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Elio Toaff was chief rabbi of Rome for 51 years

ROME (JTA) – Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of Rome for 51 years, has died, two weeks before his 100th birthday.

Toaff, who died on Sunday, April 26, served as chief rabbi from 1951 to 2002 and is considered an important figure in the history of Italy and European Jewry. He welcomed Pope John Paul II on his historic April 1986 visit to the Great Synagogue, the first known visit by a pope to a synagogue in some 2,000 years.

During World War II, already a rabbi, Toaff fought Nazi fascism with the Italian partisans and witnessed the crimes committed by the Nazis in the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said of Toaff’s death, “We have lost a giant.”

Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said Toaff “was a leader and a point of reference. We will never forget him.”

Toaff was buried in the Jewish cemetery in his hometown of Leghorn.

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