December 12, 2002
Abraham Not Guilty
And the verdict is: not guilty, by a razor-thin margin. An audience of more than 400 people had a chance to flex their "Law & Order" muscles while serving as the jury in the mock trial of Abraham -- that's right, our founding forefather -- held at the University of Judaism (UJ) Nov. 24.
At the sold-out event in the Gindi auditorium, Abraham was tried for the attempted murder of his son, Issac. The case was based on the Akedah, in the book of Genesis, otherwise known as the binding of Isaac, in which Abraham takes his son to a mountain and prepares to sacrifice him, only to be stopped by an angel.
At the trial, the patriarch was defended by attorney and constitutional law expert Erwin Chemerinsky, fresh from an appearance before the Supreme Court. The prosecutor was Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor, who at one point during the proceedings wielded a knife in an imitation of the near sacrifice of Isaac. Judge Joseph Wapner of "People's Court" fame presided.
Gady Levy, dean of the University of Judaism's department of continuing education, said the idea for the event grew out of a similar trial he organized when he headed the religious school at Adat Ari El in North Hollywood.
"At first I thought, it's not really for adults, but we decided we could do it if we could get lawyers who were well known," Levy said. He added that other cases from the Torah are being considered for future trials.
The audience, most of whom came earlier in the day to the UJ to study the parsha with local rabbis, voted 225 to 216 -- with three "undecided" write-ins -- to acquit Abraham.
Both attorneys said they prepared for the trial as if it were an actual one. Levenson, who once worked for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Abraham's case presented some unique difficulties.
"When I was a real prosecutor, I never had to prosecute a case I didn't believe in," she said. "This one was much more of a challenge. It's really hard putting the father of your people on trial."