Cain v. Abel


Cain v. Abel

A Jewish Courtroom Drama

Rabbi Dan Ornstein

240 pages


April 2020


$23.95 Pre-order

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 is rabbi of 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. .


“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 at 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 at 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 at West Virginia University

Table of Contents

Introduction: “Adam Raised a Cain”: Reintroducing the World’s Oldest Crime Story
1. Reading Cain and Abel: The Crime Report
The “Crime Report”: Evidence for Our Jury to Consider—Genesis 4:1-16
2. Balancing Justice and Mercy: An Admonition to the Jury
Justice and Mercy
3. Introducing Our Expert Witnesses
Introducing Our Expert Witnesses: The Talmudic Masters
Introducing Other Expert Witnesses: The Medieval Bible Scholars
4. Competent to Stand Trial? A Forensic Moral Health Assessment
Faith, Fate, and Forensics
A Forensic Moral Health Assessment For The Heavenly And Earthly Courts
5. Interrogating the Interrogator: A Deposition of God
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 R. Uzziel’s Second Testimony
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
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: Animating Abel’s Evaporated Blood
A Statement by the Blood of Adam Abelson (Recording)
10. Day Four Continues: A Revelation and Cain’s Sentence
The Tables Turned: God 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: Aftermath of the Trial
    Commentary on Cain in Exile: Cain Rebuilds
12. Epilogue: Two Dreams
Discussion and Activity Guide


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