Cain v. Abel


Cain v. Abel

A Jewish Courtroom Drama

Rabbi Dan Ornstein

232 pages
Discussion and activity guide


April 2020


$23.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

April 2020


$23.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

April 2020


$23.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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.

Author Bio

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.


"This is an engaging book that readers will enjoy as they are introduced to patterns of Jewish biblical interpretation. . . . [The] discussion guide [is] helpful for group Bible study."—Leslie J. Hoppe, Bible Today

"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

"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

"This is a book that would bring a fresh approach to Torah study groups. It would also make for a fun introduction to the study of sacred text to Hebrew School and Confirmation classes. For those who work with Jewish conversion students, this would also make for an interesting way to introduce Torah study."—

“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

“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

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

“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

Table of Contents

Introduction: Reintroducing One of the World’s Oldest Crime Stories    
1. Reading Cain and Abel    
The “Crime Report”: Genesis 4:1–16    
2. Balancing Justice and Mercy    
An Admonition to the Jury    
Justice and Mercy
3. Introducing Our Expert Witnesses    
The Talmudic Masters    
The Medieval Bible Scholars    
4. Competent to Stand Trial?    
Faith, Fate, and Forensics        
A Forensic Moral Health Assessment for the Heavenly and Earthly Courts    
5. Interrogating the Interrogator     
A Deposition of God    
Commentary on God’s Deposition    
6. Day One of the Trial    
Opening Arguments of the Prosecution and Defense    
First Witness of the Day: Cain    
Commentary on Cain’s Testimony I: Courtroom Poetry    
Commentary on Cain’s Testimony II: Looking at Cain    
Commentary on Cain’s Testimony III: What Is in a Name?     
Second Witness of the Day: Rabbi Yonatan ben Uzziel    
Commentary on Rabbi ben Uzziel’s Testimony    
Third Witness of the Day: Rashi    
Commentary on Rashi’s Testimony    
Fourth Witnesses of the Day: Rabbi Stama, Rabbi Joshua, and Rabbi Judah    
Second Witness Rabbi Yonatan ben Uzziel Returns to the Stand    
Commentary on the Testimonies of Rabbis Stama, Joshua, Judah, and ben Uzziel    
Fifth Witness of the Day: Rabbi Tanḥuma    
Commentary on Rabbi Tanḥuma’s Testimony and Cain’s Response to God    
Final Witness of the Day: Rabbi Eliezer Finkelman    
Commentary on Rabbi Finkelman’s Testimony    
Commentary: Wrapping Up Day One of the Trial    
7. Day Two of the Trial    
First (and Only) Witness of the Day: Sin    
Commentary on Sin’s Testimony    
8. Day Three of the Trial    
First Witness of the Day: Eve    
Commentary on Eve’s Testimony    
Second Witness of the Day: Adam    
Commentary on Adam’s Testimony    
9. Day Four of the Trial    
A Statement by the Blood of Adam Abelson (Recording)     
10. Day Four Continues    
The Tables Turned as God Is Put on Trial    
Commentary on God’s Testimony I: What Did Cain Really Ask God?     
Commentary on God’s Testimony II: Preparing for Cain’s Sentence    
Sentencing of Cain    
11. Beyond Cain    
Commentary on Cain in Exile: Cain Rebuilds    
Epilogue: Two Dreams    
Discussion and Activity Guide    

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