The Chosen People v. Abraham

November 17th, 2014

One of the most famous stories in the Bible is Abraham’s almost sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Although the intervention of a celestial power stopped the bloodshed, there was still an inchoate act. This leads us to the legal question–was Abraham guilty of attempted murder and endangering the welfare of the child.

The (fictional) trial of The Chosen People v. Abraham was held at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. Arguing for the defense was Alan Dershowitz; Eliot Spitzer for the prosecution. Presiding was S.D.N.Y. Judge Allison J. Nathan who admitted to “having serious doubts as to my jurisdiction here,” but held court in any event.

The Times recounts some of the leading arguments by Dershowitz and Spitzer:

“Better 10 guilty go free than one innocent go to prison,” Mr. Dershowitz intoned from one of the temple’s pulpits, as a robed federal district judge, Alison J. Nathan, listened from behind a judge’s bench flanked by the American and New York State flags. (She admitted to “having serious doubts as to my jurisdiction here,” but proceeded anyway.)

“And who do you think came up with that concept?” Mr. Dershowitz continued, urging the ladies and gentlemen of the jury to hold fast to the principle of reasonable doubt. “Abraham!”

Rejoinder from Mr. Spitzer, who quoted from “a treatise written by a former professor of mine, whom I greatly admire: ‘A contemporary Abraham would be convicted of attempted murder.’ The name of the author on the book’s cover is, not surprisingly, Alan Dershowitz.”

If Mr. Dershowitz’s approach mixed Talmudic theory with classic defense-lawyer stratagems, Mr. Spitzer’s was strictly modern.

The “voice of God” defense, he reminded the jury, was hardly enough to obscure the fact that Abraham plotted Isaac’s demise without so much as a question or a protest. He even forced Isaac to haul the wood upon which he would be sacrificed.

“ ‘Voices told me to do it! God spoke to me!’ ” Mr. Spitzer mimicked. A sarcastic pause. “Really?” (Big laugh from the jurors.)

Besides, Mr. Spitzer reminded the jury, Abraham had already endangered a child: He had thrown his firstborn son, Ishmael (his son with Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden), out of the house to wander the desert after Isaac was born.

Finally, Mr. Dershowitz turned to theology: Abraham and God were merely playing “a game of theological chicken. He never would have plunged that knife.” And furthermore, he argued, quoting Immanuel Kant and Bob Dylan in the same breath, Abraham himself stopped the crime from happening, choosing to drop the knife.

And the verdict? Abraham walked on both counts–though the vote was closer than I expected.

Still, a majority of the jurors bought Mr. Dershowitz’s revised argument. On count one, endangering the welfare of a child, the verdict was 748 votes for not guilty, 529 guilty. On count two, attempted murder: 687 votes for not guilty, 590 guilty.

Perhaps the funniest account–in a not too subtle jab at the tony Reform synogague–Dershowtiz suggested an Orthodox jury would be more sympathetic to Abraham.

Undaunted, Mr. Dershowitz moved for a change of venue, to an Orthodox synagogue. “If this were Park East Synagogue down the block,” he said, motioning to Mr. Spitzer, “they wouldn’t just acquit. They’d kick him out!”

Dersh is already looking ahead his next trial: The Chosen People v. God.

Back onstage, Mr. Dershowitz had already set his sights elsewhere. “I think it would be very good to put God on trial,” he said. “I would take the case, on a contingency fee basis.”

He grinned. “Guaranteed admission to heaven!”