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The Binding of Isaac: Piety and Protest


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Some time ago at the beginning of Jewish history an inscrutable God, without explanation, orders his favorite founder, Abraham, to sacrifice his beloved son. Without questioning, the old man hastens to the task. Aware or unaware, the son participates in the preparations. In the end God changes his mind, but the father and son do not return home together.
You can`t be neutral. Either you marvel at the man`s faith and courage or you revile his madness. In fact, many critical issues in Judaism inform this foundation tale, even prefiguring the character of its daughter religions, Christianity and Islam:
The bewilderment/awe at being challenged by God: Is it God? Why me? How do I respond?
Sacred geography: the internal/spiritual and external/physical journey

Is human aggression hard-wired?
Love and tension in the family

The silencing of the woman
Is there a conflict between faith and morality?

Both piety and protest emerge from these issues: the acceptance of the biblical account as normative and right, and the critique of foundational sancta.
The biblical account already contains the seeds of its own deconstruction. Isaac`s question “where is the lamb?” expresses either total naivete or covert suspicion. Already in the earliest Midrashim, Isaac cries out, torn between faith and fear, imploring Abraham to bind him well lest his instinctive resistance blemish the sacrifice. As we shall see, by the Renaissance these reservations grow to outright confrontation and in modern times to rejection. We will hear both voices, read both texts, scrutinize the conflicting images, and then…






The Binding of Isaac: Piety and Protest

Some time ago at the beginning of Jewish history an inscrutable God, without explanation, orders his favorite founder, Abraham, to sacrifice his beloved son. Without questioning, the old man hastens to the task. Aware or unaware, the son participates in the preparations. In the end God changes his mind, but the father and son do not return home together.
You can`t be neutral. Either you marvel at the man`s faith and courage or you revile his madness. In fact, many critical issues in Judaism inform this foundation tale, even prefiguring the character of its daughter religions, Christianity and Islam:
The bewilderment/awe at being challenged by God: Is it God? Why me? How do I respond?
Sacred geography: the internal/spiritual and external/physical journey

Is human aggression hard-wired?
Love and tension in the family

The silencing of the woman
Is there a conflict between faith and morality?

Both piety and protest emerge from these issues: the acceptance of the biblical account as normative and right, and the critique of foundational sancta.
The biblical account already contains the seeds of its own deconstruction. Isaac`s question “where is the lamb?” expresses either total naivete or covert suspicion. Already in the earliest Midrashim, Isaac cries out, torn between faith and fear, imploring Abraham to bind him well lest his instinctive resistance blemish the sacrifice. As we shall see, by the Renaissance these reservations grow to outright confrontation and in modern times to rejection. We will hear both voices, read both texts, scrutinize the conflicting images, and then…