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Cain v. Abel

A Jewish Courtroom Drama

Rabbi Dan Ornstein


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Enter the packed courtroom and take your seat as a juror on the Cain v. Abel trial. Soon, the prosecution and defense attorneys (angels from Jewish legend) will call Cain, Abel, Sin, Adam, Eve, and God to the witness stand to present their perspectives on the world’s first murder. Great Jewish commentators throughout the ages will also offer contradictory testimony on Cain’s emotional, societal, and spiritual influences. As jurors, when we mete out Cain’s punishment, must we factor in his family history, psychological makeup, and the human impulse to sin?

In this highly eclectic and gripping compilation of insights by Jewish commentators on the Cain and Abel story, courtroom scenes are juxtaposed with the author’s commentary, advancing novel insights and introspection. As each of us grapples with Cain’s actions, we confront our own darkest traits. If Cain is a symbol for all humanity, what can we do to avoid becoming like him? Furthering this conversation, Rabbi Dan Ornstein includes a discussion and activity guide to promote open dialogue about human brokenness and healing, personal impulses, and societal responsibility.

Praise For Cain v. Abel: A Jewish Courtroom Drama

"Rabbi Dan Ornstein searches within the barebones biblical text for something that could bring us closer to understanding Cain’s motives and character, and the result is this book, a strikingly conceived courtroom drama. . . . Rich, compelling. . . . A literary tour de force."—Merrill Leffler, Jewish Book Council

— Merrill Leffler

"The alternating courtroom transcripts and commentary by Rabbi Ornstein is an engaging way to learn about the story and its paradoxes that have been vigorously debated for millennia."—Ira S. Slavit, Nassau Lawyer

— Ira S. Slavit

“What a compelling piece of legitimate courtroom theater! I know the biblical story inside out. If challenged, I could possibly recite it by heart. And yet, as I read Cain v. Abel, it felt almost as though I hadn’t ever encountered it before—that’s how clever and interesting this way of reading the text struck me.”—Rabbi Martin S. Cohen, Shelter Rock Jewish Center, Roslyn, New York

— Rabbi Martin S. Cohen

“How do you make an ancient story come to life? By making the human drama live. Bringing us the testimony and perspective of every participant, Rabbi Dan Ornstein offers us a riveting read and a chance to expand our own humanity at the same time.”—Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University

— Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

Cain v. Abel masterfully leads us to contemplate the essential question by which we live: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”—Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies, Jewish Theological Seminary

— Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky

“An engaging, provocative study of the first murder in the Torah, Cain v. Abel will have readers, like its characters, debating the human condition and how to assess human agency and responsibility.”—Marilyn Francus, professor of English, West Virginia University

— Marilyn Francus

The Jewish Publication Society, 9780827614673, 232pp.

Publication Date: April 1, 2020

About the Author

Rabbi Dan Ornstein leads Congregation Ohav Shalom in Albany, New York. He blogs at the Times of Israel and Jewish Values Online, contributes essays at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, and wrote for the Mesorah Matrix book series on Judaism. .