Abraham, the religious patriarch, has been indicted on a charge of attempted murder and is scheduled to go to trial on the second day of Rosh Hashana.
As the founding father of the Jewish nation of Israel, Abraham is known as a man of great faith and obedience to the will of God. But because of his willingness to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God, he has been charged with attempted murder, child endangering and conspiracy.
His trial will begin after the 8:30 a.m. service Friday, the second day of the Jewish High Holidays, at Beth El Congregation, 750 White Pond Drive in Akron.
The mock trial, which is expected to begin at 11:30 a.m., is a dramatic presentation with seven cast members, including retired Summit County Judge Marvin Shapiro.
“We’ve all heard about Abraham being told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. But we are asking everybody to forget what they’ve learned in Sunday school and Hebrew school and take a new look through the eyes of the attorneys and witnesses,” Shapiro said. “Luckily, as a judge, it’s not my job to make a decision on the facts. That will be up to the jury.”
The jury — members of the audience — will take a vote to determine whether Abraham is guilty of the charges in the multi-count indictment against him.
The story, found in Chapters 21 and 22 of Genesis, is read each year in synagogues during Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sunset Wednesday. According to the biblical account, God tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to take his son to the land of Mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. After a three-day journey, Abraham built an altar, tied up his son and placed him on the wood. As he was about to kill Isaac, an angel stopped the ritual. A ram caught in a nearby bush was sacrificed instead.
Attorney Martin “Marty” Belsky, a professor at the University of Akron Law School, will play the role of prosecutor in The Trial of Abraham. He said his own review of the Bible passages has raised some interesting questions.
“As a former prosecutor and former law school dean, I truly believe in the rule of law. As a faith-based citizen, I also believe in the importance of scripture and moral values involved in the Bible,” Belsky said, adding that the scripture has caused him to ponder, “How far do we go in responding to our faith beliefs? Is killing our own son ever justifiable — even at the command of a supreme being?”
Attorney Kirk Migdal, who is acting as Abraham’s defense counsel, agrees the biblical passages raise difficult ethical and moral questions. Migdal is a criminal defense attorney.
“When you revisit the story in a more critical way, you begin to ask, “Is it literal? Is it symbolic? Did Abraham intend to kill Isaac or did he believe God would intervene?’ ” Migdal said. “We are looking at an ancient story through the prism of a trial in search of the truth.”
Although The Trial of Abraham will pose some serious questions, Rabbi Stephen Grundfast said there will be moments of levity. His hope is that the play will help people gain a deeper understanding of the story and of how difficult it is to sometimes find answers to life’s questions.
“Sometimes there are no concrete answers. This will be a chance for people to discuss this example of faith and trust in God,” Grundfast said. “This is something that people of faith have struggled with for a long time, and I’m not sure we have gotten any closer to clear answers in the 3,700 years that have passed since Abraham faced God’s test.”
Grundfast said it is unique for a synagogue to present the story of Abraham during Rosh Hashana via a dramatic presentation. He is hopeful that presenting The Trial of Abraham will increase attendance on the second day of the high holidays.
Like synagogues across the country, Beth El tends to fill to capacity (and even overflow) on the two days of Rosh Hashana and again on Yom Kippur. Beth El’s attendance typically drops from 500 or more on the first day to about 300.
Because of the surge in attendance on those days, synagogues typically require tickets to the services. Although tickets will be required for the first day’s services at Beth El, they are not needed for the second day.
“We want as many people as possible to be able to experience The Trial of Abraham,” Grundfast said. “We really believe it will be an enriching experience.”
More information about Beth El Congregation can be found at www.bethelakron.com or by calling 330-864-2105.