, and that his quarrelsome nature, accompanied by frequent and intemperate verbal outbursts against both Jews and Christians, his true or presumed adversaries, was common knowledge, identifying the “gowned physician” does not seem very hard to do.

In confirmation of this, reference may perhaps be made to a news item from a Jewish chronicle, archived until a few years ago in manuscript form, and perhaps compiled at Venice by an Ashkenazi Jew around the middle of the Sixteenth century, which seems to be a compilation of local traditions of indubitable antiquity (35). The presumable chronology of the events to which reference is made dates back beyond the middle of the 15th Century. In Venice, the Jews were prohibited from circumcising their sons in the city (36). The Jews therefore had to go to nearby Mestre to perform this rite, which was fundamental to their family life. It then that a Jew, "among the most illustrious among those living in Venice", wishing to circumcise his new-born son in the city of the lagoons, thought up an astute expedient which night lead to revocation of the discriminatory law. He turned to an influential Venetian patrician with whom he stood on terms of familiarity and friendship, a gentleman who was, in those days, confined to bed with gout, and requested the gentleman to act as godfather at his sons’ circumcision ceremony. The Christian nobleman was not only pleased to accept the honorific charge which the honored Jew had thought fit to entrust him with, but, being unable to reach Mestre due to his illness, which kept confined at home, he seems to have decided to cause the child to be circumcised in the main room of his own palace. This was the first case, the precedent-setter, thereafter permitting the Jews of Venice to circumcise their sons in the City of the Lagoons. If the report, as stated, contains a core of truth, it should not be very difficult, in this case as well, to identify

 p. 56]

the Jewish notable as Jehudah messer Leon, the influential imperial physician esteemed by Jews and Christians alike, particularly among the higher classes, to whom a son, David was born in Venice, in approximately 1459 (37).

The Jewish community at Trent had formed relatively recently, and its numbers were always limited. When Maestro Tobias da Magdeburg, physician, surgeon and expert in ophthalmology, decided to establish himself at Trent in 1462, he found that there was no organized Jewish community in the city. In the early years of the century, in 1403, bishop Ulrich III had granted a Jewish money lender named Isacco and his family the right to carry on the money trade at Bolzano and Trent. This may have been the same Isacco whose presence in the city is attested to later, in 1440 (38). It is nevertheless certain that other Jews came to join him in the first quarter of the century, staying at Trent for longer or shorter periods, such as the same Mosè di Samuele from Trent who, in the summer of 1423, made his last will and testament at Treviso, where had had in the meantime moved with his numerous family (39). The Jewish community of Trent seemed consolidated by mid-century.

In fact, in 1450, Sigismondo, Count of Tyrol, decided to grant Elia and the other Jewish residents of Trent equality of rights with those of the Christian citizens of Trent (40).

Nevertheless, when Maestro Tobias took up residence in the city, he found only one Jewish family, that of the money lender Samuele (Zanwil) di Seligman, originating from Nuremberg in Bavaria, who had settled in Trent one year before. The privileges accorded to Samuele in the money-lending permit signed upon his entry into the city were renewed by Giovanni Hinderbach in 1469, the year in which FriedrichIII officially invested him with the temporal office of the episcopate of Trent, at Venice, in 1469 (41). In the meantime, a third family had come to reinforce the Jewish community of Trent. Angelo da Verona, from Gavardo in the Bresciano region, who had passed his youth at Conegliano in Friuli (42), also moved to Trent, dealing alongside Samuele of Nuremberg in the local money market (43). Although he had lived in Italy from birth, Angelo, too, was an Ashkenazi Jew; perhaps he no longer spoke Yiddish as his native language, in contrast to  Tobias and Samuele, who had arrived from the German territories only recently, but he certainly understood it and spoke it, although rather badly.

Angelo's parents, in fact, Salamone and Brünnlein (Brunetta), were natives of Bern in the Swiss

 p. 57]

Confederation. The three Jewish families of Trent were anything other than restrained and presented themselves in a manner rather definite as multiple patriarchal nuclei. The married children lived together with the parents, and several generations lived their everyday lives under the same roof: grandfather and grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins, married women, widows and unmarried girls, servants, scullery maids and teachers, travelers and persons of passage, more or less established and occasional guests, professional beggars and impoverished relatives.

The Jews, whose habitations were contiguous, lived near the commercial center, known as "the Canton", in the western zone of the city, which included the quarters of the Market and San Martino. Their lending banks, which formed one whole with their houses, operated in contact with the shops and taverns of the German immigrants, whose presence in Trent was rather large, amounting to several hundred people (44). German was spoken along the small canal, which crossed the district carried turbid and muddy water, originating in the Adige.

Alongside the evil-smelling workshops of the Germanic shoemakers and tanners were the banks and dwelling houses of the Jews. One of these, that of Samuele da Nuremberg, was the location of the synagogue.

In fact, Samuele’s family was beyond doubt the most religious, and the most highly cultivated in terms of Hebrew culture. The scrupulous observance of the standards of the Torah had induced the head of the family, in addition to setting aside certain areas as places of worship for the entire community, to draw from water the canal, which passed by the basement of the house, for use in a sort of ritual bath, where the women could easily immerse themselves for their own ablutions of purification after their menstrual period, without having to have recourse to the public baths, where feminine modesty and shame could not always be duly protected (45). Samuele himself, to great benefit, had studied in the famous Talmudic academies of Bamberg and Nuremberg in the years 1440-1450, and had been the disciple of famous rabbis.

The oldest and most respected among the German Jews of Trent, his uncle Mosè da Franconia, who had reached the respectable age of eighty and was known by everyone in the city as "the Old Man", also found lodgings under his roof. Learned and authoritative, even if poorly equipped with purely economic means, he had found stable hospitality, with his family, with the enterprising and wealthy nephew, after having lived previously at Würzburg and Spira, one of the most important centers of Jewish culture in all of Germany. Samuele's household were strict followers of the rules

 p. 58]

relating to kosher food, which, among other things, prescribed the complete separation of meat and dairy products, according to the dictates of the Bible, amplified and codified in the rabbinical interpretation of the halakhah. To the judges in the Simon of Trent murder trial, interested in knowing why he carried two knives in a sheath hanging from his side, both Samuele and Mosè "the Old Man" patiently explained that which, in their eyes, was perfectly obvious. One knife was to cut edible meat, while the other was to be used for dairy products(46).

On 23 March, eve of Passover of 1475, year of the jubilee, the mutilated body of Simonino, a two-year old child, son of the tanner Andrea Lomferdorm, was found in the waters of the ravine by-passing Samuele’s cellar. This tragic discovery triggered the inquest which was tolead to the accusation brought against the Jews of Trent as suspects in the child’s abduction and murder, to their interrogation in the castle of Buonconsiglio and their condemnation, after confessing under torture to being responsible for this tragic wickedness. Finally, the condemned were publicly executed, burned at the stake or decapitated, while their property was to suffer bitter confiscation. The transcripts of the Trent trials for the murder of Simon, later beatified, are said, as a result, to constitute the most important and detailed document ever written on the ritual murder accusation, a precious document retaining the words of the Hebrew defendants, in which the words of the accusers and inquisitors did not always succeed in superimposing themselves over, or confusing themselves with, the words of the defendants.

These texts are a glimpse into a different world: the world of the Ashkenazi Judaism of the German territories and northern Italy, in all its sociological, historical and religious particularity. This was a Jewish world, enclosed upon itself, fearful and hostile towards outsiders, often incapable of accepting its own painful experiences and overcoming its own ideological contradictions. It was this world which, moving from the negative and often tragic reality in which they lived, sought an improbable anchorage in the sacred texts which might illuminate a hope of redemption, which for the moment appeared beyond credibility: a Hebraic world discharging its energies in religious rites and antique myths, now re-enlivened with renewed and different meanings and translated into an alienating, harsh and rigorous confessional language, in which internal tensions and unresolved frustrations lay hidden at all times. A world which, having survived the massacres and forced conversions of men, women and children, continued to experience

 p. 59]

those traumatic events in a sterile effort to reverse the meaning of that world, rebalancing it and correcting history. It was a profoundly religious world in which redemption could not possibly be far off; in which God was to be involved despite Himself, and compelled to keep His promises, sometimes by force. It was a world drenched with magical rites and exorcism, within whose mental horizons popular medicine and alchemy, occultism and necromancy were often mixed, finding a position of their own, influencing and reversing the meaning of ordinary religious standards.

The participants in this magical mental horizon included not only the Jews, accused of witchcraft and infanticide, ritual cannibalism and evil spells, but their accusers as well, obsessed with diabolical presences and the continual search for virtuous talismans and stupendous antidotes, capable of curing and preserving the body and soul from the wiles of men and demons. Giovanni Hinderbach, prince bishop of Trent, the true organizer of the 1475 trials, had grown up in Vienna in the years following the great massacre of the Jews, accused of backing the Hussites (1421) and exposed by that same Duke Albert II to bloody vengeance as partisans of the heretics (47). Even before poor Simonino’s child murder, when he had not yet risen to his official fame as "punisher of the Jewish murderers", Hinderbach had already found ways to show his lack of sympathy for them (48). In one case, thus, he had not hesitated to express his self-satisfied approval of cannibalism, when the victims were Jews. During the military confrontation between Venice and Trieste in 1465, during which Friedrich III intended to enforce his rights, Hinderbach, who was then acting as imperial ambassador before the government of the Serenissima, sang the praises of the Hapsburg militia, called upon to defend Trieste, for their courage and their demonstrated loyalty to the Emperor. By true right, observed the pious bishop, the German soldiers, in case of necessity, rather than lay down their arms, were to alleviate their hunger by eating the flesh of cats, rats and mice; and even that of local Jews, Jews resident in the city (49).

Friedrich III was, as Burcardo di Andwil informs us, in addition to mathematical sciences, a passionate cultivator of astrology and necromancy, and for this reason is said to have remarked that he liked to surround himself with Jews and Chaldeans, people highly partial to superstitious practices (50). But Friedrich’s faithful servant, Hinderbach, was no less so. Magic and witchcraft in fact exercised an irresistible fascination over

 p. 60]

the humanist bishop, who was a friend of Enea Silvio Piccolomini. Hinderbach assimilated Jews outright with necromanticists, always ready to perform exorcisms and curses in the service of the devil. Demons love blood; and the necromancers who resuscitated cadavers used blood with little parsimony in their divination, mixing it with water taken from fountains and rivers. Hinderbach had no hesitation in maintaining that the Jews were enchanters and necromancers, "because they kill Christian children and drink and consume their blood, as they did last year at Trent, and in many other places it has been discovered and proven" (51). The practical Caballah, which these Jews followed more or less in secret, was to be assimilated in all respects to black magic and necromancy. It is to be noted that, during the first festival of the sainted child, held at Trent in 1589 with a great confluence of people, a celebrative pamphlet, later published in Rome, was compiled with the title of Ristretto della vita et martirio di S. Simone fanciluuo della citta di Trento. This work maintained, in the wake of Hinderbach, that the child had been killed by the Jews, "followers of the Caballah, vain science under which name magic and necromancy often hide" (52).

From the records of the trial, we know that Brunetto (Brünnlein), widow of Samuele da Nuremberg, who was, in the end, burnt at the stake as guilty of infanticide, persisted in her refusal to confess, notwithstanding the torments to which he was subjected. To Hinderbach, there appeared to be no doubt that the woman was ill and bewitched by Jewish necromancers. For this reason, every suggestive pressure, exercised on the woman to persuade her to speak, had proven useless; from shaving her head and removing her body hair, to ablutions in holy water. But the remedy was finally found. The holy cure-all, according to the bishop of Trent, constantly in search of miraculous enchantments and narcotic unguents, had proven itself exceptionally effective in the precedent Santa Lucia case, in which the victim was also possessed by demons. Brünetta was placed in a bath of urine, laboriously produced by a "virgin young boy" of Trent, and suddenly, after the extraordinary, if rather evil-smelling ablution, the woman, without further ado, began to sign her confession (53).

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On 6 July 1480, three Jews accused of ritual child murder, required for the performance of their Passover rites, during the Passover period of that year, were executed at Venice. Servadio da Colonia, money lender at Portobuffolè, Mosè da Treviso and Giacobbe of Cologne (1), having confessed -- sometimes spontaneously and sometimes under torture -- were impaled and burned alive in public in the Piazza San Marco, between the two columns of San Marco and San Todaro. Another defendant, Giacobbe “with the beard”, committed suicide in prison to avoid torture. Other Jews, from Portobuffolè and Treviso, were condemned to various punishments of imprisonment for complicity in the crime and thereafter banned from Venice and its territory. Tried and condemned before the podestà of Portobuffolè, the Venetian Andrea Dolfin, the defendants had appealed to the Avogaria di Commun, but, notwithstanding the fact that they were defended by some of the best lawyers in Padua, their sentence was upheld (2).

According to the indictment, a small wandering beggar about six years of age, a native of Seriate in the Bergamo region, had been abducted from the market place at Treviso, where he had been begging, by two Jews, who were alleged to have taken him to nearby Portobuffolè, on the Livenza river, in an eventful journey, the stages of which did not pass entirely unobserved by travelers and boatmen. Here, in the dwelling of the local money lender, Servadio, who was also the instigator of the abduction, the cruel crime was said to have been committed for ritual purposes, in the presence and with the active participation of other local and foreign Jews. After draining off the blood, the perpetrators burnt the body in the oven of a house owned by Mosè da Treviso, another money lender at Portobuffolè. Denunciations and informer's reports, including Donato, Seradio's servant, then converted to Christianity, are said to have led to the indictment

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of the Jewish defendants and to their condemnation for the murder of the nameless little victim, immediately rebaptized under the name of Sebastiano Novello, of obvious significance.

Portobuffolè, like so many other small centres of the Marca of Treviso and the territory of Venice, was, in the 15th century the seat of a community of Ashkenazi Jews, the traces of which have remained in Hebraic manuscript texts, copied in that small city in the years preceding the Sebastiano Novello murder (3). The chronicle of this cruel execution, as described by the diarist apologists of the time, inform us that at least one of the defendants, Servadio, faced death in prayer, accompanied by contemptuous remarks about Christianity (4). This detail may be related to the legendary story of a stone slab, walled in the Ashkenazim synagogue Scola Canton of the ghetto of Venice, containing a verse from the psalms (32:10: 'Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall encompass  him’). In the local Hebraic tradition, this phrase is said to have been pronounced by Servadio himself, among the flames of the stake in thePiazza San Marco. During these terrible moments, the condemned man is said to have taken the time to point out the unhappy informer, his servant Donato, baptized under the name of Sebastiano, to the Jews in the crowd, who were present at this terrifying ceremony. The spectators are said to have included Josef, cantor of the synagogue of Portobuffolè  (who was perhaps the same Fays who acted as teacher in Servadio’s dwelling), who is said to have interpreted the Psalm with a new meaning, imparted by the person reciting it: "The bitter pains which I suffer, will fall on the wicked" (5). Thus history and hagiography became confused, while the authenticity and memory of the child’s true martyrdom ricocheted back and forth between Christians and Jews.

Milan, summer of 1482. A brother of the Order of the Serviti, Giovanni Guerra, and Simone, Jew of Tortona were publicly executed by order of the Duke. Guerra was said to have been accused of barbarously killing a child about nine years of age, near the farmhouse Scorticavacca di Volpedo, near Tortona, on Holy Tuesday of that year; the second defendant was accused of instigating the friar to commit the crime, so as to obtain the blood of a Christian child, as required for the Jewish Passover rites. Both defendants confessed. In the preceding May, a special commission had left the Court of the Sforzas with the assignment of investigating the cruel death of Giovannino Costa, a young shepherd, who was accustomed to coming down from the hills to Tortona to sell eggs and butter on market days (6).

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The diligent commissioner ordered the arrest of all the members of the little Jewish community of German origin, including Madio (Mohar,Meir), the local money lender, and the requisition of all pledges deposited in the bank. The persons under investigation were subsequently transferred to Milan. At the conclusion of the investigation, the culpability of the Jew Simone, the instigator, and the "scoundrel friar", the unnatural, cruel executioner, was clearly established. The other persons under investigation, including the banker, were released, following a finding that they had had nothing to do with the crime, and were permitted to leave Tortona.

From the official correspondence sent by the court of the Sforzas to the podestà and the bishop of Tortona, we learn that:

"A certain homicide being committed during the past Holy Days against the person of a boy, at the instance of certain Jews in the diocese of Derthona, the following persons are held in prison here: Fra Giovanni Guerra of the Order of the Servants, and one Simon, a Jew, who did not deny having committed the said excess, the horrible and detestable nature of which, in the eyes of any faithful Christian, we leave to you to judge [...] . The wicked friar, with many wounds, cruelly killed the innocent boy in the region of Derthona to sell his blood to the Jews” (7).

The death of the presumed guilty parties and the prompt release of the other suspected Jews were insufficient to restore equilibrium to their relations with the community of Tortona. Many Jews emigrated elsewhere, the others became Christian. Simon's widow, executed at Milan, was left with a daughter, who took the name of Michela. Simon’s other four sons, two aged less than seven, and the other two ten and twelve respectively, were made to take refuge with the Jews of Piacenza, out of fear that they might be converted to Christianity. On 24 April 1483,the Duke of Milan, under pressure from the justly impatient bishop of Tortona, Giacomo Botta, requested the podestà of Piazenza to do everything possible to ensure that his two smaller sons were returned with speed to Donna Michela to receive the holy baptism (8).

In the collective memory of the Ashkenazi Jews of Northern Italy, the crime of Volpedo was to appear rather similar to that of Trent; it is true that Yoseph Ha-Cohen (Giuseppe Sacerdoti), one of the most famous Jewish chroniclers of the 16th century, after sadly reporting the events linked to the martyrdom of Simonino, observed that "in those years, the Jews in the territory of Tortona were slandered because of a Jew of the place, as had happened at Trent, and here, as well, the boy, named Giovannino, was called a saint;

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and the people went fornicating behind him, and for us, it was only harm and disgrace" (9).

The Volpedo case, involving a criminal wearing the cassock of a brother in the Holy Orders, was not an isolated one. In the summer of 1481,a Minorite Franciscan friar was arrested at Cortemaggiore on a charge of accepting a commission from local Jews to commit a child murder intended to provide them with Christian blood for their Passover, the generous commission amounting to four hundred gold ducats. Placed in a cage and appended from the bell tower at Cremona, the friar was left to die slowly of starvation, after which his body became a feast for birds of prey (10). The documents say nothing of the fate of the Jews, the presumed instigators of this holy homicide.

Arena, April 1479. In this village on the banks of the Po river, a child disappeared along the road from Padua to Piacenza during the Passover period of that year, while suspicion immediately fell on the local money lenders Bellomo di Madio (Simha Bunim b. Meir), and his entourage. Finally, David, employed by Bellomo, decided to spill the beans and reveal the particulars of this obscure crime. His patron had commissioned Donato, a Jew from Padua, to abduct a Christian child "to prepare for the Jewish ceremonies". Conveyed in secrecy to Bellomo’s dwelling, the child, known only by the nickname “Turlulu”, was said to have been cruelly crucified in a holy ceremony with the participation of all the local Jews and others from other neighboring villages. The little victim’s body is finally said to have been thrown by night into the muddy waters of the Po (11).

This was considered sufficient to proceed with the arrest of the parties guilty of this brutal crime, as well as that of their accomplices, both men and women, including Bellomo’s wife, who uselessly but vehemently protested her husband’s innocence. Sacle (Izchak), a moneylender from the Borgo San Giovanni, in the Piacenza region, who had, years before, been mentioned in the defendant’s depositions at the Trent trial as an habitual consumer of Christian blood, and had for this reason been exposed to more than a few minor risks, was also arrested and taken to Pavia, where he was to be tried (12).

In the meantime, Donato, the supposed author of the abduction and one of the principal perpetrators of the child’s crucifixion, at the conclusion of a difficult interrogation confessed everything and pointed an accusing finger at Belomo and his family. The podestà of Pavialost no time and proceeded with the seizure and confiscation of all the goods of the Jews of Arena.

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But then a sensation occurred. Turlulu, the crucified child, turned up perfectly safe and sound. His body, examined by physicians and experts with all due diligence, didn’t even have a scratch on it. At this point, Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza and his mother, the duchess Bona, imperiously requested that Bellomo and Donato, the principle defendant, accused of a ritual infanticide that never happened, were transferred, without further delay, to Milan, together with the resurrected boy.

The protests of the Pavian authorities, who desired unperturbedly to proceed with preparations for the trial, as if nothing had happened, produced no effect. The guileless Turlurlu was presented on a seat in the Senate, in Milan, unaware of the reasons for all the hullabaloo, having himself become the principal personage in a sort of “virtual” ritual homicide. His interrogation helped disperse the fog of mystery which still envelopes this grotesque tale. Finally, as might have been anticipated, Bellomo and Donato were acquitted of all charges in the indictment for a crime which was never committed, were released from jail and permitted to return to Arena.

The Duke of Milan and his mother did not fail to voice their own profound disappointment to the rulers of Pavia in a missive, sent after the release of the Jews, written without any moderation of discourse: "We are amazed, not without annoyance, by this scandalous invention, of which have just caused such great inconvenience to both people and subjects". He concluded the letter, celebrating his own sense of justice and equanimity, "that we have caused the truth to be known about such a scandalous imputation". The Duke then demanded that the property illegally seized at Bellomo and other Jews of Arena be immediately returned (13).

One month later, there was still no change in the situation, and, as a result of the protests from the Jews, the Duke of Milan repeated, with renewed vigor, his request that the goods seized from them at the time should be returned. The response, from the podestà of Pavia, is an inimitable example of both impudence and insensitivity. He would release the Jews’ property, and sign it back over to them, but the heavy burden of procedural costs, plus the salaries of all judges, notaries and functionaries having concerned themselves with the case, would have to be paid by the acquitted defendants. The ineffable podestà said that he was fully convinced that the Jews would be open-minded and well disposed to accede to the paradoxical statement that, "for so little money, I am certain the Jews will not prove themselves too unwilling" (14).

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The facts of the Arena case led the representatives of the Jewish communities of Lombardy to appeal to Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza, so that he might defend them from the ritual murder accusations which were spreading dangerously, like a spot of oil on water, throughout all the territories at that time, threatening to conclude in the same tragic manner as the Trent affair. Nor could the confessions, often extorted with torture and violence, constitute valid proof linking the Jews to such horrendous crimes, as indicated by the outcome of the affair at Arena Po("the accused, at the said locality of Arena, as a result of the tremendous torments inflicted upon them in various parts of the body, confessed to committing a crime of which they were innocent, and confined in the Castello, and in the Casa del Capitanio di Giustizia, for acknowledging that what they had said was actually true, and if God, in his grace, had not sent word that the boy had been found, they would have fared worse than the defendants at Trent, which only God knows whether it was true or not, and let us just hope that God makes a demonstration of the truth in due time"). The Arena case was not an isolated one. The Jews, in their appeal of 19 May 1479, informed Sforzathat other, repeated, accusations of ritual infanticide, all proving false and inconsistent, had been made over the last few months in various cities of the Dukedom, from Pavia to Valenza, from Stradella to Bormio (15).

"The following case occurred two months ago: in Valenza, finding that a boy was missing, suspicion being aroused against the Jews of that region, the Jews were badly threatened, and if, by the grace of God, the boy had not been found drowned in a ditch, they would certainly have suffered worse. Similarly, a boy from Monte Castillo being lost, the Jews of that region were accused, but the boy was later found [...].

The same thing happened at Bormio, as well as at Pavia: a boy remained outside the bridge of Ticino after nightfall and was taken in by a gentleman, to stay at his house, so as to return him to his own home; and as the boy was not immediately found, suspicion fell upon the Jews, with much murmuring against the Jews; a house was searched with many threats, in such a way that the patron of the house fled in fear and has still not returned. And if the boy had not then been found, the Jews would not have been without danger and serious trouble, as happened to the Jews of Stradella, as well as at Pavia, which were sacked, causing the people to grumble, at the risk of raising a great scandal and disorder to the detriment and danger of the State of Your Illustrious Lordship” (16).

After stating the classical motives, which should have deprived the ritual murder accusation of all credibility, particularly, in light of the Biblical prohibition against killing and against the consumption of blood, the

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representatives of the Jewish communities of Lombardy added another motive, which to our minds appears seems odd. In the lands of the Great Turk, where powerful and wealthy Jews lived and prospered, owning large numbers of Christian slaves, both adults and children, it was said to be an easy matter for Jews to procure the blood of Christian children without running any risk to their persons and property at all.

But this did not occur, and there was no news from those regions of child murders committed by Jews for ritual purposes."There are, it is said there, innumerable rich Jews in the lands of the Turks, Moors and other infidels, who hold slaves and servants, and are able to have the [Christian] boys at their pleasure, to do what they liked with them without respect or danger, which does not prevent them from doing such things in the lands of the Christians, at the price of great danger, not only to their property but also to their person” (17).

The argument could just as easily have been turned around. Even the most inveterate anti-Semites knew in fact that the accusations of ritual murder and profanation of the Host were confined to relatively small geographical areas, which included all Jewish communities of the German-language regions, as well as all the Ashkenazi regions in Italy, at the foot of the Alps (18). Giovanni Hinderbach himself, in the autographic preamble to the trials, explained the manner in which the child murder committed by the Jews of Trent was in no way a novelty.

"In fact", he added, "the impiety of the Jews has come cruelly to light over the past few years in many cities and localities of Germany, as well as in regions such as Swabia and Bavaria, Austria and Styria, the Rhineland and Saxony, as well as in Poland and Hungary" (19). The lands of the Great Turk were obviously excluded.

Not many years had passed since the incidents at Arena, Portobuffolè and Volpedo, when a new ritual murder case came to light, upsetting the lives of the Jewish communities of northern Italy. During Holy Week, April of 1485, in Valrovina, in the territories of the Marostica region, a five-year old child, Lorenzino Sossio, was found murdered, his body horribly mutilated (20). The macabre discovery, at the feet of an oak tree in a pasture on the upland plain, was made by a local goatherd, while a hermit ("a devout hermit, who had long been a spectator and had diligently observed everything") informed the authorities and populace that the killers had committed the horrendous crime by mutilating

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poor Lorenzino in the foreskin (21), "inflicting upon him by force of repeated punctures and wounds in the blood vessels", finally stoning the body and covering it with stones. The news was immediately disseminated that the persons responsible for the ritual murder were Jews, from Bassano, "having come to the Vicentino for business or pleasure, but perhaps principally to commit the crime". Thus the chronicles reported the tragic fate of Lorenzino Sossio da Valrovina, later beatified as Simoncino of Trent, de quo adest traditio cum fuisse ab hebreis occisum[of whom tradition has it that he was killed by the Jews].

"In 1485, 5 April in the Villa di Valrovina under Marostica in the territory of the Vicentino region, the Jews stoned the Sainted Lorenzino, 5years old, and buried him several times under rocks; but one of his arms always extended from the grave. Once discovered, the delinquents were punished, and all the Jews were expelled by the above mentioned residents of the Vicentino from their City and District; and the Serenissima Prince of Venice confirmed the sentence by Ducal order in 1486" (22).

Five years later, in the spring of 1500, the podestà of Vicenza, Alvise Moro, informed the Venetian authorities that the "devote hermit", sole eyewitness to the crime, after being incarcerated and duly tortured, had revealed the name of the person guilty of Lorenzino’s murder. The murderer was alleged to be ben Marcuccio, money lender at Bassano ("which hermit is in prison here, and would like permission to speak, wishing to know the truth: that if they took one Marcuzzo, a Jew, they would find out something [...]  take the Jew, accused of killing the boy, and take Marchuzo da Bassan, and you will learn the truth, is what the hermit said, in those very words") (23).

Marcuccio was the son of Lazzaro Sacerdote of Treviso, who worked at Cittadella and was a nephew of Salamone da Piove di Sacco (24).

Active at Bassano although highly unpopular locally, he had until then enjoyed the protection of Venice, constant over time, the City having renewed his ten-year money lending permit in April 1499 (25). We do not know whether the tardy revelations of the "devote hermit" induced Marcuccio to leave Bassano and turn over the management of the local money lending bank. But that was precisely what happened: after the nephew of Salamone da Piove had become, it seems, the principal protagonist of a tardy trial, brought at Vicenza for the murder of the boy Marostica. However that may be, even in that region, the mystery of the crime was not solved, nor were the guilty ever identified with certainty.

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In the light of what we have just observed, it seems obvious that the expulsion of the Jews from Vicenza in 1486 and the cessation of their money-lending activities were not related to the presumed martyrdom of the Saint Lorenzino (26). Of course, none of this will discourage historians, scholars and local priests constantly on the lookout for more or less imaginary holy personages by means of whom their own poverty-stricken, obscure village or locality may be exalted, causing it to perform an otherwise inconceivable quantum leap of fame.

Twenty three years before, at Rinn, diocese of Bressanone, on the road to Innsbruck. A company of Jewish merchants, returning from the fair at Merano, were traversing a small village in the Tyrol and bumped into a three-year old child, Andrea Oxner. Having informed themselves as to his family, the Jews knew that the mother was far from home, in the fields at Ambras reaping wheat, and that little Andrea had been entrusted to the care of his godfather, the “Weisselbauer” of Rinn, Hannes Mayr. Employing every possible stratagem and pretext, the Jews induced this dishonest peasant to hand the child over to them, promising that they would take him away with them to live a life of ease and comfort. But they had no intention of traveling very far with him. Stopping in a birch tree thicket, a little ways above Rinn, "the innocent victim’s veins were barbarously and cruelly severed by those inhuman creatures, who then hung the bloodless cadaver from a tree". Having obtained the Christian blood which they needed, the Jewish merchants hurried to leave the scene, crossing the northern confines of the Tyrolon the road to Ellbogen (27).

The martyred child’s body was discovered by the desperate mother. The godfather, under intense interrogation, admitted entrusting Andrea to the Jews on the promise that they would educate the child in luxury and riches. He then confessed that he had been persuaded by innumerable glasses of wine, drunk in the company of those foreigners, and a hatful of gold coins which had been placed in his hand. The impious Mayr’s fate was signed, more by God than by men. "The perfidious peasant who sold the child was condemned to perpetual imprisonment in his own house, linked with chains, where he lived imprisoned and mad for a good two whole years" (28). Thus recites the implausible hagiography of Andrea of Rinn, which is full of gaps and for which there is no convincing contemporary documentation. The report remains inextricably linked to local traditions whose relationship to reality can only leave one perplexed and dubious.

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Nevertheless, the cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli, later Pope Clement XIV, in his famous report of 19 January 1760, presented to the Congregation of the Holy Office, with which he intended in general to absolve the Jews from the accusation of ritual infanticide, made an exception, in addition to for the martyrdom of Simon of Trent, also for that of Andreas of Rinn. The two cases were to be considered xceptional events, not to be generalized, but were nevertheless concrete and real (29):

"I therefore admit as true the fact of the sainted Simon, the boy of three years of age killed by Jews in hatred of the faith of Jesus Christ in Trent in the year 1475 [...] I accept as true another crime, committed in the village of Rinn, diocese of Bressanone, in 1462, against the sainted Andrea, a boy barbarously killed by the Jews in hatred of the faith of Jesus Christ [...] I do not, however, believe, even admitting as true the true facts of Bressanone and Trent, that one can justifiably deduce that this is a maxim, either theoretical or practical, of the Hebrew nation, since two events alone are insufficient to establish a certain and common axiom" (30).

The accused in the Trent trial in 1475, under torture, supplied ample testimony of ritual homicides committed, according to them, in the preceding years in the German-speaking lands from which they came, and in the centers of northern Italy where communities of Ashkenazi Jews had formed more or less recently. The defendants were alleged to have assisted or participated in these murders directly; in some cases, they had only heard about them from others. Sometimes they were able to remember the names of the other Jews who had taken part.

Isacco da Gridel, near Vedera, immigrated from Voitsberg, a village near Cleburg, was employed as a cook by Angelo of Verona, one of the principle defendants in the trial for the death of Simonino. In 1460, Isacco attended the lower courses of a Talmudic school at Worms, in the territory of the Rhineland, and it was there that he participated in a ritual murder, a little before Passover. A Jew by the name of Hozelpocheris said to have purchased a two-year old child from a Christian beggar at a very high price and to have taken the child to his dwelling in theJewish quarter. The murder is said to have been committed here, in the spacious "stufa" [parlor] of the house, in a collective ritual, with the participation of about forty local Jews. The blood is said to have been gathered in a glass receptacle, but is not said to have reached the quantity of liquid contained in two egg shells (31).

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Joav of Ansbach in Franconia was a domestic servant in the house of the Maestro Tobias da Magdeburg, the occulist physician of Trent. Joav had recently immigrated from the city of Prince Bishop Hinderbach, and had previously rendered service in the house of a Jew named Mohar(Meir) at Würzburg for over fifteen years. During this period, Joav testified to having seen the Christian servant, Elisabeth Baumgartner, assigned to housework, which was forbidden to Jews on Sabbath days, introduce Christian children into the dwelling, in secrecy and during the night, on at least three occasions. The murders were said to have been committed in the wood-shed, in a collective ritual which then concluded in the chapel-synagogue, in a ceremony with the participation of numerous local Jews. The blood was gathered in a silver chalice, while the children’s bodies were buried at night in a terrain owned by Mohar, outside the city (32). Mosè of Ansbach, the young teacher of Maestro Tobias’s children, for his part, informed the judges that, in 1472, while he was working at Nuremberg, he had learned that a ritual murder had been committed approximately eight years beforehand, in the dwelling of a certain Mayer Pilmon, in the presence of and with the participation of all the males of the family (33).

Mosè da Bamberg was a poor traveler who, having left Bayreuth with his son on his way to Pavia, had stopped for a brief stay in the city of Trent, as a guest in money lender Samuele da Nuremberg’s house, and had, to his disgrace, been present during the tragic days of the murder,confessing his knowledge of the murders to the judges. In 1466, on the road from Frankfurt on the Oder, in the Marca of Brandenburg, while transporting some goods to be sold in that city, he had stumbled across some professional child hunters. While traveling through a thick forest, Mosè had, in fact, encountered two Jews, remembering only the their first names, Salamone and Giacobbe, in the act of preparing to hurl into a nearby river the bodies of two boys, massacred by them previously. Their prey had been captured in a small peasant village at the foot of the forest (34). The two hunters showed the appalled Mosè their tin-plated iron bottles, filled with red liquid, and were satisfied at the thought that they were going to rake in a tidy sum through the sale of that liquid. But they needed the money to live (35).

Whether or not this was all simply a Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, which might well be told at the right time and place to frighten children and give them sleepless nights, we don't know. It is certain that the poor Mosè da Bamberg could not precisely remember the identity of the two hunters and was unable to locate the

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forest in which the crimes had been committed; nor did he know the names of the two victims or the village from which they had been abducted, or the name of the river into which they were said to have been thrown. He recited this fantastic confession before his attentive inquisitors, oscillating, suspended by a rope tied around his feet and his head downwards (36).

Israel of Brandenburg, the strange young painter, later baptized under the name of Wolfgang, knew how to be loquacious when he had to be, and had heaps of picturesque ritual murder tales to tell, tales which had reached his ears more or less directly, with which to regale his avid and powerful interlocutors. He had allegedly gathered this information for several months, moving from the Rhineland to the Tyrol, then down to Venice, traveling through the cities of the Veneto. He claimed to possess first hand information on the ritual murders of Christianc hildren committed at Güzenhausen in 1461 and Wending ten years afterwards. At Piove di Sacco and Feltre, Jews from his native country had told him of the ritual murders recently committed at Padua and at Mestre (37).

The women in the trial were no less prominent and their report of the child murders committed by their men, husbands, parents, friends and friends, were precise and detailed. Bona, Angelo da Verona’s sister, was a survivor of family and marital problems. She had lived with her stepfather, Chaim, from the time she was a little girl, first at Conegliano del Friuli and then at Mestre. When she was little over fourteen years old, she had been married off, against her will, to Madio (Meir), a Jew from Borgomanero in the Novara region. Madio had a reputation as a madman and a thoroughly bad egg, who, after wasting the already scanty family fortune in gambling, had abandoned her, moving elsewhere. As a result, Bona had returned to her mother's house at Conegliano del Friuli, and was then taken to Trent with her mother Brunetta (Brünnlein), also an unhappy and frustrated woman, as the more or less welcome guests of her brother, Angelo da Verona,who had, in recent years, been able to scrape together a small fortune in the money trade. Before the judges, Bona admitted to using Christian blood during the Passover period, beginning as early as her brief matrimonial journey to Borgomanero. Her husband Madio had obtained it from a carpenter friend, guilty of killing a boy for this purpose from Masserano in Piedmont.

"(Bona) [said that]  during the entire time that she stayed with the said husband (Madio), her husband used the blood of a Christian child [...] and she did the same during the three year period of her stay at the Castello di Borgomanero, adding, when asked, that her husband had obtained the blood he used from a certain

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Mosè, a Jewish carpenter and resident of Masserano in Piedmont; that Mosè had conveyed the blood to her husband through a servant of the said Mosè, whose name Bona said she did not know, and that the servant, in bringing the blood, in Bona’s presence, had told Madio that Mosè had obtained the blood in this manner; and that one day, as Mosè was on his way home from someplace, he had met a Christian child whom he abducted and brought in secrecy to his dwelling, killing him and draining the blood" (38).

On the other hand, Bona, in perfect accord with Sara, Maestro Tobias’s second wife, who came from Swabia and had lived in Marburg andthe Tyrol, with Bella, Mosè da Würzburg’s daughter-in-law, who had married Mosè’s son Mayer (Meir) and knew how to write Yiddish, and Anna, Samuele da Nuremberg’s young daughter-in-law, remembered another child murder committed a few years before, in 1472 or 1473,also at Trent, committed by more or less the same people guilty in the Simon of Trent affair. This victim of this murder was a three-year old child, sold to Maestro Tobias by a beggar in the German-speaking region and brought to Trent. The child was killed during a collective ceremony in the antechamber of the synagogue, with the participation of the majority of the Jews living in the city; the blood being collected in a silver vase. At night, this same Tobias took charge of throwing the body of the child into the Adige (39). Sara, Maestro Tobias’s wife, also remembered having talk, in the house, of another homicide, committed at Trent in 1451 by Isacco and other Jews from Trent; however, she knew nothing of the details (40). Isacco was Maestro Tobias’s father-in-law, being the father of Tobias’s first wife, Anna, who had died, leaving Tobias a widower; Isacco is almost certainly identical with the money lender of the same name active at Trent in the first half of the14th century (41).

There are, of course, no objective records of these ritual murder stories, eventful and cruel, with their horrible and repulsive connotations. The defendants were capable of inventing accusations out of whole cloth to placate their jailers; to make them more believable, these stories might have caused the names of relatives or even distant acquaintances to emerge jumbled up from the mists of the past, from the localities of the defendants’ childhood or youth, or from localities in which they had lived for a while. It is impossible to believe that the ritual murders described by the Franciscan Alfonso da Espina, said to have been committed over the same period and within the same geographical confines as those we have discussed so far, are any more reliable.

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Alfonso de Espina was confessor to King Henry IV of Castille and in 1460 was completing a treatise against the Jews, Moslems and heretics, entitled Fortalitium fidei (1). To reach his objective, he presented his readers with reports of the crimes committed by the Jews to the detriment of Christians of which he had more or less directly become aware. Naturally, ritual child murders were the main course of his narration.

The Castillan Franciscan recorded that in 1456 a Jewish notable named Maestro Salomone, originating from the territories of the Republic of Genoa and belonging to the illustrious family of physicians, had come to see him in the Minorite Convent at Valladolid, expressing the desire to be baptized. To convince Alfonso of the repugnance which Judaisim now aroused in him, the Jew point precisely to the horrible custom ofthe ritual murders, of which he had heard speak or of which he had directly participated (2). According to him, he had learned from his parents that a famous Jewish physician from Padua, named Simon, have obtained a four-year old child from an unscrupulous Christian mercenary soldier and had sacrificed him in his own dwelling, laying the child across a table and cruelly decapitating him (3).

Maestro Salamone then reported that he had participated, with his father, in a secret rite, performed at Savonne, with the participation of numerous Jews in the city at that time, culminating in the crucifixion of a two-year old Christian child. The victim’s blood was poured into a recipient, the same recipient normally used to collect the blood during the circumcision of their own children (4). Subsequently, h epersonally, together with other participants in this horrendous rite, claimed to have consumed the blood as the ingredient in their traditional foods during the Jewish Passover. The body of the sacrificed child was said to have then been thrown into a filthy latrine.

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Logically, it is permissible to express serious doubt as to the truthfulness of this Maestro Salamone da Savona’s testimonies; nor is it impossible that the entire report might have been invented out of whole cloth by the Spanish friar, whose violent hostility towards the whole world of Judaism was no secret to anyone. On the other hand, we cannot but help note the manner in which the supposed scene of these ritual murders was, once again, the Jewish communities of German origin (in this case, those of northern Italy, like Pavia and Savona) (5), instead of the numerous and flourishing Hebraic nuclei of Castille, Aragon and Catalunya, as one might logically have expected from a report originating from the imagination of a friar having lived and worked exclusively within the reality of the Iberian peninsula. If, therefore, we wish to speak of a stereotype, in reference to the phenomenon of ritual child murder, we must necessarily admit that, even from the point of view of a person openly professing his own anti-Jewishness in a general sense, and with no direct knowledge of events in distant lands, the phenomenon seemed exclusively confined to the Ashkenazi Jewish world.

There are no objective records of this long series of ritual homicides, in which the supposed protagonists accused themselves and each other in their confessions, whether voluntarily or under compulsion. We are speaking of the sensational cases at Endingen, in Alsace, where the first ritual child murder trial was held, which has left an ample and detailed documentation, echoes of which, not surprisingly, might be heard in the halls in which the Trent defendants were under investigation (6).

At Endingen, a small village of some several hundred people, under the directorship of Breisach at Riegel in the Breisgau, workers found the remains of a man and woman, together with those of two decapitated children during excavation and repair work to the ossuary of the parochial church of San Pietro, during the Passover period of 1470. In the local region, it was suddenly remembered that, eight years before, a couple of poor people, with a packhorse and two children of young age, a boy and girl, had taken shelter in the house of the brothers Elia,Aberlino (Avraham) and Mercklin (Mordekahai). These were the days of Pasach, the Jewish Passover. Many people had noticed them when they entered the dwelling of the Jews, but no one had ever seen them leave. All trace of them seemed to have vanished into thin air.

Karl, margrave of Baden, on mission from the Archduke of Sigismondo, opened an inquiry and immediately ordered the arrest of the Jews suspected of having committed the crime. Even before being subjected to torture, Elia, the older of the brothers, confessed and

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implicated other local Jews as perpetrators or accomplices in the crime, which was said to have been that same evening, soon after the Christian family entered their house. To discharge her own responsibility and save her own life, Elia sustained that she had not participated directly in the murder and therefore had been warned, with threats and curses, against reporting what happened to the old people of the Jewish community of Endingen, out of fear that they would denounce the persons responsible to the authorities.

Aberlino, Elia's brother, hastened to explain to the judges the dynamics of the facts, and thereby avoid torture. The parents were allegedly the first to be killed, but their blood was not drained off because it was useless for ritual purposes. Then it was the children's turn to suffer the same fate, being decapitated, while their blood was gathered in suitable recipients. To cover up the victims’ cries, the Jews involved in the macabre ceremony started to shriek their litanies in loud voices, as if they were in the middle of a religious ceremony. Finally, to throw police authorities off the track if the bodies were found, it was decided to bury them at night in the ossuary of the church of San Pietro.

Aberlino concluded his deposition by expressing his own intention to become a Christian, to expiate his guilt. Mercklin also confirmed the particulars of the confession of his brothers, adding other details (7). And so did the other accused.

One of these Smolle, (Samuele), was not content simply to confess his participation in the massacre of Endingen, but added other, repugnant details. He recalled that, ten years before, in 1460, he had purchased the little son of a beggar woman of Spira for money, and had then resold him to a rich Jew from Worms, named Lazzaro. The latter, together with other members of his community, were said to have sacrificed the child to drain off his blood. The victim's body was said to have been buried in the Jewish cemetery of the city. But that was not all. In 1465, Smolle was said to have kidnapped a five-year old shepherd boy at Worde to take him to Nuremberg, where he is said to have sold him in exchange for a large sum of money. A wealthy local Jew, Mosè of Freyberg, who was thereafter said to have charged the same ineffable Smolle with killing the boy for his own account, is said to have benefited from this precious acquisition (8).

That was enough to convince the judges, if there had been any need, of the guilt of the accused, and to condemn them to capital punishment. On 4 April 1470, the three brothers, Elia, Aberlino and Mercklin, were dragged by horses' tails to the place of execution, to be

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broken on the wheel and their bodies burnt. When the Emperor Friedrich III, at the request of the Jews, decided to intervene in favor of the condemned men, it was then too late and it only remained for him to rebuke the margrave of Baden, in a letter written one month later, for hastening to have "those accused of the supposed crime put to death, without awaiting Imperial approval (9).

In the meantime, there then opened the inevitable sequel to the Endingen trials, concerning the recipients of the blood collected during the two child murders. From the depositions of the accused, it appeared that the much-esteemed fluid had been sold at very high prices to therichest and most influential German Jews, including Leone da Pforzheim, who had, from 1463, enjoyed the protection of Friedrich, elector of the Palatinate (10). By order of Karl of Baden, Leo was arrested in his lordly habitation at Pforzheim, together with three other Jews, his guests, who appeared involved in the child murders of Endingen as well as in the affair of the blood. In this case as well, the persons under investigation, with Leo leading the way, hastened to confess, adding significant details relating to the religious ceremonies in which they had intended to use the blood procured by them. The judges saw no solution but to decree the penalty of death for the four Jews of Pforzheim as well.

The accused at Trent were only dimly and indirectly aware of the recent events at Endingen and Pforzheim. Mosè da Ansbach, teacher to Maestro Tobias’s children, reported to the judges that he had heard talk about a ritual murder committed by Jews a few years before in a city in Alsace; that some of the accused had been burnt at the stake, while others had taken refuge in flight (11). On the same grounds, Lazzaro, servant to money lender Angelo da Verona, recalled how, while staying at his father's house, at Serravalle del Friuli, a stranger had told them of a ritual murder committed by a few Jews of Pforzheim against a Christian boy three years before. The guilty parties had been incarcerated, and, so that God might save them from certain death and save them from the hands of the Christians, the Hebraic community of the German lands had announced a general fast (12). But the eccentric miniaturist, Israel Wolfgang of Brandenburg, was, as usual, the best informed of all. The young Saxon related to the judges everything he knew in this regard, stating that the child murder had indeed been committed at Endingen and that the guilty had been burnt alive at the stake for that act of wickedness, committed to obtain the blood for ritual purposes.

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Israel had obtained this information in 1470 from Mosè of Ulm, the special envoy to whom the Germanic Jewish community had entrustedwith the task of traveling to Emperor Friedrich III’s palace by horseback to obtain the release from prison of the Jews involved in the affair(13). As we know, the imperial intervention failed because it was received too late, after the public executions had already occurred. Thissame Hinderbach, in a missive sent to Friar Michele Carcano of Milan, remembered that numerous Jews from Endingen and Pforzheim, both men and women, had been found guilty of ritual murder and had been put to death on the order of the Count of Baden a few years before (14). INTERPOLATION  p.  81 of new edition: We must therefore note that certainly these and other testimonies, although extorted with torture and piloted by the judges towards the conclusions which they wished to reach, also included descriptions and accounts of events which actually occurred and which can be documented from other sources. (15)

PART OF FOOTNOTE 15 DELETED IN NEW EDITION: The following persons have made excellent, even if not entirely convincing, contributions in this regard: Po-Chia Hsia, who, referring to the testimonies of the Trent defendants on the facts of Endingen and Pforzheim, considers it all a clumsy inquisitorial manipulation intended to confer plausibility on slanderous reports, invented out of whole cloth, using unnatural juxtapositions of evens, known and real. "And so, the real and the imaginary fused into a seamless whole, the lies [...] told under duress only confirmed the veracity of the historical Endingen trial which became, in turn, the fulcrum of the fictive universe of Jewish violence". (R. Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475, A Ritual Murder Trial, New Haven, Conn., 1992,  p. 90).: Elsewhere, the same author…
15) Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia errs, for example, when, in referring to the detailed deposition of Maestro Tobias on Friedrich's visit to Venice in 1469, and on the presence in the city of the "merchant of Candia" (who, as we have seen, should be identified as David Mavrogonato), speaks of a fable with an exotic flavor, imagined by the Jewish physician to placate his tormenters and to put an end to the tortures to which he was being subjected (ibidem, pp. 46-47). But, as may easily be demonstrated, Tobias' testimony was precise in all its particulars and responded to that which he had actually seen and that which had really happened on that occasion. Miri Rubin, who has examined the German trials for desecration of the Host, although he considers them a slander, cannot help but note that the testimonies often contained elements the acceptability of which was beyond doubt ("the testimony contains true and imagined aspects of Jewish communal life"). Cfr. M. Rubin, Gentile Tales. The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews, New Haven (Conn.), 1999, p. 123.

[back to main text. p. 79]

DELETED p. 79: One might be tempted to draw a clear line of demarcation between the evidence given by the Trent defendants, for which exact records exist, and the others, for which no historical documentation for these accusations and denunciations has thus far been found. The latter could be dismissed as fantasies and delirium, produced by atrocious suffering, under torture, by persons devastated by suffering and incapable of reacting, or as the nightmare projections of beliefs held by the judges and suggested by the inquisitors. But such an attempt does not seem logical or convincing, and would, in the last analysis, appear to be completely counterproductive if an attempt be made to confront the problem of ritual child murders and place these crimes in their historical context, establishing their geographical extent and limits. Thus, precisely those exact records which have come to light, at least where some of the testimonies are concerned, should teach us not to dismiss their reality out of hand, or without persuasive justification, even if they are in fact exaggerations or distortions of events for which h the historical documentation has not yet been found (15).Moreover, at least one other case places us in the same dilemma; we find it difficult to dismiss detailed testimony confirmed by clear documentary fact. At the beginning of the trial, the Trent inquisitors decided to interrogate a convert -- a “Jew turned Christian”, as such converts were then called -- who, in the days of Simon’s tragic death, was being held prisoner at Trent for another crime which had nothing to do with ritual child murder. But as to the child murders, which the Jews were accustomed to commit on Passover eve, Giovanni of Feltre -- that being the name of the convert, the son of Sacheto (Shochat), a Jew from Landshut in Bavaria -- seems to have much to tell. Around 1440, at Landshut, to be exact, when he was a child and

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still a Jew, the recent convert had heard that the Jews of the local community, including his own father, had killed a Christian child to collect the child’s blood for ritual purposes.The police authorities arrested forty five Jews, as the result of a raid effected in their district, and later burnt them publicly at the stake. Other Jews, including Shochat, had taken refuge in flight, seeking shelter with their families in the Cisalpine regions of Italy (16). Both the child murder at Landshut and the subsequent massacre of the Jews are precisely confirmed by the extant contemporary historical documentation (17). So it is not easy to dismiss Giovanni di Feltre’s familiar testimony, although it is considered automatically unreliable on all the particulars not confirmed by the historical documentation or in relation to which we lack sufficient means of verification.

According to his own statement, Israel Wolfgang had directly participated in a spectacular, sensational, and equally horrible, ritual childmurder committed at Regensburg in 1467. In the second half of the 15th century, that which was considered the commercial port of the Holy Roman Empire towards south-eastern Europe, located on the banks of the Danube, was the home of a flourishing Jewish community of over five hundred people (18). And the young Saxon, according to his own detailed deposition before the Trent judges, had been at Regensburgthat year, during the feast days of the Jewish Passover. Wolfgang’s report was lucid and precise down to the smallest particulars.

In those days, Rabbi Jossel di Kelheim had taken advantage of an opportunity and had purchased a Christian child from a beggar for the price of ten ducats. He took the child to his house, in the Jewish quarter, where he concealed him for two days, in anticipation of the solemn event of the Pesach, the feast of the unleavened bread, when the annual celebrations begin in remembrance of the miraculous escape of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt would begin. In the early morning of the first day of the holiday period, Rabbi Jossel very carefully transferred the boy into the narrow confines of the “stiebel” [parlor] of Sayer Straubinger, the small and rustic synagogue located a short distance from his house, where he was accustomed to preside over the collective rites of the community and its daily and festive liturgical meetings. Awaiting him were at least twenty five Jews, previously informed of the extraordinary event. Israel Wolfgang was one of them, and he remembered the exact names of all the participants in the rite, both those from Regensburg and those from other regions. The transfer of the

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child from Rabbi Jossel’s house to the synagogue, although performed at night, involved some danger, since it might have been noticed by prying eyes. But in view of the fact that the district was inhabited by Jews who locked their doors every night, with the keys entrusted to them by the city authorities, the margin of safety was considered sufficiently broad (19).

The boy was undressed in the stiebel and placed on a chest containing the sacred parchments of the synagogue, and was then crucified, circumcised and finally suffocated over the course of a horrifying collective ritual, following a script accurately planned and perfectly well known by all the participants, by Jessel, the rabbi; by Mayr Baumann, the mohel; by Sayer Straubinger, the owner of the chapel; by SamuelFlieshaker, one of Wolfgang’s friends; by Mayr Heller; by the above mentioned Jew referred to as "bonus puer" (Tov 'Elem); by Johoshua, the cantor; and by Isacco, the water-bearer. Wolfgang himself had taken an active part in the crucifixion of the child, while the blood was collected in a bowl, to be distributed among the Jews participating in the rite or sent to the rich of the community (20). The day after, rumor of the ritual infanticide spread in the district and many people rushed to Sayer’s stiebel to see the body of the sacrificed boy, which was placed quite visibly inside the chest. The evening after, at the beginning of the ceremonies of the second day of Pesach, in the central room of the small synagogue, in the confined space of which about thirty of the faithful now crammed themselves, excited and curious, while the little victim was publicly exhibited, and the grisly ritual, which had now become merely commemorative, began afresh (21). Finally, the child’s body was buried in the courtyard of the chapel, in a remote corner, surrounded by a wall, accessed through a small door which was usually kept locked (22).

Israel Wolfgang’s report was too precise in its particulars and accurate in its descriptions to avoid awakening the interest of inquisitors in places other than Trent. His report contained exact names, dates, places, and facts requiring cogent verification. Perhaps the closest and most significant precedent to Simonino’s martyrdom at Trent was to be sought at Regensburg: in the spectacular story of an unknown synagogue ceremony according to ritual standards following a pre-established order with a mysterious symbolism. During the first night of Pesach at Regensburg in 1467, in Sayer’s stiebel, from which the

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noisy flow of the waters of the Danube was quite audible, might provide a clue to the mystery of what really happened eight years later, during the Pesach period of 1475, at Samuele da Nuremberg’s house, in the small synagogue of the Jews of Trent, located along a small murky canal used by tanners in the German-speaking district. Perhaps it was only fantasies, fearful fables, nourished by ancestral suspicions, settled stereotypes and crystallized from years back; but the authorities had to be certain that the tale had no basis in truth.

In early 1476, Heinrich, the bishop of Regensburg was passing through Trent on his way back from Rome, when, suddenly, someone handed him a copy of Wolfgang’s deposition before the Trent judges. Notwithstanding circumstances of this kind, it would hardly have been unprecedented, in the 15th century panorama of this city on the Danube, for the Jews of Regensburg to be accused of a good four cases of desecration of the Host and ritual murder in barely six years, from 1470 to 1476 (23); the good prelate was forcefully impressed and justifiably scandalized when he read the document. Returning to Germany, Heinrich hasted to advise the authorities of Regensburg to open an immediate inquiry intended to determine whether or not a ritual murder had really occurred in the Jewish quarter during the Passover feast of 1467 (24).

At the end of March of that year, the authorities of Regensburg proceeded with the arrest of the rabbi Jossel di Kelheim and another five influential leaders of the Jewish communities, including Sayer Straubinger, the owner of the stiebel, and Samuele Fleischaker, Wolfgang'sfriend. A few days after, seventeen Jews, all accused of participation or complicity in the ritual child murder were placed in irons. The interrogations were carried out under torture, and at least six of the accused issued a complete confession mentioning the names of other persons involved in the wickedness. Rabbi Jossel was the first to admit to the judges that he had purchased the child from a beggar woman at Regensburg eight years before, and had brought it to the synagogue as a sacrifice during the days of the Jewish Passover; he then withdrew his confession, accusing his inquisitors of extorting it through indescribable torture. Before him, Samuel Fleischaker had also confessed that the Jews had made use of children's blood, mixing it into the dough of the unleavened bread (25).

The admissions, obtained from the accused by force, appeared overly general and insufficiently detailed to be convincing; the confessions were deemed insufficient factual basis for a ritual murder trial. Thus, on 15 April 1476, Friedrich III personally ordered the

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city counsel of Regensburg to free the prisoners immediately and hand them over to the Imperial authorities. But one week later, a dramatic sensation occurred.

A few workers, engaged in repairs on Rabbi Jossel’s dwelling, found a skeleton while excavating and cleaning up the cellars. The skeleton, examined by a commission of physicians and surgeons in the presence of the bishop and other civil authorities, proved to be that of a child, presumably aged between three and six years (26). The Jews replied to the accusations by claiming that the bones had been deliberately planted in the rabbi’s cellar by those interested in his condemnation. Notwithstanding the discovery of the new evidence, Friedrich did nothing, and continued unperturbedly to demand the release of the incarcerated Jews, despite the claims of bishop Heinrich, who sustained the validity and plausibility of the defendant’s confessions to the crime; Ludwig, Duke of Regensburg, petitioned the Emperor not to interfere in the internal affairs of the city (27).

On 8 May 1478, two years after they began, the trials might be said to have concluded with the absolution of the Jews, imposed by the inflexible Imperial will. But the defendant’s release was not obtained cheaply. Friedrich demanded eighteen thousand florins from the Jewsas payment for his intervention in their favor, while the judiciary of Regensburg declared itself prepared to release only following payment of all procedural expenses, amounting to five thousand florins, plus a fine of eight thousand florins, imposed on the city by the Emperor for holding the trial. In a plenary meeting announced by the rabbis of the German lands at Nuremberg, presumably in early 1478, an obligatory collection of funds began among the Jewish communities of Germany, accompanied by the creation of suitable committees responsible for coordinating the efforts made to save prisoners. In Italy, Yoseph Colon, formerly a rabbi at Mantua (until 1475) and now at Pavia, intervened with all his related authority; Colon is said to have died at Pavia a few years later, in 1480, after recommending that the appeal of the spiritual heads of German Judaism receive a rapid, positive and generous response (28). From the very outset, the affair of the Jews of Regensburg made a profound impression on the Jews of the Ashkenazi communities of northern Italy. In a letter written in Hebrew dated 11May 1476, the daughter and son-in-law of Crassino (Gherhon) of Novara, one of the richest and most influential Ashkenazi bankers of the Duchy of Milan, both wrote to him,

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probably from Brescia, making explicit reference to the "sensational affair in which, as a result of our sins, members of the holy community of Regensburg have been arrested and confined to prison, where God the pitiful and merciful caused them to exit the darkness and enter the intense light" (29).

In another missive, written in Yiddish by the same Ashkenazi Jews, the son-in-law again complained of the sad fate of the Jews of Regensburg, victims of the blood accusation.

"Alas! We have heard sad news, caused by our innumerable sins, originating from Regensburg. They have arrested all the Jews of the city and slandered them, turning against them the blood accusation of Trent. That God should have pity and not cause us to hear lying accusations of this type anywhere. We wish Him to render us assistance with His love. Amen."

Another message, also in Yiddish, sent by the young Geilin (Gaylein) to his father, the same Crassino of Novara mentioned above, dated mid-May 1476, once again made explicit reference to facts of Regensburg.

"The sad news reached me from Pavia. May God be merciful and help His people and the Jews of Regensburg who have suffered, for our sins, for this infamous slander. Ever since I heard this bad news, I have been unable to sleep. How much you must suffer for certain [...] May God give you strength and health; that is, how I wish your daughter Geilin, unhappy for having heard this unhappy news" (30).

The courier of this letter was Paolo of Novara, the shady priest who, according to him, had been paid by the Jews of the Dukedom of Milan to poison the bishop of Trent. The Jews alluded to him calling him gallech, the cleric, the man with the tonsure (31).

Another two years went by before the Jews of the Ashkenazi communities on both sides of the Alps succeeded in scraping together the huge sums required to liberate the prisoners at Regensburg. But the seventeen defendants, still incarcerated, were finally removed from their shackles on 4 September 1480, four years and half after their arrest (32). Thus concluded a matter which perhaps began at Regensburg, rebounded to Trent, and new returned to Regensburg, leaving many unanswered questions and unresolved doubts, which the payment of another twenty thousand florins

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in gold by the German-speaking Jewish communities was certainly insufficient to dissipate. If the ritual child murder at Regensburg was really a fact, it should be possible to track down the blood, distributed free of charge among the participants, or put up for sale by them immediately afterwards, admitting that it might have reached the Jewish communities of northern Italy. The interrogation of the accused, more or less based on leading questions as to this point, seemed to vindicate the accusation.

The most important clue appeared to point to a certain Rizzardo (Reichard), a Jew from Regensburg who had moved to Brescia with his family in 1464 (33). The latter, with their two brothers Enselino (Anselmo) and Jacob, were engaged in lending money at interest through a bank they owned at Barvardo, deriving a large proportion of their clientele from the city of Brescia, where Rizzardo lived. Rizzardo of Regensburg had top connections, and enjoyed protection as a member of the influential entourage of Bartolomeo Calleone, Captain of the Serenissima (34). In Angelo da Verona’s house, Rizzardo was often mentioned, partly because Lazzaro, who rendered services for the banker, was his nephew, and did not hesitate to spend his holidays and vacations in his uncle’s company. On one of these occasions, a few years before, when Lazzaro found himself at Brescia to be cured of an illness of the eyes, Rizzardo confessed to him that he had bought a certain quantity of blood originating from the Regensburg child murder. In addition, the Brescian Jew allegedly made use of it during theJewish Passover period, administering it to his wife Osella (Feige), his sons Jossele and Mezla (Mazal), and his servant, Jacobo da Germania(35). Angelo da Verona also knew that Rizzardo trafficked in the blood of Regensburg, among other things, and had sent a letter to his brother Enselino, at Gavarda, promising him to supply him with some of the blood (36). Isacco, Angelo's cook, confirmed that he had oftenheard the patron of the house and the young servant, Lazzaro, mention Rizzardo as the person who had received the precious blood of the infant boy sacrificed at Regensburg (37).

But once again, it was the ineffable Israel Wolfgang to cast light on the entire affair. In the summer of 1474, he had been sent to Brescia as Rizzardo’s guest, who had commissioned him with the execution of the miniatures for a precious Hebraic code owned by Rizzardo (38). On one occasion, Rizzardo bragged to the young painter that he, Rizzardo, had come into possession of the blood

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of the child killed at Regensburg. He had been given it by his step-father, precisely the same Rabbi Jossel who had been one of the principal defendants in this sensational child murder. It was at this point that the young Wolfgang’s vainglorious nature exploded in all its variegated intensity. Perhaps Rizzardo was unaware that he, Israel Wolfgang, had personally participated in the child murder in Sayer’s stiebel atRegensburg? The Brescian Jew, even if he had been unwilling to believe it, now had to listen to Wolfgang blabbing out the whole story,down to the slightest detail, and congratulate himself upon receiving one of the lucky and fearless perpetrators in his own house (39).

Confidence by confidence, Rizzardo, too, not to be outdone, reported that he had participated in a ritual homicide organized at Padua in the German synagogue together with the other Jews of the city and the district, four or five years before (40).

Since the plague was raging at Brescia, Israel Wolfgang was compelled to cut short his stay at Rizzardo’s house and move to nearby Gavardo, as Enselino’s guest, with whom Angelo da Verona had long been in contact during his stay in Brescia. To earn some pocket money, he agreed to bind a breviary owned by the archpriest. In the six months spent in Padua, Wolfgang found further confirmation of the Padua child murder, the murder in which Rizzardo had participated. He was informed of this by Enselino, who had allegedly obtained thesame blood, marketed in the Brescia region, by a certain Liebmann of Castelfranco da Treviso (41).

This was too much, even for the inquisitors of Trent, no matter how eager they might have been for confirmation -- real or imagined – of their suspicions. The eccentric painter from Brandenburg seemed to be teasing his inquisitors, churning out a continual stream of stories, new at all times, picturesque and astonishing, largely invented or exaggerated, calculated to make an impression on an audience whom he imagined to be highly naive. Instruments of torture may have been, and were, used on the other defendants to loosen their tongues; in the case of the wily Wolfgang, perhaps they might have been of more use in damming up the torrent of incredible revelations which he seemed unable to control. Hurt to the quick, and stung in his vanity, the young painter completely flew off the handle, raised his voice and shouted defiantly at anyone who would listen:

"By God! I have reported what Rizzardo told me, word for word, and thus I will repeat it, before any Lord or Prince: just take me to the place of execution and decapitate me, or kill me

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in any other way, but I will not speak otherwise than I have done “ (42).

Rizzardo, the Brescian resident from Regensburg, Lazzaro's uncle, servant of Angelo of Verona, had been telling the truth. Or at least, his truth. Or so Wolfgang claimed to have learned that truth during the hot days of the preceding summer, while the plague raged at Brescia.

For his part, Rizzardo da Brescia had a no less famous namesake. The Jew Rizzardo (Reichard) of Mospach was a swindler and good-for nothing, arrested for theft at Regensburg in 1475. To his inquisitors, the latter Rizzardo confessed that he had been baptized several times to obtain money and other benefits from ingenuous Christians to whom he turned, both city people and peasants. But even the Jews, according to him, had proven the gullible victims of his tricks. The Jews Krautheim, Bamberg and Regensburg had purchased fake Hosts, which he claimed to have purloined from various churches in the area, to be “tortured” by the Jews during their anti-Christian rites. Rizzardo-Reichard-- who lived alternatively as a Jew and alternatively as a Christian -- was married to three women simultaneously, each one of them unaware of the existence of the others. Starting in 1476, he had spent years wandering back and forth between the villages and cities of Bohemia and Moravia, of the Rhineland and Brandenburg, of Alsace and Württemberg. He had been in Bern, Bamberg and Nuremberg. He admitted to having lived in Italy for a while, in various cities whose names he could no longer remember (was Brescia one of them?). But he clearly recalled having stayed at Trent, where he was in contact with the Jewish families then accused of the ritual murder of little Simon (43).

If, as we have seen, one clue seemed to point to Rizzardo and the city of Brescia, a second clue pointed back to Regensburg, leading the authorities to a certain Hoberle (Kobele, Jacob or perhaps Hoverle, Haver), who earned his living selling powdered blood, wandering from one locality to another in the German-speaking lands in search of clients. According to Wolfgang, Hoberle had not participated in the ritual homicide in the stiebel at Regensburg, but certain persons had later proceeded to supply Hoberle with the blood which he [Hoberle] needed(44). Mosè da Bamberg, the traveler who happened to be at Trent the night before Simon’s killing, knew Hoberle personally and had followed his movements. He [Mosè da Bamberg] also recalled Hoberle’s features perfectly. He might have been about sixty years old, low in stature, bald, with a white beard. He had an ugly stain on the skin of his head, as if he had had leprosy; for this

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reason, he wore a type of cloth cap beneath his beret. He usually wore a long loose gray overcoat (45).

Before the judges at Trent, Mosè da Bamberg stated that he had met Hoberle for the first time in 1471, in the imperial city of Ulm. A few weeks later, he had seen him again at Padua, in the house of the Jews, and later at Piacenza, where he had stayed as the guest of Abramo,active in the city as money lender (46). At Pavia, he lodged in the tavern of Falcone, the "Inn of the Jews", a place of dubious reputation where gambling was practiced and there were frequent brawls (47). Falcone (Haqim), son of Yoseph Cohen, had opened the place around1470, and is said to have managed it for about ten years (48). The wife, unsatisfied with her husband's activity, had sought to induce him to abandon that rather uncouth undertaking, but without success. Annoyed, out of spite she had abandoned him and had taken refuge in a convent, threatening to become a Christian. Then, due to a sudden change of mind, she had asked to be reconciled with him and to be able to return to the conjugal domicile. The rabbi Yoseph Colon, questioned on this matter, had authorized Falcone to take her back with him (49).

In the summer of 1477, when a boy, son of a Christian shoemaker of Pavia, disappeared from his home, Falcone had some serious problems, accused of being the abductor and the executioner during a ritual homicide. A great crowd had gathered around the tavern, seeking to take justice into their own hands, while the guards had had a hard time controlling them and dispersing them. Luckily for him, the child then reappeared, alive and healthy, and the Jewish innkeeper was able to draw a breath of relief (50).

Mosè da Bamberg knew that the merchant Hoberle, visiting the cities of the Veneto and Lombardy, wherever there were Jews, had sold a certain quantity of blood to Manno da Pavia, the richest Jewish banker in the dominions of the Sforzas (51). As we have already seen, this same Manno is said to have been accused, together with other important exponents of the Jewish community of the Duchy of Milan, of hiring the priest Paolo of Trent to poison the Prince Bishop of Trent in 1476, for condemning to death and executing the presumed murderers of the sainted Simon. According to Mosè da Bamberg’s deposition, Manno da Pavia, in turn, sold part of the blood obtained from Hoberle – for money -- to the family of Madio (Mohar, Meir), a money lender at Tortona; the blood is then supposed to have been used during the Passover celebration. As we have seen, Madio is said to have been implicated in the supposed ritual murder of the sainted Giovannino of Volpedo in1482, but, to his good fortune,

 p. 89]

is said to have been acquitted. Mosè of Bamberg, according to his own statement, had, for almost a year, been in the service of Leone,Madio’s son, and his [Madio’s] sister Sara, who lived in the nearby castle of Serravalle with her son, Mosè, and, with them, had consumed the same powdered blood, obtained at Regensburg, dissolved in wine during the Passover dinner of 1472 (52).

According to Leone, it was said that, during his sumptuous marriage to Sara, held in February of 1470 at Tortona, attended by over one hundred guests from the Ashkenazi communities of northern Italy, some local nobles, displeased at their exclusion from those princely festivities, had, perhaps with excessive enthusiasm, attempted to force open the host’s doors. Unluckily for them, they were ill-received by the Jews who, with weapons in their hands, threw them out of the palace, pursuing them as far as the local the piazza. A case of ill-breeding and poor hospitality which cried out for vengeance. Obviously, Madio da Tortona’s version of the facts and that of the guests differed radically. Taking advantage of the nuptial celebrations, general noise and confusion, the nobles of Tortona reportedly attempted, rather clumsily, if not downright stupidly, to break into the premises of the local bank, for the purpose of stealing money, collateral and other valuables, but were said to have been ingloriously routed (53).

Jews in the Duchy of Milan were tried and sentenced for the possession of books, liturgical and study texts containing offensive and insulting expressions about Jesus, the Messiah, the Virgin Mary, the dogmas of the Christian religion and anyone practicing Christianity On at least four occasions during the second half of the 15th century. In 1459, they were convicted, and fined sixteen thousand ducats (54). In 1474 and1480, the fines were increased to thirty two thousand ducats, promptly paid by the Jewish communities of the Duchy. As early as 1476, alarge group of rich and influential Lombard Jews, active at Alessandria, Broni, Piacenza, Monza and Piove di Sacco, headed, as usual, by Manno da Pavia, were officially pardoned by Gian Galeazzo Sforza, presumably after paying a conspicuous fine, for insubordination; bad manners, and defaming and offending the Duke’s illustrious father (55). The mysteries of this trial -- if any trial was held – remain to be revealed in full.

At any rate an undoubted echo of these events may be found in the predication of the Minorite Friar Antonio da

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Cremona at Chivasso in December 1471, in which the pious friar invoked the expulsion of the "perfidious and wicked Jewish race", guilty of continuous blasphemy the Holy Faith in Christ in their books and prayers (56).

But a trial held at Milan in the spring of 1488 was more serious and dangerous than ever. Denounced by a converted Jew, forty of the most influential exponents of the Ashkenazim community in the Dukedom were arrested and transferred to the provincial capital in chains, accused of possessing texts -- particularly, liturgical breviaries -- suspected of containing prayers attacking Jesus as well as anti-Christian invectives. The trial began on 16 March, in the presence of a commission of inquisitors, deputized by Ludovico the Moor, made up of Franciscan and Dominican friars in addition to Ducal officials, and presided over by the vicar of the curia of the archbishop of Milan. The accused, in the long and detailed interrogations, were requested to supply a due explanations for the apparently contemptuous phrases found in their texts regarding Christians and the Christian religion, the Pope and baptized Jews, as well as Christ and Mary. The sentence, a severe one, was handed down the following 31 May. Nine of the accused were condemned to death; the rest were expelled from the territory of the Duchy, all property owned by all the accused was declared confiscated. Luckily for them, the Jews succeeded in commuting the cruel sentence into a heavy fine of nineteen thousand ducats, to be paid by January 1490 (57).

When the due date rolled around, the full sum had not yet been collected, and only part of the sum had found its way to the coffers of the Sforzas. A few months later, the disillusioned Ludovico the Moor ordered a public bonfire of the seized books. Mendele (Menachem) Oldendorf, a young German Jew and son of a bankrupt merchant, a certain Herz (Naftali), also known as “Golden”, perhaps in remembrance of when he had been rich, no doubt possessed a lively and versatile wit, in addition to an unusual degree of Hebraic culture; he was known for holding brilliant homilies in the synagogue and functioned as a ritual butcher, he was an able writer in the Yiddish language and was a respected copier of Hebraic codes. In 1474, he traveled from Regensburg to Venice, where he stayed until at least 1483, when he was present at the famous bonfire at the Ducal Palace. In his autobiography, the young Oldendorf described the manner in which he had been informed by trust-worthy persons of bonfires of Jewish texts at Milan and other places in the Duchy of Milan in 1490, regretting that the burnt manuscripts included some which he had copied personally (58).

 p. 91]

"I learned from one of the wise men of Israel [...] that in the year 5248 (=1488) Lord Ludovico the Moor ordering the burning of a great number of Jewish books at Milan, the capital city, as well as in other localities in his territories. I, personally, a copier of codes, saw some of my own texts among the books consigned to the flames. Blessed be God who enabled me to witness the revenge of God’s Law against that same nobleman (Ludovico the Moor), who has been captured and taken into France, where he died [...] Menachem Oldendorf, the German.5274 (=1514).

One of the most important defendants in the Milan trial of 1488 was -- and this is not surprising -- Jacob, son of Manno of Pavia, who had died in the meantime (59). Before the inquisitors, Jacob was requested, among others, to deny the rumor that the Jews were accustomed to "making images in the form of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, and then throwing them in the fire, trampling them under foot or covering them with excrement" (60). The accusation was not a new one. During Passover in 1493, Joav (Dattilo) and the other Jews, living at Savigliano in Piedmonte, were condemned to the payment of a fine of five hundred gold ducats for a serious act of wickedness .

"[These Jews] kneaded the unleavened bread or mazzot, according to their rite and in outrage to the glorious crucifix [...] and prepared four images of dough in the form of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in mockery of God and the Catholic faith, then burnt these dough dolls in the oven"(61).At a distance of only a few years from the Trent trials, it is not surprising that the judges should turn to one of the inquisitors, Lazzaro da San Colombano to ask: whether or not the Jews were actually accustomed to abduct Christians for the purpose of committing reprehensible acts against them in contempt for the Christian faith (62).

 p. 92]

 p. 93]


Reading the depositions of defendants accused of ritual child murder with relation to the utilization of blood, one is left with the clear impression that, rather than explain the need for the blood of a Christian child, the defendants were attempting to provide a description of the wonderful therapeutic and magical properties of blood generally, and of blood extracted from children and young persons in particular. The principle emphasis was placed upon scorched, dried blood which been reduced to powder; such blood is said to have been used as an haemostatic [coagulant] of extraordinary effectiveness when applied to the wound caused by circumcision. Angelo da Verona had no doubt in this regard and explained to the judges at Trent that, once the blood had been reduced to powder, Jews normally save it for later re-use when their sons were circumcised, to heal the wound in the foreskin. If available, they were said to have used other haemostatic powders as an alternative, such as bolo di Armenia and the so-called "dragon's blood", a sort of dark red colored resin, known in pharamceutics as Calamus Draco or Pterocarpus Draco (1). The physician Giuseppe di Riva del Garda, known as the "hunchbacked Jew", who had circumcised Angelo’s sons, normally used it during the course of the holy operation (2).

Obviously, Maestro Tobias, who rightly considered himself a medical expert, also knew how to prepare the magic haemostatic: "You take the blood, allowing it to coagulate; then you dry it and make a powder out of it, which can be used in so many different ways" (3). Giovanni Hinderbach seemed scandalized by these revelations and censured the wickedness of the Jews in healing the circumcision wounds of their sons with the blood of Christian children in his opening address at the Trent trial. "As with other things Tobias confessed", explained the prince bishop, "they medicate their circumcisions with the powder of that coagulated blood and then, in the

 p. 94]

second or third day after the operation, recovering their health" (4).

Elias and Mercklin (Mordekhai), as well, two of the brothers accused of the terrible multiple homicide of Endingen in Alsace, during their trial in 1470, attempted uselessly to beat around the bush before the inquisitors’ demands relating to the use of the blood of Christian children by Jews. This blood was then utilized for the marvelous balsamic qualities which it possessed, beneficial in curing epilepsy and eliminating the disgusting body odour of Jews [il disgustoso fetore giudaico]. But in the end, they both admitted to making use of the magical healing liquid to cure the circumcision wounds of their sons (5). Leo of Pforzheim, the most illustrious among the defendants accused of acquiring blood from the children killed at Endingen, confessed that he had procured it because it was required for the circumcision procedure. Leo had known that the powdered blood of children was used as a coagulant of proven efficacy on those occasions for more than twenty years, ever since the first time he had been present a circumcision ceremony with his father, twenty years before (6). The Jews accused of ritual child murder at Tyrnau in Hungary in 1494 also declared, among other things, that they had used powdered blood as a circumcision haemostatic (7). The widespread use of blood as a powerful haemostatic among the Jews is probably the reason for the widespread notion that Jewish males – all directly or indirectly guilty of Deicide – suffered painful and abundant monthly menstruation periods [presumably anally].

Perhaps first advanced by Cecco d'Ascoli in his commentary De Sphaera by Sacrobosco in 1324, this eccentric opinion is said to havereceived enthusiastic support from the Dominican friar Rodolfo de Selestat in Alsace (8). The Jews, the killers of Christ, and their progeny, were said to been inflicted with an abnormal escape of blood, menstruations, bleeding hemorrhoids, hematuriae [blood in the urine] and exhausting fits of dysentery, which they were alleged to attempt to cure through the application of Christian blood as a haemostatic.

"I heard of the Jews [...] that all the Jews, descendants of those guilty of Deicide, have escapes of blood every month and often suffer from dysentery, from which they frequently perish .But they recover their health by virtue of Christian blood, baptized in the name of Christ" (9).

Circumcision hemorrhages, epistaxis [nosebleed], overly abundant menstruation, open hemorrhoids, abnormal abdominal flow. The most effective cure to control and heal them always seemed to be

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recourse to the powerful and magical powdered blood of children. But in this, the Jews were acting no differently from the Christians of the surrounding society, despite Hindenbach’s feigned and artificial stupefaction. In popular medicine, blood, whether human or animal, wasalleged to be an indispensable component in the preparation of electuaries [powder-based medications mixed with honey or syrup to form a paste]

 and astringent powders of extraordinary effectiveness (10). As Pier Camporesi wrote, "a sacred and alchemistic haemostatic, blood(and not incorrectly, in epochs in which hemorrhages represented a terrible tragedy, was considered a powerful healant" (11). According to the prescriptions of the Theatrum Chemicum, marvelous unguents and powders were derived from human blood, capable of arresting even the most resistant flow of blood and of expelling dangerous infirmities (12). The most expert specialists knew that human blood possessed great therapeutic powers and was therefore to be prepared and treated with the greatest care. They therefore recommended that "it being ascertained that it is perfectly dry, it should be immediately placed in a bronze mortar, which must be quite hot, and should be ground with a pestle and made to pass through the finest sieve, and after all of it has passed, it shall be sealed in a small glass pot and must be renewed every year in the springtime" (13).

Be that as it may, the Jews, when they described the operation of circumcision addressing the Christian public, preferred to omit the use of children's blood among the "restrictive powders" and limited themselves to listing others, such as the classical Dragon's Blood and coral powder. Leon of Modena, the noted rabbi of Venice, in his classic Historia de' Riti Hebraici described the ceremony of circumcision (berithmilah) briefly as follows: "The mohel comes with a plate, upon which are the instruments and things necessary, such as razor, astringent powders, pieces of bandage with rose oil, and some similarly use a bowl of sand in which to place the foreskin, which is cut [...]. The mohel continues, and, with the mouth, sucks the blood flowing from the wound two or three times and spits it into a glass of wine, after which he places Dragon's blood, coral powder, or things which staunch, and piece of bandage soaked in of rose oil on the cut, and binds and bandages it tightly. He then takes a glass of wine [...] and bathes the infant's mouth with the wine in which he spat out the sucked blood" (14).

The omission of powdered blood from among the haemostatic powders could not be accidental. Confirmation of this point could easily be obtained from "Jews turned Christians". They would naturally never have concealed such a scandalous practice,

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assuming that they actually considered it scandalous. Shemuel Nahmias, a Venetian and disciple of Leon da Modena, later baptized under the name of Giulio Morosini, discussing the topic of circumcision, did not conceal his severe censure of the custom of placing blood mixed with wine on the child’s mouth. This practice seemed to him in implacable conflict with the Biblical prohibition against the consumption of blood ("Tell me, moreover, is it not against the Divine Law, expressed in several places, that the blood is not to be eaten or drunk? And then in the rite of circumcision, you place the circumcised boy's own blood, issuing from the foreskin, mixed in wine, in his own mouth, adding, to your greater transgression, and repeating that in that blood he will live, almost is if he were to be nourished by that blood").

But to the utilization of the blood of the Christian child as a haemostatic onto the wound of the circumcision, the convert Morosini made no mention at all, almost if the practice were unknown to him or did not merit considerable attention.

"At this point the mohel arrives, and, behind him, another person, with a basin or cup in his hand, containing all the instruments necessary to the ceremony are placed, some silver tongs, which are placed as a sign of how much foreskin is to be cut, a powder full of Dragons Blood and other astringent powders to clot the blood, and two cups or small soup plates, one containing an absorbent material cut up for the purpose, greased with oil of Balsam or rose oil to medicate the cut, and one filled with earth or sand in which to place the foreskin, burying the portion of the foreskin which had been cut off [...] having completed the above, the mohel squeezes the little member of the circumcised boy, and sucking in the blood several times, spits it into a glass of wine, prepared for this purpose, and finishes by treating the cut with the above mentioned oil and powder (15).Another converted Jew, Raffael Aquilino, baptized in 1545, and later appointed by the Holy Office with responsibility for confiscating the Talmud and burning it in the territories in the Duchy of Urbino and the Marca, never dwelt in the slightest upon the presumed Jewish custom of using powdered Christian blood to heal the circumcision wound, instead, concerning himself with the analogies between the Holy Trinity and the three recurrent elements in the ceremony, applied to the burying the foreskin in the earth of the cemetery, the egg and wine, which, after washing the wound, is given to the infant to drink."Similarly, they take three things for the said circumcision, i.e., the earth from their sepulchers, and they put it in a basin in which they place the flesh

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which they cut off the foreskin, the wine with which they render thanks to God [...] and three eggs, while in the basin, into which they pour the wine used to wash the foreskin [...] and they wash the circumcision wound with the wine three times" (16).

The famous Tuscan convert Paolo Medici describes the ceremony of circumcision in detail, with obvious hostility, but seems unaware of the use of coagulated blood as a haemostatic powder. In fact, he restricted himself to observing, without further detail, that "the mohel [...] places astringent powders, rose oil and similar things on the cut, in certain piece of bandage, ties it up, bandages it and delivers it to the Godmother" (17).

One could at this point conclude that the use of the powdered blood of children, and especially Christian blood, as a haemostatic during circumcision, in view of the disinterest in its regard shown even by converted Jews, on other points inclined to defame Judaism, is a chimera and a tendentious invention, either of the inquisitors, obsessed with blood, or of Jews themselves, terrorized by torture and slavishly eager to placate their tormenters. But this would be erroneous and misleading.

The texts of the practical Cabbalah, the handbooks of stupendous medications (segullot), compendia of portentous electuaries, recipe books of secret cures, mostly composed in the German-speaking territories, even very recently, stress the haemostatic and astringent powders of young blood, above all, on the circumcision wound. These are ancient prescriptions, handed down for generations, put together, with variants of little importance, by cabbalistic herb alchemists of various origins, and repeatedly reprinted right down to the present day, in testimony to the extraordinary empirical effectiveness of these remedies.

Elia ben Mosè Loan, rabbi of Worms, known as the Baal Shem (literally: the patron of the name), in his Sefer Telodot Adam ("Book of the Story of Man"), in Hebrew and Yiddish, prescribed that "to arrest the flow of blood from the circumcision and that which flows from the nose, one must take the blood, boil it over the fire until it is desiccated, and reduced to powder, place it successively on the cut of the circumcision or of the nostrils, so that the blood coagulates" (18). We find a similar recipe in the Derekh ha-chaim ha-nikra Segullot Israel ("Way of the Life, also called the Book of Portentous Remedies of Israel") by Chaim Lipschütz, which adds another magical medication, this time intended to arrest the menstrual flow. "Take the menstrual blood and a chicken feather, which thou shalt immerse it in the menstrual blood of the

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patient; when the blood with the feather has been well shaken, cause it to be dried before the fire, making a powder of it, which thou shalt administer it to the woman in wine" (19).

Sacharja Plongiany Simoner, in his classic Sefer Zechirah ("Book of Medical Briefs"), was also rather precise as regards the Biblical references to the extraordinary curative and restrictive powers of blood.

"To stop the flow of blood from circumcision or nasal hemorrhage using the coagulated blood of the child or the patient: the blood is placed before the fire until it hardens, and then it is crushed with a pestle, making a fine powder to be placed on the wound. And that is what we findwritten in the book of Jeremiah (30:17): ‘For I shall restore health unto thee, and I shall heal thee of thy wounds’. It is to be understood in fact that it shall be precisely from your wound, i.e., from your blood, that your health shall be restored to you" (20).It does not, therefore, appear that there can be any doubt as to the fact that, through an antique tradition, never interrupted, empirical healers, cabbalists and herb alchemists prescribed powdered blood as a healant of proven effectiveness during circumcision or hemorrhage. The fact that this practice was probably anything but generalized should not lead us to suppose that it was not actually in use, particularly in the Ashkenazi Jewish communities, where stupendous "secrets", first transmitted orally, then printed in suitable compendiums, are said to have enjoyed extraordinary success over time. On the other hand, empirical knowledge of an analogous kind, even if obviously applied to contingencies other than circumcision, were a heritage of surrounding Christian society, proving themselves profoundly rooted, particularly on the popular level (21).

Two other Jewish customs relating to circumcision, which do not appear to have been uniformly widespread from the geographical and chronological point of view, are also of particular interest. Here as well, popular beliefs, based on magical and superstitious elements, seem to possess a vigor and a vitality capable of circumventing the precise norms of ritualistic Judaism (halakhah), or of seriously distorting them.

The ritual responses of the Gheonim, the heads of the rabbinical academies of Babylon, active between the VII and XI centuries, refer to the local custom of boiling perfumes and spices in water, thus rendering them fragrant and odorous, and of circumcising children, making their blood gush into that liquid until the

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colors were mixed. "It is at this point", the rabbinical response continues, "that all the young males wash themselves in that water, in memory f the blood of the pact, which has united God to our patriarch Abraham" (22). In this rite, of a propitiatory nature, the blood from the circumcision wound, united with the sweet-smelling potion, is said to have possessed the ability to transform itself into a potent aphrodisiac, used in curative electuaries, beneficial in lending vigor to amorous desires and to the procreative abilities of initiated males.

One form of magical cannibalism, related to circumcision, may be found in a custom highly widespread among both the Ashkenazi Jewish communities and [Jewish?] communities of the Mediterranean region. The women present at the circumcision ceremony but not yet blessed with progeny of the male sex, anxiously awaited the cutting of the foreskin of the child. At this point, throwing inhibition to the winds, as if at a pre-established signal, the women hurled themselves upon that piece of bloody flesh. The luckiest woman is alleged to have snatched it up and gulped it down immediately, before she could be mobbed by the competing females, who must have been no less hardened and highly motivated. The triumphant winner was in no doubt whatever that the proud tit-bit would be infallibly useful in causing the much-coveted virile member to germinate inside the impregnated abdomen through sympathetic medicine. The struggle for the foreskin among women without male progeny appears in some ways similar to today's competition among spinsters and nubile for the conquest of the bride’s bouquet after the wedding ceremony.

Giulio Morosini, alias Shemuel Nahmias, remembered with much annoyance this repellent custom, which he had seen rather in vogue among the young Jewish women of Venice.

"The superstition of the women is remarkable in this regard. If sterile women wishing to become pregnant happened, as they frequently did, to be present [at the circumcision ceremony], not a single one of them would hesitate to fight off the others and steal the foreskin; and the first one to grab it never hesitates to fling it in her mouth and swallow it as a sympathetic remedy of extremely great effectiveness in causing her to be fruitful" (23).

Rabbi Shabbatai Lipshütz confirmed this extraordinary custom "of the struggle amongst the women to swallow the foreskin after the cutting of the foreskin, as a wonderful secret (segullah) in the production of male children". He added there were rabbis who permitted it, such as the famous North African cabbalist Chaim Yosef David Azulay,

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known as the Chidah (the Enigma), and the rabbi from Salonica, Chaim Abraham Miranda, while others energetically prohibited it, considering it a scandalous and impermissible practice (24). But the cabbalistic herb alchemist (Rafael Ohana), expert in the secrets of procreation, although he possessed little skill in gynecological sciences, referred with satisfaction to the results obtained from women having swallowed the foreskin of a circumcised boy, even in recent times. In his guide, intended for women wishing to have children and entitled Mar'eh ha-yaladim ("He Who Shows the Children"), the expert North African rabbi advised that, to make it more appetizing, the unusual dish be covered with honey, like a home-made sweet (25). The magical and empirical tradition linked to the foreskin of circumcision as a fecundating element was not lost over the course of the centuries, but was protected by the secrets of the practical Cabbalah despite the disdainful opposition of rationalistic rabbis.

It was a common belief that the Jews used blood in powders, dried or diluted in wine or water, applying it to the eyes of the new-born, to facilitate their opening, and to bathe the bodies of the dying, to facilitate their entry into the Garden of Eden (26). Samuel Fleischaker, Israel Wolfgang's friend, indicted for the ritual murder at Regensburg in 1467, attributed infallible magical properties to young blood, which, spread on the eyes, was said to have served to protect from the evil eye ('ayn ha-ra') (27).

All the cases examined above, and in a great number of those present in the compendiums of the segullot, remedies and secret medications, drawn up and disseminated by the masters of the practical Cabballah, constitute the exterior use, so to speak, of blood, whether human or animal, dried or diluted, for therapeutic and exorcistic purposes. But the accusation leveled Jews of ingesting blood, or of using it for ritual or curative purposes, in transfusions taken orally, appears at first glance destitute of any basis, being in clear violation of Biblical norms and later ritual practices, which permitted no derogation whatever from the prohibition.

It is not, therefore, surprising that the Jews of the Duchy of Milan, in their petition to Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza in May dated 1479, intended to defend themselves from the ritual murder accusations spreading like oil on water after the Trent murder, by recalling the Biblical prohibition in stressing that these accusations had no basis in fact:

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"That they are not guilty is easily proven by very effective proofs and arguments, both legal and natural, from very trustworthy authorities, first for the Jewish Law Moysaycha which prohibits murder, and in several places, the eating of blood, not only human but of any animal whatever" (28).

Also the most authoritative among the accused in the Trent trial, Mosè da Würzburg, known as "the Old Man", in the initial phases of his interrogation, did not hesitate to mention the rigid Biblical prohibition against consuming any type of blood to demonstrate the absurdity of the accusation. "Ten Commandments given by God to Moses", the learned Hebrew leveled at this accusers, "commands us to refrain from killing and eating blood; it is for this reason that Jews cut the throat of the beasts which they intend to eat and, what is more, later salt themeat to eliminate any trace of blood" (29). Mosè "the Old Man" was very obviously perfectly well aware of the norms of slaughter (shechitah) and of the salting of meat (melikhah), prescribed by Jewish rituals (halakhah) and which apply the Mosaic prohibition against eating blood with the maximum severity. But his arguments, as we shall see, although apparently convincing, were to some degree misleading.

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. These recipes are stupendous electuaries, sometimes complex in preparation, intended to cure ailments and bring about cures, as well as to protect and to cure. For Shabbatai Lipschütz, to arrest the excessive flow of menstrual blood, it was advisable to dry before the fire and reduce into power a chicken feather soaked with the menstrual blood. The morning afterwards, a spoonful of that powder, diluted in wine and served up to the woman, on an empty stomach, was said to have infallibly produced the desired effect. Another secret medication, collected by Lipschütz and considered of extraordinary effectiveness on the basis of long tradition, was prescribed for women who wished to get pregnant. The recipe provided that a pinch of dried rabbit’s blood be dissolved in wine and administered to the patient. As an alternative, a composite of worms and menstrual blood could be of great utility(30).

Also Elia Loans, the Baal Shem of Worms, celebrated the extraordinary properties of rabbit’s blood in impregnating sterile

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women. The expert Caballist moreover prescribed, for the cure of epilepsy, the dilution in wine of dried blood from a virgin having her first menstrual period (31). In this regard, it should be noted that Mercklin (Mordekhai), one of those condemned for the plural ritual murder at Endingen in 1470, stressed the effectiveness of using young human blood in curing epilepsy (32).

The compendia of segullot furthermore stressed the prodigious properties of human blood, naturally, always dried and prepared in the form of curdles or powder, as the main ingredient of aphrodisiacal elixirs inciting to love and copulation, in addition to their ability to bring about the fulfillment of the most audacious and consuming of erotic dreams. It is not surprising that blood was sometimes featured in relation to matrimony -- another fundamental rite of passage -- in addition to its uses in circumcision and in the preparation for death.

In the popular tradition, included, for example, by the Jews of Damascus, "a man who wishes to win the love of a woman should extract a bit of his own blood, and after drying it before the fire, cause it to be drunk, dissolved in wine, by the woman who is the object of his passion"(33). This electuary is said to have been of proven effectiveness in such cases. Other compendia of segullot state that the recipe was to be considered valid for both men and women and that, to be of greater effectiveness, the blood should be taken from the little finger of the right hand of the person suffering from an unrequited passion (34). The defendants accused of the ritual child murder at Tyrnau in 1494 and at Posing, both in Hungary, in 1592, also mention the use of blood as an aphrodisiac and in inciting love, including, and most particularly, in the celebration of matrimony (35). In the famous case of the supposed profanation of the Host stolen from the Knoblauch church in Brandenburg in 1510, the rich Jew Mayer of Ostenburg was accused of having purchased the Host at a high price to extract its essence, and then of using it on the occasion of his son Isaac’s wedding to prepare an aphrodisiac elixir intended for the bride and groom (36).

In the Trent trial, the women, particularly those linked to the authoritative Samuele da Nuremberg, the acknowledged head of the Jewish community, made no secret of their great faith in the effectiveness of the blood of children as an ingredient in sublime potions, both curative and protective, of which the popular medicine and the practical Caballah were extraordinarily rich, based on long tradition. Bella, Mosè daWürzburg’s daughter-in-law, stated without hesitation, in her statement in February 1476, that "that

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the blood of a child was beneficial in a manner wonderful to women, incapable of birth at term". The women recalled that, when young Anna of Montagana, daughter-in-law of Samuele da Nuremberg, was pregnant and suffering from the threat of miscarriage, her mother-in-law, Brunetta, as a woman and an expert in these things, as she was, visited her in her bedroom, making her take a spoonful of a medicament consisting of dried and powdered blood dissolved in wine (37). On another occasion, Bella had seen Anna, pregnant and suffering, sustain herself with a bit of blood mixed with the yoke of a lightly boiled egg (38).

For their part, Bona and Dolcetta, respectively the sister and wife of Angelo da Verona, recalled with nostalgic stupefaction their meeting with an herb alchemist of great fame and experience, a few years previously. According to them, this Cabballistic quack, known as Maestro Jacob, possessed a book full of "secrets" of exorbitant and extraordinary effectiveness, including that of causing pelting rain and hail storms.

To do this, it was necessary to mix young blood with the clear water of a fountain while pronouncing formulae and exorcisms, incomprehensible to the uninitiated (39). As we have already stressed several times, it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion that, when the Jews were accused of ritual murder, rather than justify the necessity of the -- so to speak – religious uses of blood, they preferred to expatiate at length upon the magical and therapeutic functions of blood generally, both human and animal, known and widespread among the people and, in particular, among German-speaking persons, both Jewish and Christian.

This does not yet explain how the Jews, and the Ashkenazi Jews in particular, could reconcile the Biblical prohibition against the oral consumption of blood – which was rigid and without exceptions -- with the custom, apparently well-rooted, of using it, nonetheless, in medications and elixirs of various kinds, proven and tested over time. Since these elixirs are often true and proper medications, even if not contemplated by official medicine, the Jewish ritual law (halakhah) only permitted them when the patient was considered in danger of his life, in which case the complete and temporary abolition of all the norms of the Torah -- Jewish law -- was permitted in order to save the patient. But, as we have noted, in popular practice, blood, both human or animal, appeared even in preparations to be administered to patients suffering from minor complaints, or complaints of only relative seriousness, or even as a curative in the toils of love. Confronted by these obvious contradictions, even

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the defendants in the Trent trial found it necessary to take a position, and to explain and justify such things. CHANGED And this was not an easy task at all, partly because many of them lacked the necessary culture to do so. CHANGED, p. 107 of new edition: And this was not an easy task at all, partly because the accused were perfectly well aware of the real objectives of the judges with their questions on this matter.

DELETED Lazzaro da Serravalle, servant in Angelo da Verona’s house, attempted to do so instinctively, without entering into any over-complicated reasoning. In his view, the dictates of the Torah referred to animal blood only -- which was always prohibited -- while it was permitted to ingest the blood of a human being, particularly if it was the blood of a Christian, the declared enemy of the Jews and Judaism (40). As usual Israel Wolfgang, who must have possessed rather more culture than Lazzaro, although not strictly rabbinical, attempted to supply a more elaborate response, ingenious and less crude. To the young artist from Brandenburg, it was clear that the Torah and later rabbinical regulations presupposed two different moral codes, one applying to the Jewish world, and the other applicable to the surrounding Christian world, which was different and often hostile and menacing. Therefore, that which was prohibited between Jews was not necessarily prohibited in relations between Jews and Christians. For example, the Biblical norm which prohibited usury between two brothers (Deut. 23:21), "unto a stranger thou may’st lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury"), was interpreted as concerning exclusively relations between Jews, while usurious lending to Christians was automatically permitted -- so much so as to be universally practiced (41). With a bold analogy, which we decline to believe was extorted by judges exceptionally erudite in Jewish matters by means of ingenious verbal and psychological trickery, Israel Wolfgang maintained that even the Biblical prohibition against human blood was absolute for Jews, and rigid when it involved blood extracted from the veins of Jews, but was permitted and even recommended when originating from the body of Christians, or Christian children in particular (42).

In this regard, it is worth recalling that, in that which Camporesi calls as "the dark tunnel of necromantic medicine", specialty shops offered alchemists and herb alchemists oils and balsams extracted from fetid mummies, miraculous electuaries containing the powder of craniums, often from persons condemned to death, fat from human flesh, distilled from the bodies of persons killed and suicides (43). It is not surprising that popular medicine should also have permitted them as legitimate medications, prescribing them not only in the cure of serious and dangerous complaints. The sole recommendation in these cases remains the explanation that oils, fats and bones in powder, mummies and human flesh

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in poultices -- as Israel Wolfgang explained to the judges of Trent with reference to human blood -- were not to be extracted from the corpsesof Jews. DELETED The rabbinical responses were rather clear in this regard, when they hastened to stress that "there is no prohibition against usefully benefiting from the dead bodies of Gentiles" (44).

OLD FOOTNOTE 44, CHAPTER SIX, EXPANDED INTO NEW FOOTNOTE 33, CHAPTER SIX: Hebrew: Mete' goim enam asurim ha'anaah; en asur ba-anaah ella mete Israel; met goy mutar ha'anaah afilu le-choleh she-en-bo sakkanah ("One may also use the corpse of a non-Jew in curing a sick person who is not in danger of losing his life"). See David b. Zimra, Sheelot w-teschuvot. Responsa, vol. III, Fürth, 1781, no. 548 [= 979]; Abraham Levi, Ghinnat veradim. Responsa ("The Rose Garden"), Constantinople, Jonah b. Ja'akov, 1715, Yoreh' de'ah, vol. I, response no. 4; Jacob Reischer, Shevut Ya'akov. Responsa ("The Captivity of Jacob"), vol. III, Offenbach, Bonaventura de Lannoy, 1719, no. 94 (see also the following note). The responses on this topic are based on the opinion expressed in regards to the Tossaphists, the classical Franco-German commentators on the Talmud. In this regard, see also H.J. Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians and Doctors, London, 1952, pp. 125-128, 243-244. INTERPOLATION, new edition: Daniel Sperber (Minahaghe’ Israel) [“The Customs of the Jewish People”], Jerusalem, 1991, in Hebrew, pp. 59-65), also inspired by the studies of H.J. Zimmels, (Magicians, Theologians and Doctors, London, 1952) and H. Pollack (Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands, 1648-1806, Cambridge, 1971, presents a wide selection of Hebrew texts revealing the widespread use, in German Judaism, on a popular level, of animal blood and mummified human bodies for therapeutic purposes. The rabbi Elkana Hildesheimer, in an essay soon to be published, dedicated to this topic (Consumption of Prohibited Foods in the Absence of Life-Threatening Danger, Ramat Gan, 2008, in Hebrew, examining these and other rabbinical texts, reaches the conclusion that “the Ashkenazi Jews have consumed foods not permitted by the rite, perhaps requesting and obtaining a problematical rabbinical dispensation. This is also true of human blood, when, generally, the prohibition against ingesting human blood was faced with a greater carelessness than that involving the blood of beasts and fowl. The consumption of human blood not only appeared less repellent than it may appear to our eyes today, but in infrequent cases the rabbis found themselves compelled to permit it”.   

Perhaps the solution to the Biblical and rabbinical contradiction between the consumption of blood and the custom -- established among the Ashkenazi Jews -- of consuming it on the most varied occasions, may be identified in a late response of Jacob Reischer of Prague (1670-1734), head of the yeshivah of Ansbach in Bavaria and later active at Worms and Metz (45). The ritualistic text contains testimonies to a practice widespread over time immemorial among the Jews of the German community, and considered de facto permissible, notwithstanding the fact that it obviously contradicted the dictates of the Talmud. Being a custom now generalized among the Jews (minhagh Israel), it came, over time, to assume the same strictness as a ritual standard. The inquiry and the response of the Reischer referred to the consumption of the blood of the stambecco (Bocksblut), for medicinal use, even in cases in which the patient was not in danger of his life.

"INQUIRY: What is the basis for the fact that most Jews traditionally permit the consumption and drinking of the coagulated and dried blood of the ibex [a long-horned Alpine mountain goat], known as Bocksblut and dried in the sun, even in the event that it may be consumed by patients whose lives are not in peril, such as people suffering from epilepsy, when it is one of the internal organs of the body which causes pain?

RESPONSE: The legality of this custom must be upheld because it is long-established. This medication is obviously permissible, because clearly, when a custom becomes widespread among the Jews (minhagh Israel), it must be considered to be on the level of the Torah itself. The ritual motive of the permission is based, in my view, on the fact that (the blood) is dried to the point that it is transformed into a piece of wood and contains no moisture .It is not, therefore, prohibited in any way.

"The authoritative German rabbi sought to uphold the ritual lawfulness of dried blood totally without any liquid component, stating that, in this manner, the blood must be considered to have lost any alimentary connotations. But obviously, the central justification of his argument remained the notion that a custom established over time in the community of Israel, even if in contrast with the norms, was to be considered perfectly authorized and permissible. INTERPOLATION p. 108 new edition: Reischer was writing in the 16th century, but was referring to the custom of consuming animal blood (recourse to human blood, as we have seen, was considered less serious) as a widespread practice among German Jews from time immemorial, and therefore having become, thanks precisely to its antiquity, minhagh Israel, that is, a “custom of the Jewish people).  

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It has been accurately observed in this regard (but the reasoning may be opportunely repeated in other cases as well, as we shall see), that "the Ashkenazi Jewish community, in the eyes of its rabbis, represented the community of health, zealous in the application of the Law of the Lord; to those rabbis, it was impossible to conceive of the fact that thousands of Jews, devote, fearing God and solicitous in sanctifying the name of the Lord, may His name be blessed, might be violating the names of his Law day after day. If therefore the community of Israel practiced a certain custom, even in conflict with the norms of the Torah, that meant that this was permitted. The consequence of this bold assumption did not alarm that generation [....]  The German rabbis revised in the actions of their people a sort of translation into reality of the Law of God, thus as it was transmitted for generations from father to son" (46).

If this reasoning was to be considered valid with reference to the standards of ritualistic law (halakhah), it was even more valid if applied to widespread and profoundly rooted customs, on the ritual lawfulness of which the Ashkenazi Jews, despite appearances, appeared to have no doubt (47). Their rabbis did not therefore hesitate to approve and approve practices and customs, such as that of the consumption of blood, even when they appeared in obvious violation of the prohibitions of Jewish law. The persistence of the custom of ingesting dried blood in medicinal electuaries, widespread among the Ashkenazi Jews until modern times, is testified to in the response of Hayym Ozer Grodzinski (1863-1940), a respected rabbi of Vilna (Vilnius). Responding to a question (dated1930!), relating to the lawfulness of medications based on dried animal blood to be administered to sick people who were not in peril of their lives, the Lithuanian rabbi recalled the tradition, rooted for generations among Ashkenazi Jews. "As to the problem of the lawfulness of administering animal blood to a patient who is not in danger, since the blood has lost part of its elements and has been dried, this is my response". Therefore, Grodzinski went on to explain:"If the blood is completely dried, it must certainly be permitted [...] and, even in the case of true and proper blood, as long as it was watered down, permission may be granted, in an emergency. And yet, since it is easy to use dried blood, which is considered by all to be perfectly lawful, it is impossible to imagine a state of emergency which would permit the oral ingestion of blood dissolved in water" (48).

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In conclusion, the Jewish custom in the Germanic territories, throughout history, of consuming potions and medications based on animal blood, without regard to 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 (49). The Trent defendants were perfectly well aware of this, and listed a long case history of it based on personal experience, even if, during the first moments of the trial, they may have considered it expedient to mention the Biblical prohibition against the ingestion of blood, which is well known to everyone, as if it were applied by them scrupulously in everyday reality. The records of the Trent trial were also to reveal, not only the generalized use of blood by German Jews for curative and magic purposes, but the necessity which the accused, according to their inquisitors, are alleged to have felt to supply themselves with Christian blood (and that of a baptized child, in particular), above all, in the celebration of the rites of Pesach, the Jewish Passover. In this case, all they had to do was turn to specialized, acknowledged retailers of blood, or itinerant alchemists and herb alchemists, to obtain the required goods; but it was necessary to ascertain that the object of purchase was actually that precious and much sought-after commodity, young Christian blood, despite the facility of falsification and adulteration. And this was not an easy thing to do, or something to be taken for granted.

During the trial for ritual child murder brought against the Jews of Waldkirch, a village a short distance from Freiburg, in 1504, the victim's father, Philip Bader, was later found to be the murderer of the victim, little Matthew, and therefore executed publicly, thus illustrating the perpetrator’s relations with Jews. In his deposition rendered to the Judge, Bader admitted obtaining a certain amount of blood from the child's neck, without intending to kill him, to sell the blood to the Jews, who, according to him, paid high prices for that type of merchandise. In this case, the Jews are said to have refused to buy it, saying that Bader intended to swindle them, offering them animal blood instead of the blood of a Christian child. For their part, the Jews of Waldkirch advanced the theory that the unnatural father had killed the child, probably during a clumsy attempt to take blood from the carotid artery and profit

 p. 108]

from the sale (50). In any case, it seems certain that, in the reality of the German territories, blood was frequently purchased and sold, at high prices, for the most diverse purposes, and that young human blood was certainly preferable to animal blood. It was, therefore, foreseeable that the ambiguous and equivocal sector of selling and purchasing human blood was rife with fraud and counterfeiting for the purpose of increasing one’s profits with the minimum of effort.

INTERPOLATION p. 111 of new edition: Apart from a few unpleasant and involuntary working accidents, this blood belonged to live “donors” whose families, due to their indigence, intended to supplement their meager income by means of a trade considered legitimate, certainly not out of the ordinary,and in no way embarassing.

blood bucket

[COMMENT: “Daddy just cut his leg off! Quick! Grab a bucket and sell the blood to the Jews!” Does anyone believe this?]

According to Trent defendants, their more alert clients had demanded that the resellers provide certificates of ritual suitability, signed by serious and acknowledged rabbinical authorities, as was customarily done for food products prepared according to the religious rules of the kashrut. No matter how paradoxical and improbable this fact may appear to our eyes -- so much so as make one believe that it was invented out of whole cloth by the judicial authorities of Trent -- we believe that this matter deserves a certain amount of attention and precise verification, where possible, of the underlying facts and particulars upon which it appears to be built.

INTERPOLATION p. 111 of new edition: In fact, as we have seen, the German rabbis found themselves constrained to stoop to the compromise of permitting the consumption of human blood, both animal and human, reduced to powder, for medical and magical purposes of various kinds, according to widespread practices of the surrounding Christian society, particularly, in rural areas. The kashrut certificate with its signature, which accompanied the product, guaranteed that the blood had lost all alimentary connotation and could be used without fear of violating the Biblical and rabbinical prohibition. As Rabbi Reischer of Prague is said to have explicitly stated years later, “this blood was dried to such a point as to have been transformed almost into a piece of wood, being deprived of all humidity; therefore, it is not prohibited in any way”.  

Both Maestro Tobias and Samuele da Nuremberg, Angelo da Verona, Mosè "the Old Man" of Würzburg, and his son Mohar (Meir), all recalled having come into contact with these retailers of blood, often, according to them, equipped with written rabbinical authorizations.

Sometimes they even recalled their names and origins; in some cases, they described their physical appearance with numerous details.

Abramao (Maestro Tobias’s supplier), Isacco of Neuss, from the bishopric of Cologne, Orso of Saxony, Jacob Chierlitz, also of Saxony, are not names which mean a lot to us. These are the names attributed to these itinerant merchants, originating in Germany and traveling, with their leather purses with waxed and tin-plated bottoms, to the Ashkenazim communities of Lombardy and the Triveneto region (51).

“Old Man” Mosè da Würzburg assured the judges that, in his long career, he had always acquired the blood of Christian boys from trustworthy persons and retailers bearing the required written rabbinical guarantees, which he called "testimonial letters (52). So as not to be too vague about it, Isacco da Gridel, cook in Angelo da Verona’s house, recalled the manner in which the wealthier Jews of Cleburg, a city under the domination of Filippo de Rossa, acquired the blood of Christian children from a rabbi named Simone, who lived in Frankfurt, then a free city (53). This “Simone of Frankfurt” is certainly identical with Shimon Katz,

p. 109]

rabbi of the Jewish community of Frankfurt am Main from 1462 to 1478, the year of his death: Shimon Katz was also the chairman of the local rabbinical tribunal. Rabbi Shimon Katz maintained close relations with the spiritual leaders of the Ashkenazim communities of Northern Italy and maintained close relations and friendship with Yoseph Colon, almost undisputed religious head of the Italian Jews of German origin (54). To consider him as a common trafficker in Christian blood, as Isacco the cook claimed, frankly impresses me as an oversimplification and not very believable, in the absence of other information in support of such a singular thesis.

Undoubtedly more serious and worthy of consideration, even if extorted by means of cruel coercive methods, was the related testimony of Samuele da Nuremberg, undisputed head of the Jews of Trent. Samuele confessed to his inquisitors that the itinerant peddler Orso (Dov)from Saxony, from whom he had obtained the blood, presumably that of a Christian child, bore credential letters signed by "Mosès of Hol of Saxony, Iudeorum principalis magister". There appear to be no doubt that this “Mosè of Hol” was identical with Rabbi Mosès, head of the yeshiva at Halle, who, together with his family, enjoyed privileges granted by the archbishop of Magdeburg in 1442 and later by Emperor Friedrich III in 1446, including that of adorning himself with the title of Jodenmeister, i.e., the principalis magister Judeorum, as Mosè is described in Samuele da Nuremberg’s deposition. We know that Mosè abandoned Halle (a particular apparently ignored by Samuele) as early as 1458 and had moved to Poznán in Poland, to pursue his rabbinical activity in that community (55).

The text of the certificate of guarantee signed by Mosè of Halle, which accompanied the purse of dried blood sold by Orso (Dov) of Saxony, was quite similar to the text of an attestation commonly issued in relation to permissible food: "Be it known by all, that all that which is carried by Dov is kasher" (56). It is understandable that the script intentionally omitted any mention of the type of merchandise dealt in by Orso. Samuele, once he had bought the blood, wrote his name on the white leather of the purse, which featured a list of the German merchant’s clients and a signature in Hebrew: Rabbi Schemuel mi-Trient (57).

p. 110]

p. 111]


On the eve of Passover, 1144, the mutilated body of William, a child of twelve years, was found in Thorpe’s Wood, on the edge of Norwich, England. No witness came forward to cast light on the savage crime. The child's uncle, a cleric by the name of Godwin Sturt, publicly accused the Jews of the crime in a diocesan synod held a few weeks after the discovery of the body. The body of the victim of Thorpe Wood, where it had been initially buried, was taken to the cemetery of the monks shortly afterwards, near the cathedral, and became the source of miracles.

A few years later, between 1150 and 1155, Thomas of Monmouth, prior of the cathedral of Norwich, reconstituted, with plentiful details and testimonies, the various phases of the crime, [allegedly] perpetrated by local Jews, and prepared a detailed and broad hagiographic report of the event (1). These were the origins of what is considered by many to have been first documented case of ritual murder in the Middle Ages, while, for others, it is the source of the myth of the “blood libel” accusation. The latter consider Thomas to have been the inventor and propagator of the stereotype of ritual crucifixion, soon to be rapidly disseminated, not only in England, but in France and the German territories as well, fed by in the information relating to the now famous tale of the martyrdom of William of Norwich by the Jews in the days of Passover (2).

William was an apprentice tanner in Norwich and came from an adjacent village. Among the shop's clients were a few local Jews, who are thought to have chosen him as the victim of a ritual sacrifice to be performed during the days of the Christian Easter. On the Monday following Palm Sunday, 1144, during the reign of King Stephen, a man claiming to be the cook for the arch deacon of Norwich presented himself in the village of

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William, asking his mother Elviva for permission to take William with him to work as an apprentice. The woman’s suspicions and hesitation were soon won over thanks to a considerable sum of money. The following day, little William was already traveling the streets of Norwich in the company of the self-proclaimed cook, directly to the dwelling of his aunt Leviva, Godwin Sturt’s wife, who became informed of the apprenticeship undertaken by the child and his new patron. But the latter individual awakened numerous suspicions in the aunt, Leviva, who asked a young girl to follow them and determine their destination. The shadowing, as discreet as it was effective, took the child to thethreshold of the dwelling of Eleazar, one of the heads of the community of Norwich, where the cook had little William enter the house withthe necessary prudence and circumspection.

At this point, Thomas of Monmouth allowed another key witness to speak, one who had been strategically placed inside the Jew's house.

This was Eleazar's Christian servant, who, the following morning, had by chance, witnessed, with horror -- through the crack of a door left inadvertently open -- the cruel ceremony of the child’s crucifixion and atrocious martyrdom, with the participation, carried out with religious zeal, of local Jews, "in contempt of the passion of our Lord”. DELETED Thomas kept the date of the crucial event clearly in mind. It was Palm Sunday, Wednesday 22 March of the year 1144.

To throw off suspicion, the Jews decided to transport the body from the opposite side of the city to Thorpe's Wood, which extended to withina short distance from the last house. During the trip on horseback with the cumbersome sack, however, despite their efforts at caution, they crossed the path of a respected and wealthy merchant of the locality on his way to church, accompanied by a servant; the merchant had no difficulty realizing the significance of what was taking place before his eyes. He is said to have remembered, years later, on his death bed, and to have confessed to a priest, who then became one of the diligent and indefatigable Thomas’s valued sources of information. Young William’s body was finally hidden by the Jews among the bushes of Thorpe.

The scene now became the inevitable scene of miraculous happenings. Beams of celestial light illuminated the boy´s resting place late at night, causing townspeople to discover the body, which was then buried where it was discovered. A few days afterwards, the cleric, Godwin Sturt, who, informed of the murder, requested, and was granted, permission to have the body exhumed. He then recognized his nephew William as the tragic victim. A short time afterwards, during

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a diocesan synod, Godwin got up to accuse the Jews of the crime. Thomas of Monmouth agreed with him and accused them of the horrible ritual of crucifixion of a Christian boy as the principal event of a Passover ceremony intended to mock the passion of Jesus Christ, a sort ofcrude and bloody Passover counter-ritual.

The conclusion of the matter turned out to be anything but a foregone conclusion, particularly in comparison with the numerous similar cases occurring over the following years, in which the Jews, considered responsible for the horrible wickedness, met a cruel fate. In this case, the Jews of Norwich, invited to present themselves before the archbishop to respond to the accusations, requested and obtained the protection of the King and his agents. Protected by the walls of the sheriff's castle, in which they found refuge, they waited for the storm to pass, as in fact it did. In the meantime, little William’s body was taken from the ditch in Thorpe's Wood to a magnificent tomb usually reserved for monks, in a sheltered spot behind the Cathedral, and began, as anticipated, to work miracles, as only a martyr worthy of being proclaimed a saint possibly could (3).

The most disturbing of the testimonies gathered by Thomas of Monmouth for his file on the murder of little William was that of a converted Jew, Theobald of Cambridge, who had become a monk hearing the story of the miracles reported at the tomb of the victim of Norwich. The convert revealed that the Jews believed that, to bring redemption closer, and with it, their return to the Promised Land, they sacrificed a Christian child every year "in contempt of Christ". To carry out this providential plan, the representatives of the Jewish communities, headed by their local rabbis, were said to meet every year in council in Narbonne, in the south of France, to draw lots as to the name of locality where the ritual crucifixion was to occur from time to time. In 1144, the choice fell by lot to the city of Norwich, and the entire Jewish community was said to have adhered to that choice (4).

Theobald’s confession has been considered by some to constitute the origin of the ritual murder accusation of Norwich, which was then collated, accompanied by suitable documentation, by Thomas of Monmouth (5). The ex-Jewish monk was probably alluding to the carnival of Purim, also known as the "carnival of the lots", which, in the Jewish calendar precedes Pesach, Passover, by one month, since the macabre lottery was said to have taken place every year on Purim (6).

 p. 114]

The reason for drawing lots to select the Jewish community to be entrusted with the duty of carrying out the annual sacrifice of a Christian child appeared later, in the confessions of the defendants of a ritual murder committed at Valréas in 1247, and, with reference to another case at Pforzheim in Baden in 1261, gathered and disseminated by the friar Thomas of Cantimpré in his Bonum universale de apibus (Douay,1627) (7). On that occasion, the Jews of the small village of the Vaucluse were accused of killing a two-year old girl, Meilla, "in a sort of sacrifice" for the purpose of collecting her blood, and then dumping the body in a ditch (8). The testimonies, extorted by the inquisitors under torture, were said to have shown that "it is a custom of the Jews, above all, wherever they live in large numbers, to carry out this practice every year, particularly in the regions of Spain, because there are a lot of Jews in these places" (9). It should be noted that Narbonne, mentioned by the converted Jew, Theobald of Cambridge, as the meeting place of the representatives of the Jewish communities for the annual Passover lottery held to select the location of the next ritual homicide, was in France, but belonged to the Mark of Spain.

But was the case of William of Norwich truly the first ritual murder of a Christian reported during the Middle Ages? Was Thomas of Monmouth really the creator of the stereotype which became widespread, first in England and later in France and the German territories in the years after 1150, when Thomas is supposed to have composed his hagiographic account? (10). It is permissible to wonder. It appears in fact to have been demonstrated that the story of William and his sacrifice by the Jews had already become widespread in Germany in the years prior to the composition of Thomas of Monmouth’s hagiographic account. The first documents relation to William’s veneration as a saint are to have originated, not in England, but in Bavaria, dating back to 1147 (11).

Latin chroniclers report that, in the same year, a Christian was reportedly killed by the Jews at Würzburg, where the martyr’s body is said to have worked miracles (12). Twenty one local Jews accused of committing the crime during the feast of Purim and Passover were said to have been put to death.

Rabbi Efraim of Bonn confirmed this report, stating that" On 22 August (1147) wicked men revolted against the Jewish community of Würzburg [...] making it the object of insinuations and calumnies, for the purpose of attacking them [the Jews]. Their accusation claims:

 p. 115]

‘We found the body of a Christian in the river, and it was you who killed him and then dumped him there. Now he is a saint and is working miracles’. Under this pretext, those wicked men, and people of the poorer classes, without any real motive, assail (the Jews...) killing twenty one of them” (13).

It is rather probable that the Hebrew and Latin reports were alluding to a crime with ritual connotations, considering the time of year in which these crimes were said to have been committed, the collective guilt attributed to Jews, the consequent massacre of many of them, and finally, the miracles which were said to have flowed forth from the victim’s body. It is therefore possible that the stereotype of homicide for ritual purposes was disseminated in Germany before it gained an inch of ground in England (14).

Thomas of Monmouth’s hagiographic report would appear to vindicate those who have maintained that the first ritual homicides in England, France and Germany for almost a century, starting with the Norwich murder in 1144, conformed to the stereotype of the crucifixion of Christians, without providing for the utilization of the victims’ blood for ritual purposes. In other words, ritual crucifixion is said to have proceeded the so-called "ritual cannibalism" accusation in the origin, development and final fixation of the type of ritual child sacrifice [allegedly] perpetrated by Jews (15). As early as the during the reign of Paul IV, the jurist Marquardo Susanni in his treatise De Judaeis andaliis infidelibus (Venice 1558), referred to William’s murder and the second presumed ritual homicide at Norwich in 1235, alluding to ritual crucifixion, without any mention of the ritual use of the victim’s blood (16). But, if we examine the matter more closely, a careful reading of Thomas of Monmouth’s text might point to other possible conclusions.

The Jew Eleazar of Norwich’s Christian servant, the only eyewitness of the presumed ritual homicide of little William, claimed, in her deposition, that, while the Jews proceeded with the cruel crucifixion, they asked her to bring a pot full of boiling water "to staunch the flow of the victim’s blood" (17). It seems obvious to us that, contrary to the maid servant’s interpretation, the boiling water must, on the contrary, have been used for the opposite purpose, i.e., to increase the flow of blood. It therefore remains to be proven that blood was a secondary element in the so-called "sacrifice of the child at Norwich". The fact that the written traditions which have come down to us do not inform us

 p. 116]

of the manner in which they intended to utilize the blood of the crucified child in this case constitutes no proof in either direction.

Be that as it may, the accusation of ritual murder or the crucifixion of Christian boys spread from Norwich throughout England: from Gloucester in 1169, to Bury St. Edmunds in 1183, to Winchester in 1192, from Norwich – again -- in 1235, to London in 1244, and, finally, to Lincoln in 1255, where the martyr was sainted (18). As we shall see, there are reports of an anomalous case of plural ritual murder again at Bristol at the end of the 13th century.

The Gloucester case occurred almost a quarter of a century after the child murder of little William at Norwich. Yet, in this case as well, the sources are not sufficiently clear as to the date of the murder of little Harold. John Brompton’s Chronicle speaks generally of an anonymous boy crucified by Jews near Gloucester in 1160, while the Peterborough Chronicle, although confirming the crucifixion, places the crime during the days of Passover of the following year (19). The author of the history of Saint Peter’s monastery at Gloucester, seems more precise and better-informed, reporting the killing of a child, named Harold, referring to him as a "glorious martyr in Christ", and stating that the crime was committed in 1168 by Jews, who were said to have thrown the body into the Severn river (20).

The body of an eight-year old child, Hugh, in the bottom of a well owned by Copino, a local Jew, at Lincoln in the summer of 1255. The judge, John of Lexington, hastened to establish precise analogies with the Norwich murder a century before. The victim had been abducted by Jews, tortured and crucified, exactly as in little William’s case. In those days, the great affluence of foreign Jews into the city of Norwich, of modest size, seemed to confirm that something big was in the works, and that the link with Hugh’s disappearance and killing was something more than a mere working hypothesis. The marriage of Rabbi Benedict (Berechyah)’s daughter, held there at the time, did not appear to deserve serious consideration by anyone wishing to demonstrate any other theory. But it was necessary to give the role to the principal defendant, Copino, who, rather than respond to the accusations, was to confirm them. The Jew, under torture, “sang” quickly, according to the pre-established script, confessing that the Jews of the Kingdom were accustomed to crucify cruelly a Christian child in contempt of the passion of Christ every year. This year, it was the city of Lincoln’s turn to be

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selected as the theatre of the sacred and macabre ceremony, and the child Hugh was simply the victim of bad luck in becoming the innocent martyr of Jewish depravity. Popular devotion thus acquired another saint (21). Of the more than one hundred persons involved in the religious crime, about twenty were executed after summary trial. All the others were imprisoned in the Tower of London. All had their property confiscated, which in some cases amounted to huge fortunes, forfeit to the treasury of King Henry III. At the end of the 14thcentury, Chaucer, in his Canterbury Tales, was able to draw inspiration from the crime at Lincoln, describing the re-emergence, from a well, of another child, who, like Hugh the Saint, had been sacrificed by the infamous followers of the Jewish sect (22).

The case of Adam, considered the victim of a ritual homicide occurring at Bristol at the end of the 13th century, provides us with a true and proper serial killer, the Jew Samuel, who, "in the days of King Henry, father of the other King Henry", is said to have killed three Christian children in one year. Thereafter, with the collaboration of his wife and son, he is said to have gone on to kidnap another child, named Adam, who, tortured, mutilated (perhaps subjected to circumcision) and crucified, is said finally to have been skewered on a spit like a lamb and roasted over a flame. Samuel’s wife and son are said to have repented, expressing the intention to bathe in the baptismal waters, but at thispoint the perfidious and criminal Jew is said to have killed them both as well (23). As we see, sometimes the popular psychosis of ritual murder caused persons caught up in irrational fears to mistake one thing for another. And this regardless of the fact that perhaps these fears could have a some correspondence to actual crimes committed by individuals deranged by phobias and psychoses of a religious nature, transferred to the plane of action.

A few years after the crimes at Norwich and Gloucester, ritual murders made their appearance in grand style in France as well. These crimes, at least in the cases we know about, involved so-called "child crucifixions", which, once discovered and made public, led to the massacre of entire Jewish communities. It thus happened during the reign of Louis VII, it is said that the Jews of Joinville and Pentoise crucified a child named Richard in 1179, who then became the object of popular devotion and was buried in Paris (24). When Philippe II, future King of France, was a child, around 1170, he is said to have listened in terror to contemporary tales told within the palace describing the Jews of Paris intent upon sacrificing a Christian child every year, in contempt of the Christian religion, butchering him in the slums of the city (25).

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The most famous, and most frequently studied, ritual homicide of which Jews in French territory were accused during this period is certainly that reported in 1171 in Blois, a central location on the main rout from Tours to Orleans, on the banks of the Loire. Here, the Jews of that community, suspected of killing a Christian child and then dumping the body in the waters of the Loire, were condemned to death, and thirty two of them met death at the stake after a summary trial (26). In his memoirs, the rabbi Efraim of Bonn reconstituted that which, according to him, had been the tragic mix-up leading to the accusation of ritual murder brought against the Jews of Blois:

"Towards evening a Jew (who was hurrying along the street), bearing a bundle of hides to the tanner, without noticing that one of the hides had become separated from the others and could be seen protruding from the bundle. The groom’s horse (which was being led to drink from the river), seeing the whitened skins in the darkness, began to paw the ground and then reared up, refusing to be led to the water. The terrified Christian servant immediately returned to his lord’s palace and reported: ‘Know ye that I stumbled upon a Jew, as he was about to dump the body of a little Christian into the waters of the river’" (27).

It seems obvious that waterways and tanners are recurrent elements in many supposed ritual child murder stories, and probably for good reason; this may be seen in many of the episodes we have already dealt with, from Norwich and Blois to Trent. The waters of rivers furrowing the regions of England and France and the German territories were considered silent accomplices, suggestive of cruel infanticides for religious purposes. In 1199, the upper waterways of the Rhine, near Cologne, were the scene of a presumed ritual murder, which was immediately punished with the usual massacre of all those considered responsible. Some Christians, traveling on a boat going upstream, discovered the lifeless body of a girl lying on the bank in the mists of Buppard. The perpetrators of the crime were soon identified. A short time later, as it happened, a group of Jews were observed on board a barge moving slowly in the same direction, while their other companions controlled its movements by means of ropes fixed to the bank. Their fate was sealed. Captured without hesitation, they were hurled into the turbid waters of the Rhine, where they drowned miserably (28).

On a previous occasion, in 1187, the Jews of Magonza were accused of a ritual homicide and forced to swear that "they were not accustomed to sacrifice a Christian on the eve of Pesach", the Jewish Passover (29).

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A few years later, in 1195, it was the turn of the Jews of Spira to be accused of killing a young Christian girl. Justice was soon done. The Jewish district was sacked by an infuriated mob, while the rabbi of the community, Isaac ben Asher, was lynched, together with eight other Jews, and their houses and the synagogue burnt down. As if according to script, once again, the tragedy concluded on the river banks. The Torah rolls and other Hebraic books, removed from the place of worship, were thrown in the Rhine and disappeared beneath the waves (30).

Two years afterward, as Jewish chronicles report, "God’s rage struck His people when a Jewish madman killed a Christian girl in the city of Neuss, cutting her throat in front of everyone" (31). Popular vengeance was immediate, and did not limit itself to targeting the supposed madman. Another five Jews were in fact accused of complicity in the murder, which was obviously not dismissed as the mere result of the insanity of an individual.

"Particular importance has been attributed to the ritual murder of which the Jews of Fulda were accused in Franconia at Christmas 1235.

Based on the report contained in the Annals of Erfurt:

"In this year, on 28 December, 34 Jews of both sexes were killed by the Crusaders because two of them, on the Holy Day of Christmas, had cruelly killed the five sons of a miller who lived outside the city walls. (The Jews) gathered the blood of the victims in waxed bags, and left the area after setting fire to the house. When the truth came to light, and after the Jews themselves had confessed to their guilt, they received the punishment they deserved" (32).

The Annals of Marbach, referring to the same events, explained that the Jews had committed the horrendous crime "to use the blood to cure themselves" (33).

Based on this unusual annotation, some people have identified the crime at Fulda as involving the birth of a new motive, intended to explain and characterize these religious child murders: so-called "ritual cannibalism". If, previous to this time, the Jews had been accused of crucifying Christians, at least during the Passover period, "in contempt of the passion of Christ", without the blood of the victims being attributed any particular significance, starting in Fulda in 1235, the blood

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presumably consumed by the Jews for ritual, magical or curative purposes, are said to have assumed a decisive and almost exclusive significance. The myth of the crucifixion of the Christian children is said to have arisen from the fertile imagination of Thomas of Monmouth, as a result of the murder of little William of Norwich in 1144. The myth of ritual cannibalism on the other hand, is said to have originated in the Fulda murder in 1235, tendentiously interpreted in this direction by clerical bodies headed by Conrad of Marburg, abbey of the imperial monastery of Fulda (34). In support of this interpretation, broadly accepted today, people stress that hardly one year afterwards, Kaiser Friedrich II created a commission of inquiry to verify whether or not the Jews had really nourished themselves on the blood of Christian children (35).

To this theory a few objections may be raised, which appear of little importance. Precisely in the motivation adopted upon the creation of the Annals of Marbach, it is stated that its members were called upon to investigate "whether the Jews considered the consumption of blood to be necessary during the Passover period". We now know that the presumed ritual murder at Fulda was committed during the Christmas period and not at Easter, a sign that the German Emperor, although unaware of these recent facts, was thinking of the supposed ritual murders committed in the localities of Germany around on Passover eve, when the ritual use of the blood was presumed, even if unverified.

Secondarily, the allegation that the Jews of Fulda collected their victim’s blood "to cure themselves" (ad suum remedium) does not necessarily indicate oral ingestion, and, therefore, a form of ritual cannibalism. We have in fact seen that, according to the prosecutors, and sometimes even according to the defendants themselves, the Jews used blood, reduced to powder, to heal wounds, such as the circumcision wound, to staunch hemorrhages of various kinds, and to spread upon the body and face for purposes of exorcism. If these considerations areof any value, then the specific relevance of Fulda as the birthplace of supposed ritual cannibalism should certainly be revised, without prejudice to the fact that the ingestion of blood in the Passover celebrations was thereafter to become an increasingly recurrent and explicit motif in the accusations and trials.

It was Thomas de Cantimpré (1201-1272), who supplied his theological interpretation of the significance of attributing the value placed upon

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Christian blood by the Jews as the result of some prodigious and infallible medication. According to the friar of the monastery of Cantimpré, in the outskirts of Cambray, the Jews were the heirs of the curse falling upon their ancestors, guilty of crucifying the Redeemer. Jewish blood was irremediably polluted and an inextinguishable source of physical and moral suffering. The only infallible therapy for such horrors and painful infirmities lay in Christian blood, which was transfused into their bodies in order to cleanse them (36). The confirmation of this unexceptionable truth, Thomas found, as might have been foreseen, in the zealous confessions of a learned Jew, recently purified by the sacred waters of baptism. This Jews is identified by some as the famous convert Nicholas Donin, responsible for the great bonfire of the Talmud in Paris in 1242, and perhaps linked to the anti-Jewish polemics following the ritual homicide at Fulda (37). Donin is supposed to have informed Thomas that a Jewish wise man, esteemed by all for his prophetical gifts, was said to have bared his soul on his deathbed to confirm that the torments suffered by the Jews in body and soul could find certain remedy only through to the beneficial ingestion of Christian blood (38). Whether in liquid form or powder, dried or in curdles, fresh or boiled -- blood, this magical fluid with the ambiguous and mysterious fascination, made its arrogant presence known through stories of child sacrifice, in the folds of which it lay concealed, perhaps less successfully than often supposed, until then.

Ritual murder accusations became more widespread: from Pforzheim in Baden in 1261, to Bacharach in 1283 and Magonza in the same year, to Troyes in France in 1288. These crimes generally involved child murders, in which the method was not emphasized; at times, theystill involved crucifixions, as in the Northampton cases of 1279 (apud Northamptonam die Crucis adorate puer quidam a Judaeis crucifixus est) and Prague in 1305, and perhaps that of Chinon, in Thüringen, in 1317. The sellers of Christian children to Jews to enable them to carryout their horrendous sacrifices were generally beggars, both men and women, who had few scruples when it came to earning a few coins; or unscrupulous nannies and wet nurses or unnatural parents. When the market supply was insufficient, the Jews were constrained to take direct action to abduct children for crucifixion, running not inconsiderable risks in such cases. Inquiries and trials generally concluded with the confession and the pitiless condemnation of the defendants, who were at all times considered a priori to be guilty. Justice was often administered

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in a summary manner, in which case massacres and burnings at the stake were inflicted upon the entire Jewish community, such as Monacoin 1285, where two hundred Jews were burnt alive in the synagogue, accused by a stinking old woman of bribing her to abduct a boy for them. Another supposed ritual murder was recorded in that same Bavarian city in 1345 (39).

The use of blood by Jews for ritual purposes was explicitly mentioned in many cases, but not always in connection with Passover. The Klosterchronik of Zwettl refers, in the year 1293, to a ritual murder accusation brought against the Jewish communities of southern Austria,on the banks of the Danube, and mentions blood as the motive for the crime. “The Jews of Krems had obtained a Christian (boy) from thoseof Brünn; they therefore killed him in the cruelest manner to obtain his blood" (40). Thus, in the analogous case reported at Ueberlingen in Baden in 1332, the chronicler John of Winterthur revealed that the victim’s parents had observed "signs of incisions in the internal organs and veins" of the body (41).

In the Passover period of 1442, a blood accusation struck the small Jewish community of Lienz in the val Pusteria, a city located on the confines between Kärnten and the Tyrol. The martyred body of a three-year-old girl named Orsa, a baker’s daughter, was found in a canal.

Wounds and punctures observed on the body led people to believe that they had been inflicted to drain the victim’s blood. It was therefore foreseeable that popular rumor would immediately conclude that the crime was one of ritual child murder, committed by the enemies of Christ. The Jews, arrested without delay and interrogated with the usual coercive methods, admitted the crime, which is said to have taken place among the wine kegs in the cellar of Samuele’s house on Good Friday. The child had been purchased by the Jews from a beggar, a certain Margarita Praitsschedlin, who was arrested and taken to jail; she quickly confessed. The trial was summary. Samuele, the principal defendant accused of ritual murder, was suspended from the wheel and burnt; Giuseppe "the Old Man", the probable spiritual head of the small Jewish community, was hanged; finally, the beggar woman, guilty of the abduction of little Orsa, was burnt on the wheel together with two former Jewesses, obviously considered accomplices in the crime. These tragic events had however a happy and comforting conclusion; consisting of the baptism of five Jewish girls, four women and one male, to be exact (42).

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The only problem, although of secondary importance, regarding the so-called "Martyrdom of Orsola Poch" is the fact that the report lacks any contemporary documentation. The first document relating to crime at Linz in Easter of 1442 consists of a posthumous report, drawn up in 1475 at the request of Giovanni Hinderbach, bishop of Trent (43). We shall therefore have to wait until the beginning of the 18th century to encounter the first hagiographic reports relating to Orsola and her tragic death. Moreover, the attentive reader will not fail to notice the analogies -- perhaps not accidental – relating to the involvement of Hinderbach, famous because of the Trent case. The name of the principal defendant in both cases is Samuele; Mosé "the Old Man" of Trent corresponds to Giuseppe "the Old Man" of Lienz; women appear to play amajor role in both cases. Finally, Hebraic ritual cannibalism during the Passover period – in this case, committed on the person of an innocent girl – is poorly suited to the stereotype, which insists that the child martyr must be a boy, upon whom circumcision may be practiced during the cruel and homicidal ceremony.

A few years afterwards, in 1458, a murder accusation, probably for ritual purposes, was brought against the Jews of Chambéry in Savoy. On3 April of that year, during the first night of Pesach, two Christian brothers, Leta, 12 years old, and Michel, aged five, were mysteriously killed, after having been seen traversing the Jewish quarter at nightfall. The examination of the bodies indicated that the two children had been savagely beaten and then strangled. Suspicion once again fell on the Jews, who were arrested en masse and tried without any further delay the following May. Nevertheless, precise proofs not having been presented against them during the hearings, the accused were acquitted and released (44). In any case, it was clear that any child murder, especially if committed during the spring months, most particularly when the body was found near the Jewish quarter, would be automatically attributed to the Jews and linked to their secret Passover rites, drenched with blood.

Several Christian boys, sanctified in the popular devotion and who later became objects of veneration supposed victims of the Jews over that same period require a separate discussion. We are referring to "Good Werner" of Oberwesel in the Rhineland, Rudolf of Bern, Conrad of Weissensee and Ludwig of Ravensburg (45). Apart from the last, with regards to whom we know only that in 1429, at the age of 14, he is said to have fallen victim to the horrendous rites of the Jews on the banks of Lake Constance, in all the other cases the blood motif returns in an obsessive manner.

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At Oberwesel on the Rhine, a boy named Werner, also fourteen, like Ludwig of Ravensburg, is said to have been tortured to death by the Jews for three days and then thrown in the waters of the river. His body is said to have floated miraculously upriver, against the current, and to have washed ashore at Bacharach, where it began to work miracles, curing the sick and suffering. The tradition, gathered by later hagiographers, reports that "Good Werner" had been hung by the feet, by Jews, and intentionally made to vomit the Host which he had previously swallowed in church; his veins are then said to have been cruelly opened, so that his blood might flow and be collected. In short, the whole tale was an extraordinary, perhaps rather redundant, concentration of accusations, intended to exalt poor Werner’s halo of martyrdom, from crucifixion and ritual cannibalism to profanation of the Host (46). And yet, over the 16th century, "good Werner" became transformed, from a victim of the Jews into the rubicund patron saint of the wine growers of the region extending from the Rhineland to the Jura and Auvergne(47). The close kinship between blood and wine, constant over the centuries, permitted the holy martyr effectively to protect the Cabernets and Merlots of industrious and zealous French and German growers.

Another saint, Rudolf of Bern, killed in 1294, is said to have been tortured and decapitated in the basement of a palace owned by a rich Jew in the Swiss city of Jöli during the Passover period of that year (48). The hagiographic reports of the early Eighteenth century state that this Christian victim was crucified and his blood drained off by Jews "intending to practice their damned superstitions" (49). More specifically, the violent death of Conrad, a schoolboy from Weissensee in Thüringen, not far from Erfurth, occurred in 1303 and was attributed to the Jews, according to chroniclers, in relation to the celebration of the Jewish Passover. In observation of the Passover norms prescribed by the cult, the murder of young Conrad, who is said to have become a popular saint in the regions of central Germany, is alleged to have had his veins opened to collect the precious blood (50).

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Ritual murder accusations have been made against the Jews for thousands of years. The murders were sometimes alleged to have been accompanied by ritual cannibalism, but not always. In every case, it is rather improbable that the testimonies which have come down to usfrom antiquity were known and disseminated in the Middle Ages and could constitute a significant point of reference for later accusations of crucifixion and ritual cannibalism (1).

As early as the second century before Christ, the almost unknown Greek historian, Damocritus, who probably lived in Alexandria, recorded aviolently biased anti-Jewish testimony, at that time referred to under his name in Suida's Greek dictionary. According to Damocritus, the Jews were accustomed to render worship to a golden head of an ass; every seven years, they abducted a foreigner to sacrifice him, tearing the body to pieces (2).

This horrible rite is said to have taken place probably every seven years in the Temple of Jerusalem, sanctuary of the Jewish religion.

Damocritus’s report is evidently intended to stress the barbarism of the Jews, the "haters of mankind", who practiced superstitious and cruel cults. It should nevertheless be noted that the Greek historian made no reference either to any need to collect the victim's blood or other forms of ritual cannibalism.

A report only partly similar to that reported by Damocritus is found in the polemical, Contra Apione, by Flavius Josephus, quoting the tendentiously anti-Jewish rhetorician, Apione, who lived at Alexandria during the 1st century of the Christian era. According to Apione, Antiocchus Epiphane, entering the Temple of Jerusalem, is said to have been surprised to find a Greek, stretched on a bed and surrounded by exquisite foods and rich dishes. The prisoner's report was extraordinary and horrifying. The Greek said that he had been captured

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by the Jews and taken to the Temple and concealed from everyone, while they force-fed him on all sorts of foods. At first, it the unusual circumstances in which he found himself did not greatly displease him until the sanctuary attendants revealed the fate waiting in store for him: he was fated to die, the predestined victim of homicidal Jewish sacrificial practices.

"(The Jews) carry out this (rite) every year, on a pre-established date. They catch a Greek merchant and feed him for a whole year. They later take him into a forest, kill him and sacrifice him according to their religion. They then savor the viscera, and in the moment of sacrificing the Greek, they swear their hatred of all Greeks. They then dump the remains of the carcass into a ditch” (3).

Flavius Josephus reports that the history recounted by Apione was not invented by him, but was, rather, derived from other Greek writers, an indication that its dissemination must have been much more widespread than we are led to imagine based on the two only surviving accounts, i.e., of Damocritus and Apione (4).

Compared to the first, the second describes a number of variants which are undoubtedly important. The sacrificial ceremony is now annual, and held on a fixed date, even if the account does not specify the Jewish holiday on which it allegedly took place. Furthermore, ritual cannibalism is now stressed in an explicit and brutal manner, even if there is still no mention of any need for human blood, which, as we have seen, is said to have become the preponderant element starting with the Middle Ages. On the other hand, that both Greeks and Romans are alleged to have ended up as a meal for ravenous Jews is shown by the fact that Dio Cassius, writing of their rebellion at Cyrene (115 of the Christian era), hastened to mention, in disgust, that the Jews were accustomed to feasting upon the bodies of Greek and Roman enemies slain in battle. Not contenting themselves with the satisfaction of this alimentary predilection, they painted their bodies with the blood of their enemies and used their intestines as belts (5).

A more delicate matter than the above seems to relate to a passage in the Talmud (Ketubot 102b) which might be interpreted as an indirect confirmation of the phenomenon of ritual murder during an ancient epoch, although we don’t know how widespread or how widely approved it may have been. The passage concerns a so-called “outside” baraita, or mishnah, i.e., one not incorporated into the codified and canonical text of the mishnah (dating back

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approximately to the third century A.D.) -- which seems to be one of the oldest -- and may therefore be traced back to Palestine at the time of the second Temple.

"A man is killed, leaving a son of a tender age in the care of his mother. When the father's heirs approach up and say, 'Let him grow up with us', and the mother say 'Let him grow up with me', he (the boy) should be left with the mother, and should not be entrusted to the care of anyone entitled to inherit from him. A case of this kind happened in the past and (the heirs) killed him on Passover Eve (Hebrew: weshachatuhu ' erev ha-Pesach)" (6).

We know that the Hebrew verb shachet has the meaning of "butcher", "kill", as well as to "immolate", as, for example, as a sacrifice (as for example, Exodus 12:21 "Thou shalt sacrifice the Passover lamb", we-shachatu ha-pesach). If in the case in question were merely a question of a simple murder committed by heirs for profit, the statement that the murder was committed "on Passover Eve" would be quite superfluous. In fact, in support of the law providing that the child should be entrusted to the mother instead of persons entitled to inherit his property, it would have been sufficient merely to state that, in the past, a child had been killed by his heirs. When and how the murder occurred is in fact superfluous. Unless we recall to mind a circumstance, presumably well known, in which the child murder, which deserved to be condemned, actually occurred, but only for material and egotistical motives.

At this point, it might be noted that the most ancient Christian authors appeared to make no use of this Talmudic passage in their anti-Jewish polemics, although the passage shows a relationship between the cruel killing of a child and the Jewish Passover, which might have been used by them in support of the ritual murder accusation. But perhaps their failure to do so was due to poor knowledge of Talmudic literature and rabbinical literature in general on the part of Christian polemicists, who were often ignorant of Talmudic and rabbinical language and interpretive categories (7).

Be that as it may, it is advisable to stress that the reading "They killed (or immolated) him on Passover eve" (we-shachatuhu 'erev ha-Pesach), appears in all the manuscript and ancient versions of the Ketubot treatise in question, as well as in the first edition of the Talmud, printed at Venice in 1521 by Daniel Bomberg. Later, no doubt

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for the purpose of defending themselves against the ritual murder accusation brought by those who had, in the meantime, discovered the potential value of the embarrassing passage, the Jewish editors of the Talmud replaced the passage with a more anaemic, less embarrassing reading: "they killed him on New Year's Eve ('erev Rosh Ha-Shanah), or "they killed him the first evening" ('erev ha-rishon) (8). The latterversion might suggest that the child's heirs got rid of him in a violent way as early as the evening of the day upon he was entrusted to them,with the obvious intention of getting their hands on the estate as soon as possible.

The editors of the famous Vilna edition of the Talmud (1835) justified their decision to adopt the reading "they killed him the first evening"in a glossa to Ketubot 102b, in which they rejected the preceding version – but without explicitly mentioning it – containing the reference to “Passover Eve”, as the circumstance under which the unhappy child is said to have been cruelly killed. "Whoever preceded us in the Talmud", they stressed, "fell into error and preferred a reading completely torn out of context" (9).

That Christian Europe of the Middle Ages feared the Jews is an established fact. Perhaps the widespread fear that Jews were scheming to abduct children, subjecting them to cruel rituals, even antedates the appearance of stereotypical ritual murder which seems to have originated in the 12th century. As for myself, I believe that serious consideration should be given to the possibility that this fear was largely related to the slave trade, particularly in the 9th and 10th centuries, when the Jewish role in the slave trade appears to have been preponderant (10).

During this period, Jewish merchants, from the cities in the valley of the Rhône, Verdun, Lione, Arles and Narbonne, in addition to Aquisgrana, the capital of the empire in the times of Louis the Pious [Louis I]; and in Germany from the centres of the valley of the Rhine, from Worms, Magonza and Magdeburg; in Bavaria and Bohemia, from Regensburg and Prague - were active in the principal markets in which slaves (women, men, eunuchs) were offered for sale, by Jews, sometimes after abducting them from their houses. From Christian Europe the human merchandise was exported to the Islamic lands of Spain, in which there was a lively market. The castration of these slaves, particularly children, raised their prices, and was no doubt a lucrative and profitable practice (11).

The first testimony relating to the abduction of children by Jewish merchants active in the trade flowing into Arab Spain,

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comes down to us in a letter from Agobard, archbishop of Lyon in the years 816-840. The French prelate describes the appearance at Lyons of a Christian slave, having escaped from Cordoba, who had been abducted from Leonese Jewish merchant twenty four years before, when he was a child, to be sold to the Moslems of Spain. His companion in flight was another Christian slave having suffered a similar fate after being abducted six years before by Jewish merchants at Arles. The inhabitants of Lyons confirmed these claims, adding that yet another Christian boy had been abducted by Jews to be sold into slavery that same year. Agobard concludes his report with a comment of a general nature; that these were not considered isolated cases, because, in every day practice, the Jews continued to procure Christian slaves for themselves and furthermore subjecting them to "infamies such that it would be vile in itself to describe them" (12).

Precisely what kind of abominable “infamies” Agobard is referring to is not clear; but it is possible that he was referring to castration more than to circumcision (13). Liutprando, bishop of Cremona, in his Antapodosis, said to have been written in approximately 958-962, referred to the city of Verdun as the principal market in which Jews castrated young slaves intended for sale to the Moslems of Spain (14). During this same period, two Arab sources, Ibn Haukal and Ibrahim al Qarawi, also stressed that the majority of their eunuchs originated fromFrance and were sold to the Iberian peninsula by Jewish merchants. Other Arabic writers mentioned Lucerna, a city with a Jewish majority, halfway between Córdoba and Málaga in southern Spain, as another major market, in which the castration of Christian children after reducing them to slavery was practiced on a large scale by the very same people (15).

Contemporary rabbinical responses provide further confirmation of the role played by Jews in the trade in children and young people as well as in the profitable transformation of boys into eunuchs. These texts reveal that anyone who engaged in such trade was aware of the risks involved, because any person caught and arrested in possession of castrated slaves in Christian territories was decapitated by order of the local authorities (16).Even the famous Natronai, Gaon of the rabbinical college of Sura in the mid-9th century was aware of the problems linked to the dangerous trade in young eunuchs.

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"Jewish (merchants) entered (into a port or a city), bringing with them slaves and castrated children [Hebrew: serisim ketannim]

. When the local authorities confiscated them, the Jews corrupted them with money, reducing them to more harmless advisors, and the merchandise was returned, at least in part" (17).

But if one wishes to interpret the significance and scope of the Jewish presence in the slave trade and practice of castration, it is a fact that the fear that Christian children might be abducted and sold was rather widespread and deeply rooted in all Western European countries, particularly, France and Germany, from which these Jews originated and where the greater part of the slave merchants operated. Personalities in the clergy nourished that fear, conferring religious connotations upon it with an anti-Jewish slant, failing to account for the fact that slavery as a trade had not yet gone out of fashion morally and, as such, was broadly tolerated in the economic reality of the period. On the other hand, the abduction and castration of children, often inevitably confused with circumcision, which was no less feared and abhorred, could not fail to insinuate themselves in the collective unconscious mind of Christian Europe, especially the French and German territories, inciting anxiety and fear, which probably solidified over time, and, as a result, are believed to have concretized themselves in a variety of ways and in more or less in the same places, as the ritual murder.

In the Hebrew calendar, Pesach, Passover, comes one month after the feast of Purim, which commemorates the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people in Persia during the reign of King Ahasuerus I (519-465) from the threat of extermination linked to the plotting of the King’s perfidious minister, Haman. The Book of Esther, which examines all these explosive matters and exalts the saving function of the Biblical heroine as well as that of Mordechai, Esther’s uncle and mentor, concludes with the hanging of Haman and his ten sons, as well as with the beneficial massacre of the enemies of Israel. Leon of Modena in his Riti, describes Purim in precisely this manner, stressing a carnival-like atmosphere of celebrations and convivial opulence in which restraint and inhibition were dangerously weakened.

"On the 14th of Adar, which is March, is the festival of Purim, in memory of everything we read in the Book of Esther, which saved the people of Israel from being exterminated through the machinations of Haman, and he and his sons were hanged [...]

. After the ordinary orations, with remembrance only of the escape which occurred at the hour of death, we read the entire History or Book of Esther, which were written on parchment in volume as the Panteuch, and we call meghillah, i.e., volume. And some hearing Haman's mentioned,

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beat as a sign to curse him [...]

 They make much rejoicing festivities and banquets [...] an effort is made to serve the most sumptuous meal possible and eat and drink more than usual, after which friends go out to visit each other, with receptions, festivities and revelry" (18).

For a number of reasons, not least that of its not infrequent proximity to Holy Week, Purim, also called the "festival of the lots", came, in time, to acquire openly anti-Christian connotations and the related celebrations became openly suggestive in this sense, both in form and substance, sometimes audaciously and openly. Haman, equated with that other Biblical arch-enemy of the Jews, Amalek (Deut. 25: 17-19),whose memory was to be blotted out from the face of the earth, was transformed, over time, into Jesus, the False Messiah, whose impious followers were once threatening the Chosen People with extermination (19).

Moreover, Haman was killed, hanged, as Jesus was said to have been, and there was no shortage of exegetic material reinforcing this paragon. In the Greek translation of the Septuagint as well as in Flavius Josephus (Ant. Jud. Xi, 267, 280), Haman’s gallows was interpreted as a cross, and the execution of King Ahasuerus’s belligerent minister was described, in effect, as a true and proper crucifixion. The equation between Amalek, Haman and Christ was self-evidently obvious. Haman, who, in the Biblical text is referred to as talui, "the hanged one", was confused with He who, in all anti-Christian Hebraic texts, was the Talui by antonomasia [the replacement of a proper name by anepithet] , i.e., the crucified Christ (20).

The sensational trial of the most prominent members of the Ashkenazi communities of northern Italy, accused of vilifying the Christianr eligion was held in Milan in the spring of 1488. In reply to inquisitors demanding the name used by Jews with reference to Jesus of Nazareth, Salomone da Como, one of the accused, answered unhesitatingly: "Among ourselves we call him "Ossoays" ("that man", from the Hebrew oto' ha-ish, according to the German pronunciation), or Talui ("the hanged one", "the crucified one"), while, when speaking to Christians, we always refer to him as ‘Christ’" (21). It is not surprising that a text by 4th century writer Evagrius describes the Jew Simone, in an argument with a Christian, Theophilus, should have equated “the cursed and despised Passion of Christ" with Haman’s ‘crucifixion’(22).

According to the great English anthropologist James George Frazer, Christ died while playing the role of Haman (the dying god) in a drama of Purim in which (Jesus) Barabbas, the double of Jesus

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of Nazareth, played the part of Mordechai (the god that resurges). In the model of the god that dies and is reborn -- which is common in theNear East -- Haman is said to have played the part of death and Mordechai that of life, while the celebration of Purim is said to constitute the Hebraic ritual of death and resurrection. Based on this consideration, one might hypothesize that, in the past, the Jews, at the culmination of the festival, might have been accustomed to putting a man to death in flesh and blood reality, and that Jesus was crucified in this context, playing the role of Ahasuerus’s tragic minister, the arch-enemy of Israel (23).

There is no shortage of testimonies of the celebration of rituals, within the framework of the carnival of Purim, intended to vilify and outrage the image of Haman, reconstituted in the semblance of Christ hanging from the cross. First, the emperor Honorius (384-423) and, in his footsteps, Theodosius (401-450), prohibited the Jews from the provinces of the Empire from setting fire to effigies of Haman crucified in contempt of the Christian religion. Probably to be associated with the preceding prohibitions is the report, mentioned by the late chronicler Agapius [10th century] and dating back to 404-407 A.D., during the reign of Theodosius II [Flavius Theodosius, Roman Emperor of the East,401-450 A.D.] , that certain Jews of Alexandria, forced to submit to baptism, are said to have rebelled, giving rise to a sensational protest, stating that, in their eyes, such a ceremony possessed the fascination of a certain originality. They are said to have taken an image of the crucified Christ, heaping insults upon the Christians, mocking them with the words: "This is our Messiah?" (24). It is not impossible that the episode formed part of the framework of the Hebraic Purim celebrations.

Before 1027, at Byzantium [Constantinople, now Istanbul], baptized Jews were required to curse their ex-fellow-Jews "who celebrated the festival of Mordechai, crucifying Haman on a beam of wood, in the form of a cross, and then setting fire to it, accompanying the vile rite with a torrent of imprecations directed at those faithful to Christ". Again, in the very early 13th century, Arnol, prior of the monastery at Lübeck, censured the wickedness of the Jews in bitter terms "in crucifying the figure of the Redeemer every year, making him the object of shameless ridicule" (25).

Even the Hebrew texts do not seem to be sparing on information in this regard. The Talmudic dictionary Arukh, consisting of the rabbi Natanb. Yehiel of Rome in the second half of the 11th century, contains reports that the Jews of Babylon were accustomed to celebrate the festival of Purim in a particular way.

"It is the custom among the Jews of Babylon and the rest of the entire world for the boys to make effigies shaped like Haman and hang them

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on the roofs of their houses for four or five days (before the festival). In the days of Purim, they prepare a phallus and throw it among these images, while they stand around singing songs" (26).

The above mentioned rites were culinary, even symbolically cannibalistic in nature. The effigies of Haman-Christ were of sweet pastry, to be destroyed, avidly consumed by youngsters and children during the days of carnival (27).

During the Middle Ages, the sweet delicacy enjoying absolute primacy in the sumptuous banquets of Purim was a typical biscuit, once again bearing the pathetic figure of Haman as a gastronomic butt of ridicule. The so-called "Haman's ears" (onze' Aman), presented in a variety of versions according to the various traditions of the Jewish community, gained a position of great importance in the feast of Purim. In Italy, they were strips of puff pastry shaped like ass's ears, fried in olive oil and powdered sugar, which quite resembled the Tuscan cenci and Roman frappe prepared during carnival time. Among Oriental and north African Jews, the puff pastry was roasted and covered with honeyand sesame seeds (28).

The Italian Ashkenazim did not much care for the overly-Mediterranean taste of these [latter]  biscuits, which they called "galahim frit" in contempt, "fried priests" (literally "people with the tonsure"), confirming the detestable relationship between Haman, Israel’s bitter enemy, and the arrogance of Christianity, with its priests. Their version of the "ears" were called Hamantaschen or "Haman's pockets", and was more elaborate. These consisted of a large triangle-shaped cake of egg pasta filled with a sweet brownish mixture based on poppy seeds (29). Nor should we be surprised to find that, even in the relatively recent past, there was no shortage of people in Germany who shared the belief, curious even if not very original, that the Ashkenazi stuffed their Hamantaschen with the coagulated blood of Christian boys martyred by them (30). Modern anti-Semites gather and disseminate this cannibalistic fable today from their university chairs, particularly in the Arab countries, making it the subject of ridiculous pseudo-historical research (31).

[COMMENT: It seems odd for Toaff to wax indignant over this mistaken belief when he himself admits that significant numbers of Ashkenazi Jews used (and presumably still use) the blood of Christian male children (maximum age, 7 years, please) in their Passover matzohs (or shimmurim, as Toaff prefers to call them) – an accusation made by “anti-Semites” for centuries and indignantly denied by Jews.]

Turning back centuries, however, we must note, following Frazer, that the ritual of Purim did not always conclude with the bloodless hanging of a mere effigy of Haman. Sometimes, the “effigy” was a flesh-and-blood Christian,

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crucified for real, during the wild revelry of the Jewish carnival. One of these sources of which we can attain with regards it Socrates Scolasticus, history of the Church in the 5th century, which, from its Historia Ecclestiastica (VII, 16) refers to a case occurring in 415 at Inmestar, near Antioch, in Syria (32). The local Hebrews, in their debaucheries and intemperate revelry to celebrate Purim, after getting suitably drunk, according to the prescriptions of the ritual, which provided that they must drink so much wine that they can no longer distinguish Haman from Mordechai:

"…took to deriding the Christians and Christ Himself in their boasting; they ridiculed the cross and anyone trusting in the crucifix, putting the following joke in practice.

“They took a Christian child, tied it to a cross and hanged him. Initially they made him the object of jokes and drollery; then, after a while, they lost control of themselves and mistreated him to such a degree that they killed him.

"The report, which makes no mention of miracles occurring at the site of the relics of the martyred child, seems to possess all the indications of truthfulness. Moreover, as we have seen above, there are people who have viewed the immoderate celebrations of Purim, accompanied by anti-Christian insults and violence, as the core from which the belief in Jewish ritual homicide of Christian children is thought to have developed during the Middle Ages, as an integral part of a ritual centered around on the festival of Pesach, considered the ideal culmination of Purim (33).

The case of Inmestar is not an isolated one. A Jewish source, the memoires of rabbi Efraim of Bonn, takes us to France, to Brie-Compte Robert, in 1191 or 1192 (34). A servant of the Duchess of Champagne was found guilty of the murder of a Jew and was held in prison for that offense. The other Jews of the village decided to rescue the prisoner in exchange for money and executed him during the festival ofPurim, hanging him (35).

“A perfidious Christian killed a Jew in the city of Brie, which is in France. Then the other Jews, his relatives, went to the lord of the region(the Duchess of Champagne), and implored her (to hand over) the murderer, who was a servant of the King of France. They therefore bribed her with their money in order to be able to crucify the killer (36). And they crucified him on the eve of Purim" (37).

The vengeance demanded in a loud voice by the Christians of Brie, headed by Philippe II August, King of France (1165-1223), was not long in coming.

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The entire adult Jewish population of the city, totaling about eighty persons, were tried and condemned to be burnt at the stake ("wealthy persons, rich and influential, some of them famous rabbis and people of culture, who refused to sully themselves [in the baptismal waters] and to betray the One God, were burnt alive proclaiming the unity of the Creator"). The children, who were Jews and circumcised, were taken en masse to the baptismal font to be made Christians. No festival of Purim ever concluded in a more tragic manner for the Jews, overturning and thwarting the saving and hope-giving meaning of the Biblical account of Esther and Mordechai.

The blasphemous parody of the Passion of Christ sometimes had the most tragic consequences. But this obvious fact did not always suffice to cool hot heads and restrain fanatical, agitated minds. The Christians were not too subtle about it, since they certainly didn't need excuses or pretexts to perpetrate indiscriminate massacres of Jews or to plunge Jewish children into the beneficial waters of baptism by force. The spiral of violence, having due regard to the discrepancies between the relative power and size of the two conflicting societies, could not be extinguished. The serpent bit its own tail, leaving its imprint of blood on the sand. Each society was, in a sense, its own victim, but neither noticed.

To give a few examples, on 7 February 1323, a few days before the festival of Purim, a Jew in the Duchy of Spoleto was condemned for striking and insulting the cross (38). On 28 February 1504, precisely coinciding with the festival of Purim, a beggar from Bevagna accused the local Jews of the place, transformed into evil spirits, of having cruelly crucified him (39). It was still in the days of Purim, in February1444, that the Jews of Vigone, in Piedmont, were accused of having pretended to butcher an image of Christ Crucified as a joke (40); again, it was in the month of February, this time in 1471, that a Jew from Gubbio brought a legal action to "scrape" the image of the Virgin Mary from the outside wall of his house (41).

was followed by Pesach, but the story, during that violent month, was no different, even without any strict need to play cruel and lethal cruel tricks on Christian boys, or to stone Jews and their houses en masse during the "holy hailstorm of stones". On 21 March 1456, a Jew of Lodi entered the cathedral of San Lorenzo at nightfall with a drawn sword, directing himself without hesitation, where he walked straight up to the main altar and proceeded to make log wood and splinters out of the image of Christ

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Crucified, with the evident intention of chopping it to bits. His fate was sealed. The culprit was lynched on the spot, amidst the rejoicing of a jubilant crowd, and vengeance was wreaked. 21 March 1456 corresponded to the 15th of the Month of Nissan of the Jewish year 5216 and the first day of Pesach. The matter was thus described by the commander of Lodi to the Duke of Milan:

"In our dear city of Lodi, on the 21st day, 17 hours, of the present month [March]  according to the common reports, a Jew entered the cathedral with sword in hand to cut the crucifix of Christ to pieces, for which offense the whole territory rose up against him and they ran to the Jew’s house [...] and killed the above-mentioned Jew and dragged him on the ground" (42).

In the early modern age, the carnival-like festivities of Purim finally lost those qualities of aggressiveness and violence which had been characteristic since the early Middle Ages, but never renounced the clearly anti-Christian meaning it possessed according to tradition. Thus wrote Giulio Morosini, known as Shemuel Nahmias at Venice when he was still a Jew, a shrewd former disciple of Leon da Modena:"During the reading [of the megillah of Esther], whenever Haman is named, the boys beat the benches of the synagogue with hammers or sticks with all their might as a sign of excommunication, crying in a loud voice 'May his name be blotted out and may the name of the impious rot. And they all cried 'Be cursed, Haman, Be blessed, Mordechai, Be blessed Esther, Be cursed Ahasueruss.' And they continue like that until evening, just as on the morning of the first day, never ceasing to express their justified contempt for Haman and the enemies of Judaism at that time, covertly spreading poison against Christians, under the name of Idolaters [...] they therefore cry out in a loud voice Be Cursed all the Idolaters (43).But at an even earlier time, the illustrious jurist Marquardo Susanni, protected by Paolo IV Carafa, the fervent and impassioned founder of the Ghetto of Rome, mentioned the wild hostility of the Jews towards Christianity as well as the peculiar carnival-like characteristics of Purim. According to him, "during the feast of Mordechai", the Jews did not hesitate to greet each other by saying, in contemptuous tones:' May the King of the Christians go down to ruin immediately, the way Haman went down to ruin" (44).

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The celebration of the festivals of the Jewish calendar marking the life of the people of Israel from ancient times has assumed primarily the character of historical-ritual repetition and “renewal of memory” (zikkaron) of the divine interventions in the history of the nation. In this sense, Pesach, the Jewish Passover, is celebrated as a “memorial”, zikkaron, in the sense of being a ritual representation of the past (1). More precisely, at Pesach, the events linked to slavery in Egypt, the persecutions suffered on the banks of the Nile, the miraculous exodus from the land of oppression, the divine vengeance on the enemies of Israel, and the laborious pathway towards the Promised Land and Redemption, are reviewed and projected into the present day. This is a pathway which has not yet been completed and perfected, pregnant with unknown factors and hazards, the happy outcome of which may be brought nearer by the actions of Man and the miraculous interventions of God in the history of Israel. What is more, the Jewish community, wherever it is located, is able to request the active involvement of the Divinity, intended to hasten the coming of Redemption, moving God through the sight of the sufferings of His Chosen People and impelling Him toact, defend, protect and wreak vengeance.

Blood is a fundamental and indispensable element in all the memorial celebrations of Pesach: the blood of the Passover Lamb and the bloodof circumcision. In the Midrash, this relationship is continually stressed and demonstrated. God, having seen the door-posts of the doors of the children of Israel in Egypt, bathed with the blood of the Passover lamb, is said to have recalled his Pact with Abraham, signed and sealed with the blood of circumcision. "Thanks to the blood of the Passover lamb and that of circumcision, the children of Israel were saved from Egypt". In fact, the Jews are said to have circumcised themselves for the first time precisely in concomitance with their exodus from the lands of the Pharaoh. And in this regard, adds the

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Midrash, "the blood of the lamb is mixed with that of circumcision" (2).

The German rabbis, for their part, placed particular importance upon the importance of that magnificent and fateful event, stating that the Jews transfused the blood of their circumcision into the same glass into which the blood of the Passover Lamb to be utilized in painting the door-posts of their doorways had been poured, according to God's orders, so that, together, they might, together, become the distinctive symbols of their salvation and redemption. This is why the prophet Ezekiel is said to have twice repeated the wish, "And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live." (Ezekiel 16:6), intending to refer both to the blood of the Passover lamb and that of circumcision. In the Midrash, the German rabbis found the references necessary to establish beyond any doubt the close relationship between blood (of the Passover lamb and that of circumcision) and the final redemption of the people of Israel. "God has said: I have given them two precepts so that, fulfilling them, they may be redeemed, and these are the blood of the Passover lamb and that of circumcision" (3).

In the Sefer Nizzachon Yashan, a harsh anonymous anti-Christian polemical publication compiled in Germany at the end of the 13th century, the themes of which are repeated in the liturgical invocations of Rabbi Shelomoh of Worms, the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt is taken as a pretext to outline a dispute intended to contrast the saving blood of the Passover blood and of circumcision to the powers of the cross.

"It is written: 'And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood (of the Passover lamb) that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the basin’ (Ex. 12:22).

"The Christians distance themselves even further from this passage and claim to find a reference to the Cross in it, since it recalls three places(the lintel and the two door-posts). This therefore tells us: It is thanks to the Cross that (your fathers in the exodus from Egypt) gained their salvation (4).

"One must reply to them by rejecting an interpretation of this kind. In fact, the truth is in these words of God: 'Through the merit of the blood, poured into different occasions, I shall remember you, when I see your houses tinted with blood. This is the blood of circumcision of Abraham, of the blood of the sacrifice of Isaac, when Abraham was about to immolate his son, and of the blood of the Passover lamb". It is for this reason that the blood returns three times in the verse of the prophet Ezekeiel (16:6). 'And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto that when thou wast in thine own blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.'" (5).

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The reference to the sacrifice of Isaac would appear out of place, considering that, in the Biblical account, Abraham did not really immolate his son, as he was prepared to do, but was stopped by the miraculous Divine intervention which stayed his hand, holding the sacrificial knife.

But this conclusion should certainly be revised. The Midrash even advances the hypothesis that Abraham really shed Isaac's blood, sacrificing him on the precise spot upon which the Altar of the Temple of Jerusalem was later to be built. The pious patriarch is then believed to have proceeded to reduce the body to ashes, burning it on the pyre which he is said to have previously prepared for that purpose. Only later is God supposed to have rectified Abraham’s action, returning Isaac to life (6). Elsewhere, the analogy between Isaac, who bears theburden of the bundles of wood intended for his own holocaust on Mount Moriyah, and Christ, bent under double the weight of the Cross, is clearly shown (7). Explaining the verse of Ex. 12:13 ("And I when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you, and the plague shall be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt"), the Midrash asks us which blood God is to see on the doors of the Children of Israel, and unhesitatingly responds: "God will see the spilt blood of the sacrifice of Isaac". On the other hand, the Jewish month of Nissan, during which the festivity of Pesach falls, in the tradition of Midrash, is considered the month of the Isaac’s birth, as well as that of his immolation (8).

Isaac was sacrificed for the love of God and his blood gushes onto the altar, coloring it red. This is the historical-ritual memory, transfigured and updated, which the Judaism of the German lands, reduced in numbers by the suicides and mass child murders committed during the Crusades "for the sanctification of the Lord's name" wished to preserve, situating it at Passover and in relation to the exodus from Egypt. In one of his elegies, Ephraim of Bonn described not only the ardor and the zeal of Abraham in immolating his son, butchering him on the altar, but also the abnegation of Isaac, happy to serve as the holocaust (9). After which the saintly boy was carried back to life by God himself, Abraham is said to have sought to sacrifice him a second time in an overflowing backwash of fervent faith. It was precisely these the elements which, according to the Jews of the Franco-German communities, placed in relationship with the prayer for the dead (zidduk hadin)with the sacrifice of Isaac.

"The verse ‘When He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you’ (Ex. 12:23), recalls the sacrifice of Isaac, while the verse 'I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live!' (Ez . 16:6) possesses the same numerical value

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(ghematryah) as the name Isaac, Izchak. For this reason was introduced into the text of the prayer for the dead, ziddu, ha-din, the following wish: 'Through the merit of He who was sacrificed like a lamb (Isaac), Thou, oh God, lend an ear and act accordingly'. In fact, Isaac, was killed and appears at the sight of the divined presence (schechinah).. Only after he was already dead did the angel cure him, restoring him to life" (10).

In conclusion, the German Jews, who, during the first crusade in 1096, sacrificed their sons to avoid forced baptism, intending to imitate the sacrifice of Isaac by the hand of Abraham, his father. Deliberately ignoring the Biblical conclusion of the episode, which stressed God’s aversion to human sacrifice, they preferred to refer to those texts of the Midrash in which Isaac actually met a cruel death on the altar. The German Jews thus conferred new life upon these new texts in search of moral support for the their actions, which appeared unjustifiable and might easily be condemned under the terms of ritual law (halakhah) (11).

The Biblical account of Jeptha was generally interpreted in this sense as well. The exegetic tradition of the Midrash has no hesitation of any kind in stating that the brave judge of Israel who solemnly promised to sacrifice the first creature he met upon victorious return from the battle against the Ammonites (Judges 11:31), actually kept his vow, sacrificing on the altar his only daughter, who ran out to celebrate the happy outcome of the epic battle with him (Judges 11:35) (12). Nor did the Medieval exegetics of the German territories show any kind of embarrassment in dealing with this problematical tale, since they were all intent on minimizing the seriousness of the action of this Jewish leader from Galahad (13). It is, however, a fact that, while reference to the sacrifice of Isaac is frequently made, heavily charged with significance in the historical-ritual memory of Ashkenazi Judaism, that of the Jeptha’s daughter never rose to the rank of moral precedent of reference.

As we have said, the memorial celebration of Pesach was indissolubly linked with the sacrifice of the lamb and the blood of circumcision.

The latter arose as a symbol of the pact between God and the people of Israel, signed in the flesh of Abraham, while the blood of the Passover lamb was the emblem of salvation and redemption. As Yerushalmi notes, the Passover dinner or Seder has always constituted the exercise of memory par excellence of the Jewish community, wherever it existed.

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"Here, during the meal around the family dining table, ritual, liturgical and culinary elements were orchestrated in such a way as to transmit the most vital sense of the past from one generation to another. The entire Seder is the symbolic staging of an historically founded scenario, divided into three main sections, corresponding to the structure of the Haggadah (the account of the stories of Pesach and about Pesach), which are to be read aloud: slavery, liberation, final Redemption. [...] words and gestures which are intended to awaken, not simply memory, but a harmonious merging of the past and present. Memory is no longer something to be contemplated from afar, but represents a true and proper representation and updating" (14).

The wine drunk during the Seder symbolizes the blood of the Passover lamb and the circumcision, and it is not therefore surprising that the Palestinian Talmud associates the four glasses of wine, which absolutely must be drunk during the Seder, with the four phases of Redemption. What is more, the text presents the charoset, the fruit preserve kneaded with the wine, intended to bring to mind the past, as "blood memorials" of the clay and mortar used by the Jews when engaged in slave labor during their long captivity in the land of the Pharaohs (15).

If the blood of the Passover lamb was distilled from a sacrifice, so, in a certain sense, is the blood of circumcision. The Midrash states that "a drop of the blood (of circumcision) is as pleasing to the Holy One -- may His name be blessed -- as that of sacrifices" (16). But it was the rabbis and the medieval exegetics, particularly, those of the Franco-German territories, who developed and broadened this concept. The Provençal Aharon di Lunel (13th century) did not hesitate to affirm that "He who offers his own son for circumcision is similar to the priest who presents the farinaceous offering and sacrifices a libation on the altar". His contemporary, Bechayah b. Asher of Saragoza, a famous moralist, also stressed the close relationship between sacrifice and circumcision: "The precept of circumcision is equivalent to a sacrifice, because a man offers the fruit of his loins to blessed God for the purpose of fulfilling His command (to circumcise the son); and, just as sacrificial blood is used for expiation, thus the blood of circumcision heals wounds [...] It is, in fact, thanks to this obligation, that God promised Israel salvation from Gehenna" (17).

Even more explicit is Yaakov Ha-Gozer ("the Cutter") who lived in the 13th century in Germany, in his essay on the rite of circumcision.

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"Come and consider how pleasing is the precept of circumcision before the Holy One, may His name be blessed. In fact, every Jew who sacrifices by means of circumcision in the morning is considered as if he had presented the daily holocaust of the morning. Before God, theblood of circumcision is as valuable as the sacrifice of the lamb on the altar every day: one in the morning and the other in the evening, and his son is perfect and immaculate like the lamb of one year" (18).

Circumcision is therefore considered equal to the sacrifice and the blood poured out during this holy act of surgery thus came to assume the same value as the uncorrupted blood of the perfect and innocent lamb, butchered on the altar and offered to god. This sacrifice was at the same time individual and collective, because, as Bechayeh b. Asher observed, it was considered capable of providing automatic and infallible salvation from the torments of gehenna [inferno], regardless of the conduct of the individual and the community. It was a kind of sacramental mystery of certain efficacy and proven power (19).

In this sense, circumcision came, with time, to assume the character of an apotropaic [warding off evil] and exorcistic rite. The blood of the circumcised child and the providential cutting of the foreskin provided protection and salvation, as taught in the Biblical account -- which is otherwise short on detail -- of Moses, mortally assailed by God and miraculously saved by virtue of his own circumcision and that of his son.

This was said to have been performed immediately, although a bit crudely, by Moses’ wife Zipporah. "And it came to pass by the in the inn, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So He let him go; then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of thy circumcision" (Ex.4: 24-26).Circumcision defended and liberated from danger, and the blood shed on that occasion possessed infallible exorcistic significance. The Gheonim, heads of the rabbinical academies of Babylon, "circumcised in the water", i.e., they taught that the bloody foreskin was to be thrown into a recipient containing water perfumed with spices and myrtil [a red flower]. The young males present at the ceremony hastened to wash the hands and face in the sweet-smelling fluid as a counter-spell intended to bring good luck and serve as a propitiatory sign of stupendous success in love and numerous and healthy descendants (20).

In the Middle Ages, particularly, in the German-speaking territories, circumcision came to assume, with particular clarity, the value

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of an apotropaic and exorcistic rite, which, in the synagogue, was free to express itself without hindrance of any kind against the background of community life. As we have seen, during the ceremony, the blood of the circumcised foreskin was mixed with the wine and tasted by the mohel himself, by the child and his mother, and the libation was accompanied by the prophetic wish "Thanks to your blood, you live!" The famous German rabbi Jacob Mulin Segal (1360-1427), known as Maharil, who also lived at Treviso for some time, in his weighty handbook of customs in use in the Ashkenazi communities of the valley of the Rhine, reported that it was a widespread custom to pour whatever remained in the cup, together with the wine and the blood of the circumcised child, under the Ark with the rolls of the Law, located in the synagogue. This act was intended to exorcise the exterior dangers hanging over the Jewish world and the tragedies threatening its existence.

In the 17th century, this custom was still in force in the Jewish community of Worms. "Soon after the mohel has completed the operation [...] whatever remains of the content of the glass, together with the wine and blood of the circumcised child, is poured onto the steps before the Ark with the rolls of the Law in the synagogue" (21). Among Ashkenazi Jews therefore, on a popular level, the salvation represented by the blood of circumcision was essentially understood, by both the individual and the collective, in a magical sense. That blood was able to provide protection from the constant threat of the Angel of Death, while functioning as an antidote to the ills of this life and serving as a health-giving potion during the rites of passage, charged with unknown dangers (22).

Another curious testimony in this regard may be found in the writings of the so-called “Cutter, the mohel Yaakov Ha-Gozer. The German rabbi described the custom of his Jewish contemporaries (obviously, in the 13th century) of hanging the cloth used by the mohel to clean his hands from the lintel of the entranceway to the synagogue upon completion of the operation.

"Therefore, the cloth used by the mohel to clean his hands and mouth, which are full of blood, is placed on the door to the synagogue. The meaning of the custom of hanging the cloth in the entrance to the temple was explained to me by my uncle, rabbi Efraim of Bonn. In effect, our elders told us that the children of Israel left the land of Egypt thanks to the blood of the Passover sacrifice and the blood of circumcision. On that occasion, the sons of Israel colored the lintels of their doorways with blood so that the Lord would prevent the Angel of Death from striking their houses and for the purpose of manifesting the miracle. For this reason, the

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circumcision cloth, stained with blood, is hung in the door of the synagogue to indicate the sign linked to circumcision and to make manifest tto all the precept, as is said, 'It shall be a sign between thee and me'" (23).The custom of hanging the cloth used by the mohel to clean his hands and mouth of blood of the child in the synagogue doorway also appears in the so-called Machazor Vitry, written around the 12th century. This ancient French liturgical text in fact states that, in the Ashkenazi Jewish communities, the cloth used by the mohel to clean off the blood "shall be hung at the entrance to the synagogue" (24).

we suck

Jewish mystical texts also stress the relationship between the blood of the Passover lamb and that of circumcision and the meanings of Pesach. The Zohar "the blood of splendor", the classical text of the Cabbalah attributed to rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and set in Palestine of the 2nd century of the Christian era, but, in reality, composed in Spain at the end of the 13th century, stresses, in its peculiar language, the centrality of the motif of blood in the ceremonial commemoration of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

"The blood of the circumcision corresponds to the divine quality of absolute piety, because the Holy One, may His name be blessed, upon seeing the blood of the circumcision, feels compassion for the world; the blood of the Passover lamb, on the other hand, indicates the divine quality of judgment, because the sacrifice of the Passover is performed with the lamb, which corresponds to the Zodiacal sign of the ram, the god of Egypt [...] therefore, the blood of the circumcision and that of the Passover lamb, which are to be seen on the door, corresponded to the two sefirot (the divine attributes) of piety and power (or justice), which had awakened to dominance in the heavens at that moment. In fact, the blood of circumcision represents the divine quality of compassion, while the blood of the Passover lamb represents the qualities of justice and power. Therefore, piety was kindled to pity the children of Israel so that they wouldn't die [...] while justice was kindled to wreak vengeance on the first born of the Egyptians (25).

For the Cabballah, the blood of circumcision and that of the Passover lamb therefore possessed opposite meanings. The first indicated the piety of God, ready to show compassion towards the Jews and save them from dangers and death. The second, on the other hand, represented the power and severity of Divine justice, which wreaked vengeance on the peoples of Egypt, killing their children. The motif of the blood of the circumcision, capable of protecting the children of

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Israel, effectively removing the threats to its existence, annulling the instinct of evil and hastening the hour of Redemption, returns, further along in the Zohar, in connection with the memorial of Pesach.

"When the Holy One, may His name be blessed, having come down from Egypt to smite the first born, saw the blood of the Passover sacrifice marking the doors (of Israel), and also sees the blood of the pact (of circumcision) and that both are found on the door [...] To drive away the influx of evil spirits he sprinkled it (in those places) using a hyssop branch. In the future, in the hour of Israel’s redemption, sublime and complete, the Holy One, may His name be blessed, shall take unto himself the instinct of evil and shall butcher it, thus removing the spirit of impiety from the earth (26).

For the Zohar, God, passing by the doors of the children of Israel, dubbed with blood, is not only said to have saved the Jews from the Angel of Death, but He is said to have cured the wounds of their circumcision, collectively performed by the Jews for the first time.

"It is written: 'God smote Israel, he smote it and he cured it' (Is. 19:22), wishing to signify that he smote Egypt and cured the Israelites, i.e., not only that Israel’s salvation only occurred simultaneously with the slaying of the first born (of the Egyptians), but that Israel’s healing occurred at the same time. If one were to wonder what the children of Israel were to recover from, we shall respond that, after being circumcised, they needed to be healed, and were cured through the appearance of the Divine Presence (ghilui schechinah). While the Egyptians were being smitten, at that exact same moment, the children of Israel were being cured of the wound caused by circumcision. In fact, what does the verse: 'And God passed by the door' (Ez. 12:23) mean? [...] the answer is that He passed by the door of the body. But what is the door of the body? And we shall respond: the door of the body is the place of circumcision. We shall conclude by saying that whenthe Holy One, may His name be blessed, passed by the door (of the children of Israel), in Egypt, they were cured of the wound of circumcision (27).

The symbolic meaning of the Passover lamb offered in sacrifice is stressed by the Zohar, which places it in relationship with a significant, corresponding sacrifice performed in the secret and sublime world of the reality of God. When the children of Israel shall have immolated the Passover lamb, only then shall God in his firmament sacrifice the corresponding Lamb of Evil, responsible for the tragedies of Israel on earth and for the repeated exiles afflicting the Jews throughout history.

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“Sayeth the Holy One, may His name be blessed, to the children of Israel: carry out this action below (on earth) and go and take the lamb and prepare it for sacrifice on the 14th of this month [of Nissan]; then I on high (in my heaven) shall destroy his power [...]. Observing the precept of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb below (on earth), the children of Israel have caused to be reduced to impotence the slag of evil(kelippah) of the lamb on high (in the divine firmament), which is responsible for the four exiles suffered by the children of Israel (in Babylon, in Media, in Greece and in Egypt). Thus it is written: 'I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from generation to generation' (Ex. 17:14), has this significance: You, children of Israel, shall blot out the memory of Amalek below (on earth) through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, as it is written: 'Thou shalt cancel out the memory of Amalek', and thanks to this your action I shall blot out its memory on high (in my firmament)" (28).

The sacrifice of the Passover lamb therefore came to assume a cosmic significance in the texts of Jewish mysticism. Its blood, poured on the altar and applied to the door-posts of the houses, are intended to impel God to sacrifice the Lamb of Evil in His world, responsible for the successive troubles and misfortunes marking the history of Israel.

The link between the blood of the circumcision and that of the Passover lamb came to assume additional meanings during the Middle Ages, particularly in the German-speaking territories, and no longer alluded merely to the blood by virtue of which sin is expiated. The latter blood came to be added to the blood shed by Jewish martyrs, who offered their own lives and those of their dear ones "to sanctify the name of God”('al kiddush ha-Shem), rejecting the waters of baptism. Thus, the blood of circumcision, that of the Passover lamb, and that of those killed in defense of their own faith became mixed together and became confounded, hastening the final redemption of Israel and persuading God to wreak His atrocious vengeance on the children of Edom, the Christians, responsible for the tragedies suffered by the Jewish people. The Jews in Germany who, during the first crusade, sacrificed their own children 'as Abraham sacrificed Isaac his son', were perfectly convinced that their own blood, together with that of the two other sacrifices -- circumcision and the Passover lamb -- all offered to God in abnegation, would not be lost, but would constitute the powerful fluid from which the well-deserved and predicted revenge and the much-desired Redemption would ferment (29).

Thus, in a distorted logic borne of suffering and distorted by passion, one might even arrive at aberrant analogies which might nevertheless appear justifiable from the point of view of the persons concerned. In the ceremony

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of the milah, a few drops of blood from the circumcised child, poured into wine, possessed the power to transform the wine into blood; therefore, the wine was drunk by the child, his mother and the mohel himself, with propitiatory, well-auguring and counter-magical meanings (30).

By the same logic, during the Passover ceremony of the Seder, a few drops of the child’s blood, the symbol of Edom (Christianity) and ofEgypt, dissolved in the wine, had the power to transform the wine into blood, intended to be drunk and sprinkled onto the table as a sign of vengeance and as a symbol of the curses directed at the enemies of Israel as well as a pressing call to Redemption. Again, in connection with Pesach, vengeance on the children of Edom – Christianity – representing Edom renewed, at Rome, the city of impurity -- was also eagerly sought in the Zohar, even if in deliberately convoluted language:"It is written 'Who is He who comes from Edom, with the garments tinted red from Bozrah?' (Is. 63:6). The prophet predicts that the Holy One, may His name be blessed, shall wreak vengeance against Edom, and that the minister who represents the reign of Edom on high (in the celestial firmament) shall be the first to die. The prophet is in fact speaking with the language of ordinary people, observing that when they kill someone, blood squirts upon their garments. For this reason, he refers to them as if they asked: 'Who is he who comes from Edom, with his garments tinted with blood; that is, from the armed city (Hebrew: bezurah, a pun, recalling the name Bozrah of the verse of Isaiah, which is he great metropolis of Rome? This is, therefore, the meaning of that which is written: in the future, the Holy One, may His name be blessed, shall reveal his powers of judgment and of blood in all their obviousness to wreak his vengeance on Edom" (31).

The fact that this fragment of the Zohar -- which contains not one explicit reference to the memorial of Passover -- is found in the section dealing with the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, clearly indicates that blood -- linked to the vengeance against Edom, the symbol of arrogant and triumphant Christianity -- was a major element in the updated historical-ritual celebration of the Pesach.

As we have seen, the preserve of fresh and dry fruit (apples, pears, nuts and almonds), kneaded with the wine, intended to represent the building materials used by the people of Israel during their captivity in Israel, and which was to be eaten and drunk during the Passover dinner of the Seder, took the name of charoset and was considered a memorial of the blood (32). In other words, the clay and mortar with which the Jews had built the city on the banks of the Nile

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were mixed with the blood flowing from their bodies, covered with sores and suffering. It is not, therefore, surprising that the Jews, in their history (yet again, we are speaking of Ashkenazi-origin Jews) have sometimes been accused of murdering Christian children to eat the body and drink the blood in the charoset during a repulsive cannibalistic repast.

In 1329, in the Duchy of Savoy, a Jew, Acelino da Tresselve, and a Christian, Jacques d'Aiguebelle, were accused of abducting Christianboys in numerous cities of the region, such as Geneva, Rumilly and Annecy. Several other Jews in the Duchy were involved in the inquiry, including a certain Jocetus (Yoseph) and Aquineto (Izchak). The inquiry finally forced them to confess, at least partially under torture, to sacrificing five children to knead their heads and viscera into the charoset (indicated in the confessions under the correct term of aharace), which they are then alleged to have been eaten, presumably during the Seder dinner. According to their statements, this collective ritual constituted a surrogate Easter sacrifice, and was, as such, able to bring closer the hour of Redemption (33). In relation to these facts, it might be noted that some of the Jews expelled from England in 1290 in the times of Edward I emigrated to Savoy, reinforcing the Jewish community of the Duchy from a demographic, cultural and religious point of view. Jews from Norwich, Bristol and Lincoln were now to befound at Chambéry, Bourg-en-Bresse and Annecy, bringing with them traditions and stereotypes charged with implications (34). The accusation of preparing the charoset of Pesach with the blood of Christian children was repeated with regards to the Jews of Arles in 1453 (35).

Another child murder, that of Savona, the particulars of which were revealed around 1456 to Alfonso de Espina, confessor to the King of Castille, by one of the participants in the cruel ritual, desiring to obtain pardon and baptism, appears to have revolved around the preparation of the charoset for the celebration of the Pesach (36). The victim’s blood, gathered in the cup ordinarily used to collect the blood of Jewish infants following circumcision, was said to have been poured into the kneaded dough of a pastry consisting of honey, pears, nuts, hazelnuts and other fresh and dried fruits, which all persons present at the ceremony were alleged to have gulped down hastily with an appetite born of religious zeal (37).

The charoset, according to these reports --the reliability of which we would not be inclined to swear upon -- was thus transformed into a kind of sacred human black pudding, capable of wonderfully enriching the list of the foods of the Passover dinner and, at the same time, of bringing to the table the exotic savor of Redemption, soon to come. It is therefore

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plausible that, whoever placed the charoset in the forefront of the ritual murder accusations was quite aware of the fact that tradition considered it a memorial of blood. In this sense, it constituted an element perfectly well suited to serve as a basis for arguments alleging that the Jews used the blood of children in their Passover rites.

Circumcision, Passover lamb, sacrifice of Isaac, martyrdom for love of God, memorial of the charoset. A true and proper river of blood flowed towards Pesach, both on the table of Seder and in the pages of the Haggadah,  the liturgical-convivial celebration of the stories of the exodus from Egypt. But that was not all. In addition, the first and the most characteristic of the ten plagues smiting the lands of the Pharaoh, guilty of culpably holding the Jews captive against their will, was linked to blood, dam. Moses and Aronne smote the sacred waters of the beneficial Nile with their staff and, by the will of God, the waters were transformed into venomous serpents (Ex. 7:14-25). These waters, now toxic and no longer potable, gave birth to abandonment, desolation and death.

In popular culture, carried along by a thousand rivulets within the traditions and customs of Jews in the Western word, the troublesome phenomenon of the waters of the rivers and the lakes, basins of water, fountains, and mountain fountains capable of transforming themselves without warning into lethal agents, were an unfortunately recurrent theme. At least four times a year, with every change in the season(tekufah), for four days, blood was said to be have become mixed with the potable water (i.e., this cannot refer to the waters of the sea, but rather, to rivers, wells and fountains), menacingly jeopardizing the health of men. The uncertainty and dismay which accompanied the moments and the phases of passage, such as the approach of the seasons, once again evoked the obsessive menace of blood. Blood at birth, blood at circumcision, blood in matrimony, blood at death, blood at each change of the seasons. Superficial carelessness or inadvertent negligence were fraught with danger. Once again, the classical references to Isaac’s cruel sacrifice (i.e., the sacrifice actually carried out), the transformation of the Nile into blood and Jeptha’s tragic vow, became both customary and mandatory, finding well-considered, welcome acceptance in the texts containing the most ancient traditions of Franco-Germanic medieval Judaism, from the Machazor Vitry to the late17th century writings of Chaim Chaike Levi Hurwitz, rabbi of Grodno (38).

In the Sefer Abudarham, famous liturgical compendium based on the popular traditions of the Sephardic world, both Sephardic, Provençal and

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Ashkenazim, makes open reference to the dangers threatening man whenever one season replaces another. David Agudarham, rabbi at Seville, who compiled his heavy handbook in 1340, advised, although with some hesitation, against the drinking of water during the days of the change of seasons (tekufah), for fear of its contamination by blood.

"I have found it written that one must be careful during any of the four changes of seasons, so as to avoid harm and danger. In the season of Nissan (spring, the Passover period), the waters of Egypt were actually transformed into wine; in the season of Tamuz (summer), when Godcommanded Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock, so that waters might flow forth from it, and they disobeyed, striking the rock instead [Num. 20:8-12],  they were punished, and blood flowed forth from the rock [...]; in the season of Tishri (autumn), because then Abraham sacrificed his son Isaac and from his knife fell drops of blood, which alone were sufficient to transform all waters; and in the season of Tevet(winter), because it was then that the daughter of Jeptha was sacrificed and all the waters became blood [...]. It is for this reason that the Jews, living in the lands of the Occident, completely abstain from drinking water during any change of the seasons" (39).

Even at the end of the 16th century, the Marranos of Bragança, in northern Portugal, on trial before the Inquisition of Coimbra, proved themselves perfectly well aware of the dangers lurking in the night air upon the approach of any change of season. It was then that, according to the ancient traditions of the Judaizers [Christians who believe in circumcision ], rays and veins of blood (rai e veie de sangue) penetrated the waters of wells and fountains at the setting of the sun. A wonderful and extraordinary phenomenon was observed at this point, because the "waters turned into wine"; and anyone drinking of them would undoubtedly lose his life in the cruelest way. It then became necessary to have recourse to particularly effective and powerful antidotes, identified by tradition in the ceremony of "tempering", which consisted of throwing three glowing-hot coals into the polluted waters; or of "ironing" the same waters by dipping a red-hot horseshoe into them.

Neglecting these precautions was said to cause certain death to anyone drinking those toxic and pestiferous potions. Death was said to fall upon the victim at the first onset of winter, "when his vines lose their last leaf" (40).

Sabato Nacamulli (Naccamù),

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a Jew of Ancona who later converted to Christianity under the name of Franceso Maria Ferretti, provided a critical summary of the rites relating to the change of seasons (tekufah), when the waters were capable of dangerously transforming themselves into deadly blood.

"Four times in the year, they pray that God might, at any moment, [at any] points or minutes [of the compass], turn all the waters into blood; they therefore abstained from drinking water at such times, because they firmly believed that if anyone drank the water at that moment, his abdomen would certainly swell, and he would die a few days afterwards; they, therefore, keep bread, a piece of iron, or something else in those waters at such times, and this, in their vanity, they called tecufà" (41).

Perhaps linked to these popular beliefs was the custom among relatives in mourning to pour out, onto the ground, all water contained in recipients kept in the house of a dead person. In German-ritual Jewish communities, they actually believed that the Angel of Death intended to immerse his deadly sword in those waters, transforming them into blood, and thus threatening the lives of the relatives and all persons known by the deceased (42).

In the German-language territories, rivers, lakes, rivers and torrents possessed an ambiguous and disturbing fascination. Many of the presumed ritual murder victims had emerged from those very same waters, cast forth onto the river banks of Saxony by floods and currents. The muddy waters of the Severn and the Loire, the Rhine and the Danube, the Main and Lake Constance, with their ebb and flow, revealed that which was intended to remain hidden, becoming the fulcrum of many tales awaiting discovery.

Moreover, even the Christian populations of the regions traversed by these waterways were convinced, from ancient times, as Frazer tells us, that the spirit of the rivers and lakes claimed their victims every year, particularly during precise periods, such as the days around Assumption Day (43). People considered it dangerous to bathe in the waters of the Saale, the Sprea and the Neckar, and even Lake Constance, for fear of becoming involuntary sacrifices to the cruel gods of the river. Thus, on St. Johns’ Day, at Cologne, Schaffhausen, Neuburg in Baden, as well as at Fulda and Regensburg in Swabia, as well as in the Swiss valley of Emmenthal, there was wide-spread feart hat new victims of the lethal waters of the rivers and lakes would be added to those of previous years, to satisfy the demands of the imperious spirits hovering over the waves. Jews and Christians observed the ebb and flow, fearful and simultaneously bewitched, possessed by an overwhelming fascination. No ritual homicide ever occurred, nor could it occur, at the seaside.

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Over the course of the first two evenings of Pesach, during the ritual dinner of the Seder, all persons at the table read the Haggadah, a liturgical text containing the account of the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt based on the Biblical narration and rabbinical materials, together with the benedictions concerning the foods symbolic of the Jewish Passover, among them the unleavened bread (mazzot), charoset, bitter herb (maror), and lamb's foot. The text of the Haggadah is often ornamented by miniatures, tables and woodcuts illustrating the salient stages of the history of the Jews in the land of the Pharaohs, as well as to the events linked to their miraculous salvation and the perilous journey undertaken towards the Promised Land. The illustrations were not selected by accident; in addition to reflecting the artistic tastes of the Jews of various epochs and localities, the illustrations were intended to stress and focus upon particular historical or legendary events and underlying messages made indirectly perceptible through these images, while updating their content (1).

Very rarely do the illustrations distance themselves from the text of the Haggadah and refer to legends of the Midrash presenting a few similarities with the Passover. One of these passages, which is anomalous insofar as it concerns the matter under discussion, but was surprisingly widespread despite its difficult and delicate nature, is the passage describing the Pharaoh, stricken with leprosy and cured by the blood of Jewish boys, cruelly killed for that very purpose. The Midrash Rabbah in fact reports that the Pharaoh was punished with leprosy byGod, and that his physicians advised him to cure himself by means of health-giving baths in the blood of Jewish children. One hundred and fifty children of the nation of Israel are said to have been killed every day, from morning till night, to supply the Egyptian despot with the precious medicament. Cries of pain and desperation of the children of Israel, as well as of their fathers and mothers, bereaved of their tender offspring, are said to have risen to high heaven, accompanied by prayers for redeeming vengeance (2).

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The anonymous Sefer Ha-Yashar, an ethical text composed in the 13th century, illustrated the tragic legend with a plethora of detail, extending the dimensions of the massacre and transforming it into authentic history.

"When God smote the Pharaoh with the illness, the latter turned to his magicians and wise men so that they might cure him. The latter, so that he might be cured, prescribed that the sores be covered with the blood of children. At this point, the Pharaoh, heeding their counsel, sent his functionaries to the land of Goshen so that they might abduct Jewish children. The order was carried out, and the infants were taken by force from their mother's laps to be presented to the Pharaoh every day, one by one, it was then that his physicians killed them and, with their blood, bathed the sores on his body, repeating the operation for days at a time, so that the number of butchered children reached the number of three hundred seventy five" (3).

The grisly legend of the massacre of the Jewish children sacrificed to restore health to the monarch of Egypt, while it remained almost ignored by Iberian, Italian and Oriental Judaism, met with predictable success and a warm reception among Jews of the Franco-German territories and the Ashkenazi communities of northern Italy. As early as the 11th century, the famous French exegetist Rashi (R. ShelemohIzchaki) of Troyes reminded his readers that the Pharaoh "contracted leprosy and (to get well) killed the children of Israel to take baths in their blood" (4). This account was followed by later, other well-known rabbis and commentators, such as Yehudah Loeb of Prague and Mordekhai Jaffe of Cracow. The topos [traditional theme or motif] was definitively established and was to enjoy a long life in Hebrew and Yiddish (5).

Finally, and this is hardly surprising, the legend of the Pharaoh bathing in Jewish blood became very closed linked to the ritual of Pesach.

The texts of Medieval Ashkenazi Judaism therefore hastened to place this innocent blood in precise relationship with the tradition of mixing the red wine into the dough of the charoset, the fruit preserve eaten during the Seder dinner as a "memorial of blood" (6). Izchak ben Moshe,13th century Austrian ritualist, explicitly stated that "The precept to drink wine of a red color (during the Seder dinner) is in remembrance of the leprosy said to have struck the Pharaoh, to cure himself of which he immolated suckling infants (of the Jews) and moreover in remembrance of the blood of the Passover lamb and the blood of circumcision" (7).

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After the blood of the circumcision, the Passover lamb, the sacrifice of Isaac, the sacrifice of martyrs for the faith, the pure and innocent blood of Jewish children sacrificed to the therapeutic requirements of the enemies of Israel, an open path, safe and promising, led to the ritual celebrations of the Seder of the Jewish Passover. But to enable the topos to become even more deeply rooted, in all its mysterious and disturbing aspects, in the popular mind, conveying messages which were in fact alternative messages, accompanied by polemics of burning contemporary interest, the legend needed to be cemented in place through the crude force of images, fantastic and unreal in outward appearance only. These were the origins of the woodcuts of the Jewish victims of perverse infanticide in the illustrations of the Haggadah (8).

The first testimonies to this iconographic topic are handed down to us in five Hebrew manuscripts, all originating in Bavaria and the centers of the Rhineland (Nuremberg in particular) and may be chronologically situated in the second half of the 15th century, i.e., the period of themost widespread dissemination of ritual murder accusations in the German-speaking lands. The miniatures are of crude workmanship, restricted to reproducing, often only suggesting, the essential elements of the tale, which was presumed to be well known to the reader (9).

A rather more detailed and revealing example of the iconography of the leprous Pharaoh appears in the most famous and oldest Haggadot with printed illustrations: that of Prague in 1526 (there is a second edition with important variants, dating back to the end of the century), of Mantua in 1560 (republished in 1568) and Venice in 1609 (10). In the Haggadah of Prague, the image is used to illustrate that section of the text which describes the sufferings and laments of the children of Israel forced to perform forced labor in Egypt. The woodcut depicts a scene of amazing crudity (11). On the right the crowned Pharaoh, curled up in a large tub of wood with staves, is enjoying a bath of fresh blood, poured in by an obliging domestic servant by means of a suitable recipient. On the left and in the center of the panel, some armed thugs, monstrous and cruel, dressed as soldiers and German peasants, are shown massacring innocent children, decapitating them, quartering them, and skewering them like thrushes on pikes and swords. Other children await their tragic fate with resignation. The points of the lances emerge from the open gash of the circumcision wound, while dismembered little bodies litter the ground.

In the so-called "second Haggadah" of Prague, the scene is repeated with some redundant and lachrymose added touches. In the center

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of the picture, a desperate mother, with her breasts exposed, attempts hopelessly to flee, carrying her unhappy infants with her (12). The butchery of the preceding edition is further confirmed with an abundance of detail. I believe there can be little doubt that this image is modeled after the Massacre of the Innocents during King Herod’s reign in Palestine (Matthew 2:16), as depicted in a woodcut of the Ultraquist Passional, published in Prague in 1495. The latter was a Bohemian adaptation of the Passional Sanctorum of Jacopo de Voragine (1230-1298), while the scene in question is very similar, in terms of both crudity of detail and persons depicted (with the natural exception of the Pharaoh engaged in these cruel ablutions), to that in the Haggadah, published in that same Bohemian city decades later (13).

In the Haggadah of Mantua (1560 and 1568), the image of the Pharaoh's bath is not so crude and is better organized; in some ways, it is rather more interesting and instructive (14). The woodcut is divided into three sections; the scene takes place in a sumptuous palace, illuminated by large windows and divided by portals and columns. In the right-hand panel, some soldiers and functionaries are taking babes in arms away from anguished mothers, while, in the left-hand panel, the Pharaoh is seen taking his bath of blood in a wooden tub, assisted by two servants. The central section of the scene, the most detailed, depict the hall of the palace, resembling a place of worship. Here, the children are shown being brought in by solders, and delivered to a personage responsible for butchering the victims. These persons butcher them with a knife, placed on an altar standing at the end of the room, causing the blood to gush forth in streams, collected in a suitably prepared vessel (15).

The analogies with the classical iconography relating to ritual murder are surprisingly precise here, and certainly intentional. The scene of the bath of blood appears with a few major differences in the Haggadah of Venice published in 1609 (16). On the left, armed soldiers take children by force from the Jewish mothers, while on the right, a crowned Pharaoh with his pock-marked body, emerges erect from his wooden bathtub. This time, the butchers cut the throats of the children in such a way that the blood flows directly onto the diseased body of the Egyptian monarch, without bothering to collect it in vases or recipients kept ready for the purpose. The important novelty in this scene consists of the fact that the pitiless

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assassins are shown dressed like Turks, their heads covered with typical turbans. The artist, presumably working at Venice, where the Haggadah was printed, obviously considered it preferable, out of justifiable prudence, to associate the authors of this savage crime with Islam and the Koran of Mahomet, with the soldiers of the Great Turk and the unpopular Ottoman Empire, rather than depict them as good Christians subjects of the Serenissima.

But the message of these images is substantially identical, and provides an answer to the question of why Ashkenazi Judaism should have chosen precisely this legend, out of so many in the Midrash, as its very own, linking it by force to the rites of the Passover. It is certainly true that the account presupposes the same ambiguous attraction to the mysterious and fascinating curative powers of blood, and children’s blood in particular, as did surrounding Christian German society. This attraction and fascination often developed into a true and veritable obsession. Those writers attempting to stress the love-hate relationship (or, more cautiously, a hostility-intimacy relationship) linking Jews and Christians in this context are therefore correct. We refer to those writers who lived side by side in the Alpine valleys and along the riverbanks furrowing the regions in which German was the mother tongue and the Jews spoke Yiddish (17).

But that is not all. These images were intended to provide a response, of irrefutable historical obviousness and vivid suggestiveness, to the ritual murder accusation linked with the celebration of the rituals of the Pesach. The accusation was therefore turned on its head, or generally subordinated to the crime of child murder for ritual or curative purposes, which was then demoted in the scale of seriousness, as an aberration of which the enemies of the Jews (including the Christians) were also guilty.

Circumcised children of Israel had also been sacrificed by superior order so that their blood might be drained from their bodies in their hour of martyrdom and thus be capable of ensuring Redemption.

One intention of analogous indication emerges in all its obviousness from the illustration accompanying the aggressive invocation against nations refusing to accept the God of Israel (Shefoch, "Pour out your wrath against the peoples who do not recognize you..."), a characteristic liturgical formula, with openly anti-Christian meanings, recited after the Passover meal, which we shall dwell upon further along. In this case, the scene contained in the Haggadah of Venice of 1609 (18) depicts a group of necromancers, dressed as Moors, with their typical oriental turbans,

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surrounded by crowds of demoniacal, dancing Negroes, while magicians and enchanters attempt to raise the dead on the other hand. The caption, written in rhyme, is significant, and revelatory of the underlying message: "Consumed be the ignorant kingdoms/ which serve demons and believe in necromancy" (19).

Now, the accusation made against the Jews of practicing magic and necromancy, often confused with the practical Cabbalah and assimilated to it, was public knowledge, as was the close relationship, often uncritically presupposed, between necromancy, ritual murder and the magical uses of blood. Even Pope Pius V Ghisleri, when he decided to expel the Jews from the Pontifical State by the bull Hebraeorum gensin 1569, making an exception for those of Rome, Ancona and Avignon, accused them of practicing divinatory and magical rites with pernicious and diabolical consequences for Christians (20). The illustration accompanying the invective against the nations who refused to accept the God of Israel, the Goyim, was intended to turn the accusation around: it was not the Jews who were the necromancers and magicians, the spell-weaving charlatans of prodigious potions, the seductive soothsayers and macabre exorcists, but also, and above all, the other nations and peoples who did not accept the God of the Israelites. In any case, Jews were not the only people who practiced vain and dangerous sciences of this kind; on the contrary, the Jews were in authoritatively good company, together with the Moslems and Christians.

Once again, the iconography of the Haggadah implied the emergence, from the narrative and liturgical texts, of every possible debating point useful in analyzing the message of the Pesach, prudently camouflaged within a historical framework. Its readers must have understood this.

Another tragedy inflicted upon the children of Israel emerges from the Biblical text of Exodus. The cruel order of the Pharaoh to drown all new-born Jewish males in the Nile so that their people might not multiply (Ex. 1:22) promptly found easily recognizable equivalents in the iconography of the Haggadah. In the edition of Prague of 1526, the scene is depicted on a bridge with turreted piers and typically German and medieval architecture, like many bridges on the Rhine, the Rhône and the Danube. Here, a few peasants are depicted flinging defenseless infants into a few the waters below, while a mother, also on the bridge, is depicted as seized with desperation (21). The broad panel depicting this episode from the Haggadah of 1560, shows infants being thrown from the bridge into the waters of the river while a few mothers rush down onto the exposed gravel riverbed in a hopeless attempt to reach the bank and save their children from the rapids, while others give way to despair, raising their arms to Heaven (22).

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The Haggadah of Venice of 1609 contained two interesting illustrations of this episode. The first scene depicts the inside of a Jewish home, in which the husband and wife sleep in separate beds to avoid sexual relations, precursor of tragedy: the birth of a son might, in fact, lead to his inevitable killing by the Egyptians. In confirmation of their justifiable concern, the merest glimpse of an exterior scene is depicted, showing a few figures on the river bank, while the waters sweep away the bodies of drowned infants (23). In the second scene, which takes place in the presence of the Pharaoh, seated on the throne, a few servants on the river bank throw poor nursing infants into the river, torn from their mother's bosom, while the heads of the miserable drowned babes are seen protruding from the raging waters (24).

The reminder of the problematical relationship between waterways and human sacrifice and the many victims of mysterious child-killings revealed by the ebb and flow of the rivers, propelling the bodies of the victims onto the banks, and the miracles performed by the holy martyrs of ritual murder, [alleged to be] capable of floating upriver, against the current, in a stupendous manner and returning miraculously to the surface, was certainly present, in this case, in both the minds of the person illustrating the images and the readers looking at them, repeatedly, each succeeding year, during the convivial and liturgical Pesach celebration. The underlying message was dazzlingly obvious, and often of immediate current interest. The Children of Israel, too, had been martyred, torn from their mothers and thrown into the mysterious and deadly waters of the Nile, the river par excellence, the river of paradigmatic significance. The role of the victims and butchers was anything but fixed and established in a clear and definitive manner.

The iconography of the Haggadah obviously could not fail to contain a scene depicting the sacrifice of Isaac, who was thus closely connected to the ritual of Pesach. In fact, in the Haggadah published in Venice of 1609, young Isaac is depicted as down on his knees before the pyre, with his arms folded, as if in silent and resigned prayer, waiting for Abraham, with his knife raised above his body, to carry out the inevitable sacrifice (25). A similar attitude towards death may be found in a miniature taken from a Jewish code, originating in Germany, and dating back to the third decade of the 15th century (26). Here, the scene, located in a forested countryside, shows a Jew (probably a rabbi) with a thick head of hair and flowing beard, in patient submission, waiting to be executed. Behind him, the executioner is preparing to strike off his head with his sword. The victim, like Isaac, in the scene of the

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Haggadah, in depicted as down on his knees with his hands joined in prayer, prepared to die "for the sanctification of the name of God" (27).

It is interesting to note that another illustration taken from the same code depicts the same scene, presumably located in the same place, of another young Jew, this time with a thick head of hair but beardless, placed on a wooden table to be tortured by fire. The executioner is at his side and is heating the pincers red-hot (28). The victim’s body is nude and blood gushes forth from the stumps of his legs, which are cut off at the feet, and his arms, which are now without the two hands. More blood flows from the place of circumcision, which the young man hopelessly attempts to hide with the stumps of the hands, indicating that he has been cruelly castrated. Of similar workmanship, certainly cruder than the depiction of the sacrifice of Isaac in the Haggadah of Venice, is a woodcut unexpectedly contained in the first edition of the responses of the medieval German ritualist, Asher b. Yechiel, published in 1517 (29). Here, Abraham, with a grim expression and a dark, stiff-brimmed hat pressed down on his head, like a brigand, and wearing a cloak with long fluttering hems, brandishes a huge butcher's knife and looms over poor Isaac, prepared to slaughter his son for the love of God. The boy, nude on an enormous stack of wood, appears anything but resigned to his sad fate, raising his legs in a terrified one last hopeless effort at self-defense. The iconography in this case is obviously German, crude and pitiless (30).

Nor is there any shortage of representations of poor Simon of Trent, of equal crudity, on the Christian side. One little-known woodcut, contemporary with the Trent crime and probably manufactured in Alpine Italy, the poor child, disheveled and stretched out on his side on a crude table, is being pitilessly butchered as if he were a hog -- which he actually resembles, right down to his features. Around him, a group of Jews, with sinister, gory faces, with the distinctive sign on their clothing, within the folds of which the image of an abominable sow is visible, appear intent upon cruelly vivisecting him. The butchers are wearing eyeglasses to protect their vision during the cruel operation, protecting the eyes from the victim’s spurting blood. The overall image is frankly repulsive, and not at all likely to arouse sentiments of piety and compassion (31).

It should be noted that, in the concept of the Christianity of the German territories during the Middle Ages, the circumcision of Christ, his crucifixion and the ritual murder, were considered symmetrical agonies (32).

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It should not surprise us that sacred art would assimilate this vision, translated into images. Thus, in one painting depicting the circumcision of Jesus, originating in Salzburg or the central Rhineland and dated 1440, the amputation of the Messiah's foreskin is depicted as an odious and almost lethal surgical operation. Around the Christ child, engaged in a helpless effort to escape the mortal incision, press several bearded and coweled Jews. The mohel, his head covered with the ritual mantle (tallit) is depicted as a cruel and menacing. Similarly, in an altar painting in the Liebfrauenkirche in Nuremberg, dating back to the half of the 16th century and depicting the same subject, the godmothers, with caricature-like Jewish faces, crowd around the poor child with the terrorized face. The Jews wear the ritual mantle, bearing Sybillene writings in the holy language, while the mohel, dressed in black, resolute and pitiless, is about to lower the knife on the defenseless body (33).An iconography of the circumcision of Jesus of this type may be observed to be similar, in both design and execution, to the representation of the martyrdom of Little Simon of Trent in a painting of the Alto Adige school, dating back to the first half of the 16th century. Here as well, a large group of bearded, big-nosed Jews, with a grim appearance and caricature-like features, crowd around the naked, glorious body of the little martyr, the new Christ, intent on performing their cruel Passover rite on his miserable body (34). The themes of blood, circumcision, the crucifixion and ritual murder were closely linked in the collective imagination, are eagerly reflected in the artistic expressions of the Germanic world of the late Middle Ages, among both Jews and Christians (35).

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In the depositions, and, if you wish, the confessions under torture, of the Trent defendants under indictment for Simonino’s so-called ritual murder, ample space, at the request of the inquisitors, was given to the preparation of the Seder of Pesach in the respective houses, to the reading of the Haggadah and the particular rites of the festival. The inquisitors inquired about the order of the prayers, their content, the salient phases of the celebration, the foods eaten, and the various roles played by the participants in the collective ritual. The persons under interrogation responded, apparently without reticence, here dwelling at length to illustrate in detail the unfolding of the Seder, here more succinctly, restricting themselves to cored the most significant moments.

At this point, the question must be raised whether these descriptions and reports, extorted under torture, were authentic or real; whether they were the fruit of suggestive pressures brought to bear by the inquisitors, intended to confirm their prejudices, the stereotypes and the superstitions which they carried in their minds and in those of the Christian society of which they were the expression, and to evaluate the assumptions of the accusation which were at the origin of the trials. In other words, an attempt should be made to determine whether these crude and embarrassing confessions were largely the result of suggestion, and were, so to speak, recited and written under dictation. To do so, we must, first of all, strip the matter of its most delicate component, consisting of the admitted use of the blood of a Christian child, dissolved in wine and mixed in the dough of the unleavened bread, while restricting ourselves to a mere verification of the details of the depositions in all other respects, of which these admissions constitute the broad corpus.

Tobias da Magdeburg, the Jewish physician and expert ophthalmologist, was, according to those who knew him, both Jews and Christians, among the numerous patients he had in the Fossato district, was a bad-tempered and unpleasant individual. From the Jewish point of view, he was considered

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ignorant; he had a very poor knowledge of the holy language and his adherence to Jewish laws was anything but scrupulous. Samuele da Nuremberg, the recognized head of the small Jewish community of Trent, certainly did not consider him a saint, but he, Samuele, was prepared to supply him, Tobias, more or less voluntarily, with indispensable religious services. At Pesach, then, to enable Tobias to celebrate the Seder at home according to the rules, Samuele supplied him with the crisp unleavened bread and, above all, the shimmurim, the so-called "solemn unleavened bread", prepared with particular care and pierced by the finger of the head of the house, his wife and servants, before being put in the oven (1).

The shimmurim, three for each of the first two evenings of the Jewish Pesach during which the Haggadah was read and the Seder was held, were prominently displayed in a pan as the symbolic main course of the feast, to be eaten by the guests during the most important phase of the liturgical ceremony (2). Tobias knew that when the unleavened bread had been kneaded, it had to be placed in the oven immediately, to avoid over-heating it or allowing it to get soggy, thus causing it to ferment and become unsuitable for the ritual. It was then that Samuele was able to make the following long-anticipated solemn announcement: "This unleavened bread has been prepared according to the rules" (3).

This same Samuele referred to the traditional first appearance of the Passover dinner. It was then that the head of the family sat at the head of the table and poured out the wine into the beaker, upon which he had recited the benediction and sanctification of the festival (kiddush), while the other guests poured themselves wine, each into their cups. The pan with the three solemn unleavened loaves (shimmurim) were placed in the center of the table, awaiting the collective recitation of the Hagadah (4). Tobias descended into greater detail, stating that:

"In the first days of the Passover, during the evening, before dinner, and also on subsequent days, in the evening, before dinner, the head of the family, seated at the head of the table, mixed the wine in the cup and so did the other guests; then they placed a basin or pan in the middle of the table, into which the three unleavened loaves were placed, one after the other; in the same pan, they placed an egg, meat and other foods which were to be eaten during the dinner (5).

At this point, as Mohar (Meir), the son of Mosè "the Old Man" of Würzburg, recalled in his deposition, all the participants in the ritualbanquet raised the pan with the three shimmurim

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and the other foods, together, and recited, together, the introductory formula of the Haggadah, composed in Aramaic, which opened with thewords Ha lachmà aniya, "This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt" (6).

He then added one of the culminating and most significant moments of the entire Seder, when the tension was broken, fantasy broke freefrom its bonds and the words were distinctly pronounced, one by one, to be savored and tasted in their full significance: the ten plagues ofEgypt, or as the Ashkenazi Jews called them, the ten curses. Dam, the blood, opened the list, to be followed by the frogs (zefardea), lice(kinim), and ferocious animals ('arov); then came the plagues of the animals (dever), the ulcers (shechin), hail (barad), locusts (areh),darkness (choshekh). In a terrible and deadly crescendo, the plagues concluded with the death of the first born Egyptians (makkat bechorot).According to the custom long established among the Ashkenazi Jews, the head of the family then solemnly dipped the index finger of the right hand into the cup of wine, which was before him, and as he announced each individual plague, he moved his finger inside the glass, towards the outside, rhythmically splashing the wine onto the table.

Samuele da Nuremberg had no difficulty in reciting the names of the ten plagues, in Hebrew, from memory and in order, explaining that "these words meant the ten curses which God sent to the Egyptians, because they didn't want to liberate His people" (7). The Christian Italian notaries had obvious difficulty in transcribing that machine-gun burst of Hebraic terms, pronounced with a heavy German accent, into Latin characters, but they did their best, almost always obtaining moderately satisfactory results. The record gives Samuele’s list as follows: dam,izzarda (the frogs, zefardea, was apparently too harsh for their ears), chynim, heroff (for 'arov, with a variant of little importance), dever, ssyn (for schechin, ulcer), porech (barad, hail, pronounced in the German way, bored, were inadequately understood), harbe, hossen (forchoshekh, darkness) and finally, maschus pchoros (makkat bechorot), which rendered the term of the plague according to the Ashkenazim diction, makkas bechoros). But it was all more or less comprehensible, both in words and meanings.

In one of the depositions taken from Anna of Magdeburg,  Samuele’s daughter-in-law, she recalled her mother-in-law sprinkling the wine onto the table, plunging her finger into the glass and reciting the ten curses, but she did not remember the precise order. A Haggadah wasthen produced and Anna took it and read

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the text quickly, starting with dam, blood, translating the various terms correctly (8).

Tobias, for his part, was able to repeat the precise order of liturgical functions in which the head of the household accompanied the reading of the ten curses while splashing the wine onto the table with his finger. He had no difficulty in reciting the ten plagues of Egypt, which he obviously knew by heart, in Hebrew, in the correct sequence. But he got mixed up when he tried to translate or interpret the various terms, revealing a rather poor knowledge of Hebrew. He thus confused 'arov, the plague of the multitude of the wild beasts, with ra'av, famine, and arbeh, the locusts, with the word harbe', which sounds similar, and means “a lot” in Hebrew. In his own way, he interpreted the plague of the pestilence of animals, dever, as the destruction of persons, and harad (porech for bored, again), as “storm at sea”, instead of in the sense of“hail”. And again, for him, the death of the first-born children was to be considered an epidemic of general plague (9).

In sum, Tobias was certainly not very cultivated in Hebraic studies, which he had perhaps somewhat neglected in order to concern himself with medicine. At any rate, he had the ritual formulae well in mind, reciting them automatically as he did each year. The interpretations were his own, even the more abstruse, as well as the grammatical errors in Hebrew, a language which he knew rather badly, in contrast to Samuele da Nuremberg, Mosè "the Old Man", of Würzburg and Angelo da Verona (10). Like the inquisitors, the notaries who were in this case responsible for transcribing [what were certainly] his words, were interested in learning more about the Seder and its rituals; they were cannot have been responsible for his interpretive blunders and linguistic mistakes.

At this point, in the traditional reading of the Haggadah, according to the custom of the Ashkenazi Jews, the curses against the Egyptians were transformed into an invective against all the nations and enemies hated by Israel, with explicit reference to the Christians. "From each of these plagues may God save us, but may they fall on our enemies". Thus recited the formula reported by rabbi Jacob Mulin Segal, known as Maharil, active at Treviso around the last twenty years of the 14th century, in his Sefer ha-minhagim ("Book of Customs"), which unhesitatingly identified the adversaries of the Jewish people with the Christians, who deserved to be cursed. It seems that this custom was in force among German Jews even before the First Crusade (11). The sprinkling of the wine, which was a surrogate of the blood of the persecutors of Israel, onto the table,

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simultaneously with the recitation of the plagues of Egypt, recalled the cruel punishment said to have come from the "vengeful sword" of God (12).

A famous contemporary of Maharil, Rabbi Shabom of Wiener Neustadt, has also confirmed the anti-Christian significance of the sprinkling of the wine during the reading of the plagues of Egypt.

"When they name the ten plagues of Egypt, each time, they dip the finger into the cup of wine standing in front (of the head of the family)and they pour a little bit of it out, onto the table [...] saying: 'From this curse may God save us'. The reason is that the four cups of wine (which must be drunk during the recitation of the Haggadah) represent a wish for the salvation of the Jews and a curse against the nations of the world. Therefore (the head of the family) pours the wine out of the glass with his finger, signifying that we Jews shall be saved from such curses, which shall, by contrast, fall upon our enemies” (13).

It should be noted that the ritual of the wine and the curses was practiced only in Jewish communities of German origin, while it was quite unknown among Jews of Iberian origins (Sephardim), or Italian and Oriental Jews. INTERPOLATION  p. 171 new edition: Its reconstruction was recently convincingly proposed based on the testimonies of the German rabbis, cited above, in addition to other manuscripts of the Sefer ha-rokeach (“Book of the Pharmacist”), the famous compendium of Eleazar of Worms (13th century) (14). It was not known until today that the ritual of the curses with its particular formulae and accompanying symbolic gestures had been adopted by the Jews of Trent in their Passover liturgy, which was pointedly anti-Christian in nature.    

NEW FOOTNOTE 14: Rokeach, ms hebr. Bodeiana, Oxford, no. 1103. See also N. Coronel, Chamischah kuntresim (“Five brochures”), Vienna, 1864, c. 27a: I. Ta-Schma in Efraim Talmage Memorial Volume, by D. Walfish, Haifa, 1993), pp. 85-98. I.J. Yuval, “Two Nations in Your Womb”. Perceptions of Jews and Christians. Tel Aviv, 2000, pp. 116-117, 144-145) is the scholar who provided a detailed description of the ritual of curses, practiced by certain Ashkenazi communities, sustaining that these curses had in fact transformed the contents of the Jewish Passover and ”making use of virulent and aggressive expressions, which it would be vain to search for among the Jews of Iberian origin”, had superimposed upon the memorial of the Exodus from Egypt the aspiration for a Messianic redemption constructed on the ruins of the Christian world. ”As God revenged Himself on Egypt, striking their first born with death, thus in future will He strike the nations of the world and destroy them in the final redemption” (cfr. Yuval, “Two Nations in Your Womb”, cit. p. 116). It was not known until today that the ritual of the curses with its particular formulae and accompanying symbolic gestures had been adopted by the Jews of Trent in their Passover liturgy, which was pointedly anti-Christian in nature.    

The old man, Mosè da Würzburg recalled times past, when he was the head of the family at Spira and then Magonza. During the Passover evening, he had sat at the head of the table with the guests and directed the Seder and the reading of the Haggadah, sprinkling the wine onto the table while he clearly pronounced the names of the ten plagues of Egypt. He then informed his inquisitors that, according to the Ashkenazi tradition, "the head of the family added these words: 'Thus we implore God that these ten curses may fall on the gentiles, enemieso f the faith of the Jews', a clear reference to the Christians" (14). According to Israel Wolfgang, who was, as usual, well informed, the famous and influential Salamone da Piove di Sacco, as well as the banker Abramo da Feltre and the physician Rizzardo da Regensburg at Brescia, all complied with the ritual of reciting the ten curses and symbolically pouring out the wine against the nations hostile to Israel.

Mosè da Bamberg, the wandering Jewish guest in the Angeleo da Verona’s house, testified to this custom, at which he had been present during the Seder in Leone di Mohar’s house at Tortoa. Mosè the master of Hebrew, who lived at the expense of Tobias, the physician, remembered well from the time in which his house was located in the district of the Jews of Nuremberg (15).

Tobias himself, as the head of the family, had directly guided those parts of the Seder and recalled the details, which

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were furthermore repeated every year at Passover without variation. He therefore announced to the judges at Trent that "when the head of the family had finished reading those words (the ten plagues), he then added this phrase: 'Thus we implore God, that you shall similarly send these ten plagues against the Gentiles, who are the enemies of the religion of the Jews', intending to refer, in particular, to the Christians" (16).

For his part, Samuele da Nuremberg, sprinkling the wine onto the table from the inside of his chalice, also took as his starting place the tragedies of the Pharaohs to curse the Christian faith unambiguously: "We invoke God that he may turn all these anathemas against theenemies of Israel" (17).

The Seder thus became a scandalous display of anti-Christian sentiment, exalted by symbolic acts and significances and burning imprecations, which was now using the stupendous events of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt simply as a pretext. In Jewish Venice during the 17th century, the ritual characteristics related to the reading of this part of the Haggadah were still alive and present, as shown by the testimony of Giulio Morosini, which is to be considered quite reliable.

"When the head of the family refers to these ten blows, he is brought a bowl or basin, and at the name of each one, dipping the finger into his glass, and drips it inside the cup and continues, gradually emptying the glass of wine as a sign of the curses against the Christians" (18).

Subsequently, the head of the family, after drinking another glass of wine, invites the guests to eat part of the three solemn unleavened loaves, the shimmurim, first all by itself and then together with the charoset and the bitter herbs, reciting the mandatory benedictions. At this point, the dinner true and proper dinner began. Samuele reported that the "head of the family took the unleavened bread and divided it one by one, giving one piece to each (of the guests), then drank the wine in his cup, and the others did likewise; after which they all started to eat, and thus they did the next day" (19).

Similarly, Tobias da Magdeburg recounted that "the head of the family took the first unleavened loaf in the pan and gave part of it to each person present, and did the same with the second and third unleavened loaf (the shimmurim), giving a part of it to each person present. Hethen took a glass full of wine [...] and gulped it down, and immediately afterwards, the other guests also took their glasses

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and drank the wine, each from his own glass. Then the dinner started" (20).

When the meal was finished and the related benediction had been recited, before drinking the fourth glass of wine, the wine with which the advent of final redemption augured itself, the participants in the ritual united in reciting, all together, a new series of violent invective against the peoples having rejected the God of Israel, in a clear allusion to the Christians. The formula opened with the words Shefoch chamatecha elha-goim asher lo yeda'ucha and, in the Ashkenazi ritual, contained particularly virulent overtones: "Vomit your anger onto the nations which refuse to recognize you, and their kingdoms, which do not invoke your name, which have devoured Jacob and destroyed his seat. Turn your anger upon them, reach them with your scorn; persecute them with fury, cause them to perish from beneath the divine heaven".

This was one of the most potent, explicit and incisive curses against the gentiles contained in the Passover liturgy of the Seder. This invective appears to have been unknown in ancient times, and it is first found in the Machazor Vitry, composed in France between the 11th and 12thcenturies. In all probability, the text, of one hundred verses extrapolated from various Psalms, was introduced into the Haggadah of the Franco-German Jewish communities during the Medieval period (21).

The meaning was obvious. Messianic redemption could only be built upon the ruins of the hated Gentile world. In reciting the curses, thedoor of the room in which the Seder was kept were half-ajar, so that the prophet Elias would be enabled to intervene and announce the promised rescue. The anti-Christian invective was intended to prepare and facilitate Elias’ entry. As we shall also see below, the magical cult of the outrage and anti-Christian evil omen was one of the principal elements characterizing the religious fundamentalism typical of the Franco-German environment of the Middle Ages, and its so-called "passive Messianism", which was aggressive and ritualized (22).

Maestro Tobias, according to his statements to the judges at Trent, after dinner, devoutly recited the formula of the curses of Shefoch and did the same both the evenings during which the Seder was performed and the Passover Haggadah read (23). Israel Wolfgang, as well, who had participated in Samuele da  Nuremberg’s ritual dinner, recalled the moment in which they had solemnly pronounced Shefoch ("Oh God, send your anger against the peoples which do not wish to glorify you"), cursing the Christians (24).

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The custom of reciting the curses of the Shefoch attributing anti-Christian connotations to them was still in force among the Jews of Venice in the 17th century, as Giulio Morosini attests with reference to the Ashkenazi formula:

"Each one raises his glass of wine [...] they curse the Christians and the other nations, all included under the name of Ghoim, Gentiles, all intoning these words, after they have eaten their fill and are very drunk: 'Cast thy anger upon the Ghoim, Gentiles, which have not recognized you and on the kingdoms which have not invoked your name. Cast your anger upon them and may the fury of your anger consume them. Persecute them with your fury and destroy them" (25).

The reading of this second series of curses was perhaps accompanied by demonstrative actions, such as that of flinging the wine from the basin into which it had been poured during the recital of the ten plagues of Egypt out of the windows and into the street: Egypt was thus transformed into Edom, and the persecutors of Israel were now solidly identified with the representatives of the surrounding Christian world.

The convert Paolo Medici reported on the existence of these rather picturesque customs, which also featured stentorian invectives against the Gentiles.

"The head of the house intones aloud verse 6 of Psalm 78: "Effunde iram tuam in gentes, quae te non noverunt". (Shefoch chamatecha elhagoim asher lo yeda'ucha), and one person in the house runs to the window, takes the basin containing the wine of the curses, which was poured into the basin during the recitation the ten plagues inflicted on Egypt by God, and throws the wine into the street, the meaning of which, by way of this verse of the Psalm, was to inflict thousands of curses on all those who were not members of Judaism, and against the Christians in particular" (26).

In substance, the so-called "confessions" of the defendants during the Trent trials relating to the rituals of the Seder and the Passover Haggadah are seen to be precise and truthful. Apart from the details of the use of blood in the wine and the unleavened bread, of which we shall speak somewhat further along, the sporadic insertion of which into the text is insufficient to invalidate the general picture, the facts described are always correct. The Jews of Trent, in describing the Seder in which they had participated, were not lying; nor were they under the influence of the judges, who were presumably ignorant of a large part of the ritual being described to them. If the accused dwelt at length upon the virulent anti-Christian meaning which the ritual had assumed in the tradition of

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that Franco-German Judaism to which they belonged, they were not indulging in unverifiable exaggeration. In their collective mentality, the Passover Seder had a long since transformed itself into a celebration in which the wish for the forthcoming redemption of the people of Israel moved from aspiration to revenge, and then to cursing their Christian persecutors, the current heirs to the wicked Pharaoh of Egypt.

 p. 173]


The use of the blood of Christian children in the celebration of the Jewish Passover was apparently the object of minute regulation, at least according to the depositions of all the defendants in the Trent trials. These depositions describe exactly what was prohibited, what was permitted, and what was tolerated, all in meticulous detail. Every eventuality was foreseen and dealt with; the use of blood was governed by broad and exhaustive case law, almost as if it formed an integral part of the most firmly established regulations relating to the ritual. The blood, powdered or dessicated, was mixed into the dough of the unleavened or "solemn" bread, the shimmurim -- not ordinary bread. The shimmurim -- in fact, three loaves for each of the two evenings during which the ritual dinner of the Seder was served -- were considered one of the principal symbolic foods of the feast, and their accurate preparation and baking took place during the days preceding the advent of Pesach.

During the Seder, the blood had to be dissolved into the wine immediately prior to recitation of the ten curses against the land of Egypt. The wine was later poured into a basin or a cracked earthenware pot and thrown away. The performance of the ritual required only a minimum quantity of blood in powdered form, equal in quantity to a lentil.

The obligation to procure blood and to use it during the Passover ritual was the exclusive responsibility of the head of the family, i.e., a responsible male with a dependent wife and children. Bachelors, widowers, guests and employees, all those without dependent family, were exempt. In view of the difficulty of procuring such a rare and costly ingredient, it was anticipated that the wealthiest Jews would provide blood for the poorest Jews, an eccentric form of charity benefiting heads of families disinherited by fate.

Samuele da Nuremberg reported that:

 p. 173]

"The evening before Pesach, when they stir the dough with which the unleavened bread (the shimmurim) is later prepared, the head of the family takes the blood of a Christian child and mixes it into the dough while it is being kneaded, using the entire quantity available, keeping in mind that the measure of a lentil is sufficient. The head of the family sometimes performs this operation in the presence of those kneading the unleavened bread, and sometimes without their knowledge, based on whether or not they can be trusted” (1).

Maestro Tobias restricted himself to recalling that "every year, the blood, in powdered form, is kneaded into the dough of the unleavened bread prepared the evening before the feast, and is then eaten on the solemn day, i.e., the day of Passover" (2). This testimony was confirmed by Mohar (Meir), the son of Mosè "the old Man" of Würzburg (3), as well as by the convert Giovanni da Feltre, who had seen his father Schochat (Sacheto) perform the ritual while still living at Landshut in Bavaria (4).

Isacco da Gridel, Angelo da Verona’s cook, admitted to kneading the shimmurim containing blood for eight years, preparing it for the celebration of the Seder. Joav of Franconia, Tobias' domestic servant, recalled the custom from as much as seventeen years back, when she was in service with a rich Jew from Würzburg. Mosè da Bamburg, the traveler staying with Angelo of Verona, in his long deposition, stated that he had personally performed this operation when he was head of the family in Germany. Later, when he moved to Italy, he had seen it performed at Borgo San Giovanni, in the Piacenza region, in the home of money lender Sacle or Sacla (Izchak), who inserted the blood into the unleavened bread while his wife Potina kneaded the dough. Vitale, Samuele da Nuremberg’s agent, attested to the custom as a result of having seen it performed for three consecutive years by his uncle, Salomone, at Monza.

The subject matter of these depositions was also confirmed by the women involved. Bella, the wife of Mayer da Würzburg, reported that she had seen her father preparing the shimmurim from the time she was a child at Nuremberg, in preparation for the first two evenings during which the Seder used grains of dried blood in the dough. Sara, Tobias’s wife, recalled that her first husband, Elia, whom she married at Marburg, had used blood for this purpose, and that she had also seen the practice in many Jewish homes in Mestre (5). Bona, Angelo da Verona’s sister, stated that she had seen the brother placing the [dried] blood, [dissolved and] diluted in water, into the dough of the unleavened and so-called solemn bread, the shimmurim, which was kept under surveillance, and had to be eaten during the

 p. 175]

first two evenings of the festival, during the Seder. "Angelo himself, took a bit of the Christian child’s [dried] blood and dissolved it in water, then poured the water containing the blood into the dough with which they then made the unleavened loaves, three of which Angelo and the others members of his family and Bona herself ate during the Passover evening feast, while the other three members ate it the evening of the next day" (6).

Angelo da Verona’s report was rather more detailed. After having briefly recalling that the Ashkenazi Jews "take a small quantity of the blood and they put it in the dough with which they later make the unleavened bread which they eat during the solemn days of the Passover".

He went on to provide a detailed description of the rite of preparing the shimmurim "with blood" (7). First of all, he explained to the judges, the ritual action was carried out "as a sign of outrage against Jesus Christ, whom the Christians claim is their God". He then continued, supplying whatever clarification he considered dutiful and necessary: "Eating unleavened bread with Christian blood in it means that, just as the body and powers of Jesus Christ, the God of the Christians, went down to perdition with His death, thus, the Christian blood contained in the unleavened bread shall be ingested and completely consumed".

How much truth there was to this key anti-Christian interpretation of the presumed Jewish hematophagia [blood-eating] through the medium of unleavened bread, and just how much was invented to please the inquisitors concerned, is unknown. It is however a fact that Angelo supplied a very colorful and credible representation of the ritual, utilizing the correct formulae from the classical Jewish liturgy.

"They place the blood in their unleavened loaves in this manner: after placing the blood in the dough, they knead it and stir it around to prepare the unleavened bread (the shimmurim). Then they poke holes in it, pronouncing these words: Chen icheressù chol hoyveha, which, translated, means 'Thus may our enemies be consumed'. At this point, the unleavened loaves are ready to be eaten" (8).

This Hebrew invective is not an invention. It may in fact be found among the blessings and curses pronounced during the so-called" Haggadah of the Jewish New Year" (Rosh Ha-Shanah) just before the feast dinner. On this occasion, the reading of the various formulae was accompanied by the consumption of vegetables and fruit, in addition to fish and a lamb’s head, recalling, by means of a pun on their Hebrew names, the type of blessing or curse which the reader intended

 p. 176]

to pronounce. Leeks are called cartì, and the invective associated with its name was known as she-iccaretu (iccaresu in the Ashkenazi pronunciation) col hoyevenu, that is, "may all our enemies be exterminated" ("consumed" according to Angelo) (9). The original inspiration was, as usual, Biblical and prophetical (Mich. 5:9) "And all thine enemies shall be cut off" (we-chos hoyevecha iccaretu). At this point, it becomes much more difficult to dismiss the insertion of these Hebrew-language execrations into the ritual of the Christian blood added to the solemn unleavened bread as merely the extemporaneous and extravagant invention of Angelo da Verona, “softened up” with torture.

From Samuele da Nuremberg and Angelo da Verona, from Maestro Tobias and Anna da Montagnana, all the accused at Trent were agreed in affirming that the head of the family, who was required to perform the task of directing the reading of the Haggadah, did not shake the blood into the wine before starting the Seder or during the initial phases of the celebration, but only when they were about to recite the ten curses ofEgypt. Recalling the years of his stay in the Jewish quarter of Nuremberg with various employers such as Lazzaro, Giosia and Moshè Loff, Mosè da Ansbach, the teacher of Tobias's children, stated that the head of the family placed the blood in the wine at the precise moment of the commemoration of the so-called “ten curses”, i.e., the plagues of Egypt (10).

The learned Mosè da Würzburg, "the Old Man", explained that:

"The head of the family takes a bit of the blood of the Christian child and drops it in his glass full of wine [...] then, putting his finger in the wine, with that wine where the blood of the Christian child has been shaken, he sprinkles the table and food on the table with it, pronouncing the Hebraic formula in commemoration of the ten curses, which God sent to the refractory Egyptian people who refused to liberate the Jewish people. At the end of the reading, the same head of the family, referring to the Christians, utters the following words (in Hebrew):‘thus we beseech God that he may similarly direct these ten curses against the gentiles, who are enemies of the Jewish faith’" (11).

Giovanni da Feltre, the converted Jew, recalled the years of his youth, spent in lower Germany, when his father performed on the ritual of the Seder of Passover, "Both evenings, my father took blood and shook it into his chalice of wine before beginning the Passover dinner, then sprinkled it on the table cursing the Christian religion" (12).

After the reading of the last part of the Haggadah, the head of the family performed the act of adding the blood to the wine to transform the wine into a potion symbolically intended to represent

 p. 177]

[COMMENT: The significance of the passages marked in blue below is that Toaff lies about them on p. 386 of the same book; see below]

the cruel death of Israel’s enemies, immediately before the ten curses. This part of the text of the Haggadah opens with the words: "(The Lord) made us leave Egypt with a strong hand, with the arm extended, with immense terror, with signs) and with prodigies: this is the blood (zeh ha-dam)" (13). The reason why the haematic fluid of the Christian boy was dissolved in the “wine of the ten curses” at this point was revealed by Angelo da Verona:

"The Jews performed this act in remembrance of one of the ten curses which God inflicted upon the Egyptians when they held the Jewish people in bondage: one of the plagues was God’s transformation into blood of all the waters in the land of Egypt" (14).

As usual, Israel Wolfgang provided some sense of order for these various rituals. The young painter recalled participating in a Seder held in the house of a certain Jew named Chopel, at Günzenhausen, near Nuremberg, in 1460. Chopel used coagulated, pulverized blood, shaken into the wine prior to the recitation of the ten plagues. This was accompanied by the following declaration in Hebrew: "This is the blood of a Christian child", (zeh-ha dam shel goi katan). According to what may be gathered from Israel Wolfgang’s account, after the reading of this fragment of the Haggadah, which began with the words zeh ha-dam, "This is the blood", the head of the house brought the ampoule containing the powdered blood to the table, added a bit of the contents to the wine in his chalice, and recited the analogous formula beginning with the same words, zeh ha-dam, but in reference to the blood of the Christian child, not in reference to the first plague of Egypt.

He then went on to the reading of the ten curses, the sprinkling of the wine onto the table, and the recitation of the invectives against the goyim -- the Christians. Obviously, the formula, "This is the blood (zeh ha-dam) of a Christian child" was transmitted [from generation to generation] orally; the text of the Haggadah was alleged not to contain this text. Israel Wolfgang’s revelations continued. In 1474, he [said he] had participated in the celebration of the Jewish Passover at Feltre, atAbramo's house (Abramo being a money lender in that city). On that occasion, Wolfgang had seen the head of the family add the blood to the dough of the solemn unleavened bread (migzo = mazzot), that is, the shimmurim. During the evening ritual of the Seder, Abramo da Feltre, in preparation for the reading of the ten curses, came to table with a glass phial containing a small quantity of dried blood,

 p. 178]

the size of a nut, and shook a pinch of it into the wine, pronouncing the usual formula of the zeh ha-dam: "This is the blood of a Christian child". He then began the recitation of the plagues, pouring the wine onto the table and cursing the gentiles hostile to Israel" (15).

Lazzaro, employed at Angelo da Verona, also told the judges that he had seen the rite performed by his uncle Israel, the influential Ashkenazi banker at Piacenza, who occupied the function of treasurer in the Jewish community of the Duchy of Milan (16). According to him, Israel, during the recitation of the plagues, diluted the blood into the wine, pronouncing the Hebrew words which meant: "This is the blood of a Christian child" (zeh ha-dam shel goi katan) (17). In this regard, Mosè of Bamburg confirmed the descriptions of the other defendants, referring to Leone of Mohar, a money lender active at Tortona, with whom he had stayed as a guest in the past, during the Seder of Passover (18). As often happened, Leone, in the act of adding the dried blood to the wine before the recitation of the ten curses, turned tohis guests with the required Hebrew phrase: zeh ha-dam, "This is the blood of a Christian child".

It should be obvious that only someone with a very good knowledge of the Seder ritual, an insider, could describe the [precise] order of gestures and operations as well as the Hebrew formulae used during the various phases of the celebration, and be capable of supplying such [a wealth of] detailed and precise descriptions and explanations.
The judges at Trent could barely follow these descriptions, forming a vague idea of the ritual, which was so foreign to their experience and knowledge that they could only reconstitute it in [the form of] nebulous and imperfect images. The Italian notaries, then, had their work cut out for them in [attempting] to cut their way through this jungle of incomprehensible Hebrew terms, pronounced with a heavy German accent. But on the other hand, what interested them, beyond the particulars of difficult comprehensibility, was establishing where these Jews used Christian blood in their Passover rites, adding it to the unleavened bread and the wine of the libation. Imagining that the judges dictated these descriptions of the Seder ritual, with the related liturgical formulae in Hebrew, does not seem very believable.

Goi katan
, "little Christian", the expression used in referring to the ritual murder victim, who was usually nameless, is said to have been used during the act of adding his blood to the symbolic foods

 p. 179]

to be exhibited and consumed in the Seder dinner. This expression, although not at all neutral in view of the negative and pejorative connotations attributed to Christians in general, was certainly less contemptuous than the term normally used by German Jews with reference to a Christian child. [For example] the word shekez possesses the sense of "something abominable", while the feminine, shiksa or shikse, is a neologism used, in particular, in reference to Christian girls engaged in romantic relations with young men of the race of Israel (19). The diminutive [Italianized] term of endearment, "scigazzello", was in use among the Ashkenazi Jews of Venice until relatively recent times. At any rate, the words shekz, sheghez, or sceghesc, employed in a contemptuous manner to refer to the children of those faithful in Christ, viewed as some of the [most] abominable expressions of [all] creation, was in widespread use in all cities with communities of German Jews, even in Northern Italy (20).

It should be noted that the term is absent from the records of the Trent trials; but the terms goi (literally, "people" "nation"), with reference to Christians generally, and goi katan ("little Christian"), in the sense of a child belonging to the faith in Christ were used instead.

In his fierce invective against the Jews, the Venetian convert Giulio Morosini did not fail to censure the virulently anti-Christian education imparted by Jews to their children, according to Morosini, as well as the offensive terminology utilized by Jews in Hebrew to insult Christian children and their churches.

"You are accustomed to instilling in those little children, along with their mother's milk, the observance and the concept of the Law and the holy language, with Hebrew names for many things [...]
 This is so that they may easily and soon understand the Law and Bible. But at th esame time, you inculcate hatred against the Goyim, that is, the Gentiles, by which name you refer to the Christians, never missing a chance to curse them, and make your children curse them. Thus, the name most frequently used against [Christian] children is Sciekatizim, that is, Abominations, which is also the word you use in reference to the ‘Idols’, as you are accustomed to call them. In the same manner, you abominate our Churches with your synonym, Tonghavà, which also means Abomination. And you very often warn them to flee the Tonghavà, not to speak to the Sceketz and other, similar terms of abuse” (21).

In the eyes of the Ashkenazi Jews of Trent, it was obvious that the ritual obligation to use the blood of Christian children in the Passover celebrations was exclusively incumbent upon heads of families, and not on other members of the community. The rule, enounced to the judges by Israel, the son of Samuele da Nuremberg,

 p. 180]

was that "Jewish fathers of families in the feast of Purim, before dinner, take a small quantity of the blood of a Christian child, put it in their cup full of wine and sprinkle the table with it” (22). Angelo of Verona placed it in the category, not of ritual regulations, but of customs (Hebrew, minhagh, Latin mos) and, as always with patience and in a summary manner, explained that "the established custom is that the head of the family, and no one else, must place the powdered blood in the unleavened blood in the time of the Passover" (23).

Mosè da Würzburg, for his part, reported that, up to the time when he had been the head of a family in various places in Germany, it had been considered obligatory to provide blood for the Passover rites. Subsequently, since he no longer occupied the role of head of family, he had been exempted from performing this duty  (24). Mosè da Bamberg also stated that, as long as he had been the head of family in Germany, he had procured the blood for the Passover Seder. He then went into service with various Jewish families at Ulm and other centers in Franconia, and was considered exempted from this custom (25).

In this regard, it should be noted that the pre-eminent role of the head of family (paterfamilias, a rendering of the Hebrew ha-al ha-bait, "patron of the house"), in the celebration of the Passover rites, particularly, in the medieval Ashkenazi environment, is attested to by many manuscript and printed texts with comments on the Haggadah of Pesach. Among other things, these texts stress that the obligation of the ritual washing of the hands (netilat yadaim) at the beginning of the Seder was only incumbent upon the head of the family, almost exclusively entrusted with the reading of the Haggadah, while all the guests were exempt. Beniamin di Meir of Nuremberg, at the beginning of the 16th century, testified to the existence of this custom, stating that he had observed it to be widespread in all the Jewish communities of Germany. "I have noticed that, most of the time", wrote the German rabbi, "the ritual washing of the hands (in the Passover Seder) is performed only by the head of the family, while the guests do not wash their hands at all" (26).

On the other hand, procuring the raw material required for performance of the blood ritual was not an easy job, involving costs which the heads of poorer families could not afford. It was therefore anticipated that the heads of poorer families were exempt from a task which proved too costly for them, as was unhesitatingly admitted by the ancient expert Mosè of Würzburg when he explained to the inquisitors of Trent that "the Jews naturally require the blood of a Christian child, but

 p. 181]

if they were poor and could not afford any blood, they were relieved of the expense" (27).

Rich Jews, often in a mixed spirit of prodigality and magnanimity, took over the beneficial task of assisting the poorer Jews by supplying the precious fluid required, although obviously in minute amounts. Isacco of Gridel, Angelo of Verona’s cook, recalled that, when he was in service with the head of a family at Cleberg, a rich relative of his wife supplied them a small preparation of dried blood at no charge, stating that "it was customary to do this for the poor". The blood had been acquired from the well-known rabbi Shimon of Frankfurt (28). Mosè of Bamberg, the professional traveler, also recounted that he had had a dependent family until 1467, and, since his indigence was well known to all, he was supplied with powdered blood "of a size equal to a nut" by Salamone, a rich merchant from lower Germany, and sometimes by Cervo, a wealthy Jew from Parchim in Mecklenburg, who gave him no more than half a spoonful (29).

The rite of the wine, or blood, and curses had a dual significance. On the one hand, it was intended to recall the miraculous salvation of Israel brought about through the sign of the blood of the lamb placed on the door-posts of Jewish houses to protect them from the Angel of Death when they were about to be liberated from slavery in Egypt. It was also intended to bring closer final redemption, prepared for through God’s vengeance on the gentiles who had failed to recognized Him and had persecuted the Jewish people. The memorial of the Passion of Christ, relived and celebrated in the form of an anti-ritual miraculously exemplified the fate destined for Israel’s enemies. The blood of the Christian child, a new Agnus Dei, and the eating of his blood, were premonitory signs of the proximate ruin of Israel’s indomitable and implacable persecutors, the followers of a false and mendacious faith.

The old man, Mosè of Würzburg, stressed both the significance of the blood rite and the curses, from the positive memorial of the blood of the lamb on the door-posts of the houses and the negative memorial of the passion of Christ, scorned and abhorred.

"According to the laws of Moses, it is commanded to the Jews that, in the days of the Passover, every head of family should take the blood of a perfect male lamb and place it (as a sign) on the door-posts of the dwellings. Nevertheless, since the custom of taking the blood of

 p. 182]

the perfect male lamb was being lost, and, in its place, (the Jews) now used the blood of a Christian boy [...] and they do this and consider it necessary as a negative memorial (of the Passion) of Jesus, God of the Christians, who was a male, rather than a female, and who was hanged and died on the cross in torment, in a shameful and vile manner" (30).

Israele, Samuele of Nuremberg’s son, referred to the rite’s ancient value in a response to his judges relating to the significance which came to be attributed, over time, to the mixing of the blood into the unleavened bread. "We consume it in the unleavened bread" he said, “as a memorial of the blood with which the Lord commanded Moses to paint the door-posts of the doors of Jewish houses when they were the slaves of the Pharoah" (31).

On the other hand, Vitale of Weissenburg, Samuele’s agent, preferred to confer a second meaning upon the rite, that is, that of an upside-down memorial to the Passion of Christ, considered as an emblem and paradigm of the fall of Israel’s enemies and of divine vengeance, forewarning of final redemption. "We use the blood", he declared, "as a sad memorial of Jesus [...]  in outrage and contempt of Jesus, God of the Christians, and every year we do the memorial of that passion [...]  in fact, the Jews perform the memorial of the Passion of Christ every year, by mixing the blood of the Christian boy into their unleavened bread (32).

INTERPOLATION  pp. 186-87 of new edition: If we strip the confessions of the accused of all obvious interpolations by the judges, intended to confirm the responsibility of the Jews in child murder for ritual purposes, we are presented with a complex image of a hypothetical, but not improbable, ceremony which the Jews of Trent and other Ashkenazi communities are said to have performed during Passover. During the dinner of the Seder, before the list of the ten plagues of Egypt and the anti-Christian invectives, which, as we have seen, had been added to the Passover liturgy by particular fringes of the Ashkenazi diaspora, the head of the family was said to have dissolved in the wine, to be sprinkled onto the table (which was later said to have been thrown away and not drunk by the tablemates,
a few grains of powdered Christian blood, pronouncing the formula “this is young Christian blood”. The act was said to possess a profound symbolic power, transforming the wine into the blood of Edom, the hated Christian persecutors deserving the bitterest curses. In some cases, it appears that some Jews extended the ritual of the curses to the preparation of the shimmurim, the three “solemn” azzime, as well. During their preparation, in the pierced dough, to prevent it from rising, a symbolic quantity of dried Christian blood was said to have been added. The operation was said to have been accompanied by the invective ken ikkaretu kol oyeveha “Thus may our enemies be consumed”, in Angelo da Verona’s translation.The antic-Christian anathemas, recited while the wine was being sprinkled rhythmically onto the table, “constituted in its own right an explosive act of destructive magic, born of a violent and aggressive Messianism [new footnote 33]

 The addition to the wine of a small measure of Christian blood was said to have served to transform it symbolically into the blood of those addressed by the curses, conferring upon them an explosive and tremendous magical value. The dried blood was said to have been drawn from the same vial as that from which it was extracted on the most diverse occasions during the year, for therapeutic or exorcistic purposes, as, for example, when, together with egg yolk, it was administered to Anna da Montagnana, Samuele da Nuremberg’s daughter-in-law, to protect her during her pregnancy. It was obviously not the product, direct or indirect, of a child murder. It has recently been stressed that it is easy to note how the Ashkenazi Jews had believed in a redemption founded on a symbology of blood, expressed principally in the rites of the Seder of Passover and of circumcision (34).

The mohel, after sucking the blood from the circumcision wound, spat it into the wine, which was then smeared on the child’s lips for exorcistic and propitiatory purposes. A few drops of the blood of the circumcised child was sufficient to transform the wine into a benefic potion of infallible salvific efficacy. (35). It should not therefore be surprising that during the Middle Ages, at Worms and in the other Jewish communities of the valley of the Rhine, the wine with the blood of the circumcised child was poured, in the synagogue, onto the steps of the Ark containing the scrolls of the Law, with exorcistic and luck-bringing intent (36).  In the symbology of circumcision, a drop of the blood of the Jewish child shaken into the wine transformed it into a benefic fluid, bringing good luck to the people of Israel. If the analogy is consistent, in the magic ritual of the Passover curses, a few grains of the powdered blood of a Christian child should have possessed the power to transform the wine into a death-bringing potion, capable of conferring tremendous efficacy upon the ardent aspiration for revenge upon the people of Christ. In both cases, although with contrary symbolic effect, the wine-blood, rather than being drunk, should be poured onto the ground or onto the table.     


33)  Cfr. Yuval, “Two Nations in Your Womb[misprint: “Two Nations in Your Bombs” – a Freudian slip?] cit. p. 145.

34) Cfr. L.A. Hoffman, Covenant of Blood. Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaisim, Chicago, Ill., 1996, p. 135. (“That Jews believed in deliverance by blood symbolism, of which the seder and circumcision were two primary vehicles, I think is plain to see”).

35) “The child’s blood flows from the wound and the mohel sucks it out. He pours wine […] after which he puts the wine, as blood, on the baby’s lips […]: the wine is treated as if it is about to become blood in the child’s system. By it he will be healed” (cfr. Hoffman, Covenant of Blood, cit., pp. 92-95). Amram Gaon (10th century) expressed “a coherent conviction that blood is salvific”, and nevertheless the commixture of the circumcision blood and the wine and above his benediction, probably “were added not by rabbinic enactment at all, but by the folk” (cfr. ibidem, pp. 84-87, 91, 110).

36) Cfr. Jacob Mulin Segal (Maharil), Sefer ha-minhagim (The Book of Customs), by Sh. Spitzer, Jerusalem, 1989, pp. 482 ff; Y. Shemesh, Minhage’ Warmaisa (“The Use of Worms”), Jerusalem, 1992, vol. II, p. 71.  

The origins of the ritual of the use of blood in the Passover dinner are not very clear; nor do we know the names of the rabbinical authorities who presumably taught it. The only defendants in the Trent trials able to shed any light on the subject were Samuele da Nuremberg and Mosè da Würzburg, both of whom possessed a high degree of Hebrew culture, the fruit of many years of arduous study in the most famous Talmudic academies (yeshivot) in Germany. Neither Samuele nor Mosè were able to provide precise answers in this regard, entrenching themselves behind the hypothesis that the ritual was based on ancient traditions which were only transmitted orally, for obvious reasons of prudence, and that no written traces of it remain in the tests of ritual law. Just when these traditions were formed, and why, was, for them, an unresolved mystery, enveloped in the mists of the past.

Samuele vaguely attributed these traditions to the rabbis of the Talmud (Iudei sapientiores in partibus Babiloniae), who were said to have introduced the ritual in a very remote epoch, "before Christianity attained its present power". Those scholars, united at a learned congress,

p. 183]

were said to have concluded that the blood of a Christian child was highly beneficial to the salvation of souls, if it was extracted during the course of a memorial ritual of the passion of Jesus, as a sign of contempt and scorn for the Christian religion. Over the course of this counter-ritual,  the innocent boy, who had to be less than seven years old and had to be a boy, like Jesus, was crucified among torments and expressions of execration, as had happened to Christ (33). Another praiseworthy addition was circumcision, to make the symbolic similarity more obvious and significant. We do not know how firmly convinced Samuele was of what he said; but it seems certain that the judges were highly gratified with this kind of macabre confession. This does not detract from the fact that the allegations of this Jew, at least in historical and ideological terms, if not in relation to the practical application of the [alleged] ritual in the case of little Simon, were quite plausible.

Mosè, "the Old Man" of Würzburg, was even vaguer than Samuele, noting that the blood ritual was not recorded in any of the ritualistic scripts of Judaism, but was transmitted orally, and in secret, by rabbis and scholars in Jewish law. Mosè nevertheless confirmed that the Christian boy who was to be crucified during the rite in commemoration of the Christ’s shameful Passion had to be less than seven years old and of the male sex (34).

In accordance with Samuele da Nuremberg’s statements ("we believe that the blood of the sacrificed Christian boy is of great benefit in the salvation of our souls"), it was the custom, attributed to the participants in the blood ritual, to perform collective acts, even if only symbolic, to stress their intervention in the ceremony, such as that of touching the victim’s body. "All those present placed their hands, now one and now the other, as if to suffocate the child, because the Jews believe that they render themselves meritorious before God by demonstrating their participation in the sacrifice of a Christian child". Isacco da Gridel, Angelo da Verona’s cook, in effect, affirmed this in his confession, by describing his own participation in a ritual child murder committed at Worms in 1460, according to him (35).

In a certain sense, this behavior recalled the collective funereal rituals proper to the Judaism of the German territories during medieval times, testified to, among other things, in the writings of Rabbi Shalom of Wiener Neustadt. These writings include a description of the hakkafoth, the circular procession around the coffin of the deceased by the persons

p. 183]

present at the funeral to drive evil spirits away from the soul of the deceased, which reveals undoubted links with the Cabbalah; the collective custom of placing the hand on the casket or the tomb to implore divine mercy in favor of the deceased; and finally, the custom of placing atuft of grass, a clod of earth, or a stone or pebble on the mound to testify to their own presence at the burial (36).

While Samuele da Nuremberg maintained more or less deliberately vague with regards the origins of the custom of using the blood of the Christian child in the rituals of the Jewish Passover, he was very precise in discussing the persons who had transmitted and taught him these regulations orally. David Sprinz had actually been his rabbi and teacher, with whom Samuele had studied lovingly and with great success thirty years before, in the yeshivah of Bamberg, and later in the yeshivah of Nuremberg. Samuele knew that Sprinz had since moved to Poland, but didn't know whether or not he was still alive (37).

David Tebel Sprinz was actually a rather well-known rabbi. Born in 1400, he had governed the Talmudic academy of Bamberg until 1448,and moved to Nuremberg around the middle of the century, taking control of the local yeshiva. He was still alive in 1474, carrying on his activity at Poznán in Poland (38). Samuele’s information in this respect was therefore correct, although we have no way of knowing how much truth there might be in his assertions relating to the subject of the teachings which Sprinz is alleged to have imparted orally in relation to the blood rituals. It is, however, a fact that three German rabbis, all of top-level importance, were implicated in the Trent trials in variousways relating to the transmission of traditions relating to ritual child murder, the use of blood in the Jewish Passover and the contemptuous commemoration of the Passion of Christ. Together with David Tebel Sprinz of Bamberg, we find the names of Jodenmeister Moshè of Halle, who also moved to Posnán just like his predecessor, and Shimon Katz, president of the rabbinical tribunal of Frankfurt am Main. It seems hardly accidental to me that none of the Ashkenazi rabbis -- from the most famous to the least well-known -- active in the German-origin Jewish communities of northern Italy is mentioned in the trial records; the only rabbis mentioned are ones whose activity was always carried on in Germany.

INTERPOLATION  p. 190 of new edition: David Sprintz, Mosche of Halle and Shimon Katz were probably the German rabbis who permitted the use, although begrudgingly, for purposes of exorcism, of the blood in the wine of the Passover curses, although they attempted to subject it to restrictions of various kinds.   
The observation that neither Italian Jews nor Italian Jewish communities were ever accused of committing ritual child murders compelled theTrent judges to investigate this phenomenon in order to determine whether or not the Italian Jews were simply unaware of the custom or

p. 185]

rejected it as contrary to the principles of Judaism, in contrast to the Jews of Germanic origin. INTERPOLATION  p. 190 of new edition: In their responses, the defendants, in contrast to the judges interested in revealing in the authenticity of the rite of infanticide, restricted themselves to illustrating the Passover rite of the wine, the blood and the curses, which did not appear among the traditions of the Italian Jews, without any embarassment on the part of the defendants or astonishment on the part of the judges [senza che questa costatazione destasse in loro meraviglia or imbarazzi di sorta].

If he had been able to speak freely, Samuele, from the lofty height of his Hebraic doctrine of Ashkenazi origin, might have replied with ill-concealed scorn that Italian Jews were not authoritative because they were ignorant in terms of rabbinical culture, not very observant, and very careless about the observation of ritual standards (39). Instead, he restricted himself to admitting that Italian Jews did not possess this custom in their texts, nevertheless adding, immediately afterwards, that "it appeared in the texts of Jews from overseas", an intentionally inexact term, perhaps an allusion to the Judaism of Babylonia and, indirectly, to Ashkenazi ultramontane Judaism (40).

On the other hand, even if we consider the confessions of Samuele and the other defendants to have been sincere and valid, and even accepting the realities of the dissemination of a ritual of this kind among the Jews of Medieval Germany, it appears beyond doubt that – as also emerges from the records of the Trent trials -- in the world of Ashkenazi Judaism, there were people who rejected this ritual, considering it in conflict with Jewish law. The persons responsible for the scandalous plural child murders at Endingen, in Alsace, in 1462, confessed that they had feared that any one of them might have revealed the details of the crime to the elders of the local Jewish community, knowing that the elders would have unhesitatingly reported them to the police authorities (41).

Returning to the facts of the Trent case, [at least] according the confession of Samuele da Nuremberg, in the days preceding the Jewish Passover, the defendants are alleged to have instructed Maestro Tobias to meet two German Jewish travelers passing through Trent in those days to inquire whether they were prepared to agree to abduct a Christian boy and conceal him in Samuele’s house. But the two Ashkenazi Jews, David and Lazzaro "of Germany", decisively rejected the proposal, notwithstanding the fact that it was accompanied by an offer of the considerable sum of one hundred ducats. They had no intention of getting mixed up in matters of this kind.

The words of the two travelers clearly reveal their capacity as emissaries from the Jewish communities of Germany, who were, as usual, invited to Italy every year, in the spring, to arrange for the purchase of cedars for the autumnal feast of the “Capanne” or “Frascate” [“little sheds” and “covered market stalls”; the Jewish Feast of the Autumn Harvest] (Sukkot). In general, the objective of these specialist wholesale

p. 186]

suppliers of ritual oranges for German Judaism was the Italian Riviera, particularly, San Remo. Lazzaro and David, on the other hand, were headed for Riva on the Lago di Garda, where they knew that what they were needed could be found in the green orchards surrounding that delightful body of water (42).

Even the commemorative pamphlet on little Simon, who was now a saint, published in Rome one hundred years after his death, with the obvious intention of recalling the facts relating to his martyrdom through education and admonishment, found space to praise the noble act of these two Jews in denouncing a ritual which they found detestable, considering it a true and proper betrayal of Jewish teachings. The consideration that precisely a clearly hagiographic source, such as the Summary of the Life and Martyrdom of Saint Simon, Child of the City of Trent, a text which is moreover openly anti-Jewish, should preserve and translate their words in a sense of positive appreciation, constitutes grounds for reflection. CHANGED If nothing else, it sounds like a confirmation of the existence of a general belief that Ashkenazi Judaism was anything but monolithic in this sense. CHANGED, p.186 of new edition:  If nothing else, it sounds like a confirmation of the fact that there were still those -- even among the Christians, who believed in the ritual murder accusation made against the Jews -- who did not believe it applicable to the generality of Ashkenazi Jews. 

"They (Lazzaro and David) prudently responded that they did not wish to commit similar follies and that they (with Moshè) wished them ill, because God did not command such things; on the contrary, He says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, and that child murder was a new ceremony and against the law, which did not wish God’s followers to shed innocent blood, such as that of a child, just because the child was a Christian. And if they thought about these things properly, they would discover that they were entirely invented, because there was no basis for them in the texts. Apart from that, they said that it was not right for a Jew to eat blood, as these men wished to do, by kneading the unleavened breadwith a certain amount of blood" (43).

This same Giovanni da Feltre, the converted son of Shochat da Landshut, a person far from inclined to find anything justifiable in Jews and Judaism, had no difficulty in admitting that, in Germany, the ritual of blood of using the blood of Christian children in the ceremonies of the Jewish Passover was only practiced by fundamentalist orthodox Ashkenazi sects. The same Summary of the Life and Martyrdom of Saint Simon briefly reports the ex-Jew’s explicit notes in this regard. "The convert Giovanni said that not all the Jews do this; but that sometimes, out of contempt for Christ and in revenge for the tribulations which they suffer because of that same Christ, our Lord" (44). It goes without saying that the problem did not even exist among Italian Jews, the Sephardim, or oriental Jews, who made up the overwhelming majority

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of the medieval Jewish world. But this majority was not always the most self-assertive, experiencing a serious inferiority complex compared to an Ashkenazi Judaism which considered itself the inimitable prototype of true religious orthodoxy (which was, moreover, created in itsown image and resemblance) (45). Medieval Ashkenazi Judaism made up a hermetically sealed orthodoxy, which fed upon itself, confined by a myriad of minute ritualistic regulations, which they considered binding on all, the mere memorization of which constituted an arduous and almost impossible task.

According to Samuele da Nuremberg, the blood ritual was a secret rite, the rules of which were only transmitted with due prudence and circumspection (46). The convert Giovanni da Feltre confirmed this (47). Entering into increasingly greater detail, Mosè da Würzburgrecalled a presumed rabbinical recommendation to keep the rite a secret from women and girls not having yet reached their religious majority, i.e., any age less than thirteen, "because they are fatuous and incapable of keeping a secret" (48). The inferiority of women and minors on a religious level, in addition to idiots and lunatics, was contemplated by Jewish ritual law (halakhah), which discriminated between these categories while largely or completely exonerating them from compliance with the positive precepts of Jewish law.

It is advisable at this point to mention the most significant text of anti-Christian polemics, the Toledot Yeshu (literally, "The Stories of Jesus"), or "The Jewish Counter-Gospel". This was a virulently defamatory biography of Jesus dating back to between the 4th and 8thcentury, disseminated first in Aramaic and later in Hebrew, in slightly different, or grossly divergent versions of the same text, written with the obvious intention of distorting the Christian religious identity by demolishing and ridiculing its memory. Systematic contempt for the figure of Christ and the Virgin Mary, described as a woman of easy virtue, formed the basis of a satirical and mocking tale, presented as a sort of side-show rivaling the Gospels themselves (49).

It is not surprising that this classic of anti-Christian polemical writing found an attentive and highly satisfied readership among Jews all overt he world, from the Islamic countries to Spain and Italy. It is even less surprising that the Jews of Germany adopted this text both enthusiastically and devoutly, as attested by the fact that almost all manuscripts of the Toledot Yeshu appear to have been written by Ashkenazi copyists, and that all of the translations of this text into Judeo-Hebraic dialect are in Yiddish.

p. 188]

In one Yiddish manuscript of the Toledot Yeshu, the scribe admonishes the reader to be cautious and practice the necessary circumspection.

Hidden dangers lurking unexpectedly as a result of excessive trust, as well as of unjustifiable complacency. Women, children and the feeble-minded were to be kept at a safe distance, as well as overly curious and intriguing Christians. "This treatise should be transmitted orally, and should not be read in public; nor should it be read to women or children, all the less so to feeble-minded persons. Its reading in the presence of Christians who understand German should certainly be avoided (50).

In another manuscript, also of German origin, containing the Toledot Yeshu together with other anti-Christian scripts, which I recently held in my hands personally, the warnings are even more explicit. The oral transmission of secret texts was energetically enjoined upon all readers to avoid serious hazards and to ward off the serious problems which might possibly originate in surrounding Christian society.

" 'Ask thy elders, and they will tell thee’" (Deut. 32:7). This booklet contains a tradition transmitted orally, by one person to another; it maybe put in writing but not printed, for reasons due to our bitter exile. Beware of reading this text before children and persons of scanty understanding, or all the more so before the uncircumcised who understand German. For this reason, he who is wise shall know how to understand and maintain silence, because these are unpropitious times. If he is able to keep silent, he shall receive mercy (from God); God’s just reward shall be upon him, and his work shall be before him. Publicizing this text is an extremely serious matter, and it cannot be revealed to all, because we can never know what tomorrow has in store for us and we can trust no one. I have written the text in intentionally allegorical and obscure language, because we have been selected the Chosen People and we are permitted (by God) to use mysterious imagery´ "(51).

Mosè da Würzburg certainly know which precedents to mention in describing the recommendation to avoid discussion of the counter-ritual of the Passion of Christ and the use of the blood of Christian children in the Passover celebrations among women, children and the feeble-minded, "who are unable to keep a secret". Among the Jews of Germany, these precautions were quite understandable. Their violent anti-Christian feelings and expressions, both ideological and ritualistic, in which these feelings found an outlet and a reflection necessarily had to be surrounded by a protective aura of secrecy and omertà [fatalistic manliness] because any indiscretion in this regard, either deliberately or through naiveté, could be the precursor of struggle and tragedy.

p. 189]


In the late 14th century or early 15th century, a woman from Esztergom, in northern Hungary, wrote to the authoritative rabbi Shalom of Wiener Neustadt with an urgent and pathetic inquiry. Some years previously, in her native country, on a Sabbath day, the local Christians had assaulted the Jews, threatening to baptize their children by force. Seized by despair, the poor woman, to prevent her children from forced conversion, seized a knife and piously killed them. She then fled, taking refuge in Poland. But she was now seized by remorse and was turning to the learned rabbi to find out how to expiate her guilt and earn God’s pardon. Shalom of Wiener Neustadt had no hesitations of his kind and promptly reassured the woman that, in this kind of tragic situation, the Jewish mother had acted for the better and in an appropriate manner, and was did not therefore deserve to be punished in any way (1).

Years before, in April 1265, when the Christians assaulted the Jewish district of Coblenz, in the Lower Rhineland, a Jew, fearing his family might be baptized by force, decided to kill his wife and four children, cutting their throats with a knife (2). He then turned to Rabbi Meir da Rothenburg, one of the greatest authorities of Ashkenazi Judaism, asking if he should do penitence for that cruel action.

"Suicide for the sanctification of God is certainly permitted”, replied the rabbi, “while, as regards the killing of other persons for the same reason, one must search for and find evidence in the texts. Any action of this type has been considered acceptable and even permissible for some time. We have personally learned and verified as true the fact that many illustrious Jews have killed their own children and wives(under similar conditions)” (3).

 p. 190]

The fact that the mother from Esztergom and the father from Coblenz questioned the rabbi at all, asking what type of repentance was required, under Jewish law, for persons guilty of killing their own children to protect them from baptism, thus sacrificing them for the love of God, is a clear indication of a fear on their part that such actions might be quite incompatible with the dictates of the halakah, the ritual laws of Judaism. This fear, or if one prefers, this sense of uncertainty, must have been rather widespread among the Jewish populations of the German territories, as well as among their rabbis, as in the case of Meir da Rothenburg, since, rather than justify such behavior on the basis of Jewish law, they preferred to recall illustrious precedents, which had, in effect, rendered these actions permissible by adoption. The call to suicide and mass child murder, as well as to examples of collective martyrdom, such as that of Coblenz in 1096, was indirect, but nevertheless obvious.

In fact, the phenomenon of martyrdom among German Jews at the time of the First Crusade had no significant precedents in Judaism capable of explaining and justifying the phenomenon. Jewish chronicles written subsequent to those events, intended to describe the behavior of the Jews of the communities of the Valley of the Rhine in these situations, offered no excuse at all, nor did they appear to feel the need for justification of any kind. Under such tragic and exceptional circumstances, the choice to act contrary to the innate instinct to survive, and to love and care for one's children, was irrational, spontaneous and unpremeditated. The rational dictates of Jewish law could have no influence in such a situation (4).

German Jews were terrorized by the possibility of forceful conversion to Christianity. They were even more frightened of the possibility, which became a tragic reality in many cases, of seeing their own children violently dragged to the baptismal font. With obsessive insistence, the German Jewish communities, until the end of the beginning of the Crusades, addressed repeated and often useless appeals to their rulers so that their children might be protected from forced baptism (5). Supplications to this effect are said to have been repeated over the following centuries, wherever there were Jewish nuclei of German origin, even in the regions of Northern Italy, becoming one of the distinctive features of Ashkenazi conduct (6).

To the teachers who killed their pupils, the mothers who cut the throats of their children, the fathers who killed their wives and children, conversion to Christianity represented a repellent and abhorrent eventuality. From their earliest childhood, the Jews

 p. 191]

of the Franco-German territories had been taught to view the Christian faith as a despicable religion, barbarous and idolatrous, dedicated to the worship of images and holy cadavers. Baptism and the forced conversion of the Chosen People to the religion of their cruel and ignorant persecutors was surely the quickest passport to a base and corrupt life, deserving the severest divine punishment in both this world and the next. Death, death without hesitation of any kind, was to be considered a beneficial and desirable alternative (7).

In view of the intolerable menace hanging over the souls of the tender infants, born to be brought up in the love of the True God and according to His sacred dictates, yet fated to be immersed against their will in the contagious waters of baptism, the lethal blade was the sole adequate response. The blood shed by these innocent children, put to death for the love of God, was said to have served to bring forward the time of redemption. Their sacrifice, like that of the uncontaminated lambs offered as a holocaust on the altar of the Temple, was thought to help arouse Divine vengeance against their idolatrous persecutors. This vengeance was to be consummated from on High, in the Heavens, but needed to be prepared on Earth. God’s vengeance, and that of the fathers and mothers, compelled to shed the precious blood of their children by the extreme arrogance of the Christians (8).

Sometimes the synagogue was destined to be chosen as the favorite location for the sacrifice of these children and the sanctification of God’s name. The place of prayer conferred solemnity and rituality upon the drama being performed. The Holy Ark with the rolls of the Law (Aronha-kodesh), the pulpit, also called the almemor (or himah or tehah in Hebrew) (9), the benches upon which the faithful were accustomed to sit, were all bathed in the blood of the uncontaminated victims, while laments combined with invocations, litanies and imprecations, opening the way to Heaven. The sacred nature of the Temple failed to slow the arm of those who rose up to immolate, nor did the act reek of sacrilege. Quite the contrary, these surroundings constituted the most appropriate theatre for this act of sublime martyrdom. The story of Isacco, son of David, sacristan (parnas) of the synagogue at Magonza, who committed suicide during the first Crusade killing his children and mother and setting fire to the place of prayer, seems illuminating in this regard (10).

In those days, the great majority of the Jewish population of Magonza, after uselessly seeking refuge in the bishop’s palace, met death in an indiscriminate massacre. Few of their lives were spared. Among them, Isacco, the

 p. 192]

sacristan of the synagogue, had personally been compelled to accept conversion to Christianity. But after a few days, the poor convert, assailed by remorse and repentance, dreamed up a delirious ritual of expiation based on a series of human sacrifices intended to move the Eternal to vengeance in a bath of blood.

First of all, Isaac, seized by fervent hallucinations, put his mother to death, burning her alive in her house. He then dragged his children, "not yet of an age capable of discerning good from evil" into the synagogue. Here, on the pulpit, the almemor, before the Ark containing the rolls of the Law, with his own hands, he slaughtered them all, one by one, offering a sacrifice to God. "And as the blood of the unhappy children spurted from their mortal wounds, painting the door-posts of the Ark of the Law, the sacristan devoutly recited: "May this blood serve as an expiration for all my sins". Immediately afterwards, he set fire to the synagogue, running from one side of the hall to another, his hands raised to Heaven in an act of prayer, his chanting voice clearly audible outside the holy sanctuary. And among the flames, before the holy Ark, the miserable Isacco finally found the death he so desired (11).

A psychopath? A lunatic suffering from homicidal religious fits of insanity? A poor soul driven mad by desperation and seized by a self-destructive mania? A madman and masochistic fanatic? The anonymous author who reports this tragic tale has absolutely no doubt at all of this kind: Isacco was a "wholesome and upright person, pious, merciful, and God-fearing". His behavior deserved to be pointed out as an example to later generations, and all types of censure in this case were to be considered absolutely unjustified and inopportune. Isacco had decided to sacrifice his own children on the almemor, before the Ark of the Law, the holiest place in the synagogue, according to a ritual, recalling, on the one hand, the holocaust offered on the altar of the Temple of Jerusalem, and, on the other hand, the Biblical sacrifice of Isaac, which, according to the Midrash, had actually been carried out. The grisly example of the pious sacristan of Magonza appeared to inspire enthusiastic and zealous imitators. The synagogue was thus transformed, in time, itself into a sort of sacred slaughterhouse, in which, among moans and prayers, the blood of the women and children, sacrificed for the love of God, gushed forth in torrents: Holy Ark, pulpit, women’s gallery, benches and steps were all stained red, as was the altar of the Temple.

[unnumbered illustration pages]

1. The Pharaoh's Bath of Blood, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Prague, Gershom Cohen, 1526
2. The Pharaoh's Bath of Blood, woodcut of the Haggadah of Passover, s.e., circa 1580
3. The Massacre of the Innocents, woodcut from the Ultraquist Passional, Prague, Jan Camp, 1495
4. The Pharaoh's Bath of Blood, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Mantua, Giacomo Rufinelli, 15605. The Pharaoh's Bath of Blood, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Mantua, Giacomo Rufinelli, 1560 (detail)
6. The Pharaoh's Bath of Blood, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Venice, Giovanni De Gara, 1609
7. Enchanters and Necromancers, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Venice, Giovanni De Gara, 16098. Children Drowned in the Nile, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Prague, Gershom Cohen, 1526
9. Children Drowned in the Nile, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Mantua, Giacomo Rufinelli, 1560
10. Children Drowned in the Nile, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Venice, Giovanni De Gara, 1609
11. Children Drowned in the Nile, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Venice, Giovanni De Gara, 1609
12. Sacrifice of Isaac, woodcut from the Haggadah of Passover, Venice, Giovanni De Gara, 1609
13. German Jew Being Executed with a Sword, miniature from Jewish Code 37 from the Hamburg State and University Library (c. 79r)
14. German Jew Tortured with Fire, miniature from Jewish Code 37 from the Hamburg State and University Library (c. 79r)
15. Sacrifice of Isaac, woodcut from the Ritual Responsals (Sheelot w-teshuvot) of Asher b. Yechiel, Constantinople, s.e., 1517
16. Martyrdom of Simonino and Jews with Eyeglasses, woodcut, Northern Italy 1475-85 (from A.M. Hind, Early Italian Engraving, II, NewYork-London, 1938, table 74
17. Circumcision, miniature from the Rotschild Miscellanea, Venice (?), 1475, Jerusalem, Bazelel Museumj.
18. Circumcision of Christ, Salzburg, circa 1440 (from H. Schreckenberg, The Jews in Christian Art, Göttingen, 1996, p. 144).
19. Circumcision of Christ, altar piece, circa 1450, Nuremberg, Liebfraukirche.
20. Gandolfino da Roreto d'Asti, Martyrdom of Simonino, tempera on wood, end of 15th century, Jerusalem, Israel Museum
21. Altoatesina School, Martyrdom of Simonino, first half of 16th century, Trent, Provincial Museum of Art
22. Oratory of German Jews with the "almemor", miniature from the Rothschild Miscellanea, Venice (?), 1475, Jerusalem, Bezalel Museum.

 p. 193]

At Vienna in 1421, during that city’s violent riots against the Jews, accused of favoring and supporting the Hussites, the rabbi Natan Eger visited all the local Jewish boys in their own homes, and instructed their mothers to slaughter them without remorse if the Christians attempted to baptize them en masse. One Yiddish chronicle reports that, on that occasion, the Jewish community gathered a great number of children together in the synagogue to prevent their forced conversion, as vehemently demanded by an apostate.

"The Jews of the community at this point began to cry in a loud voice: 'Alas, (the Christians), may God forbid, intend to contaminate our children, holy and immaculate’. They therefore deliberated to deprive them of their lives in order to sanctify the name of God the Blessed.

They drew lots and selected the pious rabbi Jonah Ha-Cohen, who was responsible for putting the decision into action. This happened during the Festival of the Capanne (Sukkot).

"While the entire community murmured the formula of the call to repentance in a low voice, turning from one to another, the rabbi placed himself in front of the Ark containing the rolls of the Law, and cut the throats of all the children, one after the other. This occurred in the great hall, intended for men’s prayers. The women were also slaughtered, one by one, in the antechamber of the synagogue, intended for them, and this to sanctify the name of God. The last women waiting to be sacrificed turned to Jonah, the rabbi, asking him to butcher her(without entering the women's hall, but) causing his arm to pass through the grid, which separated the two halls. Then Johan the rabbi, having no more strength to kill himself, removed the rafters in the synagogue, made a stack of them, and poured oil on them, asking God to pardon him for that which he had done to save their souls. Finally, he curled up on the almemor, setting fire to them from on top, and met death in the midst of the flames" (12).

The blood of the sacrifice, far from contaminating the place, was to serve as an irresistible call to God, exhorting Him to implacable vengeance against His enemies and those of the Chosen People, as the necessary preamble to the much-desired Messianic redemption.

The blood of the innocent children, shed in the synagogue "in sanctification of the name of God”, or "as a sign of contempt and abomination of the heretical crucifix", therefore served the same function, or, more exactly, served as two symbolic and successive phases of the very same process towards final redemption.

INTERPOLATION  p. 201 of new edition: The relationship linking the suicides and the infanticides “for the love of God”, which occurred in the German territories during the First Crusade and the subsequent years, with ritual homicide, made against the Ashkenazi Jews, seems indisputable. Their behavior on those occasions seems to stress a complete preparedness for the ritual sacrifice of children. In the eyes of the Christians, it seemed obvious that, if the Jews were prepared to sacrifice their own children without batting an eye, they would be all the more prepared to put Christian
children to death to hasten the revenge-bringing redemption. In this sense, ritual infanticide would be considered as the “symmetrical opposite” of the sacrifice of the Jewish children in sanctification of the name of God” (13).

NEW FOOTNOTE 13: This is the hypothesis sustained by Israel Yuval (“Two Nations in Your Womb”), cit. pp. 151-218, amply documented by him. Before him, Ivan Marcus (Hierarchies, Religious Boundaries and Jewish Spirituality in Medieval Germany, in “Jewish History”, I, 1986, no. 27), had invited his readers seriously to explore “the relationship between Jews ritually killing Jews as martyrs and the Christian accusation […]   that Jews ritually kill Christians”. 

The depositions of the defendants in the Trent trial were all in agreement as to the fact that the murder of little Simon was said to have been committed on Friday, inside the synagogue, located in the dwelling of Samuele da Nuremberg, and, more exactly, in the antechamber of the hall in which the men gathered in prayer. This area, which was separate

 p. 194]

from the synagogue, properly speaking, by a door, was intended for women’s prayers, since there was no women’s gallery. The door, however, remained half-ajar; during the Sabbath liturgy, the women peeped in while the rolls of the Law were raised and exhibited by the person officiating at the almemor, before the reading of the weekly fragment of the Penteuch. On that occasion, the women placed their fingers to their lips and blew kisses in the direction of the rolls, open and placed on show. There, as the physician Tobias da Magdeburg informed the judges, "according to their customs the women gather in the antechamber of the synagogue and come forward at the door, when the (rolls with) the precepts of Moses were raised, which happens every Sabbath based on their rites" (13).

Simon’s crucifixion was alleged to have been committed on a bench located in the so-called "women's synagogue". The boy’s body, now lifeless, was then alleged to have been removed to the central hall of the synagogue and placed on the almemor for the ceremonies of the Sabbath. Tobias confirmed that, during the Sabbath liturgy, "he had seen the boy’s body stretched out on the almemor, which is a table in the middle of the synagogue, on which they place books" (14). Angelo da Verona stated that "almemor is a Hebrew term equivalent in Latin 'seat of prayer'; in fact, the almemor is the table upon which they place the five books of Moses and is located in the midst of the School. The child’s body lay supine on the alememor (during the offices of the Sabbath)" (15).

The body was wrapped in a mappah (wimple) of variegated silk and embroidery, a fine cloth the size of a hand towel used to cover the rolls of the Law after the reading (16).Israel Wolfgang testified before the Inquisitors of Trent in relation to the ritual child murder of Regensburg of 1467, at which he had personally participated, according to his own statement. In this case as well, the monumental ritual was alleged to have been committed in the antechamber of the synagogue; later, the body of the victim was said to have been transferred into the prayer room and placed in the almemor, so that the faithful might in some way participate in the significant ceremony (17).

Probably in an attempt to detract from the overly obvious anti-Christian connotations of the ritual of the child’s crucifixion, Angelo da Verona transformed it into an emblematic commemoration of the epic tale of the exodus from Egypt, explicitly linking it to the celebration of the Pesach. The wound inflicted on the victim’s jaw was said to have been required to recall Moses’ useless appeals to the Pharaoh

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to free the people of Israel from the land in which they were being held prisoner. The wound on the tibia was said to have been a symbolic reference to the Egyptian army’s pursuit of the Jews in flight towards the Red Sea, and the terror and desperation with which the Jews were allegedly inflicted in those days. The amputation of the foreskin was said to have possessed an even more obvious commemorative function, recalling the mass circumcision of the Jewish people for the first time when they were about to leave Egypt, at God’s command (18). The punctures in the victim’s body were said to have been inflicted to be taken as a symbol of the physical punctures inflicted by God upon the Egyptians, cruelly punished and suffering from a variety plagues (19).

Nevertheless, Angelo da Verona’s elaborate explanations, obviously intended to link the rite to the Biblical events celebrated in the Jewish Passover, hardly appear convincing. The defendants’ depositions actually provide obvious indications of the obvious intention to transform the child’s crucifixion into a symbolic commemoration of the Passion of Christ, referred to contemptuously as Tolle Iesse mina (= Talui,Ieshu ha-min), i.e., "the hanged one, Jesus the heretic" (20).

In effect, the so-called “Jewish formulae”, which were said to have been pronounced on that occasion, cannot be dismissed as the mere expression of a mysterious, imaginary language, intended to confer Satanic connotations upon the cruel tale of ritual murder to satisfy the wishes of the inquisitors (21). With some effort, due to the crude transliteration by Italian notaries of long and complicated phrases spoken in Ashkenazi Hebrew with a thick German accent, the formulae can be reconstructed rather satisfactorily, revealing their markedly anti-Christian tenor.

For example, the phrase in Hebrew recorded by Samuele of Nuremberg (lu herpo, lu colan, lu tolle Yesse cho gihein col son heno) and translated by Samuele as: "In contempt and shame of the hanged Jesus, and thus may it happen to all our enemies", is only apparently incomprehensible, due to inevitable errors of transcription by the notary. The phrase should in fact be reconstructed as "le-cherpah, li-klimahla-talui Yeshu, cach (or coh) ihye' le-col soneenu, in the German pronunciation (and therefore herpoh instead of herpah), precisely the same significance as attributed to it by Samuele, who had a good knowledge of Hebrew (22).

Mosè da Würzburg "the Old Man", reported that the rite, some of those present recited a Hebrew formula which meant: "Thou shalt be martyred as Jesus, the hanged God of the Christians, was martyred:

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and thus may it happen to all our enemies". At this point, all persons present responded in unison: "Amen". The actual phrase, in mangled Hebrew, is as follows: "Hato nisi assarto fenidecarto cho Iesse attoloy le fuoscho folislimo cho Iesso" (23). In view of the fact that the Hebrew was rendered according to the Ashkenazi pronunciation, the invective should be reconstructed as follows, leaving little room for doubt:

Attà nizlvatà we-nikartà ke-Ieshu ha-talui le-boshet we-li-klimà" (35th Psalm, 26), ke-Ieshu, which, literally translated, would sound like:"You have been crucified and pierced like ‘Jesus the Hanged’, in ignominy and shame, like Jesus" (24).

For the participants in the ritual, the Christian child seems to have lost his identity (if he ever had any in their eyes) and had actually been transformed into Jesus the "crucified and hanged". So many Jewish boys baptized by force in Christ’s name in the German territories, beginning with the Crusades; so many others slaughtered by their fathers and mothers to avoid that holy abuse of power, bathing the almemor and the steps of the Ark with the rolls of the Law in the synagogue with their innocent blood -- now, in turn, those who considered themselves the descendents of the victims of forced baptism imagined that a cruel but holy representation of the memorial of the Passion was capable of redeeming the descendants from their unforgettable trauma, with the God of redemption, severe and pious, capable of vengeance and pardon, involved and satisfied, as a privileged witness.

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Lazzaro, Angelo da Verona’s servant, recalled that, as an introduction to the contemptuous commemoration of Christ’s Passion, enacted upon the body of the infant Simon, the zealous Samuele da Nuremberg had intended to prepare and incite those present with a mocking sermon ridiculing the Christian faith. In the improvised sermon, Jesus was described as being born of adultery, while Mary, a woman of notoriously easy morals, was said to have been impregnated during her menstrual period, against all the rules of propriety and custom (1).

While the whole theme of Jesus’s adulterous generation was not at all new, this was not because of any claim that the Virgin was impregnated during her menstrual period. In fact, this only appeared in a few versions of the Toledot Yeshu - the so-called "Hebraic counter-Gospels", written in the German-speaking territories between the 15th and 16th centuries. Samuele’s reference to the anti-Christian text containing the accusation that Christ was "a bastard conceived by an impure woman" (mamzer ben ha-niddah) was therefore chronologically somewhat premature and doubtlessly characteristic of the intolerant climate of a certain section of late medieval Ashkenazi Judaism (2). It is inconceivable to imagine that the naïve Lazzaro da Serravalle should have given free rein to his fantasy by inventing the anti-Christian thematic details contained in Samuele’s sermon. It is even less plausible to imagine that the Trent judges and inquisitors might have beenexpert connoisseurs of the various texts of the Toledot Yeshu.

A few years later, in 1488, the Jews of the Duchy of Milan, on trial for contempt of the Christian religion, were asked by the judges whether or not they actually referred to Jesus as a bastard and the son of a menstruating woman. In particular, they demanded whether any expressions of this kind, which originated in the texts of the Toledot Yeshu, appeared in a liturgical composition beginning with the words "ani, anì ha-medabber ("It is I, I who speak..."), and in the form of the secondary feasts

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of the German rite (3). Many of the defendants responded in the affirmative and admitted that, in that prayer, Jesus was indeed referred to as having been "born of a woman having her menstrual period", and "born of a polluted woman, that is, one who was menstruating". In fact, the oldest versions of the Ashkenazi handbook of prayers for ceremonial solemnities contains a commemorative elegy for the martyrs, massacre victims and suicides in sanctification of God’s name, entitled ani, ani ha-medabber, "It is I, I who speak....", attributed to Rabbi Efraim diIsacco da Regensburg, and intended for recital during the Fast of Expiation (Kippur). The elegy contains an explicit reference to Jesus as" conceived of a menstruating woman", in conformity with a motif which was widespread in the German versions of the Toledot Yeshu (4).

Not surprisingly, this line of invective rapidly gained ground in the world of Ashkenazi Judaism, both in Germany and in the more or less recently settled regions of sub-Alpine Italy.

Elena was the widow of Raffaele Fritschke, analogous to the German family name Fridman, rendered into Italian as Freschi or Frigiis (5).Her husband, a famous physician and rabbi from Austria or Bohemia, had become one of the most influential and esteemed personages of the Jewish community of the German rite of Padua by the end of the 15th century and the early 16th century. His death is thought to have occurred in the city of Venice around 1540. A few years later, Raffaele and Elena’s son, Lazzaro Freschi, later a friend and esteemed colleague of Andreas Vesalius, graduated with brilliant medical credentials from the Studio di Padova, and was invited to occupy the chair of surgery and anatomy in that university, accepting the job and occupying that position from 1537 until 1544. No later than 1547, Maestro Lazzaro Freschi moved to the old ghetto of Venice, together with his mother, and was admitted as a member of the local Ashkenazi community.

A dramatic turning point came a few years later, before the end of 1549, when Lazzaro, physician son of Rabi Raffaele Fritschke, converted to Christianity for reasons unknown. To avoid doing things by half, the Paduan physician also persuaded his mother Elena to visit the baptismal font and embrace the religion of Christ. From that moment on, Lazzaro, now known as Giovanni Battista Freschi Olivi, became a severe critic of his former religion and an open accuser of the Jewish world from which he originated. Thanks to his zealous and indefatigable polemical efforts,

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the Talmud was placed on the Index and finally burnt by the public hangman in the Piazza San Marco on 21 October 1553 by decision of the Council of Ten (6).

But while Giovanni Battista Freschi Olivi gave all outward signs of having enthusiastically embraced the Christian religion, his aged mother Elena, who must have been at least seventy years old, proved herself rather less convinced of the wisdom of the step taken. The virulently anti-Christian religious upbringing which she had received during her year in the Ashkenazi environment had left an indelible imprint and continued to influence her spontaneous mental attitudes, even after her conversion.

In 1555, Elena was brought before the Holy Office of Venice under the accusation of having publicly given vent to blasphemous expressions regarding Christianity. Only the authoritative intervention of her son, who was compelled to plead his mother’s mental infirmity for purposes of defense, sufficed to get her out of trouble (7). One Sunday in March of that year, Elena, while attending Mass in the Church of San Marcuola, just as the priest was reciting the Credo, had been unable to refrain from mockery, expressing her outrageous contempt withmalevolent terms of speech. Jesus, she alleged, was not conceived by the Virgin Mary by the virtue of the Holy Spirit at all, but was the bastard son of a whore.

"Last Sunday (17 March 1555) [...]  finding herself at the said Mass (in the Church of San Marcilian) [...] the mother of meser Zuan Baptista,a Hebrew physician having become a Christian, just as the priest was saying the Credo: Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgineet homo factus est, said the following, or similar, words: 'You’re lying through your teeth. Jesus was the bastard born of a whore'" (8).

The anti-Christian sentiments expressed through the texts of the Toledot Yeshu and assimilated by the old Paduan Jewish woman thus found an uncontrollable outlet, in church, in an automatic and perhaps involuntary reflex. Poor Elena’s basic personality was still Jewish and Ashkenazi, and would probably remain so forever afterward.

A few years later, two other Ashkenazi Jews were tried by the Inquisition of Venice for insulting the Christian faith, and once again, the accusation turned on the allegation of Jesus’ spurious birth as the son of a menstruating woman. Aron and Asser (Asher, Anselmo) were two aimless and unaccomplished youths having arrived in the ghetto of Venice around 1563, the one from

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Prague and the other from Poland. They later decided to convert to Christianity and enter the Casa dei Catecumeni [Church institution for the conversion of Jews and infidels] to try to make ends meet by means of a self-interested and calculated baptism. But they obviously proved to be rather poorly convinced of the basics of the Christian religion, since they were indicted by the Holy Office for uttering unspeakable insults against Jesus and the Virgin Mary (9). The two Ashkenazi youths appeared to have been nurtured upon massive doses of the anti-Christian motifs characteristic of the Toledot Yeshu.

"Esso (Asser) began to say that the Lord God was a bastard son of a whore, saying in the Hebrew language that the Lord God was engendered while the Madonna was having her menstrual period, and, what is even more insulting, saying mamzer barbanid (10), which means what I said above [...]. He uttered opprobrious words offensive to the Divine Majesty and the glorious Virgin Mary, asserting that Christ was a bastard born by carnal sin when the Madonna Virgin Mary was having her menstrual period" (11).

Almost a century had passed since the Trent trials and the polemical motifs of Samuele da Nuremberg’s sermon over the corpse of little Simon-Jesus, taken from the Toledot Yeshu -- which had now become a classical text -- were still alive and well in the Ashkenazi environment of the valleys of the Loire and the Rhône, the Rhine and Danube, the Elba and the Vistula, and all communities having migrated down from the other side of the Alps to the plains of the Po and the gulf of Venice.

Another outrageous assertion about the Christian religion very widespread among Jews of German origin was based on the Talmudic dictum that Jesus was to suffer punishment in the coming world, condemned to immersion in "boiling excrement" (12). The Jewish bankers of the Duchy of Milan accused of contempt for the Christian faith in 1488 were asked whether their texts claimed that Jesus was condemned to the pains of Hell and placed in a pot full of excrement. Salomone Galli da Brescello, a Jew from Vigevano, had no difficulty in admitting that he had indeed read that malodorous prophecy in a little notebook which passed through his hands in Rome during the Pontificate of Sixtus IV(13). Salomone, a Jew from Como, and Isacco da Parma, a resident of Castelnuovo Scrivia, confirmed that they, too, were aware of the Hebraic texts asserting that Jesus, in the future world, was destined to be immersed in a bath of steaming feces ("Jesus the Nazarene [...] he is being punished in excrement, in boiling shit") (14).

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It should be noted in this regard that the Hebraic sources refer to a significant and revealing episode linked to the sanguinary massacre of the Jewish community at Magonza in 1096. On that occasion, David, son of Netanel, the person responsible for the synagogue services (gabbay),is said to have turned to the Crusaders about to kill him cruelly, wishing them the same fate as Jesus, "punished by immersion in boiling excrement" (15).

When it came to anti-Christian polemic, Ashkenzi Jews didn’t beat around the bush, and the tragic events of which they were the victims served as a justification for an uncompromising hatred, verbally insulting and violent in action, at least whenever possible.

On the other hand, the Christians, too, loved the idea of the pious Jew, the scrupulous observers of the Law, immersed up to the neck in baths of excrement, as a well-deserved punishment for their arrogant blindness. Friar Luisi Maria Benetelli of Venice, lecturer in Hebrew at Padua and later at Venice, reported, with ill-concealed satisfaction, a malodorous anecdote of ancient origin describing a Jew, devote observer of the Sabbath, compelled to pass the week-end among the miasmas of a filthy cesspool due to his obtuse religiosity.

"Mr. Salamone, having fallen into the bog of a ditch, so as not to violate the feast day of the Sabbath, rejected the charity of a Christian who offered to pull him out. Sabbath sancta colo, de stercore surgere nolo [I must adhere to the Sabbath, and do not wish to be pulled out of the shit]. The following day, the same good man passed by again, and the Jew beseeched him for assistance in getting out of the ditch, but the Christian excused himself saying, 'Yesterday was your feast day, today is mine', and left him there to enjoy that aromatic stench all Sunday.Sabbatha nostra quidem Salomn celebrabis ibidem" (16).

For many, the synagogue, particularly, during the most significant moments of the liturgy, was the most suitable place to confer solemnity and sacral effectiveness upon anathemas, invective and contempt, often accompanied by the dramatic exhibition of aggressive and mocking gestures. One of the most important days of the Jewish calendar among the Jews of the German territories during the Middle Ages was the feast of Pesach, when they opened the doors of the holy Ark to extract the rolls of the Law. It was then, in the context of prayers for the festivity, that they cursed the Christians in stentorian voices, "uttering imprecations to which one cannot listen" (17). But the insults and the contempt were also pronounced by the litigious faithful, who had, or

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who considered themselves to have, reciprocally outstanding accounts to settle. In the early 16th century, the rabbi Jechiel Trabot lamented the widespread wickedness of taking advantage of the ceremonies of the synagogue to engage in furious verbal disputes, which sometimes concluded with recourse to fisticuffs. These violent disputes, accompanied by insults and curses, usually occurred "with the Seder open", that is, when the rolls of the Law were exhibited and placed, open, upon the almemor for reading (18).

The [Ahkenazi] Jews possessed a vast range and picturesque catalogue of anathemas against Jesus and the Christians, generally reinforced by appropriate gestures of mockery and contempt, often taking the form of obscene and scurrilous jests. Offensive and obscene gestures, ritualized and sanctified by the holy temple in which they were performed, constituted an effective instrument of communication, directed at their own community, to request and obtain the anticipated and complacent approval, or at least silent complicity. The insults and scurrilous gestures most frequently resorted to [by Jews] during the Middle Ages, right down to the end of the early modern age, include the rhythmic stamping of the feet to create an ear-splitting din intended to drown out any mention of the memory or even the very voice of the adversary; the act of sticking out the tongue and/or making faces, the of spitting in the face, the act of uncovering the buttocks and the gesture of "doing the fig". The latter, considered a particularly insulting gesture of contempt, was performed by displaying the hands with the thumb tightly inserted between the index and middle fingers, a symbolic allusion to the female genital organ during the act of copulation (19).

When, in the weekly readings of the Pentateuch, they reached the fragment relating to the Amalek (Deut. 25: 17-19), considered Israel’s implacable enemy and persecutor par excellence throughout history, the participants in the liturgy of the synagogue stamped their feet violently, accompanied by a deafening noise to drown out any mention of their name. This often occurred during the recitation of the meghillah, the roll of Esther, during the feast of Purim, at every mention of Haman, Assuerus’s cruel minister, inventor of the plan to exterminate the Jewish people in the land of Persia. The hubbub was also renewed when at any mention of Zeresh, Haman’s faithful consort, and his numerous children, in the liturgical text. In this connection, Leon da Modena recalled that "some people, at the mention of Haman’s name, beat on the benches of the synagogue as a sign that they were cursing him", a custom the existence of which was confirmed by the convert Giulio Morosini, who stated that, at Venice, the Jews pounded violently on the flat surfaces of their wooden benches in the synagogue as a sign of execration of

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the hated enemy, "pound on the benches of the synagogue with all their strength as a sign of excommunication, saying in a loud voice, ‘May his name be blotted out’, and ‘May the name of the impious putrefy’” (20).

One of the most widespread prayers of the Jewish ritualistic formulary was doubtlessly the one beginning with the words 'Alenu leshabbeach("We must praise the Lord"), which was to be recited several times a day and during feasts and solemnities. This text, sometimes called a sort of “Credo of Judaism”, not surprisingly contained expressions particularly critical of Jesus and Christianity. Ecclesiastical censure therefore dealt severely with this prayer, erasing all polemical mention of the faith in Christ from the manuscripts and prohibiting any printing of the full text. Yet, nonetheless, during the persecutions of the Middle Ages, it was precisely this prayer which was most frequently shouted at their persecutors by Jews when the time case to sacrifice their lives to God.

In the tradition of the German Jews, when the phrase "So that they (the Christians) may prostrate themselves and turn their prayers to vanity and nullity, to a God which is not the Savior" it was the custom to perform gestures of reproof and contempt, such as stamping the feet, shaking the head or jumping up and down on the ground (21). Giulio Morosini reported that, even in his time, when the Jews of Venice recited the liturgical hymn 'Alenu le-shabbeacuh, which he described as "contumelious against Christ and Christians [...] some attest that, when saying these words, they are accustomed to show abomination by spitting" (22). Insulting and scurrilous gestures and obscene acts, even, and most particularly, if performed within the holy confines of the synagogue, lost their negative connotations and served to underline and stress their passionate hatred and implacable contempt.

INTERPOLATION,  p. 211 new edition: Not surprisingly, insults, curses and obscene gestures, those which often accompanied the Hebrew liturgical declamations against Jesus and Christianity, were attributed in the records of the Trent trial to the Jews accused of the child murder of little Simoncino, in the act of committing the alleged ritual crime. 

The Sabbath right after little Simon’s murder, when the child’s body was placed on the almemor, the Jews of Trent, gathered in the synagogue, abandoned themselves to excessive gestures absolutely without inhibition or restraint. According to the deposition of Angelo da Verona’s servant, Lazzaro, Samuele da Nuremberg, after concluding his fiery anti-Christian sermon against Jesus and His Mother, rushed up to the almemor, and, after “doing the fig”, slapped the boy in the face and spat on him. Not to be outdone, Angelo de Verona imitated these outrageous gestures, spitting and slapping the corpse, while Mosè "the Old Man" of Würzburg “did the fig”, mockingly showing his teeth, while Maestro Tobias allowed himself to be carried away in the performance of other acts of violence, with no shortage of slapping ands pitting.

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CHANGED SLIGHTLY p. 213 of new edition This scandalous spectacle was INTERPOLATION: said to have been crowned by the other participants, led by Isacco, Angelo’s cook, and Mosè da Bamberg, the traveler, Lazzaro and Israel Wolfgang, the painter, and Israel, Samuele’s son, who, in addition to “doing the fig” like the others, stuck out his tongue and made faces. For their part, Joav da Ansbach, Maestro Tobias’s scullery boy, had no hesitation in performing obscene gestures, and, coarsely raising his caftan, displayed his buttocks [and genitals] shamelessly, a blasphemous act sometimes reserved solely for the passing of holy processions (23). Joav himself, in his confession, added that he had bitten the child's ear in an attempt to imitate or outdo Samuele da Nurmberg (24). Anna da Montagana, the latter’s daughter-in-law, confirmed that she had indeed been present at this unedifying scene (25).

Bella, wife of Mayer, son of Mosè of Würzburg, recalled that she had been present at the exhibition of similar insulting gestures, always at Trent, three or four years earlier, on the occasion of another child murder, also committed in Samuele's house. In this case as well, the outrageous ritual had been performed in the synagogue during the hour of prayer (26). For his part, Israel Wolfgang described the details of the 1467 ritual murder at Regensburg in which he claimed to have participated personally, stating that "the same insulting acts as those at Trent, in Samuele’s house”, were performed in Sayer’s stiebel [parlor] in the presence of the child’s body [as in 1467] (27).

Giovanni Hinderbach summarized the Trent defendants’ depositions relating to the scene of the outrageous acts performed in the synagogue in a letter sent to Innsbruck in the fall of 1475, addressed to the orator of the Republic of Venice before Sigismundo, Archduke of Austria, written in a kind of Italian which was unusual for him and somewhat crude:"The said Jews, or some of them, the said body having been placed on the almemor, said the following, or similar words, in the Hebrew language: 'This be in contempt and shame of our enemies', referring to us Christians. Quite a few others ‘did the fig’ in the eyes of the corpse, while others raised their hands to heaven and stamped their feet on the ground, while others spat in the face of the said body, saying these other words: 'Go to the God of Jesus, your God, and Mary, may she help you; pray to her to free you, and may she rescue you from our hands'" (28).

The bishop of Trent was either suffering from a memory lapse or was committing a more or less intentional error here, because the Jews could not have defied Jesus and the Madonna to come to the assistance of the poor child on that occasion. In fact, in their eyes,

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the boy lying on the almemor and the Crucified Christ were one and the same person. Simon did not exist -- if he had ever existed – and, in is place, they saw the Talui, Jesus the hanged, and the Teluiah, the hanged or crucified woman, as Mary was called in an extemporaneous Hebraic neologism. To them, he was the Christ, and whoever had engendered Him -- the detestable embodiments of Christianity, responsible for their miserable Diaspora, their bloody persecutions and forced conversions. Almost trance-like, they cursed and swore, performed contemptuous and obscene gestures, each one recalling tragic family memories and the many sufferings of those who, in their eyes, had embraced the cross as an offensive weapon.

CHANGED The indignities heaped upon this innocent, sacrificed child in some ways resembled the Cabalistic rite of the kapparot ("The [Fast of] Expiation"),
CHANGED, p. 213 new edition: That which the prosecution alleged had happened to the innocent, sacrificed child was said to have followed a procedure in some ways similar to the cabbalistic rite of the kapparot (the “expiation”) of  established custom among German Jews on the eve of the solemn fast of Kippur. On that occasion, young white free-range roosters were whirled around the head of the sinner to assume the sinner’s transgressions. The roosters were later sacrificed, taking punishment upon themselves on behalf of the guilty-minded transgressors (29). This ritual was intended to bring about the symbolic transfer of a person’s sins onto an animal, which was then sacrificed, serving a similar function to that of the expiatory goat [scapegoat]. Where the cock assumed the guilt of the entire community, the rooster of the cabbalistic, magical kapparot served as a receptacle for the sins of the individual, erased through the killing of the innocent bird. The custom of the kapparot, widespread among the Ashkenazi Jews of Venice, was vividly described, as usual, by Samuele Nahmias, alias Giulio Morosini.

"All the males and females in the house go out and look for white chickens: the men look for a white rooster, while the women look for awhite hen, and then they whirl these chickens around their heads several times, saying these words [...]. 'This be in exchange for myself, may this take my place, this be my expiation, may this bird go to its death while I go on living' After the ceremony, they butcher the birds and eat them, and then they give some of the meat to some poor person, in charity, in the belief that if God had condemned any of them to death, he would now have to settle for the rooster or hen in exchange [...]. They all practice this ritual, particularly in the Levant and in Germany" (30).

Once again, at the beginning of the 18th century, the Minorite friar Luigi Maria Benetelli severely censured those Jews of Venice, presumably belonging to the German community, who unperturbedly maintained the custom of the kapparot on the eve of the

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Fast of Expiation. According to him, these Jews intended to transfer the ballast of their own sins onto the white roosters, condemned to be sacrificed, while irreverently imitating the Passion of Christ.

"Many of you, on that day, dress in white and search for a white rooster without a single reddish feather (since red is the color of sin), and, clutching it by the neck and whirling it around your heads three times, pray that the rooster may expiate their sins; they torment the rooster by pulling its neck, they butcher it, throw it violently on the ground, and finally, they roast it; denoting, by means of the first torment, that they themselves deserve to be strangled; by means of the second torment, that they themselves deserve to be killed with a noose; in the third, that they themselves deserve to be stoned; and in the fourth, that they themselves deserve to be burnt for their sins. Not all (and for this reason, I said ‘many’) practice this ceremony even today. To me, it is enough that many of them, although unintentionally, admit, in fact, that the Messiah, which is white for its divinity and red for Humanity, should expiate sin" (31).

Similarly, as with the kapparot, in the case of the Christian child, his crucifixion transforms the child into Jesus and into Christianity, symbolically allowing the community to savor that vengeance against the enemies of Israel which is a necessary, although insufficient, preamble to their final redemption. The crescendo of insults and contemptuous gestures in front of the almemor of the synagogue was not, paradoxically, directed against the innocent boy, but rather, against Jesus, "the hanged one", whom the boy personified. Whether by ‘doing the fig’, spitting on the ground, grinding their teeth or stamping their feet, all the participants in the spectacular representation, alive and charged with tension, repeated the Hebrew wish, ken ikkaretu kol oyevecha, which means, "thus may our enemies be consumed" (32).

The women also had their role to play in the ritual of vilification, and their role was not one of secondary importance. Their enthusiastic participation in the display of verbal and gestural contempt during the functions of the synagogue was well known to everyone and caused no surprise. Rabbi Azriel Diena, in a ritual response sent to the heads of the Jewish community of Modena in the month of November 1534,censured the bad habits of the women, who, in the synagogue, as well as on the Sabbath and during the festivities, "when the solemn moment arrives in which the rolls of the Torah were extracted from the Ark, they rise up, as if they were infuriated, launching a barrage of insults and curses against all those whom they hated" (33). Beniamin Slonik, rabbi of Grodno in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in his manual of honest female behavior in the Ashkenazi communities, which was translated into Italian several times, attempted,

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in an effort to teach them to restrain themselves and cool their burning ardor, to explain the predisposition of Jewish women to imprecate and fling endless anathemas. According to the scholarly Lithuanian, the women suddenly restrained themselves "when they curse with kalalot (anathemas), which the women are very accustomed to doing, because they cannot revenge themselves physically due to their lack of strength, and start to curse and swear at all other persons who have displeased them in some way" (34).

Even the Jewish chronicles of the Crusades, which exalted the heroism and readiness for martyrdom of German Jewish women, stressed the manner in which they disdainfully rejected "conversion to the faith of the crucified bastard (talui mamzer)" and, showing praiseworthy courage and surprising temerity, did not hesitate to shout insults and curses at their Christian aggressors" (35).

Bella, the wife of Mayer and daughter-in-law of Mosè of Würzburg, in her deposition dated 6 March 1476, recalled the women’s active participation in the contemptuous ritual allegedly performed in the synagogue of Trent during the child murder committed the year before. The same Bella, together with Brunetta, Samuele of Nuremberg’s wife, and Anna, his daughter-in-law, Brünnlein, Angelo da Verona’s mother, Anna, Maestro Tobias's first wife, now deceased, all appeared at the threshold of the synagogue during the ceremonies to see the child’s body, which lay stretched out on the almemor. They then enthusiastically joined the ritual of imprecations, spontaneously begun by the men, waving their arms and shaking their heads as a sign of censure and spitting on the ground (36).

These acts were accompanied by the ever-present scurrilous gesture of “doing the fig”, which was exalted and almost sanctified by the fact that it was being performed in a place of worship, whether a synagogue or a church. It is not, therefore, surprising that the display of those contemptuous gestures was one of the charges brought by the Holy Office of Venice against the elderly Elena Freschi (Fritschke), survivor of a poorly digested conversion to Christianity. According to the testimony of the Venetian patriarch Donna Paola Marcello, in fact, that Sunday, during Mass in the church of San Marcuola, just as the priest had started reciting the Credo, the arrogant Paduan convert "got very angry and made ugly faces and said bad words, and, among other things, I heard her say: 'You’re lying through your teeth' . And I saw her ‘do the fig’ towards the altar

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where the priest was saying Mass (37). The clash of religions therefore occurred on several different levels simultaneously, passing from ideological diatribe, with scholarly and religious features, to sneering and curses, accompanied by codified gestures of proven and obvious effectiveness, with obscene and insolent meanings.


Israel of Brandenburg, the young Saxon painter and miniaturist who arrived at Trent on the occasion of the fateful Passover of 1475 on one of his frequent trips to the cities of the Triveneto region in search of clients, Jews and Christians, was the first to opt for a rapid conversion to Christianity. He had already successfully braved the baptismal waters by the time the interrogations of the principal persons implicated in the child murder of Simon began in late 1475. Wolfgang was given a new name selected for him by Hinderbach, in honor of a saint for whom the prince bishop of Trent showed particular affection (1). As Wolfgang was to confess at a later time, he had decided to abjure the faith of his fathers simply in the hope of saving his skin (2). And the circumstances proved him right. Or at least, they proved him right, at first.

Two months later, by the end of June, upon conclusion of the first phase of the trials, the principle defendants, nine in total, including Samuele da Nuremberg, Angelo da Verona and the physician Tobias of Magdeburg, were condemned to death and executed. The old man Mosè da Würzburg had died in prison before being sentenced to execution. The trials were then all temporarily suspended by order of the Archduke of Austria, Sigismund. A few of the minor defendants, all of them from among the servants to the two principal money lenders and the physician Tobias, were in prison waiting to learn their fate. By contrast, the women of the small community were confined under house arrests in Samuele’s house, kept under surveillance by the bishop’s gendarmes.

Giovanni Hinderbach had taken a liking to the young convert, Israel Wolfgang, and had demonstrated his trust in him by admitting him freely to the castle and allowing him to sit at table among his servants and courtiers. But his trust was not entirely disinterested.

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In the summer of 1475, Wolfgang, the convert painter, was in fact the only Christian in Trent who could read and understand Hebrew. This knowledge was indispensable to the young bishop, who, having confiscated the goods of the condemned, found himself in need of someone capable of deciphering the bank ledgers of the Jews, drawn up, as was normally the case, in Hebrew. The value of the pledges and the ownership by the citizens of Trent or foreigners could only be determined by means of a correct interpretation of the entries appearing in those books. In early June, Hinderbach decided officially to entrust Israel Wolfgang with the paid task of supervising the restitution and redemption of the collateral amassed in the vaults of the Jewish banks (3). The Saxon painter's new workplace was now the money lending shop formerly owned by the deceased Samuele da Nuremberg. Here, the young Wolfgang spent a great part of his time, working diligently and capably.

But at the same time, Israel Wolfgang had simultaneously decided to use his conversion as a disguise, permitting him more easily to help the Jewish women confined under house arrest, facilitating their escape and expatriation (4). Of these his intentions he secretly informed his influential and powerful protector of these intentions: Salomone da Piove di Sacco, who had allowed Wolfgang to stay in his home as a guest, allowing him to meet his family and learn their secrets. The nearby city of Rovereto, located in the high valley of Lagarina, which belonged to the Republic of Venice and was therefore outside bishop Hinderbach’s jurisdiction, had been selected as the general headquarters of the representatives of the Ashkenazi community of the Veneto region for the task of making every effort to obtain the release of those defendants still in prison in Trent, and to invalidate the trials. Salomone Cusi, sent to Rovereto by Salomone da Piove, informed anyone who needed to know of Israel Wolfgang’s full preparedness to bring about the prisoners’ release, particularly the women, quickly, and without attracting attention (5). Jacob of Brescia, Jacob di Bonaventura da Riva, and Cressone da Nuremberg, some of the more prominent exponents of the “lobby” gathered at Rovereto, were perfectly well aware of the dangerous mission which the bold young Saxon, camouflaged as a Christian, had voluntarily assumed.

Jacob da Brescia was the brother of Rizzardo, accused of being one of the principal recipients of the blood originating from

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the Regensburg child murder. The money lender did business at Gavardo, in the Bresciano region, and, in testimony of his authority, in 1467, Milanese officials referred to him as "the Jew who is the head of the other Jews" (6). For more than a decade, from 1475 to 1488, Jacob di Bonaventura da Riva was generally considered the most influential banker at Riva del Garda (7). Cressone (Gherson) was another highly prominent Ashkenazi Jew. A native of Nuremberg, he had reached Rovereto around 1460, but he had only received authorization from the Doge Nicolò Tron to bring his daughter and the family’s moveable capital from his native city in 1471 (8). Starting in 1465, a patrician from Rovereto, Delfino Frizzi, had permitted him to live in his palace and to become associated with the Adige river navigation business (9). In his spare time, Cressone da Nuremberg also worked successfully in the money trade, an activity which often took him to the principal centers of the zone, between Riva del Garda (10).

In the summer of 1475, the air at Trent was charged with tension. The minds of both Jews and Christians were filled with uncertainty about the fate of the defendants still in prison, as well as concern for the executed defendants’ wives and children. Israel Wolfgang and his diligent collaborators were concerned with the total confiscation of all the defendants’ property, the redemption of the collateral deposited in their shops, the reimbursement of all sums borrowed -- promptly convoyed in Hinderbach’s strongboxes. In the meantime, as we have seen, the Dominican Battista de' Giudici, bishop of Ventimiglia, the Pope’s delegate commissioner, moved from Rome to Trent to shed light on Simon’s murder and to search for errors by the prince bishop, suspected of having deliberately manipulating the trials towards the resulting conclusion. Before Pope Sixtus IV, Salomone da Piove insistently supported the sending of this commissioner to save those defendants still in prison and to muffle the undesirable scandal threatening to overwhelm the other German Jewish communities of northern Italy, jeopardizing delicate interests and laboriously captured positions while irremediably upsetting the political hinterland which had made these interests possible.

In August 1475, on the road to Trent, the commissioner of the Judges was crossing the Veneto with a small retinue of functionaries and collaborators. It seems that they were accompanied by three Jews, who joined them traveling from the region of Padua (11). Two of these are easily identifiable as Salomone da Piove and Salomone Fürstungar.

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Perhaps the third was Rizzardo da Regensburg’s brother, Jacob da Brescia, returning from Rovereto. Fürstungar, the unscrupulous wheeler-dealer and expert intriguer with a thousand resources and influential and multifarious contacts, was probably identical with one of the most prominent figures in German Jewry, transplanted to the Veneto region. This person was Salomone da Camposampiere, who, together with Salomone da Piove, a friend and colleague, maintained despotic control over the money trade at Padua and the district (12).

Battista de’ Giudici entered Trent in the early part of the month of September, taking up quarters at the Albergo Alla Rosa, in the Via delle Osterie Grandi, from which the Wharf of Buonconsiglio was quit visible. He courteously declined bishop Hinderbach’s invitation to be his guest at the castle, probably intended to control his meetings and movements in this way, on the grounds that the inn, although German owned, was well-known for its appetizing Italian cuisine, a quality particularly appreciated by the Dominican inquisitor, who considered himself a man of good taste, not one disposed to compromise in culinary matters (13). De' Giudici was escorted by a small retinue, including his assistant Raffaele, a one-eyed notary , blind in one eye, who knew German and could act as an interpreter, and a mysterious priest, old and hunchbacked, who always wore a torn black frock-coat. The Albergo alla Rosa also hosted Salomone Fürstungar, the influential wheeler-dealer who accompanied the apostolic commissioner with prudence and circumspection, meeting him frequently and speaking Italian, without need for an intermediary of any kind (14).

Israel Wolfgang was now required to respect the delicate and dangerous commitments which he had voluntarily assumed. The young Saxon had been duly warned of de' Giudidi’s arrival by Salomone da Piove, and knew that Fürstungar would contact him [Wolfgang] immediately.

They met at night, in the stalls of the Albergo alla Rosa, far from prying eyes. Fürstungar informed Wolfgang that Gasparo, assistant to Sigismondo’s steward, had procured a safe conduct for him [Wolfgang] to travel to Innsbruck and confer with the Archduke of Austria in order to obtain a definitive suspension of the trials and the release of the imprisoned women. He also asked Wolfgang to make himself available to the apostolic commissioner through the one-eyed notary, who knew German, and to deliver secret messages to the women, confined in Samuele da Nuremberg’s house,

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messages to be transmitted to Wolfgang from the general headquarters of the Ashkenazi Jews, set up in Rovereto. The women were assured, and informed of the good prospects of Wolfgang’s mission before Sigismundo and the commissioner’s full readiness to do everything possible to obtain their release. Fürstungar entrusted Israel Wolfgang with money for his expenses and trouble (15).

The next day, it was the one-eyed notary’s turn to take the initiative of meeting Israel Wolfgang. The location of the appointment was the “stube” near the fountain behind the Chiesa di San Pietro, a public bath in a discreet area of Trent where the streets were usually empty. The notary informed the young painter that he would soon be called upon to talk with the commissioner and, knowing that Wolfgang could freely enter the rooms of the castle of Buonconsiglio, he asked Wolfgang to spy on Hinderbach’s movements and to inform him, the notary, Raffaele, of any rumors going around at the castle relating to the Jews still held in jail as well as on the eventuality of a resumption of the trials.

For his part, Israel Wolfgang warned the one-eyed notary that he intended to continue to avoid the Jews so as not to awaken suspicion, informing him, in the meantime, of what he had succeeded in gleaning from the information floating around. There was a current rumor at Trent that the apostolic commissioner was in cahoots with the Jews and proposed to exonerate all those condemned for Simon’s murder, and bringing about the release of anyone still in prison, including the women. In this regard, Israel Wolfgang knew that Hinderbach was not at all prepared to permit Battista de' Giudici to meet the women for the purpose of interrogating them, and therefore expressed his intention to remove them from house arrest in Samuele’s dwelling and throw them in prison, in separate cells (16).

With his usual circumspection, Salomone Fürstungar, before leaving for Trent on his way back from Innsbruck, had contacted another person, considered a certain friend of the Jewish families. This was Roper, known as Schneider Jud, a German known as the “tailor to the Jews”, who had for years frequented their houses and was linked to them through strong ties of solidarity. For these reasons, he was arrested during the first phase of the trials and subjected to torture. But he confessed nothing, obviously because he knew nothing. He had finally been released and remained a friend to the Jews, although with justifiable caution.

We must not, therefore, be surprised that Schneider decided to go to Rovereto to meet the representatives of the Ashkenazi Jews, offering them his assistance. During the meeting, he

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was informed by Salomone Cusi, Salomonoe da Piove’s delegate, and Cressone da Rovereto of Fürstungar’s planned mission before the Archduke Sigismondo. Now Fürstungar now assigned Schneider, directly, with the same tasks as Israel Wolfgang, i.e., first of all, that of keeping contact with the women, and bringing them letters and information (17).

Israel Wolfgang and Roper Schneider had become the Jewish women’s messenger boys, their only precious source of information, the only chink onto external reality. But they had to be careful to avoid discovery. The bishop’s solders, in fact, occupied Samuele’s house, in which the women were confined, guarding the external door. The Saxon painter could easily enter the house, since it contained some of the late banker’s collateral, but if he was caught talking to the women he would arouse the gendarmes’ justifiable suspicions. The solution was to communicate orally, in the courtyard located at the rear of the house, where the women faced a small balcony overlooking the stall. Any letters sent to them, as well as any letters written in response, by contrast, were exchanged through a chink dug in the wall of the surrounding wall (18).

Sara, Maestro Tobias’s widow, and with her, Bella and Anna, were informed by Israel Wolfgang of the commissioner’s favorable attitude towards them, as well as his plans to liberate them and the hopes linked to Fürstungar’s ambassadorship at Innsbruck. In the letters sent from Rovereto and written in Hebrew, Fürstungar himself, with Jacob of Arco and Cressone, asked the women for detailed information about the conditions of their imprisonment and any coercive methods employed by Hinderbach to make them confess. For his part, Israel Wolfgang was now fully committed, working diligently and enthusiastically in the desperate attempt to free Sara and the other prisoners. The intrepid Saxon painter was thus compelled, despite himself, to neglect the graces of his mistress, Ursula Oberdorfer, a prosperous local beauty with whom he was accustomed to entertain himself concealed at Angelo's tavern, in the San Pietro district. To seal his love, Israel had recently given the young lady, who was, of course, a Christian, a precious silver ring with a valuable stone, obviously taken from Samuele’s pledges, which he was supposed to safeguard (19).

The same apostolic commissioner convened Israel Wolfgang to his room in the inn, in the wee small hours of the morning, under maximum secrecy. All of de' Giudici’s collaborators were there: Raffaele, the secretary responsible for drawing up the

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minutes; the one-eyed notary, who knew German and who acted as a translator, and the hunchbacked priest in a black cassock. Invited under oath to set forth his version of the facts, the young Jew, now nominally a Christian, told of the horrible tortures to which the accused, all innocent, had been subjected during trial, for the purpose of extorting their confessions. Hinderbach and his jailers were accused of orchestrating a colossal injustice accompanied by ignoble machinations, all for profit. The Jews of Trent were said to be the mere victims of a pitiless theorem [theorem = an indicative conditional: if A, then B], intended to demonstrate their guilt at all costs (20).

Israel Wolfgang was later to admit that he lied to the commissioner, in his effort to be of some assistance to the poor women who were still in prison (21). Interrupting the painter’s “domesticated” report, the one-eyed notary asked him whether he could so something to help the women escape from their involuntary abode.

The response was in the negative. Gendarmes were everywhere and were determined to be effective guards, subjecting Sara and her companions in misfortune to strict supervision.

As early as late September, Salomone Fürstungar returned to Trent, disillusioned by his meeting with Sigismundo at Innsbruck. The archduke had in fact refused to intervene to free the prisoners and was persuaded that the trials should resume to make a final determination of the defendants’ guilt or innocence. The path was now free for Hinderbach, who had probably exerted pressure on Sigismundo to obtain a decision of this kind. For his part, Fürstungar, angered by the unexpected failure of his mission, was now resolutely determined to avenge himself upon the implacable bishop of Trent by dispatching him to his Creator, perhaps in the company of his collaborators. And he knew he had a bold assassin at hand, prepared to do the job.

Israel Wolfgang was urgently summoned to the usual meeting place, at night. In the stalls of the “alla Rosa” inn, Fürstungar informed Wolfgang of the negative outcome of the appointment with Sigismundo and asked him to carry out an immediate plan to terminate Hinderbach’s existence by poisoning (22). The poison was to be put in his food while circumventing the many precautions with which the prudent bishop had thought fit to protect his life. The young painter, eager to carry out the new mission entrusted to him, carefully examined Hinderbach’s habits at table. All dishes and wine placed on the table were tasted by various persons on three occasions, i.e., by the cook,

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in the kitchen, by the steward, in putting the dish on the sideboard, and by the waiter, in placing it on table. The poison therefore had to be placed in the food after the last servant had tasted it. Israel Wolfgang said he was capable of choosing the right time, but needed to find the raw material, an effective and lethal poison. Upon his return to the castle at Buonconsiglio, he quickly set to work (23).

Among the stationary materials in the office, Israel Wolfgang knew there was a box containing materials belonging to a friend and colleague who had recently died, Friar Pietro, a German who had earned his living as a painter, miniaturist, and occasionally as an alchemist. The ingredients used by the monk in preparing his colors were bound to include some solid arsenic. Israel Wolfgang was not mistaken: a respectable chunk of red arsenic, or cinnabar-colored arsenic sulfide, soon found its way into his pockets.

The next night, the Saxon painter hasted to meet Fürstungar again; with justifiable satisfaction, Wolfgang showed him the poison he had obtained. But the astute and expert German go-getter only needed a glance to realize that that Wolfgang’s lump of bi-sulfide of arsenic was almost harmless, and would never have troubled the bishop of Trent with anything more serious than a passing belly-ache. At any rate, he offered to supply his young assassin as quickly as possible with good arsenic, capable of poisoning the bishop effectively (24). But for a variety of reasons, the project, although never formally abandoned, was to take another course, and Israel Wolfgang is not thought to have seen Salomone Fürstungar again.

Battista de' Giudici wasn’t discouraged either. Unable to meet the women and other defendants due to Hinderbach’s refusal, he concluded that he could do little by remaining at Trent. The hostile and intimidating climate -- as he saw it -- in which he was compelled to work, actually prevented him from making the desired progress in his inquiry (25). The failure of Salomone Fürstungar’s mission to Sigismundo, of which de’ Giudici had been duly informed, was only an obvious prelude to the imminent resumption of the trials, leaving him with very little time in which to work, carrying the dossiers to Rome with only moderate hope that the appeal process might be approved and that the defendants might be released before they suffered the anticipated punishment.

In very late September 1475, less than one month after de’ Giudici’s arrival in the city, the pontifical commissioner decided to leave Trent and move to Rivereto, outside Hinderbach's jurisdiction. The choice of city seemed a rather delicate one,

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since Rovereto was known as the established general headquarters of the Ashkenazi Jewish community of northern Italy, actively mobilized some time before, in their efforts to exonerate the accused from any responsibility in Simonino’s murder. It was also foreseeable that the bishop would spare no pains in representing the apostolic functionary as being under the thumb of the Jews. And Hinderbach lost no time in stressing the unsuitability of de' Giudici’s decision. In a letter to the humanist friend Raffaele Zovenzoni, the bishop of Trent [Hinderbach] noted that the reasons for the commissioner’s [de’ Giudici’s] move to Rovereto were just phony excuses and that the presence of the Jews gathered in the city at that time was highly suspicious (26).

Before leaving Trent, commissioner de’ Giudici sent his one-eyed notary to Israel Wolfgang to inform him, Wolfgang, of his, de’ Giudici’s intentions and later availability. De' Giudici, who intended to leave for Rome as quickly as possible to confer with the Pope and try to get him to stop the trials, is said to have warned the Saxon convert just in time for Wolfgang to reach Rovereto. In fact, the commissioner wished to take Wolfgang with him to see Sixtus IV, considering Wolfgang’s testimony of fundamental importance. At Rome, Israel Wolfgang is alsothought to have been assisted financially, as usual, by Fürstungar. In the meantime, Wolfgang was to maintain his contacts with the commissioner and keep him informed of everything going on at Buonconsiglio, sending regular epistolary reports to his protector, Salomoneda Piove, who was well able to make best use of them. But the most important recommendation was that Salomone should do everything in his power to enable the women to escape from their enforced confinement in Samuele’s home (27).

With the departure from Trent of Fürstungar, who continued, cautiously and with circumspection, to watch de' Giudici and his retinue in their every move, Israel Wolfgang became the only Jew, although formally converted, left in the city, able to render any assistance to the women and other detainees. He was perfectly aware of the delicate nature of this role. Although he was able to leave Trent without impediment, reaching liberty on other, safer shores, the young painter from Brandenburg was not prepared to abandon the dangerous mission which he had voluntarily assumed. He was certainly not lacking in either courage or recklessness. He is believed to have remained at Trent, engaged in his desperate attempt to save the women defendants, at the risk of his life, to the bitter end.

Immediately upon his arrived at Rovereto, the apostolic commissioner ordered the bishop of Trent to free the prisoners without delay, particularly, the women and children, and he prohibited subjecting them to torture. At the same time, the Jews presented Battista de' Giudice

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with an appeal disputing the validity of the trials, signed by Jacob da Riva and Jacob da Brescia (28). They were ready to accept it, instructing Hinderbach to respond to thirteen counts in an indictment accusing him, among other things, of bringing the trials solely to misappropriate the property of the condemned, estimated at twenty thousand florins.

The efforts expended to cause problems for the inquisitorial machinery set up at Trent enjoyed an initial success on 12 October 1475, when Sixtus IV himself, at the request of the Jews gathered at Rovereto, instructed Hinderbach to release the incarcerated women and children, said to be confined in precariously unhealthy conditions, and whom Sixtus believed to be innocent (29). De' Giudici, for his part, invited Giovanni da Fondo, the notary at the Trent trials, to appear before him to testify as a witness. The notary’s refusal was clear and immediate. Giovanni in fact maintained that he feared for his life: the Jews at Rovereto would not hesitate to have him murdered (30).

In the meantime, Fürstungar, alias Salomone da Composampiero, reaching Val Lagarina together with the apostolic commissioner, abandoned Rovereto immediately to travel to Verona in an attempt to procure the services of Gianmarco Raimondi, one of the best lawyersin the city. Having obtained an appointment, Fürstungar explained to the Veronese jurist, Raimondi, that, in the cause of the Jews of Trent, he could count on the support of illustrious Roman prelates, and that even the apostolic commissioner himself had only arrived in the area thanks to the considerable financial commitments assumed by the German-origin Jewish community to ensure the commissioner’s very appointment before the Pope. Raimondi was offered a fee at the rate of three florins a day to overcome his foreseeable hesitation, but to no avail: Raimondi had no intention at all of taking the case (31).

At Trent, Israel Wolfgang had an unexpected meeting. Waiting for him one morning under the portico of Samuele’s bank, was a German Jew whom Wolfgang had met some time back, in his uncle’s house at Erlangen, near Nuremberg. The German Jew told him that he, too, had converted to Christianity, taking the Christian name of Giovanni Pietro in baptismal deed, registered at Mantua, but that he had remained faithful in one way or another to the faith of his fathers. To allay suspicion, he told people that he had been moved to visit Trent by the miracles of little Simon, but had, in reality, been sent by the general headquarters of the German Jews at Rovereto to make contact with

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Israel Wolfgang. In particular, he had been instructed on his mission in Trent by no less a personage than the usual Salomone da Piove, and with him, Aronn da Castelnoveto (32). The latter was to be tried and condemned in 1488 for contempt for the Christian religion, together with the other heads of the Ashkenzi community of the Duchy of Milan (33).

The Mantuan convert known as “Giovanni Pietro” asked Israel Wolfgang to place him in contact with the women detainees and to obtain useful information from them; he moreover wished to obtain first-hand news about the goings-on at Buonconsiglio. Promptly satisfied, he [Giovanni Pietro] was successful in meeting secretly with Brunetta, Samuele of Nuremberg’s obstinate widow, and asked her whether she and the other prisoners had been subjected to torture, despite the intimations of the commissioner and the Pope (34). But there was not much time left. Not even to organize one last desperate attempt to arrange for the women’s escape and conveyance to safety. The meeting between Israel Wolfgang and Giovanni Pietro da Mantova, the German Jew from Erlangen, was on 18 October. Two days later, the Trent trials were officially re-opened, on Hinderbach’s initiative, with the explicit consent of the court at Innsbruck.

One week after that, Israel Wolfgang was already in trouble, betrayed by Lazzaro da Serravalle and Isacco da Gridel di Vedera, Angelo da Verona’s servants, as well as by Mosè da Franconia, teacher of Tobias’s children, and Joav da Ansbach, the ignorant scullery boy in Tobias’s kitchen, who, tortured and confessing, out of envy or spite, had accused the young Saxon painter of responsibility for little Simon’s murder (35).

Israel Wolfgang was arrested on 26 October while dining at the castle, calmly and with a good appetite, with the bishop’s officials and courtiers. Immediately transferred to the prisons of the Buonconsiglio, he was subjected to an exuberant dose of torture to induce him to say whatever he knew or imagined.

The other defendants were condemned and publicly executed between 1 December 1475 and 15 January of the following year. At the foot ofthe scaffold, Mosè of Franconia and the coarse Joav both converted to the faith in Christ, in the hope of alleviating their own suffering (36).

Wolfgang was, deliberately, the last to be executed, condemned by Giovanni Hinderbach’s tribunal on 19 January 1476.

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Offended and feeling betrayed, Hinderbach made no exception of any kind for Wolfgang, and punished him much more harshly than even the principal defendants on trial; his body, cruelly broken on the wheel, was devoured by animals. The young Saxon painter and miniaturist, "who said that he was less than twenty five years old, although he looked at least twenty nine", faced martyrdom without batting an eye, dying a death which, both in his eyes and from the point of view of that German Judaism to which he belonged, he had been taught to court to sanctify the name of God ('al qiddush ha-Shem).

His death was accompanied by unflaggingly indecorous anti-Christian grimaces and a scornful profession of polemical faith. The voluntary sacrifice of Israel Wolfgang, the boy from Brandenburg, counter-balanced, or, more exactly, flanked, the involuntary sacrifice of little Simon, in a holy tragedy in which the basic elements of the plot, cruel and bloody, had been composed centuries before, in Hebrew and Yiddish, in German and in Latin, in the valleys washed by the muddy waters of the Rhine and the Main, the Rhône and the Danube, the Adige and the Ticino, where it was said that the god of the rivers claimed their innocent victims every year."Yes, I am perfectly persuaded and convinced that killing Christian children and consuming their blood and swallowing it was a good thing [...]. If I could obtain the blood of a Christian boy for our Passover feast, of course I would drink it and eat it, if I could do so without attracting too much attention. Know ye that, although I have been baptized, I, Israel, son of Meir, may he rest in peace, a Jew of Brandenburg, intend, and have established in my soul, that I wish to die a true Jew. I had myself baptized when I saw that I had gotten caught, and in doubt that I might be condemned to death, believing that I could avoid it, as actually happened. Know ye, therefore, that I, Israel of Brandenburg, Jew, do no consider anything believed and observed by the Christian religion to be true at all. I believe with an unshakeable faith that the religion of Israel is correct and holy" (37).

But not everything had gone wrong, at least from Israel of Brandenburg’s point of view. Not a single week had passed since his arrest before the young Saxon Jew, in his cell, was informed that Hinderbach had finally given in, perhaps in part to counterbalance foreseeable criticism of his decision to reopen the trials, and had consented to release the incarcerated women’s children. These were Mosè and Salomone, thechildren of

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of Verona and of Dolcetta; Seligman, Meir of Würzburg’s young boy; Samuele da Nuremberg’s daughter-in-law Anna’s young boy, still in diapers; and the numerous offspring of the late Tobias, whose four children were named Joske, Mosè, Chaim and David. An envoy from the apostolic commissioner appeared at the castle of Buonconsiglio on 2 November and took delivery of the children, who were later taken to Rovereto and entrusted to the Jews (38).

Little is known of their fate. Many of them were probably taken back to Germany and adopted by relatives or persons known by them, and seem to have disappeared from the pages of history. Only Mosè and Salomone, Angelo da Verona’s children, remained safely in Italy, entrusted to the Ashkenazi community which had worked so actively to obtain their release (39). Following the confessions of Brunetta, Samuele da Nuremberg’s widow, and the other women, followed by their conversion to Christianity, which occurred in January 1477, attempts to return the children to their mothers proved fruitless (40).

Bella, Anna and Sara, who had, at the time, voluntarily entrusted their children to the Jews of Rovereto -- now that they were converted and baptized under the names of Elisabetta, Susanna, and Chiara -- wanted them back urgently, ceding to the pressures of those who wished them to have the children baptized. Pope Sixtus IV himself, by a bull of 20 June 1478, addressed to Hinderbach, exhorted him to take all steps to ensure that they might be returned to the recently converted women, together with their dowries; the children were to be baptized. But his attempts in this direction were too late; it was like closing the barn door when the horse has already been stolen.

"We still wish, and we enjoin you to it with the same authority, that you shall use all diligence to ensure that the children of the condemned Jews be returned to their baptized mothers, together with their dowry, wherever that might be found, compelling any opponent or rebel by means of ecclesiastical censure and other means granted by law" (41).

But the last scene of the drama was yet to be enacted. The drama finally concluded with the solemn appearance at the baptismal font of Salomone, the physician Tobias’s feeble-minded servant. The poor imbecile, deemed incapable of understanding or consenting, had survived the trial for little Simon’s murder because he gave no indication of knowing or remembering anything about it.

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Now, to mark the occasion of the feeble-minded Salamone’s baptism, under the name of Giovanni; in a crowded ceremony in the Chiesa diSan Pietro at Trent, it was the common desire of all that he might also recover the light of the intellect (42). The body of the sainted little martyr Simon was invoked aloud to perform this one last appropriate miracle.

p. 233 - 236


This is the new chapter from the revised edition – it is of no interest to anyone, and proves nothing. This is what Toaff wastes his time with instead of proving the fairy tale of the “voluntary donors”.


The Embarrassing Trial of the Priest Paolo da Novara (Trent, 1476)

On 13 November 1476, the priest Paolo da Novara was arrested at Trent, accused of having plotted with the heads of the Jewish community of the Duchy of Milan to cause the death of the prince-bishop Giovanni Hinderbach. The trial started two days later and lasted until 16 September. It should be noted that between June of 1475 and January 1476 all those accused of the alleged child murder of little Simoncino, members of the Jewish community of Trent, had been tried, condemned and publicly executed. The women, by contrast, were being under house arrest while awaiting judgement. Bishop Hinderbach, for his part, was committed to the preparation of a documented file on the trials to be sent to Pontefex Sixtus IV in Rome to justify the procedure adopted in condemning the Jews. Paolo da Novara himself had been employed by the bishop in copying documents for several months, to be inserted in the voluminous file and sent to Rome (1).

Paolo was accused of having contacted his contemporary Crassino (Ghershon) da Novara, one of the richest and most influential Jews in the Duchy of Milan, offering his services, naturally, against adequate remuneration, so that the Jews might revenge themselves upon Hinderbach for his misdeeds at their expense (2). Subsequently, the greedy priest is said to have travelled to Monza to confer with Falcone, another of the most prominent businessmen in the Ashkenazi community living in Italy (3). Finally, by December 1475 and the following January, Paolo da Novara is said to have decided to move to Piacenza to meet with the recognized heads of the Duchy of Milan, all active in the financial sector (4).

The representatives of the Jewish communities of the Duchy, at least since 1453, met regularly at Piacenza, in meetings held

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at least twice a year, to divide the burden of the taxes to be paid to the Duke among the individual contributors (5). We know that starting in 1466, the meetings at Piacenza were presided over by Manno di Aberlino (Mendele b. Avraham) da Vincenza, banker at Pavia, who, as we have seen, was without doubt the most important Jewish financier in the Duchy of Milan (6). The Milanese government was rather firm in this regard and obliged the representatives of the Jewish community to participate in the plenary assemblies at Piacenza, under pain of fine of one hundred gold ducats for failure to fulfil.

In 1470, the Jews of the Duchy of Milan met at Piacenza for the first time, in the month of February, and a second time in the month of October, to provide for the renewal of their representatives. In January 1471, the bankers, newly gathered in their headquarters in Piacenza, fixed the charges to be assigned to the individual entrepreneurs subject to the collective tax. The highest contributions were those requested of Manno da Pavia, Crassino da Novara, Benedetto da Como, Falcone da Monza and the famous Donato Israel Soncino (7). In 1477, the meetings at Piacenza were held in the months of January and October, as in 1470, and perhaps in the previous and following years (8).

In January 1480, the congress of the Jewish community of the Duchy of Milan, newly convened at Piacenza (universitas et congregatio ebreorum dominii nostril in civitate Placentie universaliter congregatorum) concerned itself, other than with the usual problem of the taxes, with the economic matters linked to the arrest and detention in prison of two Jews from Pavia. During that meeting, the controversial proposal was made to increase the number of contributors to the Ducal taxes, including those not engaged in the management of a bank, contrary to their practice until that time (9).

As we have seen, in January 1476, the priest Paolo da Novara, a survivor of the Trent trial, was accused of having been a welcome guest of the meeting of the Jews of the Duchy of Milan, held, as usual, at Piacenza, in the great hall on the second floor of a palace located not far from the Albergo della Cigogna, on the Parma road. The meeting, which, for reasons of legitimate caution, was said to have been presided over by Manno da Pavia, and in which about fifteen delegates were to have participated, including Donato Israel Soncino and Falcone da Monza (10). On that occasion, the representatives of the Jews of the Duchy, whose spokesman

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is said to have been Donato Israel Soncino, is said to have made a discrete suggestion to the priest that Hinderbach’s well-deserved death be hastened by poison (11). The proposal was said to have been perfected at the end of the month of January 1476, over the course of a new meeting of Paolo with Crassino da Novara. These two men are said to have sent their potential assassin to Pavia, where he said to have waited for Manno, the influential head of the conspiracy. The meeting between Paolo da Novara and the powerful Ashkenazi banker is said to have taken place in March 1476. On this occasion, Manno is said to have asked the priest to poison the bishop of Trent, by pouring arsenic into his drinking water. The poison was to be procured at Venice by the physician Omobono (Simcha Bunim), who kept a pharmacy at San Cassian (12). In exchange for his services, Paolo is said to have received a reward of four hundred gold ducats, two hundred of which were to have been paid immediately, while the remaining two hundred were to be paid afterwards, deposited in his name in the Manno bank in Venice, upon the successful completion of his mission (13). The priest would also have to bribe the keeper of the jail in which the Jewish women were incarcerated at Trent, purchasing a raft and embarking them after their escape, to enable the current of the Adige to convey them to Rovereto, in Venetian territory (14). 

There is no doubt as to the fact that Manno is said to have decided to take advantage of the services of the priest Paolo as courier, in order to send a few letters addressed to the physician Omobono in Venice. Crassino da Novara is said to have done so as well. In practice, from March 1476 until the following May, prior to his arrest, Paolo is said to have become the courier of the Jews of the Duchy of Milan, delivering their letters, when requested to do so. In his travels, which were sometimes very lengthy, we know that the priest-courier passed through Bassano, Feltre, Udine, Milano, Monza, Piacenza, Pavia, Novara, Crema, Soncino and Brescia (15).

Despite their plans, however, the physician Omobono failed to arrive at Venice. This is why, at the time of his arrest, the letters in his possession included one in Hebrew, which was confiscated along with the rest, written by Manno to Omobono, and intended for delivery to the latter at Venice. In the letter, Manno urgently requested the physician to pay attention to what the courier, Paolo da Novara, was to tell him, and then take whatever decisions might seem most appropriate (“if the courier of this letter speaks to you, pay attention to him and then decide

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according to your intelligence”) (16). Even if it is desired to deny all credibility to the entirety of the priest’s confession -- extorted, as usual, by torture -- the letter in Hebrew certainly confirmed Paolo da Novara’s intention to speak with Omobono of things which could not be put in writing. It is therefore sufficiently obvious that the mention related to the conspiracy against the bishop of Trent. At any rate, if a plan to poison Hinderbach was actually considered by the heads of the Ashkenazi community of Milan, it is probable (as is said to have emerged from the Hebrew text) that this occurred on the direct, and certainly not disinterested, initiative of the priest. The Venetian Jewish physician, who, according to Paolo’s confession, was presumably called upon to supply the poison, is said to have considered the proposal in order to decide how serious and feasible it might be, while simultaneously appraising its political implications.

Together with the letters in Hebrew, a few missives in Yiddish were also confiscated from the priest’s room in Trent, addressed, at the beginning of the same month, to Crassino da Novara and his wife Ellin, by a few of their relatives, living elsewhere in Italy (perhaps at Brescia, but at any rate in the territories belonging to Venice) (17). These letters, which have been studied, and are to be published by Boris Kolterman of the Institute for Yiddish studies at the University Bar Ilan, make explicit reference to the ritual murder trial of the Jews of Regensburg, which had opened, the mission of unknown persons and fraught with danger for the defendants of 1476 (18).

The original letters, in Hebrew and old Yiddish, confiscated from Paolo da Novara, have been lost, but were recopied, although with errors and a lack of clarity, more in Hebrew than in Yiddish, by an anonymous copyist (perhaps a converted Jew, but more likely a German official with a knowledge of Hebrew and Yiddish) in the records of the notary Giovanni da Fondo, in the file of the records of the Trent trial, signed and sealed by the podestà Alessandro da Bassan dated 11 March 1478 (19).

1 ) On the person and missions of Paolo da Novara, see A. Esposito and D. Quaglioni, Processi contro gli ebrei di Trento (14 75-1478). I: I processi di 1475, Padua, 1990, pp. 98-100.

2. On Crassino da Novara, see ibidem, pp. 46, 56.

3. On Falcone da Monza, see Antionazzi Villa, Un processo, cit. Pp, 25, 56, 62-63.

4. These details, taken from the records of Paolo’s trial, are reproduced by G. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, 2 vol. Trent, 1902, pp.154-159.

5. Cfr. Sh.Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, 4 vols, Jerusalem, 1982-1986, vol. 1, p. XLI.

6. On Manno di Aberlino da Vincenza, banker at Pavia, see our comments above, in Chapter I, in addition to D. Carpi, Notes on the Life of R. Judah Messer Leon, in E. Toaf (author), Studi sull ebraismo in memoria di C. Roth, Rome, 1974, p. 62 (family genealogy).

7. On Donato Israel Soncino, see, in particular, V. Colorni, I da Spria avi dei tipografi Soncino e la loro attività nel Veneto e in Lombardia durante il secolo XV, in Id., Judaica Minora. Saggi sulla storia dell’ebraismo italiano dall’antichità all’eta moderna, Milan, 1983, pp. 361-364.

8. Cfr. Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. I, pp. 422’424, 514-515, 530, 534-536 (committimus et mandamus omnibus et singulis officialibus nostris […] ut ebreis ipsis precipiant et mandent […] se recipere et simul convenire in civitate nostra Placentiae).

9. Cfr. Ibidem, vol. I, pp. 683, 710, 807-808, 820, 823, 828-829.

10. For an account of the meeting, taken from the text of the trials and confession of the priest, see [Benedetto Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetic sul martirio del beato Simone di Trento nell’anno MCCCCLXXV dagli ebrei ucciso, Trento, Gianbattista Parone, 1747, pp. 130-132 ; Divina, Storia del Beato Simone da Trento, cit. vol. II, pp. 154-159.

11. Donatus de Soncino Judaeus interrogavit ipsum Presbyterium Paulum an posset facere aliquo modo, quod omnes Judaei et Judaei incarcerati et incarcerate Civitatis Tridenti extrahuntur de carceribus et fugerent […] Et ultimo loco dictus Donatus dixit (sc Prebytero Paulo : Sufficeret vobis animus exequendi illud quod dixit vobis heri ille noster Judaeus, videlicet venenare Episcopum Tridenti […] ? Cum Donato ipse Presbyter Paulus respondit quod hoc posset temptari, licet difficile esset ([Bonelli]), Dissertazione apologetica, cit pp. 146-147).

12. On thephysician Omobono (Simcha Bunim) of Venice, see Chapter I. See also D. Carpi, L’individuo e la collettività. Saggi di storia degli ebrei a Padova e nel Veneto nell’eta del Rinascimento, Firenze, 2002, pp. 221, 224.

13. Ipse Presbyter Paulus motus est est volendo venenare praelibatum Reverendissimum Dominum Episcopum Tridentinum [...] ut lucraretur praedictos qua dringentos Ducatos ([Bonelli]), Dissertazione apologetic, cit. p. 146-147).

14. The detail is provided by Divina, who paraphrases the text of Paolo’s confession (Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, p. 193).

15. Cfr.ibidem, vol. II, p. 147. The information is correct, since after Paolo’s arrest letters in Hebrew and Yiddish were found in his possession which had no relation the Trent trial for the murder of little Simon.

16. Im yeddaber elecha nose’ ketavi zeh tishma’ devarav we-az bechar lechah ke-chochmatecha.

17. These letters, written in Hebrew and Yiddish, are indicated by [Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetic, cit. pp. 150-151, and Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, pp. 194-195. For an initial, summary, in large part incorrect, of their contents, see, recently, W. Treue, Treienter Judenprozess. Voraussetzungen-Abläufe-Auswirkungen (1475-1588), Hannover, Forschungen zur Geschichte der Juden, 1997, pp. 114 ss.; Ch.Turniansky and E. Trimm, Yiddish in Italy. Manuscripts and Printed Books from the 15th to the 17th Century, Milan, 2003, p. 158.

18. On the alleged case of ritual murder at Regensburg, see Chapter V.

19. Ast, Archivo Principesco Vescovile, s.l., 69, 68.  

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Trials and Historical Methodology
In Defence of Blood Passover

[Emphasis added]

Even before my essay Blood Passover became available for purchase in bookstores, and immediately afterwards, I was attacked with extreme violence in Italy, Israel and the United States for what I had written, even by those who had not even read it. These attacks were made, not just out of a concern for scholarly accuracy, but also, and in particular, on grounds of an ethical and political nature. I do not presume that my book is without defect; but I consider the extremely violent attacks of which I have been the object to be unjustified -- all the more so in a country like Italy, which has no censorship, and which has witnessed the indulgent publication and indulgent acceptance of books of a far lower scholarly standard than my own.

I wish to respond here to the criticisms directed against me by historians; I will respond only to those who have actually attempted to study my research methodology, my use and selection of sources, and the correctness of the hypotheses and conclusions which I proposed and considered myself justifying in suggesting. I wish to respond in a detailed and documented manner, for the purpose of avoiding involuntary or intentional misunderstanding. As a learned 19th century rabbi from once remarked with some bitterness, “The words leaving your mouth, flying away with the wind, will reach the ears of your neighbour. He who wishes you well, will hear what you say; he who wishes you ill, will hear what he likes”.


To eliminate any possible misunderstanding on this point, I would like to summarize the object and boundaries of my research. First of all, I wish to state clearly that I have no doubt whatever that so-called “ritual murder or child murder” must be relegated

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to the rank of myths -- not rites actually practiced by Jewish communities living and working in the German-speaking territories of northern Italy, although Jews were accused of these murders many times during the Middle Ages and afterwards. “Ritual murder” was -- and is -- a slanderous stereotype. Nevertheless, the possibility that criminal acts, accompanied by crude ritualistic stage-play, may actually have been committed, in some cases, by groups of extremists or individuals with minds unhinged by religious mania and blinded by a desire for revenge against those whom they believed responsible for the trials and tragedies of their people, cannot be excluded.
There is nothing in support of this possibility [...] except the confessions of men sentenced to death -- confessions obtained by violent torture. The truthfulness of these confessions remains entirely to be proven.

Having said the above, I wish to state that my research was principally intended to investigate the role of the so-called “blood culture” in the German-speaking Jewish world and in the surrounding Christian society. This role was an all-purpose one -- therapeutic, magical and alchemical, warding off evil and bringing good fortune, setting at nought the strict Biblical and rabbinical prohibition against the ingestion of blood. In substance, I proposed to verify the extent to which [...] these practices, modelled by foreign influences, modified the norm; I wished to study the unforeseen or unpredictable consequences of these practices, in terms of open and bitter conflict with the Christian community. In other words, I wished to reconstruct the popular the beliefs of Medieval Ashkenazi Judaism, in its full life and depth: drenched in superstition and magic, and animated by visceral anti-Christian sentiments – a world more or less intentionally relegated to oblivion, at least until recent times.

The Trent trial for the murder of little Simoncino (1475), and the extensive related trial documentation made available at a later time, enabled me to perform a detailed examination of the confessions of those accused of this crime. I wondered whether these confessions -- bearing in mind that they were extorted by torture -- might nevertheless contain elements attributable to the mentality, traditions and particular rites of those particular Jews, in terms of their everyday lives, and the celebration of their festivities -- particularly, Passover. Based on an extensive comparison and cross-referenced checking of Hebrew sources, I concluded that there were indeed grounds to suppose that the magical, symbolic use of blood, dried and reduced to powder,

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had become, over time -- despite rabbinical opposition -- an integral part of particular rites and liturgies relating to the Jewish Passover. The picture which emerges from the extensive Jewish documentation recently published by Israel Yuval is reflected in the statements of the Trent defendants -- clearly indicating that the use of blood was indeed characteristic, in particular, of extremist Ashkenazi groups, whose strength in terms of numbers is difficult to estimate. During the Passover meal, these people -- the products of a German Judaism decimated by the traumas of the Crusades, by massacres and forced baptism -- expressed their resolute aversion to Christianity by means of the so-called “ritual of curses”. According to this hypothesis, which I considered established by significant factual material, these consecrated anathemata acquired additional, terrible, magic power when a few grains of powdered Christian blood were symbolically dissolved in wine, transforming it into the blood of Edom – Christianity, the uncompromising persecutor – against whom these curses were directed. Upon the conclusion of this deterrent liturgy, the polluted wine was thrown away, without being brought to the mouths of those at the table. Between this dried blood, utilised in the rite – obtained from unknown but self-interested “donors”, who remained alive and well, but came from indigent families, and the alleged “ritual murders”, there was no connection at all, except in the minds of the judges (and not just those at Trent),  interested in bringing the Jews into association with the accusation.

[COMMENT: We defy Toaff to provide proof of the existence of these “voluntary donors” in even one, single, solitary case, let a alone a generalized practice over centuries.]

According to their tendentious interpretation, the magical, therapeutic, alchemical use of blood, warding off evil and bringing good fortune, was used in support of this deadly blood calumny, shoring up the plausibility of the accusation.

And it is at this point that I wish to state that, in my opinion, scholarly research – and this includes the field of history -- cannot be subjected to preconditions linked to ideological postulates or political expediency. There are no areas of research to which access is prohibited for fear that someone might come up with a hypothesis contradicting the standards of “political correctness” or general acceptability. Otherwise, the foundations of freedom and progress – forming the very basis of scholarly research and its ability to shatter existing paradigms -- may be seriously hobbled or even crippled. The search for historical truth cannot and must not be made the servant of considerations of political utility or conditioned by instrumentalisation and distortion. But once he has entered the mine field one has chosen to investigate,

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an historian has a duty to handle documents correctly: bringing new sources to light; rereading known sources from a new point of view – points of views plausible on the grounds of scholarship -- supporting his hypotheses with adequate arguments, the solidity of which should be constantly checked.

In entering the field of Jewish historical research, these problems become particularly complex. Unless one prefers to write predictable apologetics or contribute the nth building stone to an atemporal, stereotypical reconstruction of the past, the obvious and real danger of anti-Semitism, with its infinite instrumentalisation of generalisations made in bad faith, its hatred for Jews and Israel, pregnant with contemporary implications, overshadows the topic at all times, menacingly and threateningly. Is the game worth the candle? My answer is, regardless of everything, affirmative and without hesitation. Studying the real history of the Jews (not of Judaism) in both a positive and negative sense, abandoning the schema of the “vale of tears”, in which there are only ever-suffering victims [...] can only serve to reinforce Jewish identity: not a “virtual”, constantly “edifying” identity, but an active working force in history, with all its errors and inevitable contradictions, beyond artificial or self-interested schematizations.

Paradoxically, among those who openly oppose this historical point of view -- apart from those who wish the Jews well and wish to bring them closer to themselves with embraces which are sometimes suffocating -- many Jews also view with suspicion the work of the historian, if not with open disapproval. As observed with acuity by Yosef Haim Yerushalmi, “those Jews who still seek to maintain themselves within the enchanted circle of tradition, or who only returned to it recently, consider the work of the historian quite irrelevant: they do not desire the historicity of the past, but its eternal, immutable contemporaneousness” (1).  

[...] Dialogue with such people can be conducted usefully on other levels, but not on that of scholarly research.

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One more word on the mass media, often interested in the abnormal and the scandalous, conditioning a large segment of public opinion on topics of which the public often knows nothing, but wishes to learn the essentials immediately. In this situation, the art of presenting a book without taking the trouble of reading for oneself has become a highly sophisticated pastime -- as brilliantly described recently by Pierre Bayard (Comment parler des livres qu’on a pas lus?, Paris, 2007). All one need do is analyse the cover, imagine the contents of the book, read half a review of it, hastily written by someone who may or may not have read it either -- and the result is a lengthy series of “virtual” debates and research congresses, accompanied by the intervention of politicians and men of the Church and synagogue. Historical research -- which should be studied and evaluated using the professional tools of persons trained in historical research, thus falls easy and tempting prey to “know-it-alls” in search of scandal and instant enjoyment. For an historian to be complicit in arousing a media hullaballoo for purposes of advertising promotion would, in reality, be quite counter-productive, automatically disqualifying him as a serious profession. Libraries and archives, seminars and conference halls, might perhaps be less attractive to television studios or newspaper editorials, but they are doubtlessly the only natural environment compatible with the work of the historian. Outside of this environment, the historian is like a fish out of water, deprived of the tools and language of his craft, faced by audiences fatally distinct from the kind of audiences he would have preferred to address.

The methodology

Several people have stated that the papers of the inquisitorial trials -- conducted in secrecy and quite arbitrarily, apart from the fact that they were conducted by means of the aberrant and systematic recourse to torture to obtain piloted, symmetrical confessions from the accused -- may at most be utilised as prosecution documents, revealing the mentality of the prosecutors. The depositions of the defendants are said, in fact, to be obviously unreliable, since they were extorted using the terrible power of torture, an instrument capable of forcing anybody to confess anything. Conceding even a patina of reliability to the confessions of Jews in “ritual murder” trials is said to be like giving credence to the guilt of witches, the heiresses to this stereotype, who were accused of flying through the night on broom sticks to obscene trysts with the devil.

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Still, the total unreliability of trial documents and confessions extorted under torture is only superficially obvious – as is the highly convenient reference to witches. In fact, without detracting from our more-than-obvious condemnation of a cruel and detestable inquisitorial instrument (unfortunately still in use today), we may legitimately ask ourselves whether the tortured persons lied always and in every case, and only confessed what their tormenters wished to hear. In other words, if the confessions extorted by the judges and inquisitors were not generally true, can we say that they were always false? The uncritical rejection tout court and a priori of the validity of all confessions obtained under torture also implies the rejection of a great many historical studies – even excellent, recent ones -- on heresies and heretics; after all, these, too, are based almost exclusively based on trial documents (2).

And how are we to react in those cases in which the accused -- although tortured – failed to confess to the accusation? Let me cite one example. Roper -- known as Schneider Jüd, a Christian who worked as a tailor, was a friend of the Jews of Trent and often visited their homes -- was arrested with the other defendants and repeatedly subjected to cruel torments for the purpose of making him confess. This “good German”, however, never admitted anything – in my view, because he didn’t know anything -- and the judges were compelled to release him, much against their will. Must we assume, in this case, that this one Christian tailor was simply equipped with a sturdier physical constitution than that of the Jews, enabling him to endure torture? Or must we suppose, with Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia (Trent 1475. A Ritual Murder Trial, New Conn., 1992), that the tailor’s obvious affection for the Jewish families involved acted as a fortifying tonic? We find it hard to believe.

But there is more. In other, particularly important, cases, the great majority of the most highly accredited Jewish historians view the confessions of tortured persons in a diametrically opposite manner, conceding to them a degree of plausibility and credibility laden with extraordinary implications. Thousands of Spanish and Portuguese defendants were dragged before the terrible ecclesiastical tribunals, subjected to exuberant doses of torture and constrained to confess. Many of them were cruelly executed and their bodies burnt in

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autos-da-fé, victims of a perverse legal system which permitted no valid defence. Here as well, there were chain-reaction denunciations; here, as well, the confessions were detailed and symmetrical. Here, as well, trial documents are almost the only documents we have in throwing light on the heresy of the marranos, whether real or imagined.

Some of the most prominent Jewish historians have nevertheless expressed not the slightest doubt in this regard. The confessions of the accused, subjected to unbearable torment, were said to testify faithfully to rites actually practiced by them, in secret, and to their full and undefended adherence to Judaism (which was precisely what the inquisitors wanted to make them say). Yitzhak Baer (A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, Philadelphia, Pa., 1961), fully shares this romantic and stereotypical thesis, according to which a submerged, but heroic, Jewish life was emerged with perfect clarity from the papers of the Inquisition. The trials were said to have shown “that the majority of the conversos were true Jews”; that “conversos and Jews constituted one and the same people, joined by links of religion, destiny and Messianic faith”; and that the Inquisition was substantially correct in its appraisal of the character of the conversos”.

“In this lay the principle value of the records of the Inquisition. The confessions and testimonies contained in those records breathe nostalgia and intense desire of their national homeland, both terrestrial and celestial, and the consuming aspiration towards all those things, both small and large, sanctified by national tradition, and towards something, even grander, serving to create the people and keep it alive” (II, pp. 424-425) (3).

To tell the truth, some historians have expressed serious doubts as the plausibility of this idyllic reconstruction of the Jewish-converso heresy. The Portuguese historian Antonio José Saraiva (Inquisão e Cristãos Novos, Oporto, 1969) argues forcefully that the true aim of the Holy Office was the fabrication, rather than the destruction, of crypo-Jews. Nearly all the victims of the Inquisition, both persons tortured and confessed offenders, were alleged to have been sincere Catholics who had nothing to do with Jewish practices (4).

But his conclusions have been generally and wilfully ignored, or hotly disputed, by Jewish historiography (5).

Before him, a Jewish historian, Benzion Netanyahu (The Marranos of Spain, New York, 1966), arrived at very similar research findings [...] claiming that the
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tortured marrano defendants merely admitted what the Inquisition made them say. As a result of these findings, which swam against the tide in attempting to debunk the myth of the Jewishness of the marranos, Netanyahu was practically banned from the Israeli academic world, and only found a publisher willing to publish his studies in America (6).

Anna Foa (Ebrei d’Europa dalla Peste Nera all’Emancipazione, Bari, 1992), is aware of the problems involved in the inquisitorial trial procedures designed to eradicate the alleged marrano heresy, and asks, appropriately, whether the confessions of the defendants under torture constituted a mirror of reality, or merely reflected the repressive fantasies of the judges. At the same time, however, she stressed the importance of these confessions, considering them sources of absolutely unparalleled value, “because they are substantially the only sources able to reconstruct the words of the protagonists”. Finally, taking Eliezar Gutwirth’s studies of the confessions of Spanish conversos before the Inquisition as her starting point, she proves herself more than merely “open minded” in attributing substantial reliability to them, albeit in obvious self-contradiction.

“The trials of the Inquisition were bent on showing, with greater or lesser truthfulness, that the New Christians concealed in their hearts their loyalty to the religion of their fathers, revealing the degree of complicity and mutual protection maintained between Jews and conversos [...] This ancient networks of friendship and blood relationships survived conversion. Jews and New Christians continued to possess common customs, recollections and even the use of Hebrew” (pp. 128, 315-316).

How does one explain this disparity between the treatment of confessions obtained by torture? Are we to believe that the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions employed gentler, more lenient methods than the judges at Trent? Or must we admit that the defendants tortured by Hindenbach were forcibly reduced, for unknown reasons, to lying, at all times and in all respects, while those broken on the wheel by Iberian Inquisitors substantially told the truth? (7)

We get the clear impression that, in substance, many people subscribe to the comforting belief that we can’t go wrong in admitting the truth of accusations deemed to be ennobling -- such as those made against the marranos – i.e., of secretly following the religion of their fathers, notwithstanding the violence and persecutions to which they were subjected -- but that we are seriously in error if we even consider

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accusations which appear aberrant today, linked, as they are, to the practice of magic or blood superstition, or rituals based on invective, curses and exorcisms. We are therefore confronted with a choice of an ethical nature, rather than a choice based on a correct and consistent interpretation of historical sources (8).

We should also note the attitude of accredited scholars, like Adriano Prosperi, who are quite consistent in their interpretation of the Inquisitorial trials against Jews and conversos. In their view, the trials merely reflected the stereotypes and prejudices of Christian society, as represented by the judges. For precisely this reason, I fear that, if this is indeed the point of view which must perforce prevail, Jewish history may simply become a sort of “history of anti-Semitism”, in which Jews appear solely in the role of passive and wretched victims.

Prosperi therefore agrees with Saraiva that the Iberian Inquisition was merely an indefatigable factory of Jews and crypto-Jews, “a machine which made money by pasting the bureaucratic label ‘Jew’ on the head of unfortunate wretches who were forced to confess, whether it was true or not”. The trials of the so-called marranos may, by this account, provide a great deal of information as to the ideologies and mentality of the Inquisitors, but may under no circumstances be taken as documents depicting the lives, habits and mode of thinking of the defendants. Wherever inquisitorial trials of Jews are held, there looms, in silhouette, the apparition of the Shoa. And with it, a pressing invitation to contrition and repentance on the part of those who really count and have always counted in history: Christian society. In this, Prosperi does not appear far removed from the theories expressed in this regard by Gavin Langmuir.

“After Auschwitz”, writes Prosperi, “the historical problem of the remote sources of anti-Semitism and its cultural roots faces us constantly, and must be analysed in the impalpable, often unnoticed, ways in which these tensions which exploded terrifyingly in the 20th century were laid down for centuries, in a pathway paralleling the history of Europe”. And he continues: “The material available to us from Inquisitorial sources is from the very distant past, but at the same time, this implies matters constantly haunting the present, casting a threatening shadow over the future” (9).

For my part, I continue to believe in the validity of the methodological principle, advanced at one time by Carlo Ginzburg, that it may be possible to find authentic fragments of the persecuted culture, which the judges never completely succeeded in erasing, even in prosecution documents consisting of

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confessions of defendants under torture. The so-called “evidential paradigm” applied in the absence or defectiveness of certain proof, has, in the past, and may again in future, offered the possibility of rereading the documentation, viewing it in new ways and from different points of view (10).

There are those who maintain that  Ginzburg has long since abandoned this method of investigation, and now speaks of his recent, supposed, “healthy return to political history, after so many ‘evidentiary paradigms’” (11).

Perhaps those who believe this are correct, since Ginzburg himself now relegates his “evidential paradigms” to the distant past, defining it as a “methodological principle, inspiring my research into the stereotype of the witch’s Sabbath, many years ago” (Storia notturna. Una decifrazione del sabba, Turin, 1989).

Even granting, for the sake of argument, the enduring validity of the method of the “evidential paradigm”, it should be noted that Ginzburg accuses me of committing unpardonable errors, having perceived, in the prosecution documents on ritual homicide, not myths, but rites, in contrast to Ginzburg’s own conclusions regarding the witch’s Sabbath (12).

In other words, I was accused of anachronistically adhering to the discredited historiography of Margaret Murray (The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, Oxford, 1921). It doesn’t matter much that Ginzburg has also been accused, personally, and officially, and, in my view, unjustly -- among others, by Gustav Henningsen (The Witches’ Advocate, Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition, Reno, 1980) and Norman Cohn (Europe’s Inner Demons, London, 1975) -- in his time – of being a disciple of Murray, for his writings in the book I Benandanti [The Night Battles].

As is well known, Murray, an English anthropologist, Egyptologist and disciple of Frazer, argued forcefully that the descriptions of the Witches’ Sabbath contained in witchcraft trial documents were not simply an interpolation of hostile stereotypes suggested by the judges, but rather, more or less precise accounts of rites actually performed. In other words, just as the application of the Murray method is said to have implied the credibility of the witches’ nocturnal broomstick rides and diabolical orgies, I am said to have given credence to the myth of ritual murder, describing it as a rite which had actually been practiced (13).

As for myself, however, I see the matter rather differently. At this point, I wish to state once again that, even in my view, the so-called “ritual murders” must be considered a calumny, and not a rite adopted by the religious practice of the Jewish community, even

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in limited and particular historical contexts. This regardless of the fact that perhaps it may, to some extent, have had some correspondence, in sad reality, to crimes committed by individuals deranged by obsessions of a religious nature, transferred to the realm of action
(Pasque di sangue, p. 121 [117].) But it is a mistake to hold that the other, specific practices of the groups I investigated, as revealed by the statements of defendants under torture, are to be considered tout court as myths.

A few years ago, the historian Israel Yuval (“Two Nations in Your Womb”: Perceptions of Jews and Christians, Tel Aviv, 2000), reconstructed the particular rites and liturgy of extremists fringes active within the Jewish community in the German-speaking territories, decimated by massacres and forced conversions during the Crusades. Yuval, who had not examined the Trent trials, reconstructed the so-called ritual of the anti-Christian curses, practiced by these Ashkenazi Jews at Passover, which also found expression in the course of the Haggadah, when they listed the ten plagues of Egypt and rhythmically sprinkled the wine from the chalice onto the table.

The rite -- with its particular formulae, absent from the Passover liturgy of Italian, Sephardic and Oriental Jews, as well as from the liturgy generally adopted by other Ashkenazi Jews, is described in the Sefer Ha-rokeach, by rabbi Jacob Mulin Segal (Maharil), who lived in Italy between the 14th and 15th centuries, as well as in certain Franco-German Jewish texts remaining in manuscript form (14).

In stating his conclusions, Yuval stressed that the ritual of the curses in the Haggadah had indeed transformed the Jewish Passover, substituting an historical commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt with aspirations for a Messianic redemption built upon revenge against the Christians, “using particularly violent and aggressive expressions which one might search for in vain among Jews of Iberian origin” (15).

Well, this ritual of the curses, reconstructed by Yuval, reappears, in precise form and to the letter, in the confessions of the Trent defendants: we find the same particular liturgy, the same sequence of operations. The implications of this fact should in no way be underestimated if it is really desired to reconstruct the mentality of the Ashkenazi Jews who moved Germany to Trent. Moreover, as I will attempt to explain below, the reality of the rite of the “Christian blood in the wine” during the Passover dinner is a hypothesis which cannot be rejected a priori.

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I disagree with the criticism, raised against me by Carlo Ginzburg, that “those accounts (of alleged “ritual murders”) were interpolated into descriptions of ceremonies with which the accused were familiar, such as, predictably, the Jewish Passover”, and that “the presence of anti-Christian elements in the ritual described, under torture, by the accused”, amounted to “a generic cultural context”. In fact, the confessions of the accused at Trent give a clear and well-founded impression that the rites described are not normal ceremonies of the Jewish Passover, but particular Passover rites, proper to a fringe of the German Jewish community, with virulently anti-Christian connotations.

The depositions given under torture by the accused at Trent have even, moreover, in some cases, been used as credible historical sources in the past (16).

An examination of the confession of Lazzaro da Serravalle, servant of Angelo da Verona, describing the contents of the Passover sermon of Samuele da Nuremberg, reveals the characteristic central motif: the spurious birth of Jesus, conceived by the Virgin during her menstrual period.

As has been appropriately stressed, this theme appeared only in some late fifteenth and sixteenth century versions of the famous anti-Christian text Toledot Yeshu, “The Stories of Jesus”, and has revealed itself “of importance due to the information it contains of relevance to the Trent trial, and remains, for the moment, the oldest source explicitly considering Jesus the son of a menstruating woman”. The “narrator’s German origins” have also been noted, indicating “a possible German Jewish origin of the source as well” (17).

 It therefore seems obvious that the anti-Christian content of Lazzaro da Serravalle’s confession under torture have not always, at least in this case, been perceived as merely evocative, self-interested interpolations by the Trent judges; on the contrary, they have been recognised as reconstructions of authentic, undamaged fragments of a mentality and culture peculiar to the Ashkenazi Jewish defendants. I do not believe, in this sense, that an unreliable source has been utilised in an uncritical, or at least suspect, manner.

I note with some surprise that Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia declares himself in agreement with me on the authenticity of the trial records describing the anti-Christian invective and the fervent profession of faith of Israel da Brandenburg, one of the protagonists of the Trent occurrences, prior to being taken to execution. Torture is, it is true, a source of hatred (18).

But upon what basis is it supposed that this attitude of

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anti-Christian hostility on the part of the young German Jew was not part and parcel of the cultural and psychological heritage of the Jewish world from which he came, regardless of any tortures to which he was subjected?

I have repeatedly stressed that the testimonies of the accused in inquisitorial trials should not be disqualified a priori, but deserve careful analysis, based on their constituent elements and an appropriate investigations and references, such as to permit the formulation of well-founded hypotheses. One recent comment is well taken:

“For year, the historians of pre-modern Europe normally based their work on the papers of the Inquisition and other archive material, containing trial sources, as first-hand sources. With regards to the recourse to torture in medieval and pre-modern judicial systems, the method of utilisation of these sources presents a delicate methodological problem. It seems to me that the best way to face this problem is to examine all the archive sources, bar none, as texts to be interpreted. Origins, intended recipient, type of document, considerations as to the production and conservation of the material, language (language and works for structuralists) and numerous other factors should be taken into consideration in establishing whatever significance these fragments of the past may still possess for us. In methodological terms, this appears to be the crucial point in evaluating Toaff’s work -- not just an a priori consideration that the use of trial records is a mistake (19).

In my view, this is still the core question -- not the uncritical, preconceived rejection of procedural sources considered suspect.

Equivocal and suspect sources

Several people have accused me of having unhesitatingly “drunk from the polluted fountain of the anti-Semites and converts”, the latter, naturally malevolent and resentful of their ex-companions in the faith. To start with, I am said to have “fished with both hands” from the “notorious” Dissertazione apologetic sul martirio del beato Simone da Trento (Trent, 1747), by the Franciscan Benedetto Bonelli, a hagiographic text unanimously discredited by the most alert historians.

Well, I defy anyone who has read my book without prejudice to find one single instance in which I have made reference to the texts

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contained in the Dissertazione, which I consider “invalidated by anti-Semitic prejudice” (20).

Yet the transcription of the texts of the Trent trials, as published by Bonelli, are faithful and precise at all times. Proof, if proof was ever needed, that the passages published by Quaglione and Esposito contain no perceptible discrepancies in this regard (21).

In my book, I made reference to these transcriptions, almost always reproduced by the erudite Franciscan in the notes; I consider the transcriptions reliable and technically accurate. My quotations from Bonelli therefore relate exclusively to records of the Trent trials not yet published by Quaglione. The recently-announced forthcoming publication of this additional material will no doubt confirm my opinion in this sense.

I took a similar course of action in relation to another declaredly hagiographic text, that of the priest Giuseppe Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento (Trent, 1902). Ignoring the polemical lucubrations and anti-Semitic delirium of the Trent priest, I referred exclusively to that part of his text which, as Quaglione has already observed, constitutes “almost a pure and simple paraphrase of the trial transcripts” (22).

A separate discussion is required for the texts of the converted Jews to which I made reference in Pasque di sangue, in a manner similar to my treatment of similar material in my preceding books, which were nevertheless praised and much appreciated by my critics. Several people even extended their censorious judgement to my colleague Elliot Horowitz, accused of delving too deeply into the unreliable and tendentious literature of the neophytes.

Let us take the most significant example, that of the large-scale proselytizing text composed by the Venetian Shemuel Nahmias, a disciple of Leon da Modena, baptised under the name of Giulio Morosini (Derekh Emunah. Via della fede mostrata algi ebrei, Rome, 1683). I have no hesitation in maintaining that the Morosini’s book is a text of exceptional importance, in some ways the only one of its kind, for having provided a detailed and absolutely accurate description of popular rites and beliefs, including the most ancient of these rites, widespread among Jews living in Italy, all memory of which would otherwise have been irremediably lost. It is my belief that (apart from his personal comments, which are motivated by obvious anti-Jewish resentment) the descriptions provided, by Morosini, of Jewish religious customs is more extensive, detailed and less reticent, than the overly-praised (until recently) Riti ebraici by Leon da Modena (Paris, 1637; Venice, 1638).

The importance of this text lies, not, in fact, in the author’s arguments of a polemical, confessional or polemical nature,

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but rather, as stressed by Fausto Parente, in the “truly minute awareness of Jewish ritualistic law” demonstrated by the author (23).

Apart from this consideration, none of the greatest scholars of Italian Judaism, from Cecil Roth to Avidgor Shulvass, have ever hesitated to make full use of Morosini’s text, describing it as “an historical source of exceptional value on Jewish social life”. No self-respecting scholarly work wishing to deal with the multiplicitous and significant aspects of the religious anthropology of Jews living in Italy could ignore the Derekh Emunah without seriously maiming itself.

The Ashkenazi between the Rhine and the Adige

The fact that I attributed the “ritual murder” stereotype to the Ashekazi Jewish world on both sides of the Alps, from the valley of the Rhine to upper Lombardy and the Triveneto, has been the subject of lively dispute (24).

But this is not just my opinion. Even Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia notes that “the cultural geography of the blood accusation and the location of the ritual murder trials coincide with the confines of the German settlements in the Alpine regions” (25).

He was immediately joined by Miri Rubin, who, with Hsia, noted that, as regards the trials for profanation of the host, “our history concerns the regions where German is spoken” (26).

Reference has been improperly made to the writings of Alfonso of Espina, the confessor of Henrique IV of Castille, to show that “blood libel” stereotypes were also widespread in Spain, not just the German-speaking territories (27).

In fact, as I have clearly demonstrated, all the cases of alleged ritual murder referred to by the Castilian Francisican in his Fortalitium fidei concern Ashkenazi Jewish communities of northern Italy, and the rather more numerous communities inhabiting the Iberian peninsula (28).

On the other hand, the Trent judges, who presumably detested Italian Jews no less intensely than Ashkenazi Jews, wondered, and asked the accused, why Italian Jews were never accused of practicing these blood rites? Was it, perhaps, that the Italian Jews did not use the same sacred texts of reference, as the Ashkenazis of Trent seem to wish us to understand (quod ipsi iudei Italici non habent istud in scripturis suis)?

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I have attempted to show the manner in which the above described German Jewish world, drenched in superstition and alchemical magical, traumatized by experiences of violence and tragedy, often careless in their compliance with the laws of their countries of residence and even official Jewish ritualistic law, suspicious and diffident of Italians, both Jewish and Christian, finally, and fatally, became the target of the blood accusation (29).

My reconstruction of the mentality and behaviour of this Judaism of Germanic origin has been substantially accepted by many scholars (30).

By others, however, it has been judged with unjustified severity:

“Toaff has an interpretive paradigm all his own, which attributes infanticide and ritual murder more generally, not to all Jews but only against the Ashkenazi. This Jewish world of the German-speaking territories, barbarized by rituals and dominated by a superstitious faith in the therapeutic and magical uses of blood, driven by deeply-rooted hatreds of the Christian population, has seemed to him the right candidate for the origins of infanticide and for its dissemination up to the borders regions of Trent and the Veneto. But why doesn’t he make it clear that bishop Hinderbach  came from this same Germanic world as well, and that, in his mind, the conviction of the guilt of the Jews was established from the very outset of the trial?” (31).

My text, by contrast, is quite clear and explicit in this regard:

The participants in this magical mental horizon included not only the Jews, accused of witchcraft and infanticide, ritual cannibalism and evil spells, but their accusers as well, obsessed with diabolical presences and the continual search for virtuous talismans and stupendous antidotes, capable of curing and preserving the body and soul from the wiles of men and demons. Giovanni Hinderbach, prince bishop of Trent, the true organizer of the 1475 trials, had grown up in Vienna in the years following the great massacre of the Jews, accused of backing the Hussites (1421) and exposed by that same Duke Albert II to bloody vengeance as partisans of the heretics. Even before poor Simonino’s child murder, when he had not yet risen to his official fame as "punisher of the Jewish murderers", Hinderbach had already found ways to show his lack of sympathy for them. In one case, thus, he had not hesitated to express his self-satisfied approval of cannibalism, when the victims were Jews. During the military confrontation between Venice and Trieste in 1465, during which Friedrich III intended to enforce his rights, Hinderbach, who was then acting as imperial ambassador before the government of the Serenissima, sang the praises of the Hapsburg militia, called upon to defend Trieste, for their courage and their demonstrated loyalty to the Emperor. By true right, observed the pious bishop, the German soldiers, in case of necessity, rather than lay down their arms, were to alleviate their hunger by eating the flesh of cats, rats and mice; and even that of local Jews, Jews resident in the city.
Friedrich III was, as Burcardo di Andwil informs us, in addition to mathematical sciences, a passionate cultivator of astrology and necromancy, and for this reason is said to have remarked that he liked to surround himself with Jews and Chaldeans, people highly partial to superstitious practices. But Friedrich’s faithful servant, Hinderbach, was no less so. Magic and witchcraft in fact exercised an irresistible fascination over the humanist bishop, who was a friend of Enea Silvio Piccolomini. Hinderbach assimilated Jews outright with necromanticists, always ready to perform exorcisms and curses in the service of the devil. Demons love blood; and the necromancers who resuscitated cadavers used blood with little parsimony in their divination, mixing it with water taken from fountains and rivers. Hinderbach had no hesitation in maintaining that the Jews were enchanters and necromancers, "because they kill Christian children and drink and consume their blood, as they did last year at Trent, and in many other places it has been discovered and proven". The practical Caballah, which these Jews followed more or less in secret, was to be assimilated in all respects to black magic and necromancy. It is to be noted that, during the first festival of the sainted child, held at Trent in 1589 with a great confluence of people, a celebrative pamphlet, later published in Rome, was compiled with the title of Ristretto della vita et martirio di S. Simone fanciluuo della citta di Trento. This work maintained, in the wake of Hinderbach, that the child had been killed by the Jews, "followers of the Caballah, vain science under which name magic and necromancy often hide" (32). [pp 69-72 Blood Passover]

Moreover, regarding the problematical depositions of Giovanni da Feltre, the converted Jew held prisoner in the castle of Buonconsiglio who denounced his erstwhile companions in the faith, I never simply quoted a second-hand document without ever bothering to consult publications containing and reproducing the original trial sources. In fact, I cited the text published by Quaglione -- with the relevant discussion in this regard -- word for word and at great length -- in the Chapter Five (33).

My description of the far-from-idyllic relations between Italian and Ashkenazi Jews and their respective cultural and religious worlds has been the topic of much debate. Some people have even attempted to circumvent Israel Yuval’s persuasive arguments that the virulence of the anti-Christian attitudes of this German Jewish community was its most salient characteristic. In effect, any entirely positive description of the late Medieval Ashkenazi world would appear artificial to me, and not very believable, not to mention the unjustified mirage of idealised relations between Italian Jews and Ashkenazi immigrants. Serious historians with a profound knowledge of Jewish realities in the Italy of late Middle Ages and early modern period, like Isaia Sonne, have debunked this legend -- a legend utterly lacking any significant supporting documentation.

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In his writings, Yoseph Ha-Cohen (Giuseppe Sacerdoti da Voltaggio), the most important chronicler of 16th century Italy, took a strongly hostile attitude towards Jews of Germanic origin, to whom he attributed innumerable misdeeds, blaming them directly for many expulsions and even the conflagrations of Jewish books. Sonne provided a coherent explanation of the motives inspiring the attitudes of the chronicler, paradigmatic, according to him, of relations between Italian and Ashkenazi Jews.

“Yoseph H-Cohen takes pains to stress that the German Jews, with their wickedness of soul and behaviours [sic], were the cause of the crisis in the relations between the Jews and surrounding society in Italy. The opinion of Italian Jews – particularly, those of Sephardic origin – of Ashkenazi Jews resembled that of cultured Italians towards uneducated German barbarian. Every time Yoseph Ha-Cohen turns his accusations against the Ashkenazis, he hastens to specify the Jewish sources from which he has drawn the information [...] as if to distance himself from the accusation that he is repeating mere anti-Semitic propaganda. For this reason, he takes pains to ensure that his statements are always confirmed by Jewish witnesses above any suspicion.

“Elsewhere, we run into rare Jewish sources and documents relating to the facts and events which must be revealed only to a few persons, because in great part, it seems, they could feed the propaganda of the anti-Semites. This is the reason for which they were intentionally destined for oblivion by many official historians of our people. For the opposite reason, these accounts have been preserved in non-Jewish documentation. Among the Jews, accounts of those facts were handed down from generation to generation only to a few elect, which made use of them when they saw fit.”

Isaia Sonne wrote this note in volume no. XXII of the “Hebrew Union College Annual”, published at Cincinnati in 1949, and republished in 1954, in Hebrew, in Jerusalem, in an appendix to his classical essay on the Jews in Italy at the time of the Counter-Reformation, stating that, in dealing with Jewish history, the Jews have always practiced a form of rigid self-censorship, deleting or consigning to forgetfulness any facts or events which might be unpleasant or counterproductive compared to the image one wished to convey of the Jewish people. The intention, a correct one, was to prevent Jews themselves from supplying later anti-Semites with additional weapons in support of their designs. The cui prodest was thus in effect in the writing of the history of the Jews even then; as a result, the official historiography of the Jews was rendered uniform, characterised by rigid adherence to this criterion of prudence.

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Blood. Myths or rites?

As is well known, the Biblical prohibition against eating or drinking blood is absolute and inflexible (Lev. 17. 10-12, Deut. 23-25, etc.). Jewish ritualistic law, halakhah, based on the Mishnah of the Talmud, subjects the prohibition against the ingestion of blood to rigid and minute standardisation, intended to prevent even inadvertent contravention of this provision, considered among the fundamental elements of Jewish identity. The accusation of the Trent judges that the Jews ingested blood during the Passover dinner and committed ritual murder to procure it,  therefore appeared to lack any basis in fact -- a detestable calumny with which to smite the defendants, designated as guilty without appeal from the very outset. Many scholars have gladly adopted this conclusion as their own, sparing them the trouble of uncomfortable and indelicate investigation into the subject.

Piero Camporesi in a magnificent study of twenty years ago (Il sugo della vita. Simbolismo e magia del sangue. Milan, 1988), illustrated the manner in which, in popular medicine, blood -- and “young” blood in particular -- constituted an indispensable component of primary importance in the preparation of unguents, restrictive pomades, magical electuaries and philtrums of proven effectiveness. The more expert specialists knew how to prepare and treat the blood with care and affection so that it would fully manifest its marvellous therapeutic qualities. Young blood, ingested in the right dosages, proved itself the infallible remedy for reducing one’s own biological age.

In my book, I attempted to show the manner in which magic and popular medicine, superstition and alchemy, was handed down, slowly but profoundly, in both Christian society and broad -- certainly the less educated – segments of the Ashkenazi Jewish community (including the Jews of Trent) flagrantly circumventing and ignoring even the severest and most peculiar standards of Jewish ritualistic law. First, a few words about the prohibition against the ingestion of blood (34).

 In the heart of the Christian and Jewish West, the Jews, with slight hesitation, ingested animal and human blood, cooked, dried and reduced to powder, attributing to it extraordinary magical, exorcistic and therapeutic powers. That which appears repellent to us today, possessed, at the time, an irresistible fascination and power of seduction. Thus, recourse to oils and balms extracted from fetid mummies; medications based on powders prepared from the craniums of hanged men; unguents and pomades of human fat, encountered, in practice,

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no obstacles impeding their use, among either Christians or Jews.

Following in the wake of David Sperber’s ground-breaking studies in this field, (Mihhaghe’Israel, “The Customs of the Jewish People”, Jerusalem, 1991), I reached the conclusion that, as regards German Judaism, customs rooted in time often had the power of evading and sometimes completely annulling Biblical and Talmudic norms. The rabbis were therefore constrained, a posteriori and against their will, to stoop to pacts with this fact of reality, of which they disapproved, seeking to mitigate the violence of the consequences (35).

The handbooks of segullot, secret remedies and medications drawn up and disseminated by experts in the Caballah, as practiced by Ashkenazi Judaism in the Middle Ages and the early modern era, contain a vast range of recipes based on blood, used as a haemostatic and in oral transfusions, the magical and therapeutic efficacy of which was taken for granted. The lists of the “secrets” of Elia Loans, the Baal Shem of Worms, of Shabbatai Lipschütz, Sacharja Plongiany Simoner and many others -- more or less well known -- Ashkenazi specialists in spagyrics [herbal medicines using alchemical procedures], prescribe dried, young human blood as a coagulant powder believed to possess extraordinary virtues in healing the circumcision wound. The blood of the ibex was prescribed to cure epilepsy. Another cure for epilepsy was the menstrual blood of a virgin, dried and dissolved in wine; that of rabbits was used to facilitate pregnancy, while young menstrual blood was prescribed to mitigate excessive menstrual flow (36).

Love potions were prepared with human blood, extracted from the sufferer’s little finger, dissolved in wine and administered to a beloved person resistant to courting.

It has been objected that the texts of these segullots date back to historical periods postdating the Trent Trial, i.e., the 16th and 17th century; while the ritual responses which I cited among the sources -- although originating from the same geographical area – only date back to the 18th century. But anyone even slightly familiarity with handbooks of popular medicine of this kind knows that the same unchanged recipes are reproduced over and over again for centuries. We have obvious proof of this in the utilisation of young blood in powdered form (even, and particularly, of Jewish and not Christian children) as a marvellous haemostatic for the circumcision wound, recommended in the segullot handbooks of the Baal Shem of Worms (of Lipschütz and Simoner, apparently already adopted and widespread in the 15th century Ashkenazi communities of

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both Germany and Italy, as reported, among other things, by the accused at Trent, in testimony which must be considered quite credible. We should not therefore be astonished if a large part of these ancient recipes (rarely, those contemplating the use of blood) are still republished in Israel today, intended for a well-defined, but in no way restricted, clientele. Among this segment of the population (often the more Orthodox, but not always), of not inconsiderable importance and numbers, long-established superstitious customs and a faithful adherence to the empirical remedies of the practical Caballah continue to possess very considerable importance. As for the ritual responsals, their authors, among them Jacob Reischer of Prague (1670-1734), in permitting the use of blood taken orally (in this case, animal blood) for therapeutic purposes, but not in the case of serious illnesses, make reference to the custom, in force from time immemorial in the German-speaking territories, so much so as to permit the rabbis to declare the custom, flatly, minhagh Israel, that is, a “Jewish custom consolidated over time”, capable of possessing validity even in contradiction to the standards of the Torah (37).

As I said, the rabbis found themselves, often obtorto collo [against their will] and a posteriori, constrained to accept a reality which conflicted with the norm. They knew they were powerless to modify a deeply-rooted custom, and therefore opted for the only alternative remaining available to them: that of limiting the consequences of an obvious violation of the dictates of the Torah. To accomplish this, they decided to permit the consumption of blood, in minimum quantities, only when dried and deprived of any alimentary connotation (“when it has been rendered dry to such a point as to be transformed into a piece of wood, all humidity having been eliminated”) (38).

The merchants of Jewish blood, who, together with their Christian colleagues, travelled the roads of Europe with their waxed bags, presented their clients with rabbinical certificate of suitability (kasherut), guaranteeing a completely dessicated product without alimentary significance. This powdered blood could, therefore, be used during the year for whatever curative or magical purposes were thought fit, without fear of violating any rabbinical interdiction. In the case of unguents and syrups prepared from the bodies of mummies, the rabbis obviously permitted their use if the raw material was extracted from the cadavers of gentiles and not Jews (39).
In this sense, they were not too far away from Israel da Brandenburg in his deposition before the Trent judges, when he stated

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that the consumption of blood was permitted only when it involved the blood of non-Jews (40).

Another objection, this time apparently decisive, has been raised against me by my meticulously strict censors. The texts cited by myself are said to deal with animal blood and not human; serious doubt was therefore said to remain as to the relevance and pertinence of the Jewish documents cited. While the ingestion of animal blood was generally prohibited, and permitted only for therapeutic purposes, the same prohibition is said to have applied all the more in the case of human blood. The transition from the blood of animals to that of human beings was alleged, in this case, to be arbitrary and illogical.

Apart from the fact that, as I have noted in detail in my study, the compendiums of empirical remedies and segullot of the Ashkenazi milieu contain numerous recipes based on young and menstrual blood, to be administered dried, in wine, the thing that leaves me all the more perplexed – and more than just a little – is the utter naiveté of my critics when it comes to texts of Jewish ritualistic law. In fact, the prohibition against the consumption of animal blood is considerably more serious than that against the consumption of human blood. In the Torah (Lev. 7:26), it is written: “Moreover ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings”. On this basis, the ritualists deduced that, while the prohibition against animal blood was to be considered a “negative precept” (lo ta’aseh), prescribed directly by the Torah, while the prohibition relating to human blood was said to fall into the category of “affirmative precepts” (‘aseh), which are less serious, since they are merely established by rabbis. This was the opinion of Maimonides. For his part, the famous French exegetist Rashi (R. Shelomoh Izchaki), who lived at Troyes in the 11th century, explained, the sole reason for the prohibition against the consumption of human blood lay in the fact that it might be confused with animal blood, which is prohibited by the Torah. Rashi’s followers, the French-German Tossifists, went so far as to permit the consumption of human blood, as long as it was obvious, and certain, that it was not animal blood (41).

 Lazzaro da Serravalle’s confession at the Trent Trial, according to whom the Biblical prohibition concerned only animal blood (quod lex Dei [...] loquitur de sanguine bestiarum) (42) is therefore fully in accordance with these premises.

In an essay soon to be published in this regard, the author, the rabbi Elkana Hildesheimer, based on this and other data extracted from the rabbinical texts, concludes that:

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“The Ashkenazi Jews, like the others, have eaten foods not permitted by the rite, sometimes asking and obtaining a problematical rabbinical dispensation. This is also true in the case of blood, where the prohibition against the consumption of human blood was generally handled with a certain carelessness -- certainly greater than that relating to the blood of beasts or birds. The consumption of human blood was not only less repellent than it may appear to us today, but in not infrequent cases the rabbis found themselves compelled to permit its use (43).”

For these reasons, there are many verifiable, authentic Jewish testimonies on the ingestion of blood, both animal and human, for the treatment of both body and soul, in confirmation of the confessions of the Jewish defendants at Trent. But the step from a therapeutic, and even magical and alchemical, use of blood, to its transformation into a major element in the celebration of the Jewish Passover, linked, in turn, to alleged “ritual murder”, is not a short one, and is far from a matter of course. Let us first rapidly eliminate the hypothesis -- even if only theoretical -- that the Jews (at Trent or elsewhere) soiled their hands with atrocious crimes for the purpose of procuring the blood of Christian children in order to celebrate their Passover rites. At the same time, let us also eliminate the assumption -- which seems a bit “canned” to me -- that, once we reject the stereotype of “ritual murder”, we must, of necessity, conclude that the Jews did not actually use human blood in the Passover ritual. We are referring to certain Ashkenazi Jews, driven by a burning, visceral and well-justified aversion towards Christianity and anyone representative of Christianity (the “Edom” of the sacred books), guilty of indiscriminate massacres, forced baptisms and the kidnapping of Jewish children.

As we have seen, these Jews had transformed the central significance of the Passover haggadah into an aspiration for revenge against Edom -- Christianity, successor to the perfidious Pharaoh -- and the hope of Redemption, constructed by God on its ruins, In addition to the liturgical invocation, of German-Jewish origin, pouring out the ire of the God of Israel (shefokh) upon the people who failed to recognize Him, destroying them, Israel Yuval reconstructed “the rite of the curses” accompanying the reading of the ten plagues of Egypt, as practiced by these extremist fringes, beginning with “dam”, the word meaning “blood”. In addition to the Maharil, cited above, Rabbi Shalom da Wiener Neustadt, also stressed the anti-Christian significance of sprinkling the wine onto the table during the reading of the plagues of Egypt, rendering “the rite of the curses” a peculiar and distinctive ceremony of extremist Jewish groups of the Ashkenazi diaspora.

p. 386]

“When they name the ten plagues of Egypt, each time, they dip the finger into the cup of wine standing in front (of the head of the family) and they pour a little bit of it out, onto the table [...] saying: 'From this curse may God save us'. The reason is that the four cups of wine (which must be drunk during the recitation of the Haggadah) represent a wish for the salvation of the Jews and a curse against the nations of the world. Therefore (the head of the family) pours the wine out of the glass with his finger, signifying that we Jews shall be saved from such curses, which shall, by contrast, fall upon our enemies” (44)

The explanation of this rite is found in the Rokeach, according to which “they sprinkle the wine towards the outside (onto the table) in correspondence to the sixteen surfaces of the vengeful sword of God” (45).

The defendants at the Trent trial, who practiced the ritual of the curses, confessed under torture that, prior to the recitation, the head of the household was accustomed to opening the glass phial containing dried human blood (the “blood of a Christian child” according to the defendants, or rather, according to the dictation of the judges),

[COMMENT: We hate to say this, but at this point Toaff is simply lying. The phrase "This is the blood of a Christian child", appears in Askenazi Hebrew (zeh ha-dam shel goi katan) in the confessions -- a language of which Toaff admits the judges had no knowledge, in a pronunciation which not even Italian Jews could understand. See pp. 177-179, Blood Passover, first edition, chapter Twelve, above, or pp. 181-183, of the revised edition.]

pouring a pinch into the chalice, together with the wine. They then proceeded to pour the wine onto the table, pronouncing the list of the ten plagues against Edom -- the Christians. Finally, without drinking the wine, they poured the remainder into a basin or cracked earthenware jug, and threw it away.

My hypothesis is that, while the particular contents of the confessions relating to the blood being that of a Christian child -- presumably sacrificed as dictated by necessity – is a self-interested and obviously false insertion by the judges

[COMMENT: See above. What is the point of lying about something which Toaff has written and published in the same edition of the same book, a book written by himself? Is he trying to tell us something?],

intended to prove the guilt of the Jews, the first part of the discourse, relating to the use of Christian blood during the Passover meal, is anything but improbable.
In the moment of reciting the curses, for the head of the family responsible for the rite, shaking a few grains of powdered Christian blood into the wine (the same dried and powdered Christian blood which, during the year, had been used to provide for a thousand other needs, whether therapeutic or intended to bring good luck), the blood was thought to possess the power of symbolically transforming the contents of the chalice into the blood of Edom. This gesture is said to have provided additional potency to the curses, giving them their marvellous efficacy and potency, reinforcing the terrible curses which, as Yuval has written, “constituted in and of themselves a violent act of destructive magic, born of a violent and aggressive Messianism” (46).

Then, the wine, transformed into the blood of Edom, death-bringing and accursed, was sprinkled onto the table and the remainder thrown into the trash or onto the road, obviously without being brought to the mouths of those at the table.

p. 387]

The procedure was no different, although with contrasting distinguishing marks, from that followed involving the circumcision wine, in the interpretation recently provided by Lawrence A. Hoffman. In the ceremony of the milah, a few drops of the blood of the circumcised child, poured into the wine, had the power to transform it into blood, and was therefore (in contrast to the curses of Pesach) given to the child, his mother and the mohel to drink, bringing good luck and warding off evil (47).

If my hypothesis possesses a basis of truth or at least of plausibility, relating to the blood accusation, intended to designate the use by the Jews of Christian blood at Passover, then we are dealing with rites -- not myths – actually practiced in the Middle Ages by a minority of German-origin Jews on both sides of the Alps. In other words, while “ritual murder” was, and is, a myth, the use of the blood in the Passover ritual of the curses against the Christians was in fact -- as I have sought to demonstrate -- a singular and deviant rite, practiced by extremist Ashkenazi fringes.

As we have already seen, the Ashkenazi rabbis, in a valiant but largely unrealistic attempt to extirpate a ritual of which they disapproved, sought to limit its dissemination and consequences, while awaiting better times (which were thought to be coming). Some of these (David Tebel Sprinz of Bamberg, Moshe Jodenmeister of Halle and Shimon Katz of Frankfurt-Main hastened to exonerate the less well-to-do Jews and those with dependent families from the problematical rite of the curses and the blood. They also recommended that no more than a minimum quantity of dried blood -- the size of a lentil -- be dissolved in the wine (which in any case was not drunk). Once again, in the behaviour of the Jews, practice took precedence over norms, and all the efforts of the rabbis to save what could be saved or pretend that the problem didn’t exist, were in vain.

It seems superfluous to note that there was no relationship of any kind, either causal or consequential, between the so-called “rite of the blood and the curses”, celebrated by these Jews during the first two evenings of the Jewish Passover, and “ritual murder”, notwithstanding the efforts of the judges to imply that there was. In the rural realities of medieval Germany, where everyday life was drenched with alchemical fantasies and magic, both Jewish and Christian families often carried waxed bags or ampoules containing blood, preferably young,

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coagulated or dried, recommended in an infinity of contingencies, real or imagined, and not just for the treatment of physical ills. The “donors” of this blood, always for payment, were alive and well, and came from indigent families in search of easy money. As stressed by Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia (The Myth of Ritual Murder. Jews and Magic in Reformation Germany, new Haven, Conn., 1988), “for a parent reduced to misery, for anyone finding himself in need of money, blood, even that of one’s own son, was a product to sell, like any other”. Rare was the eventuality in which a father, in the clumsy attempt to extract the blood from the carotid, accidentally caused the death of the son. In that case the tragic accident was followed by the exemplary punishment of the guilty party, despite the involuntary nature of his act (48).

highest prices paid for blood

[COMMENT: The actual quote from Ronnie Po-chia Hsia, quoted correctly and in context, is rather different:

“It all began in the village of Benzhausen in the Lordship of Buchheim, located to the northwest of Freiburg [footnote deleted] [in 1504].  On Good Friday [1504], the cowherd boy Andreas was tending his herd in the fields when his cattle’s moos alerted him to the corpse of a little boy, who turned out to be one of his playmates, Matthew Bader [illustration]. The cries of the cowherd boy drew the villagers to the spot; judging from the pale corpse, they surmised that it had been lying there for at least three days. The body was removed and buried in the churchyard. Six days later, the father of the dead boy Philip Bader, was arrested for theft. After he had confessed to stealing, the bailiff confronted Bader about the death of his child [...] At first, Bader denied knowledge of the circumstances of the murder, but when he was brought to the churchyard and presented with the corpse of his child, which the authorities had dug up, he was ready to ‘confess’. As a contemporary poem commemorating the event tells it, and in the words of Philip Bader, the mad Jews went to him and offered him money for a Christian child to celebrate Passover. Out of a throng of boys playing nearby, the Jews supposedly picked Bader’s own son. They assured him, Bader told the bailiff, that the child would not be killed; all they wanted was a little Christian blood, and they intended to draw this from the Bader boy, who was barely seven year old. A bargain was concluded. Bader took his boy to the Jews of Waldkirch in exchange for a handsome sum. After this initial confession, the bailiff applied torture and Bader changed his story. Now he admitted that he was acting entirely on his own accord: he had heard that Jews pay good money for Christian blood and had drawn blood from his own son’s neck to sell to the Jews. But when he approached the Jews, they turned from him and scolded him for trying to sell them animal blood. Rebuffed, Bader threw away the blood. Since his two testimonies contradicted each other, Bader was tortured further, and the village bailiff referred the case to his master, the Lord of Buchheim [...]

"[footnote 26]: [...] Although [sic] the poem represents a contemporary report of the trial, the facts seem highly reliable. The poet narrates both sets of confessions even though he strongly rejects Bader’s second confession, attributing it to the ‘devil’s work’, to make the poor man confess in order to exculpate the Jews [...] [?] [NOTE: the” second confession” was the one that EXONERATED the Jews, the only one given under torture. The original records seem to have disappeared. –C.P.]

"[...] Under interrogation, the arrested Jews protested their innocence and said that the father Bader must in fact have killed his own child for blood money [Is this a confession that the Jews bought blood? Or does it mean that Bader must have killed the child in the BELIEF that he could sell the blood? In view of the fact that they refused to buy it, the latter interpretation seems far more likely.]. [...] Once more, Bader changed his story, insisting now that the Jew Lameth of Waldkirch had purchased and killed his son. [...] On 30 May, Bader was executed in Buchen. Just before his execution, he again protested his innocence: the Jews and not he had killed the boy [...] Without evidence, the Jews had to be released [footnote referring to the same poem].

"So far, the case seemed straightforward.  Family violence was endemic in rural society; and killing one’s own child was but one step removed from child abandonment. It was possible that Bader had not intended to kill his boy and that he had merely wanted to sell blood to the Jews. In any event, once the boy had died from the wound inflicted by his father, and once the corpse was discovered, the initial fantasy of Jewish blood magic that had motivated the gruesome act in the first place also supplied the father with the ideal scenario for self-defence. The crucial point is that, to certain segments of village society, at least to its marginal elements, the discourse of Jewish ritual magic and ritual murder was in itself neutral: what concerned these rural folks was not the intrinsic evil of Jewish magic, as formulated by the intellectuals, but the practical implication of magic, Jewish or otherwise. For Philip Bader, who was obviously in dire need of money, blood, even that of his own child, was just another commodity for sale; Jewish magic only turned evil when the practical consequences of the unsuccessful transaction became a threat to himself” [blah, blah, blah, etc. etc].(Is Ronnie Po a “post-modernist”? He seems addicted to speculating about what what was in people’s minds all the time, using strange words like “discourse” and “narrative”.)
Source: Ronnie Po-chia Hsia, THE MYTH OF RITUAL MURDER , pp. 90-94".

Pp. 128-29 of the same book provide another contemporary account of the same case:

"In the year 1503 [sic] [correct year: 1504] [...] a child was missing on one of the farms near Dentzlingen. A neighbour found him in the woods, having been alerted by the bellowing of an ox. Shortly thereafter, the child’s father was apprehended in Buchen on suspicion of theft. At first he feigned ignorance regarding his child, but when he was shown the body he began to sweat. Without torture he confessed that he had sold his four-[correct age: seven] year-old child to two Jews in Waldkirch for five guldens [the price of a horse - C.P]; they told him the child would not die, that they only wanted to draw some blood from him; but alas, things turned out differently, and the child died because of this. I saw the child with my own eyes, about four weeks after the murder; and with my fingers I held and touched the prick wounds. I also saw the execution of the father in Buchen; he died confessing that the Jews had stabbed his child to death […]"

Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia also describes a few other, similar cases, but nothing supporting the Toaff fairy tale of the "voluntary donors":

"In May [of 1401],  the bailiff and councillors of Diessenhofen, a small town on the South German-Swiss border, arrested the Jew Michael and charged him with paying a Christian servant to obtain Christian blood from a boy, who died from the bleeding. Under torture, Michael confessed to a widespread ritual murder cover-up [...] he also confessed to a Jewish plot to poison the air in order to slowly kill off all Christians [...]" (ibid, p.88)

"In the same year [as the Philip Bader case], 1504, the shoemaker Bryhenn came under suspicion of the magistrates due to the sudden death of his stepson [...] Arrested in nearby Hanau, he confessed to having struck and killed his stepson in anger. But, when threatened with judicial torture, Bryhenn said he stabbed his stepson with awls, collected the blood, and sold it to the Jew Gumprecht. The latter was interrogated under torture but maintained his innocence. When Bryhenn was condemned to death, he retracted his accusation and Gumprecht was released" (ibid, p. 94).

"[...] in 1543, two women found [a] five-year old boy in a field outside Volkerode [...] The  bailiff summoned all men and women over ten years of age from the village to the scene of the crime. Upon examining the corpse, he found that the foreskin of the penis had been cut off and saw prick marks on both arms. Returning to the village the next morning for further questioning, the bailiff saw a shepherd running away into the woods. With the help of four hundred villagers, he caught the fugitive, Heinrich, the shepherd, who immediately blamed Jacob the Jew of putting him up to the murder [...] the shepherd claimed that he would recognize Jacob on sight. Wisely, the bailiff presented Heinrich with the gatekeeper of the castle, whom the suspect mistook as Jacob [...] After the murder, Heinrich returned to the corpse, cut off the boy’s foreskin and drew some blood from the corpse. He was planning to sell the blood to the Jews and to frame them for murder. Sentenced to death, Heinrich publicly confessed to the innocence of the Jews before his execution [...]" (ibid, p. 158).

"[in 1562] the labourer Leonard Wümpffhaymer of Sulm, accused Moses and another Jew ‘from Löwenstein’ of buying a four-year-old boy from him and them murdering the child [...] In fact, the accuser was first arrested because he struck his mother and was suspected of several murders. In any event, the count’s officials arrested the two Jews and tortured them into confessing their ‘guilt’ (ibid, pp. 199-200).

"[...] Moses of Berchlingen confessed to six articles of crime on 12 February [...] that the reason all Jews need Christian blood is this: just as the angels slew all the firstborn of the Egyptians and spared only those households painted with the lamb’s blood, so the Jews also want to paint their dead with Christian blood in order that God would be more merciful to them at the Last Judgement [...]" (ibid, pp. 199-200)."

One thing to look for in all these tales is any description of the carrying capacity of the vessels used to collect the blood. The body of a seven-year old boy will yield approximately one half-gallon of blood. So that the following may easily be dismissed as untrue:

“Elias the Jew said that the Jews then carried the blood of the young children in a glass and their heads into his room” (ibid, p. 19).
“And for him to carry the blood, Matthew the Jew gave him a glass” (ibid, p. 96)."
It is obvious that none of this is very convincing, and that nobody really knows what happened in the Bader case. There are no "voluntary donors".

For more quotes from Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia, click here]

The Hebrew phrases

The confessions of the Trent defendants sometimes contain Hebrew phrases in the Ashkenazi pronunciation, transliterated by trial notaries with numerous errors and a great lack of clarity. In my book, I reconstructed them precisely for the first time, noticing that they often consisted of time-honoured anti-Christian invective and sometimes unusual liturgical formulae which had remained unknown until now, according to the defendants, accompanying rites related to the blood accusation. At this point, let me just transcribe a significant sample of these formulae: “Thus may our enemies be destroyed”; “The hanged one, Jesus the heretic”; “Insults and shame of the hanged Jesus, and may the same happen to all our enemies”; “You were crucified and pierced like Jesus the hanged one, in ignominy and shame like Jesus” (49).

As we see, these phrases in Hebrew present not a few problems, which cannot be excluded, relating to the intention expressed and the context within which these phrases were said to have been pronounced. Whoever listened to them and transcribed them had no knowledge of Hebrew; otherwise, these phrases would never have been rendered almost incomprehensible and riddled with mistakes. For the same reason, I cannot believe we can accept the suggestion that some apostate (perhaps the ex-Ashkenazi Giovanni da Feltre) supplied a self-interested consultancy to the judges on this point

p. 389]

for the purpose of rendering the confessions of the defendants more credible under torture (50).

In this case, the texts are would have been transcribed correctly, or at least comprehensibly.

The fact that the judges and notaries at the Trent trial had no knowledge of Hebrew or Yiddish is also proven by the fact that a few letters, exchanged amongst themselves by a few families of northern Italy, are transcribed with many errors when annexed to the trial records. Their content must have remained obscure to the Trent judges, otherwise it would have been recognized that they obviously contradicted the matter which the judges were seeking so vehemently to prove. Whoever wrote those letters in Yiddish was, in fact, lamenting the indescribable sufferings of the Jews of Regensburg, “victims, like those at Trent, of the ignoble calumny of ritual homicide” (51).

At Regensburg, in fact, another blood accusation trial opened in 1476, as a corollary to the Trent trial. The open consultancy of a few converted Jews, masters of Hebrew and Yiddish, is said to have sufficed to persuade Hinderbach, the prince-bishop, to reject those letters, thus saving face. Precisely the consideration that judges and notaries were unable to understand or transcribe those phrases correctly, when pronounced in Hebrew or Yiddish, inclines us to think that these phrases were authentic and not deliberately inserted into the confessions.
Unless there is another explanation capable of demonstrating that these formulae are not actually the expressions of an intact fragment of the culture of the defendants -- but something else -- the problem remains, with all its potential implications. It does not therefore surprise me that only in rare cases has this problem has been faced honestly and without reticence (52); writers have very often preferred to skip over it or evade it.

Now, in my response, I venture to suggest this solution, bluntly, once again, without useless turns of phrase. One does not solve a problem like this -- which seems anything but secondary to me -- without facing it seriously and with credible tools.

I furthermore doubt seriously whether the tools of the legal historian – persons who are experts in the Latin texts of reference but totally ignorant of Judaism and the related Hebrew sources-- are sufficient for the purpose of examining the confessions of the Jews condemned at Trent (53).

A knowledge of these sources would, in fact, have avoided the blunder of mistaking that which was, in reality, ancient

p. 390]

anti-Christian formulae and invective, found in the synagogue liturgy of a certain number, although a minority, of German Jews at that time, for “pseudo Hebrew” or “Satanic language”, or the artificial and extemporaneous inventions and creations of the judges. The sterile effort to study the Jews without a knowledge of Hebrew is equivalent to studying Roman law without knowing Latin or studying the mentality of the Italians after visiting Italy as a tourist, without any understanding the language, or on a group tour. For the historians of anti-Semitism, this seems the mandatory pathway, upon the basis of which many Jews [believe they] glimpse the possibility of finding an acceptable identity, accepted by those who count [i.e., the Christians].

Anti-Semitic prejudice: the passive, resigned Jew

In my book, I attempted to do away with another legend: the legend of the Jew as sacrificial victim, defenceless, passive, always resigned to his sad fate. As we have seen, in view of the ferocious persecution which bloodied the valleys of the Rhine and the Main during the Crusades, as well as during subsequent centuries, a few fringes of Ashkenazi Judaism developed a vehemently uncompromising anti-Christianity as a reaction against their Christian persecutors, who embraced the Cross as a weapon of oppression and of violence. This anti-Christianity was expressed, for the most part, verbally -- in ferocious contempt, caustic outrage and liturgical invective. But this is not all. At least part of the Judaism of German origin did not prove themselves resigned to arrogance but rather, prepared themselves for a just revenge, with or without God’s help. The forces arrayed on the field of battle were far from equal, but this did not discourage the persecuted, although they believed that the outcome of the confrontation was fully predictable.

A few years ago, a researcher and palaeographer from the University of Tel Aviv, Philippe Ben Natan, wrote a long essay in Hebrew entitled Blood Accusations, Murderers and Politics in the 12th and 13th Centuries: the Causes and Circumstances. Ben Natan’s hypothesis advanced was documented and sensational, to say the least.

“The fact that the cruel offenses against the Jewish community would not always remain without any noticeable reaction, became -- or was gradually becoming -- clear to their Christian persecutors, living in the valley of the Rhine or the surrounding territories: the vengeance of the Jews was imminent. The acts of contempt, the stinging invective, of their victims before they were massacred, together with the imprecations of the survivors and their descendants in the

p. 391]

following generations, left no doubt as their ardent aspiration for revenge against the surrounding society, perceived as vexation and foreign [...]. Perhaps the only thing that still awaited an answer regarding the image of the Jews and their revenge was the mystery of the harshness of that revenge. Perhaps Christians would then be share modern considerations on Jewish sensitivity and piety? [...] Were their Christian persecutors perhaps right in believing that the Jews, in carrying out their long-sought revenge, would treat them with compassion? [...] Could the Christians perhaps hope that Jewish revenge would not be uncontrolled and intolerably cruel, and that the Jews would abstain from furiously striking down innocent victims without distinction any kind? [Italics in original.] In view of the testimonies from Jewish sources, originating from the circles of the German pietists of Germany and northern France and brought to light by Jacov Katz about forty years ago, we are highly dubious that these questions could be answered in the affirmative. Such doubts are reinforced by certain lesser-known aspects of the social morality of the Jewish Ashkenazi community which have gradually come to light in recent years, revealing the rather impressive participation of Jews in the criminal underworld.

“[...] The conclusion we arrive at, based on the relationship with the circumstances, is that the phenomenon of the blood libel was foreseeable. What is more, the relationship with the circumstances leads us to believe that the dissemination of the blood libel was inevitable.”

These hypotheses, advanced by Ben Natan, were strongly felt to have broken too many rules, thus preventing the publication of his essay in Israeli historical journals, notwithstanding the fact that it was revised and approved by some of the most prestigious and famous Jewish scholars. This is no longer so surprising (54).

Even more recently, Michael Bar Ilan, docent of history of medicine at the University of Tel Aviv (as well as grandson of the founder of the University Bar Ilan) asked himself why “Jewish historians, while they feel perfectly at ease in revealing monstrosities and criminal acts, real or imagined, perpetrated by medieval European civilization, are themselves reluctant to accommodate any theory postulating, even if only as a hypothesis, the participation of medieval Jews in criminal acts, within a Jewish environment drenched in magic and superstition(55).

Within this extremist fringe, which I have already mentioned, a fringe of which re-enacted the Jewish festivities in the form of a commemoration of the more or less recent tragedies experienced by themselves or their ancestors, the memory of which had been handed down for generations, it is more than probable that overexcited lunatics and criminals might sometimes make their the appearance, capable of practicing savage homicidal rites. Bernard Lazare, James Frazer, Cecil Roth

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and Elliot Horowitz have all, at various times, hypothesized or maintained the reality of this phenomenon based on heterogenous documentation also linking it to heterodox and extravagant celebrations of the carnaval of Purim (56).

56. Cfr. B. Lazare, L’antisemitisme son histoire et ses causes, Paris, 1894, Chapter XIII; J. Frazer, The Golden Bough, IInd edition, London, 1900, pp. 173-198 (translated as Il ramo d’oro. Studio sulla magia e la religione, Torino, 1991); C. Roth, Feast of Purim and the Origins of Blood Accusations, in “Speculum”, VIII (1933), pp. 520-526; E. Horowitz, Reckless Rites. Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence, Princeton (N.J.), 2006.

In this regard, Michael Pellivert observed that it is not a question of accusing the entire Jewish people, but of admitting a long-known fact, i.e., that there has never been a people without its monsters (57).

57. Cfr. M. Pellivert, And Supposing They Did Drink Blood? In “Ha-Aretz”, 20 February 2007.

Umberto Eco
[non-Jewish medievalist author], who dedicated a short article to the matter, appears to agree: “The problem does not particularly bother me, because, over the course of time, there have always been individuals dedicated to more or less Satanic cults, forming part, not of the history of religions, but of psychiatry; [...] for this reason, it is not improbable that Jewish criminal lunatics have existed” (58).

58. Cfr. U. Eco, Mangiar Bambini, [Eating Children] in “L’Espresso”, 21 February 2007

In Pasque di Sangue, I have not attempted to negate the differences between butchers and victims or exchange the roles, but only to show that the Ashkenazi Jews, having survived the trauma of the massacres and forced baptisms, did not always intend to exist as helpless and pitiable burnt offerings. Their determination to resist and react was channelled into their bitterly anti-Christian liturgy and their ritual, which also included, in my view, the magical, malefic use of blood – but not ritual murder, which was and is an entirely Christian invention. But in this dialogue between persecutors and persecuted, even the Jews had a voice. And it was not always a voice submissive and suffocated by tears.

“If anti-Semitism -- if anti-Semitic stereotypes -- can exist in the historical narrative, in the mental reconstruction of the historians, as a topic with a life all its own and compact in itself; if one can really imagine the construction of a solidly stratified “storage tank” – a more or less self-contained “icebox” of stereotypes, i.e., places of “memory” where one can go fishing, picking up terms of polemic like crystallizations or exhibits, then perhaps we will have abandoned the habit of viewing all accusations made against Jews as merely a problem of communication between Jews and Christians in which Jews may be offered an opportunity to speak; on the contrary, any possible identification of the Jews as objects without a voice, as immobilized victims in their destiny of suffering, will be assumed as a hypothesis from the very outset of the investigation” (59).

I fully concur with these remarks, and cannot therefore agree that I should merely refer to an “icebox” of anti-Semitic stereotypes, suggesting “that which should be at the core

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of any book on the topic of ritual murder; that is, the teoleogical elaboration and Christian narrative, starting with the 2nd-3rd centuries [...] in the myth of the destructive aggressiveness of those who formed no part of the society of the Christians” (60).

In fact, I am firmly convinced that the history of anti-Semitism is not, in fact, the only road which can be taken, alongside the usual travelling companions in whose eyes the Jews have the right idea in existing only as perennially passive victims.

My writing was intended to give to one last, clear consideration. The principles of Judaism do not always coincide with the real behaviour of flesh-and-blood Jews, and practice, which should at any rate be contextualized at all times, often deviates from theory. The plausible pain of the rabbis in view of this distressing observation should not, however, cause us to idealize the reality, as they did, pretending that the reality is only a faithful mirror of the ideology and the norm. Writing Jewish history is not equivalent to composing a sermon to be read in the synagogue with an apparatus of notes, or celebrating the saints and martyrs of our people in all cases and under all circumstances (61).

For this reason, the work of the historian is always difficult, sometimes painful and unrewarding.


1) Cfr. Y.H. Yerushmalmi, Zakhor, Parma, 1983, p. 107.

2. See, in the regard, the very appropriate remarks of S. Luzzatto, La storia divisa, in “Il Corriere della Sera”, 26 February 2007; A. De Vincentiis, Nella natura delle accuse il punto dolente della polemica, in “Il manifesto”, 4 March 2007; R.De Mattei, Ha regione Ariel Toaff. Anche la tortura fa storia, in “Libero”, 4 March 2007; F. Cardini, Una vicenda editorial che deve far riflettere, in “Toscana Oggi”, 25 March 2007.

3. Following in Baer’s romantic wake, were Haim Beinart, who did not hesitate to attribute complete accuracy to the records of the Inquisition, capable of throwing light on the impenetrable network of the marrano communities and their enduring faith in Judaism (cfr. H. Beinart, The Records of the Inquisition. A Source of Jewish and Controverso History, in “Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities, II, 1967, no. 11; Id, La Inquisición y el problema de los conversos hasta 1492, in La vida judía en Sefarad, Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid, 1992, pp. 43-62). In connection with this stereotypical and nostalgic reconstruction of the religious life and aspirations of the conversos, put together by Baer, Beinart and a great proportion of modern Jewish historiography, see the intelligent criticism of Herman p. Salomon in the preface to the IVth edition of the famous A History of the Marranos by Cecil Roth (New York, 1974).    

4. See in particular, the recent edition of the book in English, by H.p. Salomon and I.S.D. Sassoon: A.J., Saraiva, The Marrano Farctory, The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians.
5. On this polemic, see in particular A.B. Lorence, The Inquisition and the New Christians in the Iberian Peninsula. Main Historiographic Issues and Controversies, in The Sephardi and Oriental Jewish Heritage, Jerusalem, 1982, pp. 13-72; D.M. Gitlitz, Secrecy and Deceit. The Religion of Crypto-Jews, Philadelphia (Pa.), 1996. See moreover recently N. Wachtel’s beautiful book, La foi du souvenir, Labyrinthes marranes, Paris, 2001, and C.B. Sutczynski’s excellent introduction to the Hebrew edition of S. Schwarz, The New-Christians in Portugal in the 20th Century, Jerusalem, 2005.

6. In connection with the reactions to my book and the contradictory methodological attitude of Israeli historiography, see the relevant notes recently written in this regard by Yair Barak (Mahalakj ben ha-tippot [A Path Between the Drops], in “Ha-Aretz”, 2 April 2007).

7. Cfr. A. Foa, Riti di sangue e accuse infondate, in “la Repubblica”, 8 February 2007; Ead., I pericoli di un metodo analogico, in “Storicamente”, 18 March 2007.

8. De Vincentiis’s comments in this regard (Nella natura delle accuse il punto dolente della polemica, cit.) appear particularly pertinent to me.

9. Cfr. A. Prosperi, Inquisizioni cristiane ed ebrei,  in Atti dei Convegni Lincei no. 191; Le Inquisizioni cristiane e gli ebrei, Rome, 2003, pp. 7-28; Id. L’Inquisizione romana e gli ebrei, in M. Luzzati, (author) L’Inquisizione gli ebrei in Italia, Bari, 1994, pp. 67-120.

10. See in this connection F. Cardini, Pasque di sangue. Il coraggio dell storia, cit.; Id. Storici, il paradigma censurato, in “L’Avenire”, 28 February 2007; Id., Una vicenda editorial che deve far riflettere, cit.

11. Cfr. A. Cavaglion, Iniziato male, finito peggio. Sul caso Toaff, in “Lo Straniero”, 6 Marzo 2007.

12. Cfr. C. Ginzburg, Pasque di snague e sabba, miti ma non riti, in “Il Corriere della Sera”, 23 February 2007.

13. Massimo Introvigne, (Il caso Toaff. Torna l’accusa di sangue contro gli ebrei, in “Il Giornale”, 12 February 2007), a zealous lawyer, has shown that he believes this, noting, in his malevolent book review, with ill-concealed contempt, that ”when you look carefully, Toaff’s  argument is just the ‘Murray heresy’ all over again, applied to the blood accusation; “one would also have to admit that the witches travelled to meet the Devil on broomsticks”.

14. Rokeach, Ms. Hebr. Bodleiana, Oxford, no. 1103. Cfr also J. Mulin Segal (Maharil), Sefer ha-minhaghim. The Book of the Customs, by Sh. Spitzer, Jerusalem, 1989, pp. 144-145; I. Ta-Shma in Efraim Talmage Memorial Volume, by D. Walfish, Haifa, 1993, pp. 85-98.

Cfr. I. Yuval, “Two Nations in Your Womb”. Perceptions of Jews and Christians, Tel Aviv, 2000, pp. 144-145. A loyal friend, although a critic, Gadi Luzzato Voghera (Un libro scomodo, in ”Laboratorio Alfa”, 24 February 2007) reproached me for the statement that, in the collective mentality of these Ashkenazi Jews, “the Passover Seder had a long since transformed itself into a celebration in which the wish for the forthcoming redemption of the people of Israel moved from aspiration to revenge, and then to cursing their Christian persecutors”, judging it “apodictic and incautious”. I believe that, in the light of Yuval’s well-accepted study on the subject, it is possible to answer such a criticism in a persuasive and documented manner.

16. Cfr. R. Di Segni, Due nuove fonti sulle “Toledot Jeshu”, in “La Rassegna” Mensile di Isfraele”, LV (1989), pp. 131-132.

17. I cannot therefore agree with Kenneth Stow’s misleading comment (A Book Full of Sound and Fury, in “Storicamente”, 18 March 2007), that the Toledot Yeshu “is an old text, the motifs, hardly flattering, were possibly in place over a millennium before Trent, nor was the book of a necessarily Ashkenazi origin”. In effect, it seems well-established that the motif of the Virgin, impregnated during her menstrual period, made its first appearance in the German manuscripts of the Toledot Yeshu of the late 15th century and early 16th century.

18. Cfr. Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia, The Truth About Trent, in “Ha-Aretz”, 16 February 2007; “During a November 2 interrogation, Israel, hanging on the rack, denounced the Christian faith […] Here, at last, is the kernel of truth in Professor Toaff’s convoluted argument: torture creates hatred!”.

19. Cfr. A. Shear, Miscellany, in “Tea, Lemon, Old Books”, 5 March 2007.

20. See supra, p. 249 [234]. Here, and in the following, the references to the text are also accompanied by an indication between parentheses of the corresponding pages of Pasque di sangue.

21. The criticisms directed against me on this point by Nicola Cusumano (Ebrei e accuse di omicidio rituale: in marginea un libro di Ariel Toaff, in Mediterranea. Richerche Storiche”, IV, April 2007, pp. 141-152), therefore appear unjustified to me, as if using the (exact) transcriptions of the trial documents were equivalent to sharing and welcoming to any extent the anti-Semitic prejudices of the Trent friar.

22. Cfr. D. Quaglioni and A. Esposito, Processi contro gli ebrei di Trento (1475-1478). I: I processi del 1475, Padua, 1990, p. 5.

23. Cfr. E. Parente, Il confronto ideologico tra l’ebraismo e la Chiesa in Italia, in “Italia Judaica”, I (1983), pp. 345-357.

24. Cfr. K. Stow, A Book Full of Sound and Fury, cit.: D. Abulafia, Blood Libels are Back, in “The Times Literary Supplement, 28 February 2007; A. Prosperi, E l’ebreo torturato confessa, in “la Repubblica”, 10 February 2007.

25. Cfr. R. Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475. A Ritual Murder Trial, New Haven (Conn.), 1999, pp. 92-93.

26. Cfr. M. Rubin, Gentile Tales. The Narrative Assault on the Late Medieval Jews, New Haven (Conn.), 1999, p. 190-195.

27. Cfr. Foa, Riti di sangue e accuse infondate, cit.; Ead., I pericoli di un metodo analogico, cit.

28. Cfr. supra, pp. 77-78 [75-76]

29. Based on the phenomenon, not of the suicides, but of the killings of the children and disciples “for the sanctification of the name of God”, that is, to prevent their forced baptism, and this in obvious conflict with the norm of the Torah which prevents killing, H. Soloveitchik (Pawnbroking. A Study in the Inter-Relationship between Halakhah, Economic Activity and Commercial Self-Image, Jerusalem, 1985, p. 111), took note of the fact that, “for the Ashkanazi rabbis, it was impossible to conceive of the fact that thousands of Jews, devote, God-fearing and prompt to sanctify His name, should, in fact, violate the norms of His law, day after day”. See also supra, pp. 108-109 [105-106].

30. See, among others, G. Busi, Brutte sorprese a Pasqua, in “Il Sole 24 Ore”, 11 February 2007; R. Weinstein, A Blood-Stained Version of History, in “Ha-Aretz”, 8 March 2007; Id., Un’occasione perduta, in “Storicamente”, 18 March 2007.

31. Cfr. Prosperi, E l’ebreo torturato confessa, cit.

32. Cfr. supra, pp. 61-62 [59-60].

33. Cfr. supra, Chapter V. See, in particular, no. 16, p. 258.

34. See the argument in Chapter VI (“Magical and Therapeutic Blood”).

35. D. Sperber (Minhage’ Israel, pp. 59-65), inspired by H. Pollack’s prior studies (Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands, 1648-1806, Cambridge, 1971) and those of H.J. Zimmels (Magicians, Theologians and Doctors, London, 1952), presents a picture very similar to my own of the popular Jewish world of Germany and quotes a vast selection of texts on the widespread use of animal blood and mummified human beings with therapeutic intent.

36. As correctly observed by David Abulafia and Gadi Luzzato Voghera, one cannot exclude the possibility that miraculous unguents and syrups with portentous therapeutic and magical effects, with esoteric and fantastic names (Dragon’s Blood, Tiger’s Balm), sometimes constituted catchwords for purposes of effect, mere evil-smelling homemade counterfeits.

37. I believe I answered this point in relation to Ruggero Taradel’s objections (L’Accusa di sangue tra storia e leggenda, in “Morashah”, 15 February 2007), a scholar whom I respect but whose works relate to the period subsequent to that with which I concerned myself in the book.

38. On the dispensation for the consumption of “cooked blood”, the structure of which has been radically modified, in addition to the sources already cited by myself in Pasque di sangue, see Y. Engel, Commentary on Talmud, Menachot, 21a; I, Meir, Responsa, Yoreh De’ah, paragraph 11, Tel Aviv, 1961, pp. 27-32. I wish to think rabbi Menachem Sreter of Jerusalem for kindly indicating the texts in question to me (written communication of 7 April 2007).

39. Cfr. Sperber, Minhaghe’ Israel, p. 61.

40. Cfr. supra, p. 105 [104].

41. R. S. Izchaki (Rashì) commentary on the Talmud, Ketubot, paragraph 1; Tossafot to Talmud, Keritot 21b.

42. Cfr. supra, p. 107 [104].

43. Cfr. E. Hildesheimer, Consumo di cibi proibiti, senza che sussista pericolo di vita, Ramat Gan, 2006. The essay was written in the context of a Graduate Seminary on the topic of ritual murders, held at the Department of Jewish History of the University Bar Ilan.

44. Cfr. supra, pp. 169-175 [166-171]; Yuval, “Two Nations in Your Womb”, pp. 116-117.

45. Cfr. N. Coronel, Chamishah kuntresim, “Cique fascicoli”, Vienna, 1864, c. 27a.

46. Cfr. Yuval, “Two Nations in Your Womb”, p. 145.

47. Cfr. L.A. Hoffman, Covenant of Blood. Circumscision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism, Chicago (Ill.), 1996, pp. 96-135; cfr. supra, pp. 150-151, 186-188 [146-147].

48. Cfr. Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder, cit., pp. 92-94.

49. “Ken ikkaretù  kol oyevenu”; “talui Yeshu ha-min”; “le-cherpah we-liklimah la-talui Yeshu, kach yihye’ le’chol soneenu”; “atta nizlavtà we-nidkartà ke-Yeshu ha-talui le-boshet we-liklimah ke-Yeshu”. Cfr. Supra, pp. 203-204 [195-196].

50. Cfr. Busi, Brutte sorprese a Pasqua, cit.

51. Cfr. supra, pp. 85-86, 236[ 83-84]. These letters will soon be published in a transcription by Boris Kotlerman, of the Department of Yiddish Studies of the University Bar Ilan.

52.  Cfr. M.G. Muzzarelli, La cultura dei perseguitati. A proposito di “Pasque di sangue”, in “La Nazione”, 12 February 2007. 

53. Cfr. A. Esposito and D. Quaglioni, “Pasque di sangue”. Le due face del pregiudizio, in “Il Corriere della Sera”, 11 February 2007.

54.I wish to thank Philippe Ben Natan for kindly supplying me with his text and for permitting me to use it freely. The essay was discussed and approved at the time by Professors Israel Yuval of the University of Jerusalem, Avi Gross of the University Ben Gurion di Be’er Sheva and Simon Schwarzfuchs of the University  Bar Ilan.

55. Cfr. M. Barilan, Sugli omicidi rituali, oggi e allora, in “Ynet”, 16 February 2007. The same author recently advanced an interesting hypothesis on the origins of the blood accusation, this, too, based on Jewish behaviour, in this case, the dissemination in medieval society of embryotomy, an operation considered morally disputable (cfr. M. Barilan, Abortion in Jewish Religious Law: Neighbourly Love, Imago Dei and a Hypothesis on the Medieval Blood Libel, in “Review of Rabbinic Judaism”, 8.1, Leiden, 2005).  

56. Cfr. B. Lazare, L’antisemitisme son histoire et ses causes, Paris, 1894, Chapter XIII; J. Frazer, The Golden Bough, IInd edition, London, 1900, pp. 173-198 (translated as Il ramo d’oro. Studio sulla magia e la religione, Torino, 1991); C. Roth, Feast of Purim and the Origins of Blood Accusations, in “Speculum”, VIII (1933), pp. 520-526; E. Horowitz, Reckless Rites. Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence, Princeton (N.J.), 2006.

57. Cfr. M. Pellivert, And Supposing They Did Drink Blood? In “Ha-Aretz”, 20 February 2007.

58. Cfr. U. Eco, Mangiar Bambini, in “L’Espresso”, 21 February 2007.

59. Cfr. Todeschini, Sterotipi antisemiti: il serbatoio e il ghiacciao, in “Zakhor”, II (1998), pp. 157-166.

60. Cfr. Id, Molta retorica, nessuna prova, in “la Repubblica”, 9 February 2007.

61. Robert Bonfil, zelous disciple of Haim Beinart, moves along this line of thought, with the addition of several additional points of vengeful aggressiveness: “Toaff’s thesis [...] is an offence to the memory of the victims of torture, supplies ammunition to anti-Semites of all kinds, including the negationists of the Shoah, and nullifies the seriousness of historical research and the legitimacy of our work by means of an arbitrary obfuscation of the confines of true and false, between the licit and the illicit” (cfr. R. Bonfil, Un’antica impostura riesumata, in “Il Corriere della Sera”, 13 February 2007; Id., Questo testo, una tragedia, in “la Repubblica”, 15 February 2007; Id., in The Jewish Chronicle, 16 February 2007; Id., Di che si preoccupano laggiù, all’Universita Bar Ilan: Decideranno i responsabili di licenziare Toaff da tutti i suoi incarichi? in “Ha-Aretz”, 6 March 2007).