Leading Italian rabbi Elio Toaff dies aged 99


Rome’s Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff – who fought the Nazis and strengthened relations between the Italian Jewish community and Catholic Church after centuries of mistrust – died on Sunday.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi described Rabbi Toaff, who died 11 days before his 100th birthday, as “a great Italian and symbol of the Jewish community”. Pope Francis said he was a “man of peace”.

Rabbi Toaff was widely-acknowledged for his interfaith work.

In 1986, he helped mark the first papal visit to a shul after inviting Pope John Paul II to pray with him at Rome’s Great Synagogue.

In his last will and testament, Pope John Paul, who died in 2005, wrote: “How can I fail to remember the rabbi of Rome?”

As a young rabbi, Rabbi Toaff joined the Italian resistance movement and helped hide Jews after the Nazis occupied Italy in 1943. He was once captured by the Nazis and forced to dig his own grave, before he managed to escape.

After the war he helped rebuild the Jewish community in Rome.

Rabbi Toaff was the son of Alfredo Toaff, the late chief rabbi of the Tuscan town of Livorno. He studied law before following his father into the rabbinate.

Aged 26, he was made leader of the Jewish community in Ancona. He also served as chief rabbi of Venice.

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