Connections: The Ten Commandments on trial

More Info
By Tuesday, Oct 13 Life In the Berkshires
Aaron fashions the Golden Calf.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the twenty-first century.

Remember the story of the Golden Calf? The Bible says the Jews escaped the Pharaoh in Egypt only to wander in the desert. When Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, some lose faith. They implore Aaron to construct an idol – the Golden Calf. It is to this that they pray forsaking God.

The Israelites worship the Golden Calf.

The Israelites worship the Golden Calf.

When Moses returns he is furious. He destroys the calf. He tells the Israelites they have broken the law. He tells them the commandments include: Thou shall put no other gods before Me, and Thou shall make no graven images.

The idol-worshippers are severely punished. Death and disease is visited upon them, but what of Aaron? He is complicit; what should his punishment be?

That is the question Jesse Waldinger asks in “The Trial of Aaron.” In his one-hour play, he seeks to answer it. The trial is presented using thoroughly modern American legal procedures. The prosecution is presented, the defense is mounted, the judge presides, and then the jury deliberates – guilty or innocent?

This is a staged reading with professional actors. Yet it is more than a play; it is an interactive experience. The jury is not made up of actors; the jury will be taken from the audience. Their deliberation is unscripted as is their verdict. What will the jury decide and how will they decide it? How will a modern jury weigh the “crime” of breaking the commandments?

Waldinger hopes the jury will have difficulty deciding. He hopes they deliberate at length, and he would welcome a few arguments. America loves a good trial so it sounds like an entertaining afternoon, but what makes this a subject for this column?

Author Jesse Waldinger with director Barbara Waldinger.

Author Jesse Waldinger with director Barbara Waldinger.

This column is called Connections. It asks how we got from there to here; what in the past predicted, influenced, caused or simply echoed what is happening now? The Bible is a singular connection between the past and present. We still read the text though it is thousands of years old. We memorize it, quote it, learn from it, and attempt to follow its teaching. Is our connection to the Bible the same or is it evolving? That is: in our modern world, we still believe that breaking any of the Ten Commandments is sinful, but do we still consider breaking any and all criminal?

Whether intended or not, by placing an ancient story in a modern criminal court; by asking a modern jury to judge a Biblical character, the underlying question that the play asks is: in the twenty-first century, what is our connection to the Bible; what is our connection to the Ten Commandments?

As we watch the deliberations, we might find answers. The Bible is clear, Aaron built the idol. Are there mitigating circumstances? How will we weigh the evidence? On what basis will a modern jury find Aaron criminally responsible or on what basis could he “get off”?

Moses breaks the tablets with the Ten Commandments.

Moses breaks the tablets with the Ten Commandments.

Waldinger is an attorney interested in the legal process, in history, and in how flawed Biblical heroes are. By flawed he means that in liberating their people, Moses and Aaron were heroes and yet Moses breaks the tablets on which the Ten Commandments are written, and Aaron builds the Golden Calf.

For the audience, the parts of the experience will be the presentation of the play, the deliberation by the jury, a discussion after the verdict, and a reception.

The discussion will be conducted by Rabbi Josh Breindel.

“It is beautiful to see texts sacred to Christians Jews and Muslims explored in innovative and relevant ways.” Rabbi Josh said.

Last year, Phil and Linda Halpern attended a play written by Waldinger and directed by his wife Barbara. They characterize Waldinger’s work as “a vehicle for the portrayal of universal moral dilemmas.”

“We were drawn into the drama.” Linda wrote. They expect no less this year when they attend “The Trial of Aaron.”


The reading of “The Trial of Aaron” takes place Sunday October 18, 2015  2 p.m. at Temple Anshe Amunim, Broad Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Reserve seats at: 442-5910 or Refreshments served. $25 nonmembers — $20 members – Students free.

Return Home

What's your opinion?

We welcome your comments and appreciate your respect for others. We kindly ask you to keep your comments as civil and focused as possible. If this is your first time leaving a comment on our website we will send you an email confirmation to validate your identity.