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November 21, 2013

Biblical Abraham put on trial

By Joshua Hoover


Koh HaLev, the reconstructionist Jewish community in Cleveland brought the religious figure Abraham to trial in front of nearly 200 people on Nov. 16 in the Cleveland Marshall College of Law Moot Court Room.

The mock trial charged Abraham with child endangerment. This charge was brought forth after Abraham sent his son Ishmael and his mother Hagar into the wilderness with little food and water. The second charge brought against Abraham was attempted murder.

This charge stemmed from Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac. He only stopped the sacrifice after an angel told him to stop.

Geoffrey Mearns, prosecuting attorney from Northern Kentucky University, returned to Cleveland State, where he served as provost and dean of the Law School. Mearns began by giving a brief history of Abraham in order to provide context for his crimes.

Mearns brought up the fact that Abraham didn’t question God about his orders, although he had shown in the past that Abraham was willing to question God if he didn’t agree with something. Mearns warned that the defending attorney, Avery Friedman, may make some good points, but urged the audience to remember the law.

“Justice, true justice, depends on truth and law, not rhetoric,” Mearns said.

The defense began his argument by reminding the court that the whole trial was a sham, as his client has been dead for well over 3700 years. Friedman argued that, while Abraham’s actions may appear questionable on the surface, he was confident that God would provide the answers to the problem. Friedman pointed out that it was Sarah, Abraham’s wife that wanted Hagar and Ishmael banished, and that Abraham didn’t want to do so. He also said that Abraham knew that God wouldn’t allow him to harm Isaac, because God had already told him that Isaac would go on to father great nations.

After both arguments were heard, the audience, serving as the jury, cast a separate ballot on whether Abraham was guilty of the charges brought against him. While the ballots were being counted, a panel discussion on the religious and moral implications of the trial in contemporary times was held.

Sitting on the panel were Imam Ramez Islambouli, Reverend Leah C. K. Lewis, and Rabbi Steve Segar. The panel began by explaining what each member’s religion thought of the trial.

Segar said that “The passage showed Abraham’s heroic submission to God’s will, even though it conflicted with what he thought was right.” He went on to explain that the passage showed the conflict of piety versus morality, where people have to decide whether what they believe conflicts with what they feel is right. Segar called this the driving force of religious evolution.

Lewis explained that the passage was a deeply troubling one for Christians, because the very act of sacrificing your child is usually born of insanity. She questioned the passage, saying that “Surely a believer can show love, devotion, and faith in other ways.”

Islambouli said that in Islam it’s not as important if the event actually occurred. Instead, what matters to them is the moral implications of the story. He said that this story shows the sacrifices that a great leader might be called to make, and explained that this was God’s way of testing Abraham to see if he was the leader that he was needed to be.

This passage is often described as an example of taking a leap of faith, as Abraham was forced to abandon what he believed was right in order to follow God’s will. Although Abraham didn’t know exactly how things would work out in the end, he was willing to abandon everything and put his family’s welfare into the hands of God, knowing that God would provide everything they needed.

Another question that the panel answered dealt with how someone is supposed to know when God is speaking to them and how to tell the difference between that and someone simply going crazy. Segar explained that in the Jewish tradition, it’s best to speak with another person about it, and ask for their help in the decision. Islambouli agreed with Segar, as he said that asking an expert is a good course of action. He also said that putting the voice to a test is another way of deciding if it is God or not. Lewis disagreed with the other two experts, as she said that it’s simply a matter of the action being constructive or destructive. If it is constructive, then it is probably from God, and if it is destructive then you have probably gone insane.

The final question that the panel answered dealt with the role of women in the story. Lewis said that the women brought in another element of tension, conflict, and hatred to the story. This conflict showed the struggle between race and class during the time of Abraham. The other two leaders mostly agreed with her sentiment, though Segar added that Hagar and Abraham ended up married after Sarah died.

After the panel discussion, the results of the votes were revealed. The jury decided that Abraham was guilty of child endangerment, but found him not guilty of attempted murder.