What drove Cain to murder his brother Abel? Jealousy, retribution, greed, self-aggrandizement? Cain’s cold act of fratricide has reverberated for more than two millennia, and while his guilt is not in doubt, 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.
Following rigorous trial procedures, Rabbi Ornstein calls Cain Adamson to trial as a means of exploring all that is absent from Gen. 4:1 – 16. His prosecutor is Truth, who we learn (in the midrashic notes) was an angel opposed to the creation of human beings because they will be “all falsehood.” Cain’s defense attorney is Lovingkindness, another angel, who supported the creation of human beings because of their believed essential goodness. Following the deposition of God, the four-day trial commences, and it includes an array of witnesses: numerous rabbis, among them Rashi, whose testimonies Rabbi Ornstein draws directly from Talmudic interpretations and rabbinic commentaries. Truth and Lovingkindness call on the primary witnesses, including the taciturn Cain — who refuses to testify, Eve, Adam, the Blood of Adam, and Sin itself. After each witness, Rabbi Ornstein provides his own commentaries. Cain v. Abel is truly a Jewish drama: commentaries on commentaries!
Cain v. Abel is a rich, compelling drama and Rabbi Ornstein’s desire to foster a deeper experience of this biblical story by actively engaging his readers is more than met. Towards this end, the book includes a number of potential activities for the reader, among them staged or informal readings of a courtroom transcript, along with text questions keyed to each chapter. But, for students and contemplative readers alike, his courtroom proceedings are a literary tour de force and likely to be satisfying enough in themselves.