The Trial of God
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2011)|
|The Trial of God
(as it was held on February 25, 1649, in Shamgorod)
|Written by||Elie Wiesel|
Sam, the Stranger
|Original language||French (Translated into English by Marion Wiesel)|
|Setting||The fictitious village of Shamgorod in 1649, after a pogrom|
The Trial of God (as it was held on February 25, 1649, in Shamgorod) (first published in English in 1979 by Random House) is a play by Elie Wiesel about a fictitious trial ("Din-Toïre," or דין תּורה) calling God as the defendant. Though the setting itself is fictional, and the play's notes indicate that it "should be performed as a tragic farce," the events that he based the story on were witnessed first-hand as a teenager in Auschwitz. The play was produced on PBS Television with the title God on Trial.
In introducing the setting for the play, Wiesel gives us an idea of the provenance of the din torah / trial concept: "Its genesis: inside the kingdom of night, I witnessed a strange trial. Three rabbis—all erudite and pious men—decided one winter evening to indict God for allowing his children to be massacred. I remember: I was there, and I felt like crying. But nobody cried." Robert McAfee Brown elaborates on this strikingly bleak description:
The trial lasted several nights. Witnesses were heard, evidence was gathered, conclusions were drawn, all of which issued finally in a unanimous verdict: the Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, was found guilty of crimes against creation and humankind. And then, after what Wiesel describes as an "infinity of silence," the Talmudic scholar looked at the sky and said "It's time for evening prayers," and the members of the tribunal recited Maariv, the evening service.
In his introduction to the play, Robert McAfee Brown notes that Wiesel initially had difficulty in recounting the story in an appropriate form—"It did not work as a novel, it did not work as a play, it did not even work as a cantata." After several attempts, the story was written as a play to be performed around the Jewish festival of Purim. This type of play is commonly known by its Yiddish name Purimschpiel. As Wiesel sets the scene on page one of the play, he notes that it "should be performed as a tragic farce: a Purimschpiel within a Purimschpiel." The Purim play provides the drama with a backdrop of revelry and intense celebration for the Jewish victory of Queen Esther over the genocidal plot of Haman in the book of Esther. Purim calls for masks, feasting, drinking, noisemakers, and the creative re-telling of the Esther victory with enthusiastic jeers at every mention of the character Haman. There is a popularly cited line the Tefilla 7b of the Talmud that it is Jewish duty to drink on Purim until one cannot distinguish between the phrases, "cursed by Haman" and "blessed by Mordecai," which the character Mendel references in the second act of the play.
The celebratory atmosphere of the Purim is contrasted with the historical setting in Eastern Europe 1649, shortly after a series of pogroms across this area modern day Ukraine and Poland. These pogroms were associated with the Khmelnytsky Uprising, which devastated Jewish villages like the fictitious Shamgorod of the play.
Other lawsuits against God
The idea of suing God is not unique. In 2008, Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers filed suit against God, seeking a "permanent injunction ordering Defendant to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats." In fiction, writers such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky have taken up the motif.
As described by author Rosemary Horowitz in her novel, Elie Wiesel and the art of storytelling:
Three wandering minstrels arrive at an inn in the city of Shamgorod on the eve of Purim, a holiday which is replete with disguises and secrets, and which commemorates the defeat of a genocidal plan against the Jewish people. Unbeknownst to the three wanderers, a devastating pogrom has killed all of the city's Jews dead except for Berish the innkeeper, whose wife and sons have been murdered, and his daughter Hanna who has suffered a breakdown as a result of being raped and tortured by the murderous crowd. In the space of three acts, a decision is made to hold a trial of God, a defender of the deity needs to be found, and the trial itself reveals an awful truth about the classical Jewish concept "we are punished because of our sins."
Connections with the biblical book of Job
||This article possibly contains original research. (January 2011)|
A core concern in both The Trial of God and the book of Job is the theodicy question: how (if at all) can people understand God to be just and good in light of the innocent suffering pervasive in the world? As Robert McAfee Brown expresses the issue, "Surely any God worthy of the name would not only refuse to condone such brutality but would expend all of the divine effort necessary to bring the brutality to a halt, and initiate the work of passionate rebuilding." The issue emerges forcibly in the book of Job, since God is incited "to destroy [Job] for no reason" (Job 2:3).
In connection with the theodicean question, both The Trial of God and the book of Job place God on trial. Wiesel’s character Berish declares "I—Berish...accuse Him of hostility, cruelty, and indifference.... He is...He is...guilty! (Pause. Loud and clear) Yes, guilty!" In a similar thematic vein of accusation, Job cries out, "I would lay my case before [God], and fill my mouth with arguments" (Job 23:4). The reason, of course, is that Job is a righteous person who fears God, yet God "multiplies [Job’s] wounds without cause" in a way Job can only describe as murderous (Job 9:17; 16:11-18).
Sam and Job's Friends
In a provocative twist, Wiesel conflates Sam (i.e., the Devil) with Job’s friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar) from the Hebrew Bible. In the book of Job, the friends provide the voices of theodicy—namely, the ones insistent upon God’s justice despite the problem of suffering. In The Trial of God, Sam presents the very arguments the reader would expect from Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Compare, for example, Sam’s claim that suffering is "all because of our sins" and Eliphaz’s musings in Job 4:7: "Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same."
The Trial of God was premiered by Bucket Productions at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas, Texas on February 2, 2000. It also premiered in New York for the first time on March 31, 2007 at the Makor Theatre and featured "traditional dancers from the Kalaniot Dance Troupe and Klezmer musicians from KlezMITron."
- All page references to The Trial of God refer to the 1995 Shocken Books paperback edition, translated by Marion Wiesel.
- The Trial of God, p. 54
- The Trial of God, p. xxv
- Fewell, Danna Nolan; Phillips, Gary Allen (2008). Representing the irreparable: the Shoah, the Bible, and the art of Samuel Bak. Pucker Art Publications. p. xiii. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
- Brown, Robert McAfee, in the Introduction to The Trial of God, p. vii
- Hester, David C. (2005). Job. Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 40–41. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
- René Camilleri (April 1, 2007). "The trial of God and ours". Times of Malta. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
- Thomas B. Harrison (April 15, 1987). "Wiesel drama seeks meaning in the tragedy". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
- The Trial of God, p. 91
- Sternlicht, Sanford V. (2003). Student companion to Elie Wiesel. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 125. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
- KPTM Fox 42 (2007-09-17). "Nebraska State Senator Sues God Over Natural Disasters". Fox News. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
- Horowitz, Rosemary (October 30, 2006). Elie Wiesel and the art of storytelling. McFarland & Company. p. 81. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
- The Trial of God, viii
- The Trial of God, p. 125
- The Trial of God, p. 134
- Lawson Taitte (February 3, 2000). "'The Trial of God' proves to be an ordeal for viewers". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
- Zachary Pincus-Roth (March 29, 2007). "Makor to Present NY Premiere of Elie Wiesel Play". Playbill. Retrieved December 18, 2011.