Tag Archives: Knight

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Elio Toaff

“The Pope of the Jews”

Rabbi Toaff with Pope John Paul II

Rabbi Toaff with Pope John Paul II

Elio Toaff (1915-2015) was born in Livorno, Italy, the son of Livorno’s chief rabbi. Despite the fact that his father did not want his son to follow in his footsteps, Toaff nonetheless pursued religious studies (as well as law and theology at the University of Pisa) and was ordained a rabbi by age 24. At 26, he was appointed rabbi of Ancona. Not long after, Germany occupied northern Italy, and Toaff became a resistance fighter. Captured by the Nazis and sentenced to death, he managed to escape while digging his own grave. Following the war, Toaff became the rabbi of Venice, and a professor at its university. In 1951, he became the Chief Rabbi of Rome (and, in effect, the Chief Rabbi of Italy) a post he held for 51 years until retiring in 2002. He had the monumental task of restoring Italy’s Jewish communities after the massive destruction they experienced during the war. Rabbi Toaff focused his efforts on rebuilding Jewish infrastructure, reigniting Jewish education, and bridging the gaps between Jews and non-Jews. In 1986, he invited Pope John Paul II to Rome’s Great Synagogue for a joint prayer. The Pope accepted, marking the first time in history a pope visited and prayed at a synagogue. The two had a very close relationship. Incredibly, Rabbi Toaff was one of just two people that the Pope mentioned in his last will and testament (the other being the Pope’s personal secretary), writing “How can I fail to remember the rabbi of Rome?” Rabbi Toaff cleared the way for the Pope to visit Israel in 2000, and to establish formal diplomatic relations between the Jewish State and the Vatican. Rabbi Toaff was beloved by Jews and Catholics alike, and was a central voice of morality in Italy, as well as the primary authority in Jewish law. Toaff was knighted by the Italian Republic, and given the title of ‘Senator for Life’. He was commonly nicknamed “the Pope of the Jews”. Sadly, Toaff passed away on Sunday. He would have turned 100 years old next week.

Words of the Week

A rabbi doesn’t work only for his community or for the Jews. A rabbi has to talk to every human being who needs him. He belongs to everybody. He is for everybody.
– Rabbi Elio Toaff

Jew of the Week: Elie Wiesel

Messenger to Mankind

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel

Eliezer Wiesel (b. 1928) was born in Romania in a home that regularly spoke Hungarian, German, Romanian, and Yiddish. During the Holocaust he suffered in multiple labour and concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and lost both parents and a younger sister. After the war, he resettled in Paris, studied at the Sarbonne, and worked as a journalist. In 1949, Wiesel became the Paris correspondent (later the international correspondent) for Yediot Ahronot. Though originally not wanting to write at all about the horrors of the Holocaust, he was convinced by a friend and published Night in 1958 – a shortened French version of his 900-page memoir in Yiddish. Though it took a while to hit the mainstream, the book now sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year and has been translated into 30 languages. Wiesel has subsequently authored many more publications, and has become an internationally-renowned speaker. In 1986, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts against racism, violence, and genocide, and was called a “messenger to mankind”. He has also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and was knighted, among many other awards. He has even been nominated as President of Israel, but did not wish to take up the post. Wiesel has taught at Boston and Columbia Universities, the City University of New York, and served as a visiting scholar at Yale. He has spent a great deal of his life as a political activist for international causes. He stood strongly against apartheid South Africa and raised support for intervention during the Bosnian genocide, and more recently in Darfur. He has assisted the plight of Kurds, Native Americans, Argentinian Desaparecidos, as well as Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry. Wiesel remains a vocal supporter of Israel, and Jerusalem as its undivided capital. For the past 58 years, he has lived in the US and to this day has authored 57 books.

UPDATE: Sadly, Elie Wiesel passed away on July 2, 2016.

Words of the Week

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture – and not a single time in the Koran.
– Elie Wiesel