The peace of the Passover and Easter holidays, which coincided this year, was disturbed by an impassioned dispute between Rome’s chief rabbi, Elio Toaff, and the president of the Italian Bishops Conference, Cardinal Camillo Ruini.
It was conducted mainly on the front page of the Rome daily II Messaggero, which published an Easter article by Ruini saying that the God Christians believe Jesus personified “was too different from the concept of God on which the leaders of the Jewish people were fixed.” From this, he said, stemmed the Jews’ decision to “suppress Jesus.”
Toaff’s reply, duly published on II Messaggero’s front page on April 23, accused the cardinal of reviving the anti-Semitic canard that the Jews killed Jesus, “a falsification of history, of which Cardinal Ruini should be well aware, and the dissemination of which was first put an end to by Pope John XXIII.”
It was also solemnly repudiated by the present pope, John Paul II, the chief rabbi pointed out.
A day later, II Messaggero carried Ruini’s response. “I had no intention of polemics with the Jewish people, less still of intolerance,” he wrote.
The exchange prompted commentaries in other newspapers. “The clash probably would not have occurred if the cardinal had been wiser in his choice of words and the chief rabbi had been less hasty,” wrote Domenico Del Rio, a widely respected commentator on Vatican affairs, in another Rome daily, La Repubblica.