On April 26, Congregation Har El put the patriarch Abraham on trial for attempted murder, assault and unlawful confinement. (photo from Har El)
Har El Synagogue on the North Shore was turned into a court of law on Sunday, April 26, when the community staged a mock trial of Abraham. More than 80 members of the community formed the jury, determining three charges laid against the patriarch: attempted murder, assault and unlawful confinement, all as defined under the Canadian Criminal Code. The charges related to the binding of Abraham’s son, Isaac, as recounted in the Book of Genesis.
Justice delayed is justice denied, it is said, but, even so, an elapse of some 4,000 years between the commissioning of the alleged offences and a trial is unprecedented.
Madam Justice Mary Ellen Boyd (retired B.C. Supreme Court judge) presided. Prosecuting and defence attorneys were Alastair Wade and Warren Millman, respectively, taking on the case pro bono in an interlude from their busy professional lives as Vancouver lawyers. Rabbi Shmuel Birnham provided the biblical background materials, recounting the text of Genesis 22, which formed the Agreed Statement of Facts for the legal proceedings. Birnham also assisted the jury in their deliberations, referencing a number of midrashic commentaries on the events under dispute. Psychiatrist Dr. Fred Shane proved a star turn as expert witness, opining as to the state of mind of Abraham at the time of the incident. Despite the pressures of having to support two wives and an admission of having heard the voice of God, Shane was confident of Abraham’s soundness of mind and that he was fit to stand trial.
The judge gave instructions to the jury, who then asked questions and advocated for and against the defendant.
It was agreed that the entire audience would comprise the jury, whose decision would be by majority vote. After more than two hours of hearing the evidence, arguments and jury deliberations, the jury foreman, Morley Lertzman, returned the verdict as follows: not guilty of attempted murder and assault, but guilty of unlawful confinement. The judge reserved judgment as to the sentence to be imposed.
The morning proved to be an enlightening and entertaining mix of Torah study combined with a refresher on the Canadian criminal justice system.
This event was part of a monthly Sunday morning series called LoxTalks, now in its third year. Programs are varied and, in the past, included presentations like Growing Up Jewish, where congregants shared personal tales of life in Germany, Romania, Hungary, Ireland, Israel and Morocco. This program was followed by Jewish by Choice, at which congregants discussed their experiences with conversion and their lives as Jews. A discussion period with questions from the audience is an essential part of each program.
The final program before the summer break is on May 31 and will feature a talk by Daniel Friedmann, an astrophysicist and author who will discuss a reconciliation of Genesis and current scientific observations. All are welcome from the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, however, please do call the synagogue office ahead of time at 604-925-6488 so the caterers know how many bagels to prepare.
In a separate program, the synagogue will host Dianne Watts, former mayor of Surrey, to share her firsthand knowledge of Israel and its importance in today’s word of business and technology, on June 7, at noon. Tickets to this talk are $18 and an RSVP is required to [email protected] or 604-925-6488, ext. 4.