At University Synagogue, one of the most controversial women of all time will be getting her day in court. She has been a source of both good and evil, fueling the battle between men and women for generations.
All this for taking a bite of fruit.
“The People vs. Eve” takes the Bible story that everyone knows and places it firmly in the courtroom, complete with a prosecutor, defender and judge. But unlike normal court proceedings, it’s the audience who gets to decide the fate of the Biblical subject on trial.
“Most everyone knows [the story],” said Eric Blum, secretary of the board of directors for University Synagogue and member of the trial committee. “It’s fascinating because it’s a little anachronistic, because morals were different back in those days.”
The courtroom battle for Eve will be the third mock trial that University Synagogue has hosted. However, the tradition of the Biblical trials was started by American Jewish University’s Institute of Education in Los Angeles. The goal was to be able to give a different perspective on the stories that everyone had known, from Abraham’s binding of Isaac to the story of Joseph’s brothers. It was a concept that was not without controversy.
“The first time we did this, I got several mean letters from the Orthodox community about how dare I put Abraham on trial,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor of law at Loyola Law School who has participated in numerous trials. “But I got letters from other rabbis saying this is how it should be done, as it’s appropriate to question their actions.”
University Synagogue, with the help of Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of UCI Law School, brought the trials to Orange County. “The People vs. Abraham” was the first trial to take the stage, and every year it has gotten more popular.
“The continued high attendance of these trials shows that people enjoy hearing a debate over the biblical passage and the law,” said Chemerinsky, who has participated in numerous trials. “It’s a chance to think of the Biblical stories in a new light, and a chance to think of the law in a new light.”
Unlike in previous years, where Biblical men have faced the jury, a woman is facing the courts – one that often is credited for creating difficulties for women over the centuries in Christianity and Judaism. Levenson will be acting as the prosecutor while Chemerinsky will be the defender. Justice William Bedsworth, judge of the California Fourth District Court of Appeals in Santa Ana, will be presiding.
“It’s a deeply disturbing story about what it says about the relationship between men and women, and that in itself makes it important to examine,” Chemerinsky said. “Also, it makes us think about what laws mean, because it was in a time before law.”
As for Levenson, she said she is unafraid to prosecute Eve, despite the fact that people are often surprised when a woman is prosecuting another woman. But Levenson feels that it’s crucial both in the mock trial and in the modern world.
“If women want to take their place in society, they have to face all the consequences of men,” she said.
After each side gets to state its case, a panel will convene to discuss Eve’s case as “evidence,” with the actual Bible portion used as the “court record.” Among those in the panel are Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue, Reverend Paul Tellstrom of Irvine United Congregational Church and Tammi Schneider, a professor of Claremont’s School of Religion. Blum said that Schneider, who specializes in women of the Bible, has written about Eve in the past, and her participation will offer a unique academic perspective.
The discussion will help shape the audience’s decision when audience members become the jury and render a verdict in the case.
According to Blum, the trials are the chance to be able to see the Bible tales that many of us heard growing up in a different light. However, instead of doing it through a passive learning session, it has become something with active participation.
“I think people like having the opportunity of looking back at these stories, rather than reading something out of a book or having a dry academic discussion,” Blum said. In addition, since the trial is its own separate event outside of religious services, there is more freedom to present the stories in a more contemporary style.
For many of the legal minds involved in the trial, the cases are often filled with fun, allowing them to work with colleagues they respect and challenge themselves by thinking of their profession in a new context.
“I, like everyone, grew up with the stories, and it’s a chance to bring [it] to what I do now – law,” Chemerinsky said. “Did Eve violate a law when she ate the apple? It’s fun to think of those Biblical stories in the context of the law.”
But no matter if you’re in the law community or not, Levenson feels that the draw of understanding of how justice works is strong with the added context of the story — not unlike many of the television shows that deal with the profession of law.
“It’s the same reason why people watch ‘Boston Legal’ or legal shows. If people enjoy watching legal shows, I think they’ll enjoy watching this one,” Levenson said. “The author of our legal show is better than all the others.”