AJC Mourns Rabbi Elio Toaff

AJC mourns the passing of Rabbi Elio toaff, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome. “He was a religious leader of great moral stature, a pioneer of interreligious dialogue, deeply rooted in traditional orthodoxy, with an enlightened, universal vision of the world,” said Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s Director of International Interreligious Affairs. He departed just ten days before his 100thbirthday.
Rabbi Toaff served as Rome’s Chief Rabbi for half a century, from 1951 up to his resignation in 2001. He will long be remembered for his manifold contributions to Italy and to Italian Jewry. During World War II he joined the partisans, courageously risking his life by fighting the Italian Fascists and the German Nazi invaders. Then, as leader of the Roman Jewish Community he bequeathed a new dignity, religiosity, and unity to the war-torn Jewish survivors.

“Nearly 30 years later, in 1982”, said Lisa Billig, AJC’s Representative in Italy and Liaison to the Holy See, “Rabbi Toaff set an eloquent example of non-violence by heading a silent march through Rome in response to an attack by Palestinian terrorists on Rome’s Great Synagogue. They killed a 2 year old child, Stefano Gaj Tachè, and left 37 Shabbat and Shemani Azzereth worshippers seriously wounded. The attack came after months of hateful incitement against Israel by Italian media, unions and political forces. Rabbi Toaff thus made an exemplary choice: a resoundingly silent demonstration instead of empty words by government officials.”

The Chief Rabbi’s warm welcome of John Paul II on his historic visit to Rome’s Main Synagogue in 1986, the first ever papal visit to a Jewish house of worship after centuries of persecution and humiliation, and the ensuing lifelong friendship between the Pope and the Rabbi (mentioned in Karol Wojtyla’s Testament), marked a new beginning in Catholic-Jewish relations.

Elio Toaff, descendant of a distinguished rabbinical family, was both a pious Jew and a man capable of introducing his community to fruitful dialogue with the surrounding world. His name will live on in his deeds that blessed the rebirth of the Roman Jewish Community and set an example for all future generations.